Interview | & Juliet | Miriam-Teak Lee

Here at Opening Night there are a few things we really, really love: 1 of them is Shakespeare another is pop music, especially if said pop music is written by the legend that is Max Martin. Our interest was well and truly peaked when we heard another of our favourites, director Luke Sheppard would be at the helm of a brand new musical which would combine these two mediums and better still it would officially open in Manchester!

Now with less than two weeks until the first hotly anticipated performance of & Juliet we were lucky enough to join the cast during rehearsals to get a feel for this innovative production; hearing a little more about what audiences can expect from key members of the talented cast as they prepare to wow Manchester ahead of an autumn West End run.

Taking on the iconic role of Juliet is award-winning musical theatre superstar Miriam-Teak Lee who gave us some inside information on the starting point for this epic new production.

“We know how the ending is supposed to go but in this production we reimagine the ending and wonder what would happen if Juliet doesn’t kill herself? She looks up to the stars and asks that there must be something else for her destiny, she just knows that this final path isn’t it for her.”

We learn quite early on that Juliet realises there’s more to life than first love (thank goodness) and so the story develops with the use of much-loved Max Martin songs placed throughout the production cleverly moving the narrative along. “It’s really a story of empowerment” said Miriam-Teak “Anne Hathaway who is played by Cassidy Janson is basically taking the quill off Shakespeare and leading us in a new narrative, saying ‘Actually I think this would be a much better ending to that play.’ With all musicals I think songs are used at the point where speaking is no longer enough, you can’t express what you are trying to say so you take it into a different forum, that being music.”

The production is literally teaming with hit after hit from legendary songwriter Max Martin: Britney Spears’ “Oops… I Did It Again”, Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody”, Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do”, and The Weeknd’s “I Can’t Feel My Face to name but a few, Miriam-Teak told us about one of her favourites. “Hit Me Baby One More Time as Juliet’s first song it’s amazing to sing, I think it’s just perfect for Juliet, there are beautiful strings, and it’s been done in such a creative way which makes it sooooo dramatic. Juliet sings the song in the moment she is potentially going to kill herself to join Romeo, she is literally looking to the heavens saying ‘give me a sign’ it’s so clever, these songs that we know so well take on a totally different meaning.”

Recreating an iconic character could be quite a daunting task but Miriam-Teak looks at playing Juliet in this new production as something to embrace. “At first I thought this is really huge how am I going to do this? But then I realised in originating the role within this new piece I don’t have to live up to anything else and I have an opportunity to breathe new life into who she is. Taking what we already know about Juliet onto a brand new journey actually feels amazing so it’s definitely excitement I’m feeling rather than pressure.”

Intrigued by the combination of contemporary Max Martin songs and the works of Shakespeare Miriam-Teak gave us a little insight into what we can expect from the costumes, “Oh wow they are amazing, Paloma Young is doing such an incredible job on them. It’s a world in-between the Renaissance period so we have corsets but then then we have more modern elements too so we’re placed between today and several centuries ago. The colour palette is absolutely beautiful too, audiences will love them. Add in Jennifer Webber’s choreography and it feels like a world in-between a musical and a concert, Jen does such a great job of bringing those two worlds together.”

The overwhelming feeling we get from spending time with the cast in rehearsals are that of real joy and empowerment, Miriam-Teak tells us what she hopes audiences will take away from this new musical. “I think the story really is about self-discovery and finding love within yourself which I think is just so important especially in this day and age with the social media era that we’re in and how many people look to others to find the love they are unable to find within. I think it’s so great that we can bring that message of finding your power within yourself to other people.”

Miriam-Teak summed up perfectly why Manchester audiences should be booking their & Juliet tickets asap, “If you want to see a complete spectacle of excitement and energy featuring songs that you know done in a completely different way you won’t even be ready but you will LOVE it!”

& Juliet opens at Manchester’s Opera House on Tuesday 10th September and runs until Saturday 12th October tickets available here

 

Hair

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This inventive production of Hair The Musical has been on quite a journey these past few years, from first opening at the intimate Hope Mill Theatre back in 2016 to a sell-out London run winning a WhatsOnStage Award along the way; it now makes its return to Manchester opening at the city’s Palace Theatre as part of an extensive 50th anniversary UK tour.

Set in New York’s East Village at a time when the emerging youth counterculture was rejecting mainstream America and growing increasingly disenfranchised by the controversial war in Vietnam, Hair still remains one of the most iconic rock musicals of all time. A tribe of free thinkers who turned their backs on convention creating their own family in which to belong, advocates of peace, love and liberal thinking. Central to the story is the plight of Claude (portrayed brilliantly by Paul Wilkins) torn between rejecting his military drafting and embracing this non-violent, peace loving tribe.

Very much an ensemble production Hair showcases a cast of incredible talent. Opening number Aquarius vibrantly and powerfully sets the scene, drawing the audience into this joyous celebration of love, freedom and pacifism right from the start. Maeve Black’s beautiful set design and costumes transforming the Palace Theatre into a psychedelic heaven lit to perfection by Ben M Rogers.

Director Jonathan O’Boyle ensures the audience are taken along for the ride involving them in this exuberant trip on multiple occasions. Jake Quickenden as Berger confidently leaps into the stalls in little more than a thong while Tom Bates takes great delight in perching on an audience members knee during his hilarious performance as Margaret Mead.

Paul Wilkins heads up the strong cast proving what a talent he is in the role of Claude. Thrown into turmoil at the life changing decision he faces, his anguish and torment delivered with passionate energy. Jake Quickenden makes for a confident and flamboyant Berger, athletically strutting around the stage dishing out powerful vocals along the way. Daisy Wood-Davis shines in the role of Sheila, her voice as powerful as it is beautiful.

Tom Bates has the audience in the palm of his hand as Margaret Mead while Natalie Green as soulful Cassie is a joy. Other notable performances in this excellent ensemble are Alison Arnopp as the enigmatic Jeanie, Aiesha Pease whose rich tones warm the soul and Bradley Judge who is enormously entertaining as Woof.

The cast work together superbly and all deserve praise, they deliver William Whelton’s inspired choreography to perfection, often moving as one, pulsing together in perfect harmony. Musical Director Gareth Bretherton leads the small group of on stage musicians confidently ensuring this electrifying score is given the platform it deserves.

While the themes may not be so shocking to audiences now in more free-thinking, accepting times its message still remains enormously relevant; the despicable quote from Donald Trump heard ringing through the auditorium at the very start proving this point entirely.

Hair gives a touchingly symbolic reminder of the fact that we really are just one tribe. Its hippie, trippy vibe is deliciously infectious bringing every audience member to their feet in celebration of this triumphant piece of theatre while the power of final song Let The Sun Shine In offers hope and proves just how powerfully emotive theatre can be. Hair’s transition from Hope Mill Theatre to the much larger stage of the Palace theatre is seamless as this beautifully crafted and joyously affecting theatre absolutely lets the sun shine in.

On at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 13th April tickets available here.

 

Interview | Lewis Griffiths talks Jersey Boys

The international smash-hit Jersey Boys returns to Manchester this week as part of an extensive UK tour. Winner of an incredible 57 major awards worldwide, including the Olivier Award for Best New Musical, Jersey Boys tells the true life story of four boys from the wrong side of the tracks who went on to sell over 100 million records worldwide.

Featuring hit after iconic hit including Beggin’, December 1963 (Oh What A Night), Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Walk Like A Man, Bye Bye Baby, Big Girls Don’t Cry and many more, Jersey Boys is an unforgettable story packed with heart and humour making for a thrilling night at the theatre. We caught up with actor Lewis Griffiths who plays Nick Massi to hear a little more about this sensational show.

You’re returning to the show after a previous stint as the late Nick Massi, how does it feel to be back?

It’s great, it’s a dream role so I didn’t hesitate when they asked me to reprise the role and here I am. Since I’ve come back I’ve discovered every performance I do is different to the previous as it’s a whole new production, a whole new chemistry, a whole new cast so everything although I’ve done the show before feels very new and very fresh.

Is there an added pressure in portraying a real person?

It has a certain pressure particularly with the character Nick Massi being passed now there is a legacy to uphold. It’s tricky sometimes playing a real person because there’s not as much artistic license to have free reign but it’s a great challenge and with this story there is a lot to discover, a lot of twists and turns, unexpected secrets shall we say, it’s a great role.

Despite your experience in the role do you still get nervous before a performance?

Of course, there’s a certain nervous energy that you require to perform, if you have no nerves whatsoever that can sometimes come across as a little bit arrogant. Naturally you have to have an element of nerves, as a performer you’re starting from scratch for every show, you can’t ever think ‘oh I’ve done this before a thousand times it’s a piece of cake’ because for the audience watching you it may well be the first time they are watching the show so you have to act as thought it’s the first time you’re performing it, that’s really the added pressure that gives you the nerves.

While Frankie Valli is known for his iconic falsetto Nick Massi supplied the rich deep rich vocals, how do you look after your voice?

They are a hard sing, the best thing I find for me personally is making sure I get lots of sleep and drink lots of water. I know that may sound like a cliché but that’s honestly what works best. The hardest thing about the show is not the range it’s the endurance, Nick Massi doesn’t solo a lot but he does sing a lot in the show and it’s a wide range so the stamina to endure the intensity of the tracks is what’s really important.

Do you have any preshow rituals to help you get in the zone?

I used to, I used to have lots of silly little things I did but I don’t tend to do those things anymore. As long as I’m in the building at the half hour call and I’m ready for beginners I kind of take my time in that half hour window between the half hour and the beginners call call I just try and relax, listen to some music, have a cup of tea and let myself relax in order to play Nick so by the time I’ve got my suit on and I’m walking onto the stage I am Nick Massi.

Is there anything you can’t live without on tour?

I always take a picture of myself and my fiancé on tour, it comes to every dressing room with me so it’s always there with me. If I could take her I would. She lives in Newcastle so as we’re bringing the tour further up North I’ll get the chance to see a bit more of her which will be wonderful.

You’ve visited Manchester with a few tours now, is there anything in particular you’re looking forward to seeing or doing?

Manchester’s such a broad city, just when you think you know it you always find something else to discover, something you haven’t done or somewhere you weren’t expecting. Last time I was there with Jersey Boys we did I live performance on BBC Breakfast which was wonderful as they were interviewing Frankie Valli on the show so I’d love to explore around there a little more.

Finally is anyone is considering booking a ticket for Jersey Boys at Manchester’s Palace Theatre what would you say to them?

You’d be coming to see an eye-opening story which is made very special by not only the cast but every integral element of what makes the show work, from wigs, wardrobe, crew, it’s a real ensemble piece that brings to life something that is unforgettable, added to that the infectious music of The Four Seasons, then you can fully appreciate why this show is such a crowd-pleaser, it’s definitely one to beg, steal or borrow a ticket to see.

Jersey Boys opens at Manchester’s Palace Theatre on Tuesday 29th January and runs until Saturday 16th February tickets available here.

Cinderella | Opera House

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

First staged in 2016 at the London Palladium then last year at Birmingham’s legendary Hippodrome Qdos Entertainment’s Cinderella has been brought bang up to date by writer Alan McHugh with Corrie jokes a plenty and hilarious local references a go-go. Both Ben Nickles who plays Buttons and Ugly Sister Les Dennis adding material to the laugh a minute script ensuring a riotous night out is guaranteed.

All the stops have been pulled out in this spectacular production; lavish sets, colourful costumes, catchy songs and a superb cast ensuring the Opera House panto remains at the top of theatre goers agenda for another festive season.

Our Ugly Sisters Phelina (Connor McIntyre) and Michaela (Les Dennis) are mad for it as they blend the silly with the slapstick and throw in some cheeky charm for good measure, the pairing is genius as panto pro Les leads the way, reminding us all just why he’s one of the best in the business.

Rochdale comedian Ben Nickless quickly becomes an audience favourite as Buttons; he laps up the applause and delights with outrageously funny comedy capers and hilarious impressions, a born entertainer who comes very close to stealing the show.

Gareth Gates and Shannon Flynn make for a perfect pairing as the dashing Prince Charming and the down on her luck Cinderella proving that they’re not afraid of getting stuck in with the slapstick when their romantic meeting turns into a hilarious battle of wills with lovesick Buttons.

Hayley-Ria Christian makes for a super sassy Fairy Godmother while Jack Wilcox is a commanding and charismatic Dandini.

The ensemble cast and young company, always a favourite of mine in panto add vibrancy with slick delivery of Fabian Aloise’s choreography adding additional charm to this feel-good family show.

Qdos Entertainment has got Cinderella just right in terms of pitch, the script is jam-packed with hilarious gags and witty one–liners while the innuendo we all expect from panto never tips into crudeness, its good old cheeky fun and plenty of it.

The transformation scene at the end of Act I really has to be seen to be believed and is worth the ticket price alone as the gasps of delight from the audience both young and old are heard loud and clear. While panto may one of theatre’s oldest traditions this production feels fresh and vibrant.

Cinderella really is the perfect package; it’s lavish, sparkly, sequined fun suitable for all the family. This extravagant production is everything panto should be and more.

Guaranteed to entertain from start to finish leaving you feeling suitably festive and full of Christmas cheer. Big, bold and brilliant!

Cinderella is on until Sunday 30th December tickets available here.

Hairspray

Hairspray-2017-3

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ever popular audience favourite Hairspray burst into Manchester last night for a fun, feisty and feel-good two week stop at the city’s Opera House theatre.

Multi-coloured and multi-layered this is an uplifting and vibrant production with a serious and important message at its heart. Based on the 1988 John Waters film, Hairspray follows Baltimore teenager, Tracy Turnblad’s dream to dance on The Corny Collins Show. Tracy isn’t as conventionally looking as the show’s usual crew and faces an uphill battle from the start. What begins as a burning ambition to win a role on her favourite teen show soon becomes a campaign for social change which sees Tracy crusade to promote racial integration as she battles not only bigots but body shamers too.

Hairspray-2017

Newcomer Rebecca Mendoza makes her professional debut and as the bright, bold and beautiful Tracy Turnblad with a big voice and personality to match her buoyant bouffant she perfectly embodies the impassioned teen. Her comedic acting really raises her performance from excellent to exceptional and she puff and pants to perfection every time teen idol Link Larkin (Edward Chitticks) comes near.

Annalise Liard-Bailey smashes her professional debut as Penny Pingleton, the stunning pairing of Liard-Bailey and Layton Williams being a real highlight of the show, Williams shines as Seaweed, ensuring all eyes are upon him as he twists and flips across the stage, both are an absolute joy to watch.

Brenda Edwards returns as the mighty Motormouth Maybelle and raises the roof with her soulful and emotional rendition of I know where I’ve been. While theatre has a job to entertain it also has important role in educating audiences, which Edwards and cast do so with gusto.

Matt Rixton (Edna) and Graham MacDuff (tonight covering the role of Wilbur) solidify their status as audience favourites with each outrageous and hilarious scene, they’re clearly having just as much fun on stage as the audience off stage as they delight and deliver in style.

While it promotes a message of equality and inclusion Hairspray does it with such wit and charm it is anything but preachy. Drew McOnie’s punchy choreography ensures the pace always remains high while Takis’ sets and costumes are bright, blingy and whisk us straight back to the sixties.

With a vibrant and memorable score including numbers such as You Can’t Stop the Beat, Welcome to the Sixities and Good Morning Baltimore Hairspray never fails to entertain as the audience leapt to their feet in approval. Empowering, uplifting and most of all enormously entertaining!

On at the Opera House until Saturday 7th April tickets available here.

Matilda announce tour cast

25 - Royal Shakespeare Companys Matilda The Musical. Credit Manuel Harlan

 

Today, the Royal Shakespeare Company announced the full adult casting for the first five venues of the Matilda The Musical 2018/19 UK and Ireland Tour, which includes a visit to Manchester’s Palace Theatre from Mon 18 September – Fri 24 November 2018.

Craige Els will reprise the role of Miss Trunchbull, having received rave reviews playing her in the West End for three years between 2014 and 2017. Craige will be joined by Carly Thoms as Miss Honey and Sebastien Torkia as Mr Wormwood as well as former West End cast-mate Rebecca Thornhill as Mrs Wormwood.

The rest of the adult cast are Joe Atkinson, Peter Bindloss, Oliver Bingham, Emily Bull, Matthew Caputo, Samara Casteallo, Matt Gillett, Michelle Chantelle Hopewell, Sam Lathwood, Steffan Lloyd-Evans, Charlie Martin, Anu Ogunmefun, Taylor Walker, Adam Vaughan and Dawn Williams.

The tour of Tim Minchin and Dennis Kelly’s award-winning show will begin at Leicester Curve on 5 March 2018 before heading to Dublin, Sunderland, Milton Keynes, Birmingham, Manchester and Cardiff. Further dates will be announced in due course.

Tickets can be booked for Manchester dates here www.atgtickets.com/shows/matilda/palace-theatre-manchester/ Tuesday 18 September – Saturday 24 November 2018

The Wedding Singer

Wedding Singer

Based on Adam Sandler and Tim Herlihy’s monster hit movie The Wedding Singer arrives at Manchester’s Opera House full of hairspray and highlights for one week only.

Recreating the storyline familiar to film fans where loveable lead singer of wedding band ‘Simply Wed’ Robbie Hart (Jon Robyns) gets jilted at the alter by brutal bride Linda (Hannah Jay-Allan) who decides wedding singing just isn’t cool enough for her rock chick ways. Waitress Julia (Cassie Compton) helps Robbie eventually see past his misery and realise perhaps he hasn’t sung his final wedding song just yet!

Wedding Singer 2

The Wedding Singer bursts into life from the opening, full of high energy dance routines and powerful performances Chad Beguelin’s witty and sharp lyrics are an absolute joy. Chockfull of laugh out loud moments this production is cheeky, charming and full of sass! West End favourite Jon Robyns takes on the role of Robbie Hart and delivers it perfectly, his Somebody Kill Me had the audience howling with laughter, his woeful misery at being dumped reminding us all just how truly ridiculous love can be. His voice is smooth and strong and the chemistry between Robbie and Julia (Cassie Compton) is perfect. Former X Factor contestant Compton is sweet and soulful; her harmonies with Robyns are simply beautiful. The show also hosts another X Factor favourite, 2006 X Factor finalist Ray Quinn who is tremendous in the role of Glen, odious and arrogant Quinn steps into Glen’s 80’s loafers and braces with ease, sharp and snarling, looking like he’s just walked off the set of Wall Street with his slicked back hair and suitcase sized mobile phone.

Special mention must go to Ruth Madoc who plays Rosie, Robbie’s randy rapping Grandmother, Madoc is hilarious and looks like she’s having just as much fun performing as the audience are having watching the show. Her paring with George (Samuel Holmes) for Move That Thang is a scream. Holmes as George delivers witty one lines throughout the production and his specially written song for the Bar Mitzvah just has to be seen!

Wedding Singer 1

Director and choreographer Nick Winston has delivered a real treat of a production, with some stand out scenes that deserve special mention, All About the Green which opens act two packs a punch with some slick choreography and dynamic staging whilst Single in contrast is stripped back and simple but enormously effective, as the males of the cast share their woes whilst gathered behind the bar displaying some clever and entertaining choreography.

The Wedding Singer is a high energy, action packed, feel-good production, with a strong cast and a highly memorable score, it’s an absolute riot of an evening. Grab your hair crimper; slap on your best blue eye shadow and hot foot it down to the Opera House to party like its 1985!

Tickets available here http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-wedding-singer/opera-house-manchester/

theweddingsinger-sq