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

Cilla – Open auditions!

Cilla

The search for the next big musical theatre star is on as producers of Cilla – The Musical confirm open auditons will begin around the country in May. The auditions will start in Liverpool before taking in Edinburgh, Birmingham and London in a bid to find their leading lady.

Producers are looking for a charismatic and talented actress with a great voice to portray the title role, starting in Cilla’s hometown of Liverpool.  The dates and locations for the auditions are as below:

Tuesday 2 May                               Liverpool Empire

Monday 8 May                               Edinburgh Playhouse

Tuesday 9 May                               Birmingham New Alexandra Theatre

Friday 12 May                                 London Dominion Theatre

 

Robert Willis (Executive Producer and Cilla’s son), said: “My Mum Ioved singing and performing ever since she was a young girl and she was determined to do what she loved. Having performed at the clubs around Liverpool, including the famous Cavern Club, she got her big break when Brian Epstein spotted her and signed her. It was the start of everything that was to follow. She was a natural born performer who lived to entertain her audience. We are hoping to find that person who also dreams big and has the talent to match but just needs the chance to show it. We can’t wait to meet you!”

The new production which is a heart-warming musical adaptation of the critically acclaimed ITV mini-series based on the early life of Cilla Black, by BAFTA award winner, Jeff Pope (The Moorside, Philomena, From The Cradle To The Grave, Mrs Biggs) will open in her hometown at the Liverpool Empire from Thursday 7 – 16 September before embarking on a nationwide tour. The musical score will be the ultimate soundtrack to the 60’s including Cilla’s greatest hits Anyone Who Had a Heart, Alfie and Something Tells Me, alongside a backdrop of the legendary “Liverpool Sound” including the Beatles’ Twist and Shout, and American influences like California Dreamin by The Mamas and The Papas and many more.

Cilla – The Musical is produced by Bill Kenwright and Laurie Mansfield, alongside Executive Producer Robert Willis.

TOUR DATES

 

Liverpool Empire Theatre                                                                                        atgtickets.com/Liverpool

7 – 16 September                                                                                                         0844 871 3017

 

Edinburgh Playhouse                                                                                               atgtickets.com/Edinburgh

19 – 23 September                                                                                                       0844 871 3014

 

Milton Keynes Theatre                                                                                            atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes

26 – 30 September                                                                                                       0844 871 7627

 

Mayflower Theatre, Southampton                                                                      mayflower.org.uk

3 – 7 October                                                                                                                  023 8071 1811

 

New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham                                                           atgtickets.com/birmingham

10 – 14 October                                                                                                            0844 871 3011

 

Blackpool, Opera House                                                                                               wgbpl.co.uk

17 – 21 October                                                                                                             0844 856 1111

 

New Theatre, Cardiff                                                                                                 newtheatrecardiff.co.uk

31 October – 4 November                                                                                          029 2087 8889

 

New Wimbledon Theatre                                                                                        atgtickets.com/Wimbledon

7 – 11 November                                                                                                          0844 871 7646

 

Regent Theatre, Stoke                                                                                                   atgtickets.com/stoke

14 – 18 November                                                                                                       0844 871 7649

 

Palace Theatre, Manchester                                                                                  atgtickets.com/Manchester

21 – 25 November                                                                                                       0844 871 3019

 

Bradford, Alahambra Theatre                                                        

bradford-theatres.co.uk

28 November – 2 December                                                                                     01274 432 000

 

More tour dates to be confirmed soon.

 

Visit cillathemusical.com for all the latest tour and audition information

Twitter: @CILLAMUSICAL