Ghost

 

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Although it seems like five minutes ago it’s actually an incredible 8 years since Ghost the Musical first premiered in Manchester before opening in London’s West End ahead of a successful Broadway transfer and judging by audience responses at the Palace Theatre the love for this classic story shows no sign of waning.

Based on Bruce Joel Rubin’s iconic 1990 film, starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg, Ghost tells the tragic love story of Brooklyn residents Sam (Niall Sheehy) and Molly (Rebekah Lowings) whose lives are cruelly torn apart when Sam is heartbreakingly murdered in a street robbery gone wrong. As Sam watches the scene of his death from a distance, stuck between two worlds he realises what at first seemed like a tragic accident is anything but and his beloved Molly is now in danger too. In order to find his own peace he must find a way to connect with and ultimately protect his love from beyond the grave, cue Oda Mae Brown an outrageous and questionable psychic who has made a living off receiving messages from the dead and passing them onto their living relatives for a fee of course; Problem is she’s never actually connected to anyone from the afterlife until now.

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Rebekah Lowings is hugely endearing as Molly, tentatively attempting to navigate life after the loss of her soulmate she skilfully takes us along for the turbulent ride. Her voice is beautiful; she delivers each solo with fabulous control. The chemistry between Lowings and Niall Sheehy feels genuinely convincingly further adding to the emotion and impact of this production. Sheehy is lively and charismatic as Sam, his commitment to protecting Molly from danger genuinely touching.

Jacqui Dubois is brass, bold and boisterous as Oda Mae Brown, her razor sharp comedic timing is a joy to watch and her hilarious interactions with Sheehy are a real highlight. The scene where we first meet her and her two abetting sisters Louise (Jochebel Ohene MacCarthy) and Clara (Sadie-Jean Shirley) is hilarious with their exaggerated gestures and punchy harmonies.

Special mention must also go to Sergio Pasquariello and Jules Brown who both impress as evil duo Carl and Willie.

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Impressive set and costume design from Mark Bailey adds to the slickness and authenticity of this production while Dan Samson’s sound design although vibrant occasionally overpowers the vocals of the performers. Nick Richings lighting design really makes this piece stand out visually, particularly impressive is the way Sam is lit once he passes from the real world.

The production translates exceptionally well from screen to stage with the addition of some great illusions from Richard Pinner delivered convincingly by an excellent cast.

Ghost will please fans of the original film and is also strong enough as a standalone production for those coming to the show with fresh eyes. It’s heavy on both emotion and humour while the dramatic and engaging story unfolds. There’s love, hope, comedy, deception and drama all neatly packed into this impressive production and while Dave Stewart’s  songs may not be the most memorable they are enjoyable and beautifully delivered.

This reworked incarnation directed by Bob Tomson feels faithful and impressive. Gone is the celebrity casting allowing this production the delivery it deserves ensuring Ghost once again cements itself as a modern theatre classic. Hugely entertaining theatre which engages on every level and will leave you with more than a little tear in your eye.

Ghost the Musical is at the Palace Theatre until Saturday 20th April tickets available here.

Blood Brothers

 

Reviewed by Alex Broadley

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Blood Brothers is one of those shows which some might think is a standard touring musical, a staple for theatre-goers everywhere. However, Blood Brothers is embarking on its 30th Anniversary tour for a reason, it has stood the test of time for over 3 decades and its themes of class, money and love are as relevant as ever.

Written and composed by Willy Russell the man behind Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine, Blood Brothers’ first audiences were school children. He wanted to make sure that he hooked the children sitting in the back row of the class and Blood Brothers certainly does that. The show was soon picked up for a short run in the West End and thus began its epic journey to becoming the theatrical juggernaut it is today.

Blood Brothers tells the tragic tale of the Johnstone twins, two brothers separated at birth. Their mother Mrs Johnstone (Linzi Hateley) struggling with mounting debt and the need to feed seven growing children, simply cannot afford to keep both of her babies. Enter Mrs Johnstone’s employer Mrs Lyons (played convincingly by Paula Tappenden); Mrs Lyons cannot have children and the pain is etched on her face. In a fateful deal, Mrs Johnstone gives away one child (Joel Benedict as Edward) and keeps the other (Mickey, played by Alexander Patmore).

The play opens, as many great plays do (think Phantom of the Opera), with the ending. From the beginning, we know how it will play out and this adds to the sense of foreboding and tragedy. Narrator (Robbie Scotcher) asks us to make up our own minds – does Mrs Johnstone have a stone in place of her heart? Scotcher is ever present; he is our slightly menacing moral compass, questioning the characters’ decisions and reminding us of their inevitable fates.

The brothers continue to meet, drawn together by fate and across the class divide which will eventually tear them apart. Time is moved swiftly and effectively on by Scotcher and we see Mickey and Eddie grow up and become young men, albeit with very different lives and opportunities.

Russell’s aim was for the music to be woven into the story and the songs and musical patterns weave themselves throughout the narrative. The soundscape is dramatic and occasionally builds up to a crescendo loud enough to make the audience wince along with the drama. Stand out songs include Tell me it’s not true and Marilyn Monroe.

Andy Walmsley’s set design is simple but effective. The claustrophobic feel of the Liverpool slums and the contrasting bright feel of the Lyons’ living room take us back to the 1950s/60s but also show the class divide which runs throughout Blood Brothers.

The cast is fantastic and extremely hard working. Alexander Patmore’s Mickey is full of cheeky humour and grit. The scenes when Mickey (Patmore) and Eddie (Benedict) are children are stand out moments and take you back to playing out after school and not having a care in the world. Benedict is likeable as the naïve and privileged Eddie Lyons and the relationship between Mickey and Eddie is affectionate and deep. Linzi Hateley is strong as Mrs Johnstone; full of gumption and humour, you feel for the tough hand life has dealt her. Her character is the lynchpin of the play. Danielle Corlass’ character of Linda is caught in the middle of the class and brotherly divide; she is funny and well meaning.

Blood Brothers is a staple of musical theatre. Everyone should see it. It offers you an evening (or afternoon) filled with humour, tragedy, grit and will leave you feeling as though you’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster. Bring a handkerchief for those inevitable sniffles.

Blood Brothers is on at The Lowry, Salford until Saturday 13th April.here.

 

Rain Man

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Based on the Oscar winning 80’s movie starring Dustin Hoffman & Tom Cruise, Rain Man introduces us to Brothers Charlie and Raymond Babbitt who are returned to each other’s lives following the death of their father.

Hard-nosed hustler Charlie is unaffected by the loss of his Dad, a cold-hearted man he fell out with years ago; he is however disturbed to discover the sizeable estate left behind has not been gifted to him but an unknown benefactor. Upon investigation he discovers this mystery trustee sitting on a cool $3 million is actually the institution which houses his older brother Raymond, an autistic savant sibling he has no knowledge nor memory of.

Determined to get what he deems as his half of the estate Charlie takes Raymond from the institution on what begins as a quest for his own gain but actually becomes an unexpected journey of self-discovery and brotherly bonding as Charlie starts to realise just how special and unique his forgotten sibling is.

Adam Lilley’s portrayal of Raymond is committed and convincing, complete with awkward shuffle, avoidance of eye contact and frequent ticks he remains consistently strong both physically and vocally. Chris Fountain proves what a talented actor he is as he journeys from loathsome self-centred brat to emotionally affected & touchingly tender sibling. The chemistry between the two is outstanding and becomes increasingly moving as their relationship deepens.

It’s clear Dan Gordon’s stage adaptation of Barry Morrow’s screenplay is intended to please fans of the original film and that it absolutely does, there is however no updating nor reworking of the 1988 movie which was made at a time when understanding and knowledge of autism was very different to what it is now.

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While both actors give superb performances as Raymond and Charlie the story feels outdated and at times is uncomfortable to watch. There are moments particularly in Act I when Raymond’s disability is used for nothing more than to give the audience a cheap laugh, most glaringly during the hotel scene where Raymond hears brother Charlie and girlfriend Susan (Elizabeth Carter) having sex. It does nothing to drive the story forward in any way & would benefit from being cut all together. I found this scene in particular an unpleasant reminder of the narrow-minded attitudes disability rights campaigners and people with autism have worked so hard to overcome, to sit in a packed audience & hear gleeful laughter at the characters expense felt like a massive backwards step.

Delivering this show in a large theatre like the lyric is also a challenge in itself; a smaller theatre may have offered the opportunity for a more subtle intimate production, albeit with a hefty reworking of the outdated script.

There are moments of brilliance as we see the genuine connection develop between the two leads most notably when Charlie teaches Raymond to dance; both actors execute this poignant moment beautifully however the script dictates that these joyful moments are few and far between.

At a time where difference and diversity is increasingly celebrated Rain Main feels like it missed the 2019 memo. Although the cast deliver excellent performances the script is just too outdated to guarantee another decade of success and unfortunately displays an enormously out-dated depiction of autism which should be left in the eighties.

Rain Man is on at The Lowry until Saturday 16th March tickets available here.

Saturday Night Fever

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Based on the 1978 film starring John Travolta in THAT white 3 piece suit, Saturday Night Fever strutted into Manchester last night for a week’s stay at the city’s Palace Theatre.

Set in the backstreets of Brooklyn, Saturday Night Fever is a coming of age story combined with a jukebox musical of the Bee Gee’s greatest hits.

Tony Manero (Richard Winsor) lives for his Saturday nights at the local discotheque; the perfect escape from his dull job and not so harmonious home life with his abusive father and downtrodden mother. Dancing is the one thing that gives Tony purpose, credibility and a means of escape. When a dance competition is announced Tony must decide who to compete with, local girl Annette (Anna Campkin) or new girl on the scene Stephanie (Kate Parr).

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While there have been several touring versions of Saturday Night Fever this is the first I’ve seen where the Bee Gee’s classics such as Stayin’ Alive, You Should Be Dancing, Jive Talkin’ and More Than A Woman are delivered on stage by a tribute group. Taking on the formidable challenge of becoming the Gibbs brothers are Edward Handoll, Alastair Hill and Matt Faull. The trio are note perfect in their delivery of the iconic soundtrack & could easily fool you into thinking it’s a real Bee Gee’s recording being played.

Experienced actor and dancer Richard Winsor struts his way around the stage as the infamous Tony, confident and cool he also manages to portray the angsty sensitive side of the determined dancer with ease. His skills as a dancer highlighted beautifully during his emotional solo during Immortality.

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There is a huge amount of talent on stage; the strong ensemble cast deliver Bill Deamer’s high-energy choreography with at times jaw-dropping commitment. The music too is superb and the show certainly looks the part as Gary McCann’s industrial set of moving stairs and walkways add authenticity to the piece while the colourful 70’s costumes take us right back to the period. The show however feels at times like something is missing, while the production touches on some real issues including suicide and drugs they aren’t ever developed or explored in any real way, we never really get to know anyone well enough to emotionally connect or even really care much about their journey which seems like a missed opportunity which could have taken this show to the next level.

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That said Saturday Night fever knows its audience and delivers spectacular dance routines complete with multi-coloured dancefloor and spinning disco balls with perfection. If you’re looking for some seriously sizzling dance routines and stunning vocal arrangements then you won’t be disappointed.

Catch Saturday Night Fever at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 26th January tickets available here.

 

 

 

This is Elvis

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Writer Matt Forrest

Elvis Aaron Presley is the undisputed King of Rock N Roll, which is just a fact. Presley is beloved by millions of people around the world: in the UK alone, he had 21 number one singles, a feat yet to be matched. However Presley wasn’t always top dog: during the mid 1960’s things we’re looking pretty grim for ‘Elvis the Pelvis’: a string of poorly received films, his last live performance coming in 1961, it would be fair to say that by 1968 Elvis wasn’t in a good place.

However all that would change with the famous NBC ‘68 Comeback Special’ television broadcast which is where This is Elvis starts. The production opens at the NBC studios as we see a performer riddled with self-doubt and confidence issues only to make a triumphant comeback. Presley is back on the map and wanting to hit the road again, however the strangle-hold that his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, has over him forces Presley into undertaking a 57 show residency in Las Vegas, a situation Presley isn’t keen on. In addition to this, there are marriage problems, anxiety issues, and a certain degree of pressure from the Memphis Mafia, the nickname given to friends and associates of Presley.

This is certainly a production of two halves: the first being that of a musical, the second being a tribute concert, with the latter working out more than the first. Acts one and two provide a useful insight into the extraordinary pressure that Elvis put himself under, in addition to the external issues that were blighting him. Though done in a ham-fisted manner, they are essential to gaining an understanding of Presley. During the Las Vegas show-case finale we are treated  to one of the legendary Las Vegas’s performances with all the showmanship and charisma we associate  with the ‘King’, however the performance is punctured with a great deal of pathos as well.

Steve Michaels is outstanding in the lead role: an international award winning Elvis tribute act in his own right. His performance during the Las Vegas concert is outstanding: he has a fantastic voice and it really shows through as he belts out such classics as Jailhouse Rock, In The Ghetto, and Burning Love: which had everyone up on their feet dancing midway through the final act. However what set this aside from being a caricatured performance is the way Michaels injects some of Presley’s mannerisms and foibles in the performance; it really is a star turn.

Michaels is backed by a 10 piece band who are fantastic, with credit falling at the feet of musical director Steve Geere. The musicianship and talent on display is a treat to behold and in addition, the Las Vegas stage design by Andy Walmsley of bright neon lights, and Presley’s name up in lights add glitz and glamour to proceedings.

Overall, despite a slow start, and some clunky plot points that really could be handled better, this entertaining show providing an insight into some of the demons that blighted Presley’s towards the end of his life, but also an opportunity to remember him for the songs, and the charismatic, captivating performer he was. Elvis fans will love it and for those that aren’t familiar with his music this would be a great place to start. So best dig out the blue suede shoes and white jump suit and head on down to the Palace!

This Is Elvis is on at the Palace Theatre Manchester until 16th June tickets can be found here.

Interview | Neil McDermott | The Sound of Music

Neil McDermott Headshot

Manchester’s Palace Theatre is soon to be alive with the sound of music as Bill Kenwright’s critically acclaimed production heads into town.

The five star production sees Lucy O’Byrne returning to the iconic role of Maria, a performance which led to Lucy being described asquite possibly the best Maria since Julie Andrews herself” (The Scotsman).  Joining Lucy as Captain Von Trapp will be former EastEnders actor and West End star Neil McDermott.

Neil who was most recently seen in the city as Chief Weasel in the hugely successful The Wind in the Willows is delighted to be joining this production of The Sound of Music which has been receiving rave reviews across the country.

We caught up with Neil ahead of the show’s arrival at the Palace Theatre on Tuesday 13th March to hear a little more about his role, his thoughts on the show and his thoughts on Manchester.

ON – You’re playing Captain Von Trapp who goes on a real journey from when we first meet him compared to the end of the show, is it a fun role to play?

NM – It is a real emotional journey, he’s quite down and depressed at the beginning of the show, he’s lost his wife some time ago and is left to father the seven children and is finding it all very difficult. He’s trying to move on but finding that difficult emotionally and also at the same time there’s a continual threat from the Third Reich taking over Austria which is playing heavy on his mind as well. Maria then comes into the household and spends lots of time with the children and manages to free the Captain from his slumber/depression and they fall in love and he manages to re-find himself. It’s a great role to play as recently I’ve been playing lots of physical roles lots of comedy villains, so to get the opportunity to play the Captain is a great one and one that I was really pleased I was able to do.

ON – Is it more challenging to take on a role that people know well or to create something entirely new?

NM – Both are challenging in different ways, creating something new is a challenge as you want to make sure you create something new, exciting and interesting, creating something people know well you still have to create something new and fresh but I guess you’re dealing with the audience knowing the character from previous productions, perhaps the film or TV series in this case, a role is nothing if you don’t bring your own personality and sense of humour so my job is to tell the story as convincingly and as sensitively as I can with all the skills I possess. It’s a big role and a big challenge.

ON – Will the staging of the production be in keeping with the style of the film?

NM – The staging is beautiful, it’s not exactly like the film as the stage version is different in parts to the film, the stage version actually came before the film version and there are songs in the stage version which aren’t in the film version. There will be differences but you can tell it’s the same show, the show has a wonderful Austrian feel and our designers have really captured that beautifully as it was captured so well in the film too.

ON – The Sound of Music is such a fan favourite, what are your first memories of it?

NM – I actually played the part of Rolf 11 years ago now in the London Palladium version when Connie Fisher played Maria, so that was really my first memories of The Sound of Music; before I auditioned I watched the film then had a year of doing the show.

ON – With so many classic songs in the show are you able to pick a favourite?

NM – The Lonely Goatherd, it’s a song where Maria and the children are having fun, in the stage version they sing it when there’s lots of thunder and lightning outside so they use it as a song to cheer themselves up it’s a really fantastic song.

ON – As a lifelong Evertonian how is it working with Bill Kenwright?

NM – It’s very interesting for me, this was the first time for me auditioning for him and as you do with a Bill Kenwirght show when you get to that last stages you go up to his office and you see all the pictures and memorabilia of all the Everton players and managers, it’s quite something when you’re in that room and I suppose as an Everton fan I was almost more affected by that than I was the show! He’s a great guy and we’ve had lots of great chats about the show and about my character, he’s been really supportive of me, I’ve nothing but positive things to say about him.

ON – Do you have any pre-show rituals?

NM – I always make sure I prepare as well as possible, I make sure I warm up, both physically and vocally, I always keep a bit of ginger around and chew on that to a liven my vocal chords ahead of every performance.

ON – What are you most looking forward to about heading to Manchester?

NM – I’ve performed at the Lowry a couple of times but never at the Palace theatre, I’m really looking forward to it, it’s a beautiful theatre, a huge space. I always have a good time in Manchester, it’s a great city with a lot of great people and a lot of theatrical history, you can sense that when you perform for Manchester audiences, they really know what they are watching and have a good eye for good theatre, it’s a pleasure to perform for the Manchester public

ON – With Manchester being the final stop on the tour are you able to tell us where we can see you next?

Not at the moment, as we come to the end of the tour I’ll be out auditioning again, so there’s nothing I can tell you right now but of course I’m looking for something to do after this show.

On at the Palace Theatre from Tuesday 13th March until Saturday 17th March, tickets available here.

Evita

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Opening Night rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

It’s hard to believe that next year will see Evita celebrate it’s 40-year anniversary. The Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice collaboration became the first British musical to win the Tony award for best musical then in 1996 Evita received the Hollywood treatment when it was turned into a major motion picture starring Madonna, Antonio Banderas and Jimmy Nail. Even after all this time, the love and affection for this musical monster shows no sign of waning.

The musical charts the rise and fall of Eva Perón. From her humble rural upbringing, to her move to Buenos Aires in an attempt to become a star of stage and screen. She would meet and marry Colonel Juan Perón who would be elected president of Argentina. This is a classic tale of an ambitious young woman who desires fame, power and wealth, but at what cost to her physical health and to Argentina financially?

Evita 2 Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright’s Evita is full of life and energy: the story is so exhilarating, told at such a breakneck speed that you hardly have time to breath. Madalena Alberto plays Evita with a great deal of sass and attitude juxtaposed with beautiful elegance and grace. It’s little wonder the people of Argentina fell for her charms on the basis of this exceptional performance. Alberto’s rendition of Don’t Cry for me Argentina is simply spine-tingling. Alberto is supported by a great cast; Gian Marco Schiaretti is on fine form as Che, acting as our guide and the shows conscience his presence looms over the production providing humour and a certain degree of menace. In addition Jeremy Secomb is equally as good as Juan Perón; a stern imposing figure whom like the rest of us falls under Evita’s spell.

Evita 1 A special mention to for Cristina Hoey, whose rendition of Another Suitcase in Another Hall, very nearly steals the show. However what stood out most for me, was Bill Deamer’s fantastic and intricate choreography on the big ensemble numbers such as And the Money Keeps Rolling In (and out ) and A New Argentina: add into the mix the bright, colourful costumes and extravagant set design and you cannot help but be impressed by the energy and vibrancy of it all.

The action is pacey with much more humour than I anticipated. Overall this is a seriously quality production that has lost nothing from its transfer from the West End to a tour production. With stunning performances and incredible score Evita is a thrilling night out that will stave off the cold winter blues and certainly provide a hefty dose of Latino-heat!

Evita Evita is on at the Palace Theatre Manchester till the 9th December tickets available here