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While both actors give superb performances as Raymond and Charlie the story feels outdated and at times is uncomfortable to watch.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

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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

Cilla The Musical

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Developed from BAFTA award winner Jeff Pope’s critically acclaimed 2014 ITV mini-series starring Sheridan Smith, Cilla the Musical is a new stage biography which tells the story of Liverpool’s most famous red-head, from her early rise to fame to the start of her much celebrated TV career.

Detailing her fierce ambition, the complexities of her relationship with boyfriend then Manager then husband Bobby Willis and the close friendship they both had with troubled Manager Brian Epstein, Cilla is a nostalgic and heart-warming jukebox musical featuring both Cilla’s hits and other fan favourites from the period, including The Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers and The Mamma’s and The Pappas. Cast-of-Cilla-The-Musical-Liverpool-Empire-Photo-By-Matt-Martin-004-1Kara Lily Hayworth more than succeeds in stepping into Cilla’s footsteps, having won the role through a tough open audition process, Hayworth belts out showstopper after showstopper with ease and oozes style. With stunning vocals, perfect Cilla like mannerisms and a flawless Scouse accent her performance is superb. When Hayworth closes Act I with Cilla’s 1964 number one hit ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’ she literally brings the house down, goose-bump inducing brilliance, expertly delivered.

Both Carl Au as Bobby and Andrew Lancel as Brian Epstein are excellently cast. The chemistry between Au and Hayworth as Bobby and Cilla is wonderful; Au adds great depth to the character who many of us knew little about other than him being ‘our Bobby’. Lancel plays tormented and troubled Epstein sensitively, a true gentleman always having time for his acts despite his own personal demons.

Gary McCann’s set is impressive, the Cavern, various recording studios, the London Palladium, and even Cilla’s childhood home, all feature, contained within a series of proscenium arches, expertly lit by Nick Richings. Cilla Cilla the musical has clearly been a labour of love for director Bill Kenwright, offering audiences a charming and nostalgic walk down memory lane, act one for me lingers slightly too long in the Cavern days, although the performances are exceptional (Michael Hawkins as John Lennon is fantastic) the pace becomes a little slow, shaving a couple of the songs from this section wouldn’t be of any detriment to the story and would keep the audience fully engaged for the duration. That said, Cilla the Musical is a fantastically fun show, which at its heart is ultimately a love story, not one love story but several, the love story of Bobby and Cilla, Cilla’s love for the music, Brian’s love for his artist, Brian and Bobby’s at times love/hate relationship with each other and even our love for the Scottie Road girl who rose from rags to riches but always remained true to her Liverpudlian roots.

Cilla the Musical is a celebration, funny, charming and chock-full of superb showstoppers, a hugely entertaining night out and fully deserving of the standing ovation received.

On at the Palace theatre until Saturday 25th November tickets available here.

Joesph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat

2)Joe McElderry in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (c)Mark Yeom...

Sibling rivalry has always made for a decent narrative tale: Cain and Abel, the Hound and the Mountain in the Game of Thrones saga, and of course the on-going feud between Noel and Liam Gallagher. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat goes one step further including a colourful coat, human trafficking and the slaying of a goat!

Director Bill Kenwright brings his version of the theatre classic to the Palace for a 6 day run this week as part of an extensive UK tour. The story centres on Jacob and his twelve sons of whom Joseph is his undoubtedly his favourite. Jacob bestows a multi-coloured coat to his number one son which somewhat irks his eleven brothers who sell their sibling to be a slave and inform their father that Joseph has tragically died whilst wrestling a goat. So begins Joseph’s long journey back to his father, not before he discovers a talent for dream analysis and meetings with a Las Vegas style Pharaoh.

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I must confess I hadn’t seen a production Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat until tonight however on this basis I can certainly see why it’s still a fan favourite after 45 years.  It’s bright, it’s camper than an entire series of RuPaul’s Drag Race, and most of all its jolly good fun.

Star of the show Joe McElderry sparkles as Joseph, bringing warmth and charm to the role. He clearly loves being the face of this prestigious production and it’s clear to see he’s having as much fun on stage as the audience are having watching. His voice is smooth yet powerful, his performance cheeky and hugely likeable. Trina Hill more than holds her own as the Narrator and does a fine job, guiding us gently through the story. Both are supported by a hard working cast who are clearly having a ball and relishing their roles. A scene stealing turn by Ben James-Ellis as the Pharaoh is comedy gold. Special mention also must go to the children of Chester and Wirral Stagecoach who are excellent.

14)Joe McElderry in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (c)Mark Yeo...

There are toe-tapping songs from the opening ensemble number of Jacob and Sons, the earworm that is Benjamin Calypso through to the big tunes of Close Every Door, and Any Dream Will Do.  The costumes and set design are bold and vibrant, fully in keeping with theme of the show.

There were a few opening night nerves: faulty sheep, a dysfunctional stage curtain but these were minor quibbles. My main issue was with the sound, at times some of vocals weren’t quite loud of enough at the start of the song, small tweaks which I’m sure will be swiftly looked at.

Overall this fun feel-good show suitable for all the family and well worth a watch.

On at the Palace theatre until Saturday 21st October, for tickets head to www.atgtickets.com/shows/joseph-and-the-amazing-technicolor-dreamcoat/palace-theatre-manchester/