Winter Wonderland

Winter Wonderland 2016 promo

Event City’s mega 22,000sq m of exhibition space has been transformed once again into a fabulously festive Winter Wonderland which will undoubtedly thrill young and old alike.

Now in its 5th consecutive year, Manchester’s biggest attraction boasts more rides than you can shake a candy cane at, as well as shows, festive food and drink and of course no Wonderland would be complete without the big man himself, Father Christmas! There are even a couple of very special guests to entertain the little ones this year in the form of classic children’s favourite’s, Rainbow’s George and Zippy!

Winter Wonderland 2

With over 50 rides and attractions all under one roof you really are spoilt for choice, from an indoor circus to classic fairground favourites Winter Wonderland quite literally has something for everyone, with the added bonus that everything (apart from food and drink) is included in your ticket price, so no need to worry about limiting the number of rides you go on or searching for loose change, you can enjoy the rides as many times as you like from the minute you arrive!

For the littlest members of the family there’s a baby chill out zone including large soft play area as well as a meet and greet with Santa, numerous toddler friendly rides with flashing lights and beeping horns which kept my little visitor entertained long past her usual bedtime and although this is Christmas you can even take a trip to the seaside at the giant sandpit. A huge positive is that sessions are limited to avoid overcrowding, which further added to our enjoyment of this incredibly magical place.

Winter Wonderland

For older children and adults there’s all the favourite classic rides you’d hope to see, the dodgems, the waltzers, hilarious bucking broncos and an enormously fun cyclone (which I’d advise going on before you enjoy one of the delicious bubble waffles!)

If this wasn’t enough there are lots of fabulous shows at various intervals throughout each session, Rainbow Live with Zippy & George, a fabulous Christmas Circus, The Ice Princesses, Jedi Knight Training, an all-new Daisy & Ollie Show from Cartoonito, as well as an opportunity to enjoy a Christmas Melt-Down – fun and dancing on the main stage with Winter Wonderlands crazy DJ!

Winter Wonderland 1

With tickets prices, £20.50* (plus £1.50 Quaytickets booking fee) per ticket for adults and children aged 3-16 (under 3’s free) or £70 for a family of four, Winter Wonderland really is excellent value for money with each session lasting for four hours. My group and I left feeling festive and giggling about all the fun we’d had whilst planning our next visit to this magical place, an annual visit (or two) has quickly become one of our favourite Christmas traditions, with fun and lots of it guaranteed!

Open from 9th December 2017 until 1st January 2018, booking is highly recommended as some dates are already sold out, tickets are available here.

 

 

Doctor Doolittle heads to The Lowry!

Dr Doolittle

A brand new stage production of Leslie Bricusse’s family favourite Doctor Dolittle will be heading to The Lowry for Christmas 2018!

Produced by Music & Lyrics Limited who recently brought The Addams Family and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to the Salford venue, Doctor Dolittle will stay for the entirety of the festive season opening on Tue 11th December 2018 and running through to Sat 5th January 2019.

This all new production which will feature stunning visual puppetry, a stunning soundtrack including Academy award-winning “Talk To The Animals” as well as the hilarious Pushmi-Pullyu and Dolittle’s trusty sidekick Polynesia the parrot.

Booking is now open for Lowry members with general sale soon to follow, more information can be found here

Elf the Musical

Elf

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

West End smash hit Elf the Musical arrived at the Lowry this week for a festive six week stint.

Based on the much loved 2003 film with a book by Tony Award winners Thomas Meehan (Annie, The Producers, Hairspray) and Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone) and songs by Tony Award nominees Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin (The Wedding Singer), Elf tells the popular tale of Buddy the Elf.

After crawling into Santa’s toy sack as a young orphan boy Buddy finds himself living amongst the elves in the North Pole, with an inability to make toys even half as fast as his fellow workers and being twice the size of every other elf there Buddy realises it’s time to face the truth and admit perhaps he isn’t an elf after all. With Santa’s permission Buddy heads to New York City in a bid to discover his true identity, find his father and hopefully spread some Christmas cheer along the way.

Elf 3

West End favourite Ben Forster reprises the role he won rave reviews for and it’s clear to see why, he commands the stage with his witty, warm and charismatic take on the loveable Buddy. His confused interactions with the hardened New Yorkers are hilarious and his innocent boisterous wooing of Jovie (Liz McClarnon) is a delight to see. Forster is perfectly cast, he completely makes the role his own, no easy task for such an iconic character made so famous by Will Ferrell. Forster bursts with enthusiasm and Christmas cheer, he entirely captivates with his joyful characterisation, his voice is smooth, strong and pitch perfect.

Forster is joined by a talented cast including Liz McClarnon as love interest Jovie. McClarnon is superb as Christmas pessimist Jovie, with the most beautiful of voices and strong characterisation, Jovie’s ice maiden persona takes some melting, she is witty, sarcastic and the perfect sour to Buddy’s sweet.

Elf 4

Tim Goodchild’s sets are lavish and impressive, sparky and slick as scenes move effortlessly from one to the next. The additional use of Ian William Galloway’s video design further adds to the wow factor of this big budget production. Sue Simmerling’s costume design is perfection, glitter, sequins, red and green for the North Pole, sharp grey suits for NYC.

The production remains true to the film but is so charming in its storytelling that those who haven’t seen the film (yes they do exist) will thoroughly enjoy the musical regardless. There are the classic lines we would all wish for hilariously delivered, a stunning score with catchy uplifting songs which you’ll be humming for days, the score literally has it all from stand out beautifully choreographed showstoppers to a witty yet moving solo from Jovie (Liz McClarnon).

Elf 2

Elf is a heart-warming, sparkly, spectacular. The message of love, hope and family is a special one, wonderfully and hilariously delivered. The audible gasps of joy from the audience will warm the coldest of hearts and will ensure you’ll leave the theatre grinning from ear to ear, offering hugs to anyone who will accept one and maybe even a few to those who won’t! Elf delivers the most perfect escapism from the crazy times we’re living in, funny, feel-good and oh so fabulous, a festive treat for all the family.

On at the Lowry until Sunday 7th January tickets available here

Behind the Scenes of Elf – The Musical, Part 2

Elf1

Ben Forster as Buddy in Elf – The Musical

In the first part of our behind the scenes we chatted to the lovely Liz McClarnon who stars as Jovie in Elf – The Musical, which comes to The Lowry from 24th November 2017 – 14th January 2018.

Opening Night also got the chance to grab the ‘Elf’ man himself, Ben Forster, who takes on the lead role of Buddy.

Now you might remember Ben from winning the ITV talent show Superstar back in 2012 when he beat off thousands of hopefuls to play the role of Jesus in a revamped version of Andrew Lloyd Webbers Jesus Christ Superstar. In this show however Ben casts off the Jesus robes and instead dons an elf costume. It’s a part he made his own playing Buddy in the West End and now is taking it on the road with a short stint in Plymouth before spending Christmas at the Lowry.

At the show’s launch Ben gave us a festive treat, singing a preview of one of the key numbers, ‘World’s Greatest Dad’ (you can still watch that back on our Facebook page if you missed it). We grabbed him afterwards for a lowdown on what it’s like to star in a show based on one of the most iconic Christmas movies of all time…

Elf2

Ben sings ‘World’s Greatest Dad’ from Elf – The Musical at the show’s press launch

ON (Opening Night): So Ben what did you think when you were first approached about Elf – The Musical?

Ben: “What I really first thought was it’s going to be an awful pantomime version and I’m gonna be standing there singing ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen in an elf costume. Then I was sent the script and the music and I realised it is an incredible show. The musical score is unbelievable, it’s really big band Broadway music complete with a 16-piece orchestra in the theatre.  It’s really classy and it’s also really beautiful. I think after that I was just like ‘Oh my god I’ve got to try and give a version of what everyone loves about Will Ferrell’! The pressure to make around two thousand people laugh and deliver all those one liners that are so famous everyone has already laughed at them 100 times is a difficult thing but as soon as we got in front of a crowd I was like ‘Ah this is gonna be fine, the audience is so welcoming.’ It’s such a brilliant show, people love it and the movie has been in their lives for so many years it’s like a firm Christmas classic.

ON: Have you been tempted to watch the movie a few times to remind yourself of what it’s like?

Ben: I’ve consciously not watched the film since getting the part, it’s really important for me not to do an impression of Will Ferrell because it wouldn’t be the right thing to do. If you were watching the show and thinking he’s doing a good ‘Will’ impression then it’s not as fun or heartwarming plus you don’t connect fully to the character. I look at it as a part I have to act and take the honesty out of it. Essentially Buddy is a man who would have grown up with elves, lives in the North Pole and thinks it’s Christmas every day. If anyone would have had that reality and then come into normal life it would be hysterical, so I just play it like that – open and honest.

ON: Can fans expect a carbon copy of the movie though?

Ben: There’s a few tiny differences, but the story is exactly the same as it is in the movie – the moral, the message – it’s all there. It will still make you laugh, and it will still make you cry at the end because you’ll feel the Christmas spirit plus it reminds you what Christmas is about. For most people Christmas is about being with your family, travelling wherever you might be just to have that one special night with people you love to give them a present. To feel the love, to give love – that is what the musical is all about.

ON: With you doing this tour over Christmas will you miss out on seeing your family?

Ben: No not at all, just the opposite as I’m from the North East and my Mum and Dad now live in the North West. As soon as I finish the show at Christmas I’m gonna do exactly what Buddy did and trawl across the country and be back with my family. I want to be with my nephews and see them all opening their presents because that is the magic of Christmas time.

 

Well after that sneak preview and chat we can’t wait for Ben and the cast to arrive in the city for Elf – The Musical at The Lowry…is it too early for mulled wine and mince pies?? 

Grab yourself a ticket whilst you can as this show is guaranteed to make even Ebenezer Scrooge feel in the Christmas spirit!

https://www.thelowry.com/events/elf-the-musical

 

 

 

Behind the Scenes of Elf the Musical – Part 1

Liz

Based on the much loved 2003 film starring Will Ferrell, Elf the musical heads to The Lowry next month as part of their spectacular Autumn/Winter programme and promises to be the must see show of the festive season.

With a book by Tony Award winners Thomas Meehan (Annie, The Producers, Hairspray) and Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone) and songs by Tony Award nominees Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin (The Wedding Singer), Elf’s much anticipated arrival will spread Christmas cheer far and wide as we follow Buddy the Elf in his hilarious quest to find his birth-father.

Ahead of opening on Friday 24th November we headed to Hamley’s in the Trafford Centre for the Lowry’s official Elf launch, as well as making our own Christmas baubles and tucking into the most incredible Elf celebration cake we caught up with the shows stars Liz McClarnon who plays Jovi and Ben Forster who reprises the role of Buddy after an enormously popular run in London’s West End.

Elf launch

Part One of our ‘Behind the Scenes at Elf’ is out chat with the lovely Liz McClarnon, founding member of Atomic Kitten and experienced musical theatre star, Liz gave us the inside information on what audiences can expect from this magical production.

Opening Night (ON): Jovi isn’t exactly full of Christmas cheer but we know you’re an eternal optimist who loves Christmas so how will you balance the two?

Liz: I’m so obsessed with Christmas, if I could start talking about it in April that would be fine with me, everyone around me is like ‘Please chill, just stop’ but I think what I really like is that Jovi has that dark, sarcastic humour and actually being a Scouser I feel I’ve lived that my whole life, so when I read for the part I added a few little bits and they were really well received so I think I’ve definitely got the dark humour but I’ve also got the Christmas love at the end.

ON: How did you become involved in the show?

Liz: I was sent the a song to audition with and when I heard it I realised it was in my perfect key, so I got really excited about it, so I went to the audition, sang and they were really happy with me, it’s like the song was made for me. I think we were all happy with the situation coz basically three hours later I got a phone call telling me I’d got the part; it’s never been that fast before. Singing musical theatre feels so natural for me, I’m so excited to be part of this show.

Liz 1

ON: Are you looking forward to working with Ben?

Liz: Absolutely, I’ve actually known Ben for years, we’ve got lots of the same friends, I went to see him in Phantom and I already knew we had a few mutual friends and I brought one of my friends with me and Ben already knew her too so for me I know already it’s going to be so much fun.

ON: Are you ready for the ice skating/rollerblading in the show?

Liz: I am honestly the clumsiest person ever, I probably should have said that in the audition to be fair, ha ha, but I will absolutely be rollerblading/ice skating. I’m really excited about starting rehearsals but also a little bit petrified so will be taking every opportunity to practice.

ON: Elf has become such a Christmas classic, is there a pressure in taking on something so iconic to deliver?

Liz: Yes, of course, it’s come from the West End, Ben has already done it in the West End, Kimberley Walsh was amazing in it, so yes absolutely. When I did Legally Blonde that had come straight from the West End as well so you really have a sense of don’t mess it up! But it honestly feels so right doing it that I’m more excited than scared. I can’t play Jovi like Kimberley’s done I will absolutely have to play her my way and put my own stamp on it, which I’m really excited to do.

Elf Cake

ON: Are you looking forward to performing at the Lowry?

Liz: Absolutely, I’ve been a few times to see different shows, I’ve taken my Mum to watch ballets there before, I love it there, I think it’s a beautiful theatre, it’s bigger than I realised too which is exciting and a little bit daunting. It’s funny just before I go on stage performing I get a real feeling nerves and fear and I think ‘why do I do this job?’ then three seconds in and I’m there performing on stage I think ‘THIS is why I do it’ it’s the BEST feeling ever!

ON: Do you have any superstitions or rituals you have to do before a show?

Liz: Yes, but different superstitions for different shows. For Legally Blonde my character Paulette had a lot of earrings and massive shoes, so the left earring had to go on first, then the left shoe had to go on because that’s how I did it on opening night, so then I felt like I had to do it like that the whole time. So generally it’s something that happens and then I remember I’ve done it and then I have to then do it every show, so we’ll have to see what it is for Elf.

ON: When do rehearsals start?

Liz: We start rehearsals on 16th October, so we’ve got about a month of rehearsals. It’s funny on the first day you think ‘argh a month’s never enough time’ but it always is, I’ve done shows with only two weeks rehearsals and you think no way is that enough time but it always is. I’ve got my script already and I’ve highlighted all my bits so I’m ready to go.

Elf flyers

ON: What is it about Elf that makes it so appealing to audiences?

Liz: I think it not only delivers that magical Christmas feeling but you also get funny, you get sarcastic, you get to laugh at Buddy at first but then you do really fall in love with him and go through this magical adventure with him. The magic that happens on stage I’ve been told is incredible and I can’t wait to be part of that, I’m gonna have to try and contain my own excitement, it sounds like it really does have to be seen to be believed.

ON: Do you have any Christmas traditions within your family?

Liz: Oh yes lots! A few drinks on Christmas Eve is definitely one coming from a big Irish family, we also always have about three or four different meats with our Christmas dinner coz everyone like different things, my Mum has the posh meat, my boyfriend has the lamb, I like Chicken, my brother likes beef, my Dad likes beef, my Mum opts for goose or pheasant so there’s all sorts going on.

ON: Are you family coming down to see the show?

Liz: Absolutely, I’m getting messages from people claiming to be family members I didn’t even know I had, that’s how excited everyone is about this show. Everyone is going nuts about this show, my family are genuinely very, very supportive, my immediate family especially, they will come and see me in a show eight or ten times, I’m very lucky knowing they’re very proud of me.

Elf The Musical runs at The Lowry from Fri 24 November 2017 – Sun 14 January 2018, tickets available here https://www.thelowry.com/events/elf-the-musical

 

 

Panto cast announced!

Panto

Casting for this year’s festive panto, Dick Whittington has been announced!

John Barrowman and The Krankies will lead the cast in the Opera House’s magical production which will run from Saturday 9 December to Sunday 7 January 2018 with tickets on sale now….oh no they’re not…..oh yes they are!

John Barrowman Panto promo image

John Barrowman will swap the West End for Manchester as he takes on the lead role of Dick and will be joined for some comedy capers by legendary duo and family favourites The Krankies!

Produced by Qdos Entertainment, the world’s biggest pantomime producer, the show will also include a spectacular 3D sequence, which will see audiences travel on a very special adventure alongside Dick Whittington and his trusty cat!

The Krankies Panto Promo Image

Michael Harrison, Managing Director of Qdos Entertainment’s pantomimes said “We’re absolutely delighted that the ultimate showman, John Barrowman, will be leading the cast of this year’s Manchester Opera House pantomime. John is always a favourite with panto audiences, which is no surprise given his immense talent. We’re also thrilled that panto-legends The Krankies will be spending another season with John, their timeless comedy is loved by audiences of all ages.”

Panto fans can see the show at Manchester’s Opera House between Saturday 9 December 2017 to Sunday 7 January 2018

Tickets: From £12 available here http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/dick-whittington/opera-house-manchester/

 

Billy Elliot – The Musical

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Billy is from a place where the men don’t dance, end of story, but, with a gritty determination, and an undeniable charm plus more talent than most of us have in our little fingers, he sets out to prove his doubters wrong by breaking the mould and going all the way.

Billy Elliot the Musical is a total phenomenon which has been seen by almost 11 million people across five continents and has won over 80 awards internationally, including an almighty 10 Tony Awards and a hugely impressive 5 Olivier Awards. Based on Lee Hall’s 2000 film, set in a northern mining town against the background of the 1984/’85 miners’ strike, the story revolves around Billy, who trades his boxing gloves for ballet shoes and soon discovers a passion for dance that ultimately changes not just his but the lives of his family and community forever.

So ingrained was life in the pits that son’s followed in their father’s footsteps, proud to do so and loyal to their communities. The impact of Maggie Thatcher and her Conservative Government on these communities is something that will never be forgotten and for most certainly not forgiven. Billy Elliot tells the story of a boy with a talent who wants out of the hardships of life in a mining town but needs the support and the backing of the proud men he adores yet watches become more and more broken by the oppressions of the state.

Billy Elliot does not shy away from the reality of the hardship and ill-treatment of the working classes during the miners’ strike of ‘84/85 and this only makes it more powerful and spellbinding. The contrast of the softness and innocence of the children in tutu’s dancing amongst the striking miners and heavy handed baton-wielding Police is powerful and emotive, reminding me of days in the 80’s when my sisters and I would help my Father seal envelops to send for job after job after first striking then being made redundant, unsuccessful time after time, yet never giving up.

Billy Elliot Tour

Billy Elliot is a story of hope, with emotional highs and heart-breaking lows, it is utterly absorbing. it will make you laugh out loud as well as pause an take The talent on stage is simply mind-blowing. With four Billy’s cast on the tour, tonight is the turn of Lewis Smallman to show us he truly was born to boogie. I don’t think any words could do justice to just how incredibly talented this young actor is, the challenges of the role are immense, not only do the boys need to have excellent contemporary dance, tap and ballet skills, but they’ve got to be able to sing and act and all with a Geordie accent! Lewis is totally mesmerising, his sheer talent and commitment to the role brought me to tears as I watched him move, he made for the perfect Billy.

As well as Lewis all the children in the cast are magnificent, with special mention going to Samuel Torpey Billy’s cross-dressing best friend Michael, whose duet with Lewis Smallman on Expressing Yourself is just perfection, funny, fabulous and full of razzle-dazzle, no doubt we will be seeing much more of this incredible talent, a true star in the making, he has the x-factor in bucket loads! Evie Martin takes on the role of Debbie with all the cheeky wit you’d hope for, she is fantastic, sassy and witty with just the right amount of attitude. The adult cast are exceptional too, lump in the throat moments between Billy and his dead Mum are at juxtapose with the scenes of violence and intimidation on the picket line. Annette McLaughlin as Mrs Wilkinson is outstanding, firm and feisty she truly believes in Billy, the scenes between the two are incredibly powerful as she offers a little of the Mother’s touch missing from Billy’s life. Martin Walsh as Billy’s Dad and Scott Garnham as Tony, Billy’s brother are real and believable, hardened by life and the rough hand they have been dealt yet when it comes down to it their love for both Billy and each other shines through.

Billy Elliot Tour

Everything about this production for me was perfection, from Elton John’s sublime score, to the incredible lighting design from Rick Fisher, and as for Peter Darling’s choreography, wow! Totally awe-inspiring, complex and compelling, expressive and moving, I barely blinked for fear of missing anything it just is that good.

Billy Elliot is an absolute triumph of a show, heart-warming, inspiring and utterly mesmerising, it’s very rare you see a whole audience leap up in appreciation but I absolutely guarantee by the time the curtain falls you will be on your feet roaring for more!

On at the Palace Theatre until Saturday 28th January tickets available here;

http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/billy-elliot/palace-theatre-manchester/