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

'

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/

Much Ado About Nothing – Opera House

unnamed
Now that we have witnessed the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Edward Bennett electrocuted inside a giant Christmas tree, the festive season can officially begin!
What better way to mark the conclusion of 2016 – and the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death – than with two of the Bard’s best-loved comedies, played on consecutive nights at the Opera House Manchester, with the same cast?
Director Christopher Luscombe and production manager Paul Hennessey’s grand experiment examines the long-rumoured synergies between Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing – setting them in the same country estate (modelled on Charlecote Park, near Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon) and bookmarking them in summer and winter, before and after the Great War. 
Both deliver a witty, sparring couple; a supporting cast of characters that include a policeman, a curate and many domestic servants; masked encounters between lovers; and – one of Shakespeare’s favourite devices – endless cases of mistaken identity. 
ma
Associate director Guy Unsworth concludes that Shakespeare ‘deliberately shows us two sides of the same coin’ and ‘does indeed want us to view them as an extended double-bill’… Mark thee well!
Anon – immersing ourselves in Much Ado About Nothing’s wintry scenes on a cold Mancunian night – we encounter fast-talking, resolutely single bachelorette Beatrice (Lisa Dillon), who declares: ‘I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me’. The equally marriage-adverse Benedick (Edward Bennett) has just returned from the war, yet it is Beatrice’s quick-fire degradations of his character – spoken at a masked dance – that leave him mortally wounded. 
Their union seems doomed until their eavesdropping antics reveal a surprising fact… they are each madly in love with the other. These revelatory conversations – staged by Benedick and Beatrice’s family and friends, for their benefit – are some of the funniest scenes in the production. Bennett’s comedic antics inside the family Christmas tree solicit great guffaws of appreciation from the audience; it feels inevitable when he breaks the fourth wall – dissolving into barely suppressed laughter himself.  
In another plot, Beatrice’s cousin Hero (Rebecca Collingwood), who radiates chastity and goodness, is due to be married to besotted Claudio (Tunji Kasim); however, he jilts her at the altar when her name is sullied by an accusation of infidelity. With Beatrice and Benedict’s – and Hero and Claudio’s – unions both hanging in the balance, could it be that all hopes rest on hapless constable Dogberry (Nick Haverson) riding to the rescue?
Gripped in a fit of body spasms and crashing around the set, it feels as though he is perilously close to tumbling from the stage; Haverson gives every fibre of his being to the slapstick comedic stylings of Dogberry. Along with Lisa Dillon, his performance is a highlight among the sublime cast – assembled by Gabrielle Dawes and Helena Palmer.  
ma1
Designer Simon Higlett has created a sumptuous Christmas card-style stage – rich, festive and twinkling. His team seamlessly interchange between the house and its grounds by virtue of a large sliding truck and the sub-stage trap. It’s as ingenious as it is beautiful – complemented by Melody Wood’s sumptuous period costumes that brilliantly encapsulate fashion on the cusp of the 1920s. 
This is the second time that composer Nigel Hess has scored the two plays for the RSC, but with exception of a couple of affection quotes, he has revisited them again with completely new music. To further explore the cohesion between the comedies, he uses musical cross-references between the two productions. It’s a triumph, with nuances that complement the on-stage gusto and frivolity to perfection. 
Christmas is a season of laughter and good cheer – and you will find both in these sparkling, immaculate productions by one of our nation’s greatest treasures: the Royal Shakespeare Company. 
Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing are on at Opera House Manchester until Saturday, 3 December.

Aladdin Press Launch

aladdin

First Family Entertainment and The Opera House, Manchester have announced their star-studded line up for this year’s fabulous family panto and boy are we in for a treat! Oh no we’re not……OH YES WE ARE!!!!

There will be superb sets, sparkling costumes and of course side splitting comedy all headed up by a spectacular cast! Rumour has it there may even be a flying carpet and don’t get me started on what that magical lamp might do!

aladdin-1

First up is much loved Manchester actor John Thomson, currently riding high in the TV ratings with the return of the brilliant Cold Feet, John takes on the role of the evil Abanazer. After playing Captain Hook back in 2007 John is thrilled to take on another notorious baddie and is looking forward to the challenge of getting the fine balance right between the comedy of the role and also the mischief and villainy.

“Playing a baddie is all about getting the balance right…one foot in the booooooo’s and one foot in the ha ha ha’s, to the kids watching it means everything, it’s so real to them, they get so involved and everything that happens on stage is so important”.

John spoke about his admiration for Panto greats who have paved the way for our current stars, Cannon and Ball, Norman Wisdom, Russ Abbot, Cilla Black..and more recently Joe Pasquale, Bradley Walsh, Bobby Davro and Brian Conley;

“..they delivered performances I not only admire but also aspire to, for me it means I want to get this right”.

John loves the unique charm and the Britishness of Panto, noting that the top three trending items on Twitter over the weekend were “The Archers, Country File and Antiques Roadshow” John thinks it’s clear what the British public want, good ,well made, wholesome entertainment, with hopefully the successful return of Cold Feet shaking things up a bit and paving the way for a return of more quality drama and entertainment and what better place to start than with the much loved tradition of Panto!

aladdin-3

Joining John for the festive season as the Genie of the Ring is the legendary Sherrie Hewson. Sherrie is hugely excited to return to Manchester, where she had an enormously successful five years on the cobbles at Coronation St. Aladdin is one of her absolute favourite Panto’s so she’s thrilled that her Grandchildren will get to see her in such a magical production.

A veteran of Panto with many tales to tell Sherrie will make for an exceptional Genie, dramatic, flamboyant, not to mention totally and utterly fabulous!

Sherrie hugely values the importance of Panto and loves how it gives so many children their first opportunity of live theatre. Sherrie described how Panto has given her own Grandchildren a taste for the theatre, something they now all enjoy as a family with regular trips to London.  Sherrie takes great pride in knowing her part in this year’s Panto will create magical memories for many more children and families new to the world of theatre. With great experience comes great knowledge and after working on so many panto’s in the past Sherrie certainly knows a great cast when she sees one;

I’m so looking forward to working with my fellow cast members, this cast feels really good, everything fits and feels just right.

aladdin-2

No Panto is complete without a dashing Prince and there’s no exception here, taking on the role of Aladdin is they very lovely Ben Adams known to many as the lead singer of popular 90’s boyband ‘A1’. Ben is now a hugely successful songwriter having recently enjoyed a spell at No 1 with the track ‘Guilty Flowers’ which he co-wrote with Ward Thomas and Shelly Poole. Add to this the fact Ben still tours with A1 and has recently reached No.1 with his own Classical Ep ‘One Beautiful Mourning’ as well as creating a new musical Eugenius! Phew!

Ben is really excited to be in Manchester, this is actually his third Christmas playing Aladdin after previously playing the role in Woking and Milton Keynes so when given the chance again he was keen to perform somewhere new, Ben reflects on his touring years with A1 and described past Manchester audiences as ..”Brilliant, always great fun” but due to being on the road he’d only ever get to stay for one night before heading off to the next gig so Ben’s taking this time as a great opportunity to explore Manchester and get to know this fabulous city.

While Ben is excited to take on the role again he’d love in future to tackle the challenge of playing a dame, having lots of fun with the role and of course enjoying the great interaction with the audience.

aladdin-4

Completing the start-studded line up and appearing as the long-suffering Widow Twankey will be Eric Potts, one of Britain’s best loved panto dames. Eric has previously won critical acclaim for his panto roles at the Opera House playing Widow Twankey in Aladdin in 2009 and Sarah the Cook in Dick Whittington in 2013 and is a huge crowd pleaser. As well as appearing in and writing the script, Eric will also be directing this year’s show!

With laughs a plenty, chart-topping songs, tonnes of unforgettable Panto puns, lamp loads of wishes AND a real flying carpet, Aladdin is set to be the most magical show of the season. Once you rub the magic lamp this fine cast will transport you into a magical world of boo-able baddies and hunky heros with more than a few tricks and treats along the way!

Aladdin print.jpg

Opera House, Friday 9th December – Sunday 8th January

Tickets available now from  http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/aladdin/opera-house-manchester/

ACCESS PERFORMANCES FOR ALADDIN
There are two BSL Interpreted Performance scheduled for Thu 15 & Fri 16 Dec 2016, 7pm, and on Fri 30 Dec 2016 at 1pm a Relaxed Performance. For more information on access performances call the access team on 0161 245 6605.