Annie

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Nikolai Foster’s revival of family favourite musical Annie has gone from strength to strength since it first debuted at the West Yorkshire Playhouse back in 2011. With a sell-out UK tour in 2015/16 followed by an extended run in the West End plus a recent sell-out season in Toronto all safely tucked under its belt; Annie is back on the road for 2019 opening a new UK tour here in Manchester.

Set in New York during the Great Depression it is indeed a hard-knock life for 11 year old orphan Annie who finds herself living in miserable, gin-swilling Miss Hannigan’s all-girl orphanage. Consumed with a fierce determination to find her real parents Annie manages to escape the boozy clutches of Miss Hannigan when she is picked to spend Christmas at the residence of famous billionaire, Oliver Warbucks. However Miss Hannigan and her good-for-nothing brother Rooster aren’t quite done with orphan Annie and set about trying their best to get in the way of her happy ending.

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Based on Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie comic strips the original musical opened on Broadway in 1977, it is however the 1982 film starring Albert Finney, Bernadette Peters and Eileen Quinn that remains most firmly etched in many people’s minds. It was without doubt one of the most worn out VHS tapes in my house, my sisters and I knowing every line, my eldest sister can still be called upon to belt out a deafening rendition of ‘Rover, why not think it over?’ should the need arise. With clearly many other Annie fans at the Opera House tonight it’s a welcome relief to see that director Nikolai Foster’s production respects the audiences love for this piece and has kept the changes to a minimum. It is still packed full of unforgettable classics including Hard Knock Life, Tomorrow, Easy Street and Little Girls while Miss Hannigan remains gin-guzzlingly awful but has a new technicoloured vibrancy about it.

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Its colourful escapism is reflected in Colin Richmond’s intricate set and costume design, jigsaw pieces scattered across the set reflecting Annie’s journey as piece by piece her life and identity come together all beautifully lit by Ben Cracknell. Yes at times it is schmaltzy but heck if Annie can make the President of the United States sit up and listen just imagine what she could do if unleashed into Brexit negotiations!

A large part of what makes Annie so endearing is of course the kids in the show and they really do make this production. Taziva-Faye Katsande is a charming and confident Annie supported perfectly by Team Chrysler for this evenings press night, each girl is outstanding bursting with life and vibrant energy with little Orla McDonagh threatening to steal the show as Molly on what is her professional debut.

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Anita Dobson makes for a cranky and world weary Miss Hannigan while Alex Bourne as Daddy Warbucks transforms before our eyes from hardnosed business man to smitten adoptive father. The ensemble deliver Nick Winston’s inventive choreography with sass and style adding exuberant energy to the much-loved musical numbers.

Annie is feel-good family fun, a real celebration of courage and innocent optimism as well as a wonderful reminder to us all that when the hard knocks come we need to find our inner strength and fight back remembering what seems impossible today will look different tomorrow. Joyful family entertainment with a great story at it’s heart.

On at The Opera House until Saturday 16th February tickets available here.

 

 

 

The Wizard of Oz | Blackpool Opera House

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Following on from the magical Peter Pan last year Selladoor Family return to Blackpool for their second festive season with firm family favourite, The Wizard of Oz.

This iconic musical adventure sees Dorothy (Holly Tandy) swept up out of Kansas landing with a bump in the enchanting land of Oz. Dorothy’s abrupt arrival marks the end of the Wicked Witch of the East and the start of Dorothy’s journey to the mystical Emerald City in a bid to meet the Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Katie Milner-Evans) and ask for her help to return to her family back in Kansas.

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Selladoor have gone all out in this lavish production, Steve Howell’s sets are stunning and combined with Sarah Mercade’s beautiful costume design and Jack Weir’s atmospheric lighting offer some real wow moments; not only does the Wicked Witch fly through the sky but Glinda the good witch even arrives via floating golden bubble!

All the classic songs from the instantly recognisable score are there including We’re Off To See The Wizard, Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead! and Over The Rainbow which is delivered note perfect by X Factor sensation Holly Tandy who makes a strong musical theatre debut.

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Tandy is joined by a superb trio of friends as she journeys through Oz; Kieran McGinn makes for an exceptional Scarecrow, full of heart and charisma he brings an innocent charm to the role. Emmerdale favourite Kelvin Fletcher impresses as the Tin Man, proving to be a strong character actor who switches from farmhand to Oz resident with ease while Radio Wave’s Scott Gallagher is a delight as the Cowardly Lion, funny, engaging and undoubtedly the King of the Forrest.

Chloe Carrington covered the roles of Miss Gulch and The Wicked Witch in the particular performance we saw, owning the stage with every shrill cackle she is clearly having lots of fun with the part and more than rises to the challenge.

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No Wizard of Oz would be complete without a host of colourful Ozians and vibrant indeed they are with both the ensemble and the young company delivering outstanding performances; adding depth and richness to this impressive production with a slick delivery of Khiley Williams’ striking choreography.

If you’re looking for a festive treat then look no further, click your heels together three times and whisper, ‘there’s no place like the Blackpool Opera House’. This wonderful adaptation of an all-time classic will not disappoint, great cast, superb sets and stunning costumes ensure that this Wizard of Oz is wonderful indeed!

The Wizard of Oz is on at the Blackpool Opera House until Sunday 30th December tickets available here.

*Photography by Mark Dawson

Wizard of Oz Interviews | Part 2 | Holly Tandy

Holly Tandy

Following on from our chat with Kelvin Fletcher, we caught up with Holly Tandy who is about to step into the ruby slippers and play Dorothy in Sellador’s Blackpool Christmas extravaganza, The Wizard of Oz.

Opening Night: This is your first musical theatre role, how are you feeling?

Holly: I’m super excited; it’s such a good opportunity for me. I’ve never done anything like this before and have always wanted to, it’s one of those things where I’m constantly learning which has just been just great. I know the skills I’m learning in addition to the things I already feel I have strength in together are preparing me for not only this role but my future career, it’s brilliant.

Opening Night: Are you looking forward to performing in Blackpool?

Holly: I’m so excited to get on stage and perform, being back up North feels really special for me too. I’m so excited for the audiences to see this show, my family are all coming along as well and they can’t wait, it’ll be really nice to share this with them.

Company of The Wizard of Oz

Opening Night: What is it about The Wizard of Oz that makes it so appealing?

Holly: It’s such an iconic show, a total classic that everybody knows and loves. There’s something very comforting about The Wizard of Oz and the familiarity and affection we all have for it. It’s such an engaging piece of theatre too, great for kids, just a really good feel-good show and the perfect Christmas musical for all the family.

Opening Night: How are you finding working in a cast as opposed to as a soloist on X Factor and how does the performance vary?

Holly: It’s so much fun. We all get on so well, everyone’s been so great, we’ve really clicked. There’s so much talent in this show, every cast member from the ensemble to the leads, I couldn’t be happier really with how everything’s going.

X Factor was a great was to build my confidence but this is very different. Pop elements don’t really fit with musical theatre so I’ve been really disciplined in adapting my style and the way I work for this show. I’m enjoying the challenge so much, I’ll always be grateful for my X Factor experience; it’s given me a platform to build on and led to this great opportunity.

Holly Tandy as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz

Opening Night: What’s are the challenges working on the show?

I was feeling a little nervous about working with Toto at first before we started rehearsals but we’ve got such a great team that I know it will be great. They’re so well trained. Also the amount of lines at first was something I didn’t quite anticipate, I knew there were lots but didn’t realise quite how many, but that’s come on great and you soon pick things up, the show is looking and sounding really good.

Opening Night: Are you feeling any nerves ahead of officially opening?

A little, but I think that’s healthy. It’s a nervousness of wanting to do well, wanting to do the role justice etc. it’s not the kind of nerves that are eating me up. I’m really enjoying it and I think a little bit of nerves shows just how much you care and I do really care about getting this role right and doing a good job.

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Opening Night: Selladoor are known for being inventive and dynamic how are you finding working with them?

Holly: It’s been amazing, they are just so good at what they do and such a great bunch of people, all so good at their jobs, they are all so talented, from the director, to the choreographer to the musical director each and every person I’m working with is just so brilliant and so good at getting each cast member to be the best they can be. It’s been an absolute pleasure so far and no doubt will continue to be.

The Wizard of Oz opens on Friday 7th December at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens and runs until Sunday 30th tickets available here.

Wizard of Oz Interviews | Part 1 | Kelvin Fletcher

Kelvin Fletcher

Following on from the huge success of Peter Pan last year Selladoor Productions return to Blackpool with an iconic musical adventure as we see Dorothy click her heels together and arrive at the legendary Opera House.

This highly acclaimed adaptation from The Royal Shakespeare Company promises to be a magical treat for all the family featuring timeless classics: We’re Off To See The Wizard, Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead!, The Merry Old Land Of Oz and Over The Rainbow, add to this lavish sets and spectacular costumes and you really do have the prefect festive treat.

We were lucky enough to catch up with cast members Kelvin Fletcher (Tin Man), Holly Tandy (Dorothy), Scott Gallagher (Cowardly Lion) and Kate Milner-Evans(The Wizard) ahead of opening night on 7th December to hear a little more about what audiences can expect from this theatrical adventure.

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Opening Night: How are rehearsals going?

Kelvin: Absolutely brilliant, it’s been such a whirlwind. We’re doing full run-throughs now and tech rehearsals are getting closer, the whole process has been amazing for me, a lot of new firsts, coming into musical theatre, I’ve never done this sort of thing before, anything I have been a little bit anxious about the team who have been great have reassured me and offered some brilliant advice. I feel like I’m really growing in confidence every day, we’re all really looking forward to getting to Blackpool now and performing in front of an audience.

ON: We all know you so well from Emmerdale, how is acting on stage different to TV acting?

Kelvin: Day to day it’s very different, yes I’m used to acting but acting on stage is so much more expressive, especially in musical theatre with such larger than life characters. It’s been wonderful really to get a chance to do things I know are in my repertoire but that I’ve never had chance to express before. I’m also really excited for people to see this different side of me, a very different side to what they’re used to seeing; it will be a lot of fun for everyone including me.

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ON: As the Tin Man you have one of the most restrictive costumes in the show, how are you finding that?

Kelvin: First couple of dances I thought it would be best to try and be quid rigid with my movement but then I was struggling a little to get the fluidity of the dance so I decided to do it the opposite way and master the dance first then add the rigidity of the Tin Man. This is the great benefit of rehearsals it allows us to try different ideas and see what works best. Then of course there’s the silver makeup which looks amazing but I’ll definitely need help with that, I managed to leave some on the other day and caught myself in the mirror still wearing a bit of guy liner!

ON: Will your family be making the trip to Blackpool?

Kelvin: Yes, they are so excited, when I first started acting it was on the stage, that’s where my love for acting blossomed so it will be nice for us all really to get back to where it all started and it couldn’t be a better show, a big flamboyant musical like this is just so exciting for us all.

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ON: How does it feel knowing you’ll be performing at the Winter Gardens?

Kelvin: I’d never actually been despite knowing how iconic it is, it’s got such a great reputation, so to be performing there is going to be unbelievable. It’s such a great space, it’s huge, we can’t replicate the size of the set in the rehearsal space because it’s so huge which gives a sense of the sheer scale and spectacle of this production.

ON: We know you’re used to working with animals from your Emmerdale days but how about on stage?

Kelvin: I keep thinking to myself “If the dog doesn’t run at that particular point what will we do?” ha ha but I don’t have a lot of interaction with the dog to be honest it’s more Holly, as if playing Dorothy isn’t tough enough! The dogs are so well trained thought that no doubt they’ll be as good as gold and more than likely steal the show!

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ON: How are you finding the singing?

Kelvin: Our Musical Director has been amazing, I’ve never had any singing training before so I’ve just been like a sponge really taking on any piece of advice. We’ve all got numbers throughout and mine’s a lovely little number which starts off with some dialogue then breaks out into a song, I really can’t wait. Then of course there are lots of great songs throughout, choreographed dances, there’s so much going on it really will be spectacular.

The Wizard of Oz opens at Blackpool’s Opera House on Friday 7th December until Sunday 30th December tickets available here.

Your Toys

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Slot Machine Theatre have created a pure delight for families with their latest production, Your Toys. The 5 strong cast don overalls to resemble furniture removal workers and, surrounded by a set full of cardboard boxes and flatpacks, they bring make-believe to the stage awakening youngsters imaginations.

The show sees the audiences’ well-loved toys take to the spotlight as they go on a journey through sand, sky and even a jungle, animated by the clever puppeteering performers. There’s squeals and smiles from the mini-theatre goers during the fun filled 60 minutes as they witness their toys coming to life, from plastic dinosaurs to even a prized scarf!

The innocence and charm of childhood is used to the max in this production with audience participation creating sound effects, kids drawings projected onto the backdrop and a script with its own made up gobbledygook. To top it all off we got to see a Doc McStuffin’s toy busting some great dance moves alongside Bagpuss and a Panda…how many times can you say you will witness that? A real joy to watch and I imagine a unique show every time, depending on which toys come to play!

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Daisy, our mini-reviewer

 

Mini-reviewer Daisy, aged 7

“I loved the fact that the toys from the audience were put in the show. I recommend that you should bring your toys to this show. The ages that are welcome are 5 – 9 years. The puppeteers were amazing Matthew Coulton, Nadia Morgan, Isabel Sharman and Nicola Blackwell. We loved seeing our toys in the adventure. My favourite part was when they did dancing with the toys on the stage and when the toys sang  Don’t Eat The Berries which was very funny. The musician Nick Tigg was as good as the puppeteers, making outstanding sound effects and putting smiley faces on the crowd.”

Your Toys played The Lowry, Salford Sunday 29th October

The show is next played at The Lyric, Hammersmith, London 4th November

 

Behind the Scenes of Elf – The Musical, Part 2

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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…

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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

 

 

 

BRB – Aladdin

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Birmingham Royal Ballet returns to the Lowry’s Lyric theatre this week with their magical, family-friendly production of Aladdin. Taken from the stories of the Arabian Nights, David Bintley’s splendid version of this classic tale, with music by the BAFTA award-winning Carl Davis chose Salford to begin their Autumn/Winter ’17 season.

This enchanting production perfectly balances humour with beautiful chorography, and explores aspects of the tale that audiences may not have been aware of. The story begins with a young, cheeky Aladdin (Mathias Dingman) escaping the clutches of the palace guards with the help of the mysterious Magician, the Mahgrib (Iain Mackay), who subsequently tricks Aladdin into entering the dark cave on his behalf to retrieve the lamp.

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Each Act has its own crescendo which does not fail to dazzle the audience. The Cave of Riches at the end of Act I, is one of exquisite beauty, in which mischievous Aladdin is surrounded by an array of dancing gems who demonstrate a wide range of styles and techniques much to the delight of the audience. The gems lead Aladdin to the old lamp which places him on a road to riches and leads him to his true love, princess, Badr al-Budur (Momoko Hirata).

The sets and costumes become more vibrant and luxurious as the story unfolds, and as Aladdin himself becomes more accustomed to his life of luxury under the brilliantly blue Djinn of the lamp (played by Tzu-Chao Chou). The performance would not be the same without the dazzling orchestra conducted by Paul Murphy and led by Robert Gibbs, which adds to the atmosphere immensely, allowing the performance to swap and change between suspense and humour seamlessly.

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This production is bound to astonish audiences of all ages, with its delightful and superbly delivered chorography, technicoloured sets, sumptuous costumes and enchanting score. Birmingham Royal Ballet once again prove why they are one of the most loved and celebrated companies around, visually stunning, highly entertaining and not to be missed!

On at The Lowry until Saturday 23rd of Sepember tickets available here http://www.thelowry.com/events/aladdin

Reviewed by Emily Cotter