Chicago

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Chicago has been wowing audiences since it opened on Broadway in 1975. On the basis of tonight’s performance, it’s easy to see how this became such a musical theatre juggernaut.

For this is a tale “Murder, greed, corruption, exploitation, adultery and treachery… all those things we hold near and dear to our hearts”.

Set in 1920’s Chicago, a lawless place, where bootleggers and gangsters run the show. Prohibition is feeding power to the criminal underworld and the only place to get a decent drink and some decent music is in the speakeasy.

Based on the writing of journalist Maurine Watkins, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. Watkins began seeing a pattern in the Chicago courts of law, glamorous young women getting away with murder. The bigger celebrity name they made for themself, the more likely they were to be acquitted, no matter how guilty they were!

Chicago focuses on two such women. First is Roxanne Hart (Faye Brookes) a cocktail waitress and wannabe singer accused of murdering he wantaway lover. The second is Velma Kelly (Michelle Andrews) a music hall entertainer in the dock for the slaying of her husband and her sister, who were having an affair.

Both are as guilty sin, but how can they get away with murder, and become the must-see act in town, enter super flash, super slippery lawyer, Billy Flynn (Liam Marcellino), the number one lawyer who knows exactly what jury’s and more importantly the press want to see in order to get these murderous vixens acquitted.

It’s rather timely that Chicago is currently out touring, whilst two of the biggest media circus’s play out over here and across the pond, thus highlighting the shows relevance and bang on point rapier critique of ‘celebrity’.

This slick production is a treat for the senses. Big musical numbers, stunning set pieces and more fun than I was expecting (I’ve never seen the 2002 Oscar winning film adaptation). Faye Brookes puts in a solid comedic if slightly unhinged turn as Hart. Filled with great little comedic asides, facial expressions and a flirty innocent charm, she is in fine form. Her work on the songs Roxie and Me and My Baby is highly impressive

Also in fine form is Michelle Andrews as Velma Kelly. Andrews gives a sassy, spikey performance, a commanding stage presence throughout; she more than delivers and gives no indication that she was stepping into the role as an understudy.

The show boasts an incredible wealth of supporting talent: Sheila Fergurson looks like she’s having a ball as Matron ‘Mama’ Morton, and as you would expect her voice is top of the class. In addition, there is a great comedic turn from Jamie Baughan as Roxanne’s sap of a husband, Amos. His work on the comedic number Mister Cellophane, very much nearly steals the show.

Whilst Liam Marcllino is a treat as the oily, Billy Flynn. His performance of All I Care About brings in some big laughs. The whole cast works so hard throughout for what is a physically demanding show.

Performed very much in the Vaudeville tradition of theatre, we have characters and show numbers introduced by the cast, we see the cast members waiting in the wings, whilst the orchestra takes centre stage, even musical director Andrew Hilton, has a more prominent role than one might expect.

There are stunning set pieces in the form of more familiar numbers such opener All That Jazz and Razzle Dazzle with all the glitz and glamour you would expect from a production of this standard

This sexy, sultry, super smart production is a perfect example of how life imitates art and demonstrates why this is one of the most cherished musicals around.

Chicago is on at the Manchester Opera House 28th May 2022

Tickets available here.

Singin’ in the Rain

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This adaptation of the classic 1952 Gene Kelly film is a thing of charm and laughter.

Adam Cooper plays the role of Don Lockwood, a silent movie star, who is paired with the beautiful (but not so talented) Lina Lamont. Jenny Gayner plays this role brilliantly, and had the audience laughing their socks off in all of her scenes.

Lockwood and Lamont are marketed as Hollywoods golden couple, but Lockwood feels no love for Lamont and falls in love with the talented Kathy’s Selden (Charlotte Gouch).

When talking movies take America by storm producer RF Storm (Dale Rapley) is forced to make his new movie a talking picture, and with the help of Lockwood’s sidekick and best pal Cosmos Brown (played by the fabulous Ross McLaren) they make the movie a musical extravaganza – the only stumbling block is that Lamont cannot sing a note or dance a step- which is where Kathy comes in.

This production is an absolute delight. The talent is incredible. The ensemble hugely impressive – navigating us through the scenes and giving us some belters of dance numbers.

Ross MCLaren (Cosmos) and Jenny Gayner (Lina) provide us with the gags, real big belly laughs with their comic timing and delivery. McLarens energy is endless.

Cooper and Gooch are well matched and the chemistry between them is beautifully presented. Gooch’s voice is spectacular throughout the production while Cooper and Mclaren make a great duo – and these men know how to dance.

“Singing in the rain” is obviously the number we were all waiting for and it didn’t disappoint (although maybe it did disappoint those sitting in the first three rows if they hadn’t brought their raincoats!). Cooper gave the audience what they wanted and more- he was quick and light on his feet, showing us that even after all this time in this role he hasn’t lost any pizzazz.

But singing in the rain isn’t just about one song or one routine – the numbers are plentiful and they don’t disappoint – the choreography and the orchestra deliver time and time again throughout the production.

Special mention to the ensemble and Lockwood for the Ballet scenes – these were just magnificent, the audience rewarded this with a resounding applause and plenty of cheering.

This production is a must see, a real feel good show with plenty of heart and laughter. And Manchester loved it, the audience jumped to their feet before the reprise had even begun.

Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo

Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo-doo

Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo-doo

Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo-doo

I’m singing in the rain……. All the way home!

Go see it- you won’t be disappointed.

Singin’ in the Rain is on at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 14th May tickets available here.

Aladdin

Pic copyright Phil Tragen 2021

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Crossroads Pantomines production of Aladdin tells the tale of Aladdin: not as you know it, but instead as a version with many more laughs and spectacular crowd pleasing numbers.

We join the journey of Aladdin (Matthew Croke), whose only dream is to marry his one true love; Princess Jasmine (Rumi Sutton). However, the road to true love does not run smoothly, thanks to The Supreme Leader of Mancunia (Nicola Sanderson) and Abanazar (John McLarnon) : cue plenty of booing and hissing from the audience.

Pic copyright Phil Tragen 2021

This pantomime has everything that British pantomime should have – with bells on! The absolute star of the show is the incredibly talented comic genius that is Ben Nickless (Wishee Washee), who helps his brother Aladdin overcome all of the hurdles put in front of him on his quest to marry Jasmine. Nickless’ Covid rap gives us an hilarious spin on the last two years of life in a pandemic, with plenty of laughs about masks, testing and lockdown life. The audience were in absolute stitches during his attempt to use a loop pedal to give us a rendition of an Ed Sheeran classic.

Alexandra Burke plays the role of Scherezade, who provides Aladdin with assistance throughout his journey, and who gets us moving in our seats as she belts out the numbers – the crowd absolutely loved her rendition of Bad Boys, and the ensemble provide the dance moves that we all expect from a spectacular panto like this.

Pic copyright Phil Tragen 2021

Eventually, after much turmoil and misadventure and the most amazing carpet ride, Aladdin gets his girl. But not before we are treated to the most hilarious number “What I would be” from Nickless, Dupree, Croke and Sanderson. The audience were doubled over laughing at the comic genius of this scene, the timing is impeccable and Ben Nickless deserved a standing ovation just for this!

The set and costumes are vibrant and majestic. The use of puppets for the genie and the snake are both comic and transfixing. Ceri Duprees (Widow Twanky) outfits are extravagant and mesmerising, just as she is. She is everything she should be. Hilarious, sarcastic, and with a pair of legs to die for! Her renditions of Lady Gaga’s Poker Face and of Bang Bang will be talked about by this audience for a long while.

Pic copyright Phil Tragen 2021

This pantomime is the tonic we really don’t realise we need until we get it. With all the uncertainty at the moment this is the light relief that we Mancunians are desperate for, so get your booster and get down to the Opera House for an addition boost – that’s all you need this Christmas.

Aladdin is on at the Manchester Opera House until Sunday 2nd January tickets available here.

Waitress

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Having been delayed by a year due to the pandemic, theatre fans can finally satisfy their cravings for first-class musical theatre as Broadway and West End smash-hit show Waitress serves up an absolute treat of a night at Manchester’s Opera House.

Based on the 2007 film by Adrienne Shelly, with musical with direction by Diane Paulus, book by Jessie Nelson’ and music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles, Waitress is a delicious concoction of self-empowerment, sisterhood, and some seriously satisfying sass.

The story is based around talented baker Jenna (Lucie Jones), who waitresses at Joe’s Pie Diner alongside pals Becky (Sandra Marvin) and Dawn (Evelyn Hoskins), the trio of Southern Belles may be tough talkin’ but their friendship is as sweet as apple pie.

While Jenna is famous locally for her showstopping flavour combinations her private life is nothing worth celebrating. Trapped in an abusive marriage, her thuggish husband Earl (Nathanael Landskroner) belittles her at every opportunity, mocking her baking, pocketing her tips and leaving her under no illusions as to who is the boss; so understandably she’s not delighted when she realises, she has her own bun in the oven.

Jenna’s daily fantasies about ways to escape not only offer up the names to her daily specials but also drive the show, while trysts with her gynaecologist, Dr Pomatter (Matt Willis) bring an unexpected twist.

This feel-good feminist tale has empowerment running right through it as Jenna moves from trying to bake her troubles away to gaining a genuine self-awareness and acceptance of who she is and what she stands for. There are important themes covered in Jessie Nelson’s script such as domestic abuse, unwanted pregnancy, and infidelity, these are balanced perfectly with laugh out loud moments and hilarious close to the bone conversations which will have you blinking back the tears one moment and crying with laughter the next.

This is a musical with pure heart, led extraordinarily buy the sensational Lucie Jones, who delivers stand-out ballad She Used To Be Mine with such raw emotion it’s literally show-stopping. Her ode to the girl she once was is truly breath-taking. She is perfection as Jenna and measures the amount of vulnerability and spirit just right.

Perfectly complimenting Jones are Sandra Marvin and Evelyn Hoskins as no-nonsense Becky and wonderfully kooky Dawn. Both are a joy, and the trio together are superb, they breathe brave and brilliant life into each character. Matt Willis is excellent as the clumsy but endearing Dr Pomatter while George Crawford is an absolute delight as scene stealing Ogie. It was wonderful to see Michael Starke back in Manchester delivering a cracking performance as diner owner Joe while Christopher D. Hunt is great fun as Cal.

The lives depicted may be messy and mixed up but they somehow come together to make the perfect recipe leaving the audience uplifted, deeply moved and leaping to their feet for a roaring standing ovation. Waitress is a perfect slice of theatrical magic.

Cathc Waitress at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 20th November tickets available here.

The Entertainer

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It’s often said that role of Archie Rice is a dream role for any actor; it’s an actor’s role, a role filled with pathos, a real rollercoaster of emotions. The likes of Laurence Olivier, Kenneth Branagh, Robert Lindsey and Michael Gambon have all played this iconic character, either on stage or screen, and now it’s the turn of one of the nation’s favourite song-and-dance men, Shane Richie.

The original production was set during the 1950’s in the shadow of the Suez crisis, however director Sean O’ Connor has shifted the action to 1982: Britain has just gone to war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands and comic Archie Rice is working the club scene, with diminishing success. His act is a string of sexist gags and mother-in-law jokes, think a cross between Bernard Manning and David Brent and you’re on the right track. Rice is struggling to adapt to a changing world of alternative comedy and so-called political correctness.

As Rice’s routine is in the gutter, his home life isn’t fairing much better: he is unhappily married to his second wife, Phoebe (played tonight by Alice Osmanski), his father Billy (Pip Donaghy) holds some pretty extreme views about their neighbours and the state of the country, his daughter, Jean (Diana Vickers) has come back home after splitting with her fiancé, and finally his son Mick, has been captured whilst serving in the Falklands.

The majority of the action takes place in the Rice’s flat as the family bicker about the current state of the country, argue about Archie’s womanising, Phoebe’s desire to move Canada, and Jean’s moralistic view of the world, which strongly differs from that of her family. This is all done with the support of copious amounts of gin, as all of the family struggle with their own alcoholism. This is punctured with brief snapshots of Archie’s faltering act, some 1980’s bangers, and some genuine/fictious tabloid headlines of the day. As the Rice’s situation becomes more desperate, the already fractured family begins to come apart at the seams.

This is a challenging, gritty piece of work, there is a great deal to admire about the production. Despite being well over 60 years old, the themes Osbourne was addressing back then are just as relevant today. The setting of Thatcher’s Britain gives the production a gritty realism: the club spots and the scenes at the flat are quite grimy, so much so that you want to jump in the shower as soon as you get home.

The excellent performances are what make this production that little bit special. All five actors do a solid job throughout and it’s the dynamic between Shane Richie and Diana Vickers that is the real heartbeat of this production. Richie does a fantastic of job making you care about Archie. He knows his best days are behind him,  he knows he’s made mistakes yet despite his many flaws, you cannot but help but want him to succeed, and it’s purely down to the strength of Richie’s performance: if you don’t have that connection then it doesn’t work.

In Diana Vickers you have the moral compass of the family, someone that has yet to be tainted by her environment, and someone who has a chance of making a difference, it’s the conflict between the two of them that drives the narrative along and it’s a credit to both actors that this works so well.

It is a tough watch and one that is short on laughter, unless you like your comedy uncomfortable and cringy, however this is a production that is certainly worth a watch and one that will split audiences and more importantly spark debate and that is always good in my book.

The Entertainer is on at the Manchester Opera House until Saturday 2nd November. Tickets available here.

The Exorcist

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

When it it was announced that the stage version of The Exorcist was coming to Manchester I freely admit I was more than a little excited for a couple of reasons. The first being that this is one of my favourite films, when growing up the film had mystic about it mainly due to it being unavailable for some 11 years, to get hold of a copy was seen as a right of passage when growing up and when you finally did get to see it it did not disappoint. The second is that the film seldom out of your consciousness if like me you’re a fan of film critic and broadcaster Mark Kermode (Hello to Jason). There is seldom a week that goes by where the good Dr doesn’t manage to shoehorn an ‘exorcist story’ into his radio programmes and podcasts.

The stage adaptation from writer John Pielmeier, draws more from the 1971 novel by William Peter Blatty more so then William Fredkin’s film. It tells the story, of Hollywood actor Christine MacNeil (Susan Ward) and her daughter Regan (Susannah Edgley), they’re staying in a big creepy house, in Georgetown, Washington whilst Christine shoots her latest movie. However, with Regan’s birthday coming up and anxiety of her estranged father not contacting Regan along with the strange noises coming from the attic not all is well at home.

Regan soon begins speaking of an imaginary friend, Captain Howdy, who she claims to have encountered her whilst playing with a Ouija board. Her behaviour becomes more erratic, as she self harms, uses profanity, urinates on the floor, and more disturbingly predicts the death of Christine’s friend the movie director Burke Dennis (Tristram Wymark).

As Regan’s behaviour worsens, her health deteriorates and with doctors, medication and psychologists providing no cure Christine is running out of time to save her daughter. In the meantime, a Father, Damien Karras (Ben Caplan) is having a crisis of faith, having lost his mother, feelings of resentment, regret and remorse surround the priest, as he comes to terms with his own guilt at her passing. A meeting between Karras and Christine prompts the desperate mother to enquire about an exorcism; Karras acquiesces to Christine’s proposal and so begins a battle to save not just the life of a little girl but also the souls of those around her.

Director Sean Mathias has done a great job of bringing this classic of the silver screen to life. From the moment you enter the theatre there was a sense of trepidation in the air, right from the the get go, there are some big jump scares to get you in the mood. However, these are soon dispensed with in favour of the more shocking elements of the text: vomiting, foul language, murder and the ordeal that this girl and her family are going through.  All the key elements that caused and still cause outrage to this day are there, of which I will not spoil, yet they still manage to shock even now, and I knew what was coming.

The performances are solid throughout, Susannah Edgley has the difficult job of an adult playing a child, which she manages to do brilliantly, she fully captures the sweet innocence and absolute horror of Regan. Sophie Ward is equally as good in her role, its one you could easily go OTT with, yet she refrains from doing so giving a measured but heartfelt turn.

If this were a Hollywood blockbuster, Paul Nicholas would get the ‘and’ or ‘with’ billing on the poster, but here he gets top billing for what is essentially supporting role, however Nicholas brings a real presence to his role as Father Merrin, an experienced priest drafted into help with exorcism ritual. It is a restrained, understated but no less vital performance.  Finally, there is the un-credited performance of Sir Ian McKellen as the voice of the demon, the potty-mouthed thesp, pretty much steals every scene he’s in without being even being there! If there is filmed footage of this being recorded, then get it online quick because it would look fantastic. A huge amount of praise must be heaped on Edgley who does an excellent job of lip-syncing with McKellen’s fruity dialogue.

However, for me the most impressive aspect of the production is its look, the team have created a haunting, atmospheric and terrifying space, from the iconic window, Regan’s bedroom, to the creepy house, complete with exploding lights, through to the pews and confessional boxes of the church this is lynch pin of the production. The scene transitions weren’t as smooth as they could be, with sliding panels but it really didn’t matter. To create the big scares and the more shocking elements of the play the lighting, sound, and projection team have done some fantastic work here.

This is a creepy, tense production that will have enough to please fans of the film/book but is also fine introduction to this controversial, yet entertaining piece of work, I would say that the more controversial elements will still create debate and polarise people’s opinion, but that for me mean’s it’s done its job.

The Exorcist is on at the Manchester Opera House until 26th October. Tickets available here.

Cinderella | Opera House

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

First staged in 2016 at the London Palladium then last year at Birmingham’s legendary Hippodrome Qdos Entertainment’s Cinderella has been brought bang up to date by writer Alan McHugh with Corrie jokes a plenty and hilarious local references a go-go. Both Ben Nickles who plays Buttons and Ugly Sister Les Dennis adding material to the laugh a minute script ensuring a riotous night out is guaranteed.

All the stops have been pulled out in this spectacular production; lavish sets, colourful costumes, catchy songs and a superb cast ensuring the Opera House panto remains at the top of theatre goers agenda for another festive season.

Our Ugly Sisters Phelina (Connor McIntyre) and Michaela (Les Dennis) are mad for it as they blend the silly with the slapstick and throw in some cheeky charm for good measure, the pairing is genius as panto pro Les leads the way, reminding us all just why he’s one of the best in the business.

Rochdale comedian Ben Nickless quickly becomes an audience favourite as Buttons; he laps up the applause and delights with outrageously funny comedy capers and hilarious impressions, a born entertainer who comes very close to stealing the show.

Gareth Gates and Shannon Flynn make for a perfect pairing as the dashing Prince Charming and the down on her luck Cinderella proving that they’re not afraid of getting stuck in with the slapstick when their romantic meeting turns into a hilarious battle of wills with lovesick Buttons.

Hayley-Ria Christian makes for a super sassy Fairy Godmother while Jack Wilcox is a commanding and charismatic Dandini.

The ensemble cast and young company, always a favourite of mine in panto add vibrancy with slick delivery of Fabian Aloise’s choreography adding additional charm to this feel-good family show.

Qdos Entertainment has got Cinderella just right in terms of pitch, the script is jam-packed with hilarious gags and witty one–liners while the innuendo we all expect from panto never tips into crudeness, its good old cheeky fun and plenty of it.

The transformation scene at the end of Act I really has to be seen to be believed and is worth the ticket price alone as the gasps of delight from the audience both young and old are heard loud and clear. While panto may one of theatre’s oldest traditions this production feels fresh and vibrant.

Cinderella really is the perfect package; it’s lavish, sparkly, sequined fun suitable for all the family. This extravagant production is everything panto should be and more.

Guaranteed to entertain from start to finish leaving you feeling suitably festive and full of Christmas cheer. Big, bold and brilliant!

Cinderella is on until Sunday 30th December tickets available here.

Sherlock Holmes – The Final Curtain

©NOBBY CLARK +44(0)7941-515770 +44(0)20-7274-2105 nobby@nobbyclark.co.uk

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️

If I had a pound for every incarnation there has ever been of Sherlock Holmes on either the big or small screen, then I’d be a very wealthy man indeed. However, for his celluloid endeavours, Holmes has seldom trod the boards. Surely the world’s number one consulting detective is ripe for a turn on the stage, and writer Simon Reade has undertaken this task with mixed but entertaining results.

In Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain, it’s early 1920’s and we find Holmes (Robert Powell) and Dr Watson (Timothy Kightley) apart from one another. Watson is entering the brave world of broadcast radio, telling the world of his adventures with the super sleuth, whilst Holmes is a broken shell of his former self, riddled with arthritis and living a reclusive life keeping bees on the Sussex coast. With the discovery of a dead body on Holmes’ private beach, the sudden appearance of Mary Watson (Liza Goddard) and the fact that its 30 years since Holmes last encounter with nemesis, Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls….something doesn’t quite add up. In addition Holmes’ legendary powers of deduction seemingly failing him and his growing paranoia that someone is out to get him, is it time for him to come out of retirement and crack one final case?

©NOBBY CLARK +44(0)7941-515770 +44(0)20-7274-2105 nobby@nobbyclark.co.uk

This interesting, entertaining, if unremarkable production could be so much more. It takes a look at old-age, retirement, and how your body and mind can fail you when you need them the most. Also the issues of coping with an ever-changing world. You cannot help but feel more could have been done to explore Holmes’ vulnerability. That said, I found the plot engaging, with some neat little twists and turns, and fun ‘tips of the cap’ to the source material and its creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Powell is solid and engaging as Holmes, giving a seemingly effortless performance; you just want to see him make more of Holmes’ paranoia. Goddard is equally good as Mary, giving her strength and steel. The scenes between Goddard and Powell are a treat as they spar with one another; these scenes certainly highlight the undeniable chemistry between the two leads.

©NOBBY CLARK +44(0)7941-515770 +44(0)20-7274-2105 nobby@nobbyclark.co.uk

The supporting cast are solid; Anna O’ Grady puts in a fun turn as Miss Hudson, whilst Roy Sampson is clearly having a ball as Mycroft Holmes. I do think more time could have been given to Kightley as Dr Watson, there seems to be more that could have been put his way, instead he is left with nothing more than a narrators role: surely more could have been made of Watson’s relationship with his wife.

It is odd really that this show should be called the final curtain, as there were a few opening night nerves with the curtain which notably affected scene changes. Hopefully these snags will be ironed out for the productions remaining run.

Overall this was an entertaining, enjoyable night at the theatre, however you can’t help but feel that there is a more interesting story ready to burst from the pages onto the stage. Certainly, worth seeing, but one that won’t live long in the memory.

Sherlock Holmes – The Final Curtain is on at the Opera House until 28th July, tickets available here.