New dance fusion collective The Z Bo Jackson Company to hold Gala Night in Manchester

Z Bo Jackson Company. Photo Garry Lake @theaboutstudio

Z Bo Jackson, in partnership with the Palace Theatre, Manchester, are proud to announce a gala night of dance – hosted by Kimberly Wyatt – to launch The Z Bo Jackson Company – the UK’s new dance fusion theatre company.

From free runners to hip hop, ballet to street dance, the Z Bo Jackson Company will combine a diverse mix of dance styles with compelling storytelling and magnetic physicality.

The mix of dance styles on display, combined with stunning visuals, means the company’s performances will appeal to dance fans and musical theatre-lovers alike, as well as today’s YouTube and Insta-audiences.

The company launches on Tuesday 10th September with a star-studded gala night of dance at the Palace Theatre, Manchester.

Z Bo Jackson Company 5. Photo Garry Lake @theaboutstudio

Hosted by the amazing Got to Dance judge and Pussycat Doll Kimberly Wyatt, with guest artists Flawless (Britain’s Got Talent and Street Dance 2), ballet star Brandon Lawrence (Principal Dancer with the Birmingham Royal Ballet) and West End star Chrissy Brooke (winner of ITV’s Dance Dance Dance.)

Singer, dancer and choreographer Kimberly Wyatt will perform alongside Flawless in one number, while BRB’s Brandon Lawrence will perform a solo choreographed by the award-winning George Williamson. Chrissy Brooke will perform with the Z Company ensemble.

Innovative and respected choreographer and director Bo Jackson has created the vision behind the thrilling new company and is excited to launch in Manchester at the Palace Theatre.

Opening Night spoke to Bo who said: “Manchester is the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and as such the perfect international city in which to launch a new dawn in dance for the 21st Century. The gala will provide a taste of Z’s future ambitions and celebrate Manchester’s unique placement as a Northern Powerhouse in theatre and dance.”

Kimberley Wyatt

Host of the gala, Kimberley Wyatt, said: “I’m very excited to be part of this unique evening of dance in Manchester to celebrate the launch of Z Bo Jackson Company. It will be a spectacular night of celebrating all things dance, with street dance superstars Flawless, principal dancer of the Birmingham Royal Ballet Brandon Lawrence and Dance, Dance, Dance Star Chrissy Brooke. Prepare to be amazed!”

Get ready for an explosive night of entertainment at Manchester’s Palace Theatre on Tuesday 10th September at 7.30pm. Tickets from £13 are available here.

Jerry Springer The Opera

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Newly formed theatrical company Northern Ricochet – made up of James Baker, Tom Chester and Bill Elms – don’t do things by halves. Taking the bold step of reviving controversial musical Jerry Springer The Opera as their first company production, they’re sending a clear message to the theatre world that there is a new, ambitious, creative and proudly Northern kid on the block.

Auditions were held in the North – including an open-call casting whilst the opportunity for local in-training actors to make up the onstage choir was offered. The result of this is a sensational piece of theatre packed full of humour, hilarity and genuine heart.

Written by Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee, Jerry Springer The Opera debuted at the National Theatre in 2003 – winning four Olivier Awards including Best New Musical and courting controversy at every turn. This revived production staged in the intimate Hope Mill Theatre allows the audience for Jerry Springer The Opera and Jerry Springer the talk show to become one as audience members sit on opposite sides of the theatre while the cast perform in-between them – giving this production an immersive and atmospheric feel.

James Baker directs the show in such a bold way that as an audience we’re whipped into a “Go Jerry” frenzy before the main man has even stepped foot on stage. The company do an excellent job of building the bubbling excitement ahead of our host’s grand arrival – led brilliantly by Warm Up Man Tom Lloyd, who whets our appetites for what’s to come: reminding us exactly who are the good guys and who we should be reserving our biggest boos for.

Once the infamous Jerry (Michael Howe) makes his grand entrance, we see him play host to three sets of guests who are all too willing to reveal their deepest darkest secrets via soaring profanity-laden arias and wickedly brilliant ballads. Bickering bubbles into bitch fights – leaving security guard Steve (Kai Jolley) to step in and calm the chaos.

Amidst the snarling and sniping Jerry expertly stirs the pot – gently probing his simmering guests and pushing them that little bit further… giving the audience that extra bit more. Things go a tad too far and Act II finds Jerry hosting the ultimate showdown: the Devil versus Jesus. Should Jerry refuse to host this clash of the titans, he’ll burn in Hell forever in a most uncomfortable and ‘barb-baric’ way!

This cast is without doubt one of the most impressive you’re ever likely to see. The ensemble pieces literally raise the roof off Hope Mill Theatre. Each voice is sheer perfection – coming together to create the most beautiful of sounds. Add to this perfectly judged comedic timing delivered with vibrant energy and you have an irresistibly entertaining piece of theatre. Every member of this cast gives their all – each offering something uniquely special and truly memorable.

Michael Howe embodies Jerry Springer perfectly, with every knowing shake of the head, contemplative hand on the chin and nuanced raise of an eyebrow; he is Jerry to a T.

Tom Lloyd makes for a fabulously extra Warm Up Guy while his Satan in Act II is deliciously devilish. David Burilin’s Jesus is pouty and petulant while Matt Bond’s God really hasn’t got time for this shit.

Cici Howells’ voice is sublime as both Shawntel and Eve while Andrew Patrick-Walker has moves Ru Paul herself would be proud of.

With such strong voices and powerful performances the score could easily become lost; however, Tom Chester ensures his band of six are perfectly pitched. The music – together with the rich mix of voices – really is heavenly.

This production has been brought bang up to date and feels frighteningly in-line with the chaotic times we live in. Hillbilly Chucky wears a ‘Make America Great Again’ cap while gun control statements are made alongside caricatures of Trump. The desire to feel superior and the joy in public humiliation raises questions about just how civilised we really are.

Yes it’s profane, yes it’s irreverent but every profanity is worth it for the absolute pleasure this production brings. You’ll shriek with laughter one minute and be stunned into silence by the sheer talent on display the next in this joyful and vivid piece. Cleverly crafted and outrageously naughty, this wild romp of a production will both amuse and impress as once again Jerry reminds us all to “Take care of yourself and each other”.

Jerry Springer The Opera is on at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 31st August tickets available here.

Amélie

Reviewed by Alex Broadley

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Amélie The Musical has the unenviable task of bringing the award winning French film Amélie (or, to give it its full name, Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain) to life. And it does this with gusto, whimsy and fabulous savoir faire.

Amélie tells the story of young Amélie Poulain (played fabulously by Audrey Brisson). Brought up by neurotic and unusual parents, Amélie’s father (Jez Unwin) misdiagnoses a heart condition and her mother (Rachel Dawson) decides Amélie is too delicate to be in contact with others. Isolated and lonely, Amélie’s only childhood friend is a goldfish….who we later say ‘au revoir’ to.  After the early death of her Mother, Amélie is brought up by her emotionally distant Father, who has attached all his emotions to a garden gnome.

As a young woman, Amélie escapes to bon Paris and although she makes acquaintances, she is still very much alone until she finds a long forgotten box which will send her life in a different direction entirely. Amélie decides to help others in their quests for happiness, but can her own loneliness and unwillingness to interact with others be overcome?

The film is known for being full of whimsy and the musical delivers this and more. Amélie has been adapted for the stage by a fantastic team of writers and directors. With a book by Craig Lucas, the musical sticks closely to the film and in many ways is less sugary-sweet and more fun than the original screen-play.

One of the special things about the show for me, was the hard-working actor musicians. Many of the talented cast play multiple parts seamlessly. The instruments are weaved into the narrative and the music (composed by Daniel Messé) and lyrics (Nathan Tysen and Daniel Messé) have a magical folky feel. This all works well with the playful feel of the production. There are no particular stand-out songs, however there doesn’t need to be; Amélie’s story is episodic and shifts from story to story within it. The gentle and harmonic melodies weave their way into the narrative in a way which is genuinely wonderful. Although there are no traditional dance numbers, the sense of movement as Amélie moves through busy platforms, streets and trains is done brilliantly.

Audrey Brisson is fantastic as Amélie. She plays her perfectly, with just the right amount of naïve vulnerability and hope. Audrey has a fantastic voice and is a genuine tour de force of the show. The character of Amélie is complicated, as we all are, and Audrey shows the different sides of Amélie perfectly. Danny Mac plays Amélie’s love interest Nino and his performance showcases a warm voice and the final scene is genuinely touching.

Madeleine Girling’s set design deserves to be mentioned. A lampshade serves as a magical way of transporting Amélie to her flat and who knew that a photo-booth could be a confessional, a shop front and a market stall? The set transports us to what is undeniably Paris. The art nouveau style detail is beautiful and reminiscent of Parisian cafés, walks along the Seine and croissants. The hard-working cast almost blend into the set, waiting around the corners.

Special mention should also be given to the puppets (designed by Dik Downey). Adding to the sense of fun in the production, the appearance of a giant gnome and goldfish are definitely memorable moments! The appearance of Elton John (Caolan McCarthy) leaves the audience in stitches.

The show was packed but the audience was completely silent during the final scene; testament to how far we were drawn into our heroine’s plight. We desperately want our lonely Amélie to accept the love which is offered.

Amélie the Musical is on at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 10th August tickets available here.

 

 

 

Applications Now Open For Hope Aria Academy September Intake

William Whelton, Katy Lipson and Joseph Houston. Founders of Hope Aria Academy in Manchester

Following a hugely successful inaugural 12-week programme Hope Aria Academy have now opened applications for their Autumn/Winter intake.

The Manchester based part-time drama course focuses on acting, singing and dancing with students able to choose to take classes in all three disciplines or opt for single modules in one specific area.

Hope Aria Academy founders Katy Lipson, Joseph Houston and William Whelton all have backgrounds in Musical Theatre training and are currently full time producers and theatre owners.

The second course which will begin in September is tailored for individuals who have either already trained professionally and are looking for a fresh approach to training within a smaller more focused atmosphere, individuals who are not yet ready to make the leap to full time drama training and require further tuition, and mature students who have experience in musical theatre and want to re-skill to return to the industry.

Students will also be introduced to the wider creative industry with regular guest teachers in all three disciplines of acting, singing and dance. There will be one full scholarship place available, funded by Hope Aria Academy, with auditions for this taking place in August, date TBC.

Patron of Hope Aria Academy, actress Hayley Tamaddon

Stage and screen actress Hayley Tamaddon is patron of Hope Aria Academy and taught a workshop as part of the last programme.

Hayley said: “I’m thrilled to be a patron of Hope Aria Academy. The work they produce is outstanding. Ranging from dance to musical theatre to tv acting, the students here are taught everything to do with this wonderful profession we call show business! And I’ll look forward to doing a spot more teaching there myself in the new term!”

Hope Aria Academy’s next intake will launch on Monday 16th September 2019 and run on Monday (dance), Tuesday (singing) and Wednesday (acting) evenings from 6.30pm to 9.30pm at Hope Aria House, Unit 15 Wellington House, Manchester, M40 7FS. Students can take the full course or can opt for single modules.

More information on Hope Aria Academy, fees and how to apply can be found here.

 

Mojo

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

With the super talented Jez Butterworth’s latest offering The Ferryman currently wowing audiences and critics on Broadway, it’s always worth paying a visit to some of his earlier work and the WonderIf production of Butterworth’s first play, Mojo.

Originally set in the 1950s seedy club scene of Soho, this version sees the action shift to the ecstasy-fuelled club scene of 1990’s Manchester.  Manchester at the time resembled a Western, as rival gangs battled for control of the doors and of course the drug scene, so this narrative shift works perfectly.

The first act opens at the Atlantic club and certainly belongsto Potts (Paul Jennings) and Sweets (Leigh Manning) as the pair muse about how the good times are coming back, especially with the potential success of Silver Johnny (Edrine Spencer), a local singer/dancer the boys helped to discover things are certainly on the up.

Later club skivvy Skinny (Oliver Baines) and Baby (Scott Harrison) join the party. Early doors we can see cracks in the relationship of these four, as Baby’s toxic masculinity oozes out of him especially as it relates to his treatment of Skinny.  However, the situation takes a more sinister turn with the arrival of the club manager Mickey (Miles Mooney) who informs the gang that club owner, and Baby’s father, Ezra has been murdered and is in the bins outside the club.

In addition,their golden goose Silver  Johnny is missing. The gang decide to lay low in the club to see how the situation plays out and defend their territory, but with tensions running high, personal vendettas, bruised egos, and certain group members manipulating the situation for their own gain, it’s pretty clear that not everything will end well for this dysfunctional quintet.

This is pitch black comedy that looks at the battle for supremacy and the pecking order of a group of wanna be tough guys: there is always a hierarchy in place. The script is packed with stinging dialogue and cutting one liners, with a plenty of dark humour to boot.

All six performers work well as an ensemble, demonstrating who their character is and just where they  fit into in the group’s structure, I do think some of the performances could be reined in a touch and played less for laughs as it loses sight of the more dramatic elements of the play. In addition, there are still references to the action taking place in London rather than it’s new setting of Manchester which did get a little confusing.

Overall this is an entertaining, engaging night at the theatre, with numerous twists and turns that will leave you guessing how it will end. In addition, the show has a killer soundtrack, featuring the likes of New Order, Joy Division and Happy Monday’s, that you really can’t go far wrong. This is a must for fans of the gangster genre, and anyone who likes their dialogue sharp and stinging, cutting straight to the bone!

Mojo is on at the Met Bar on the 21st and 22nd of July. Tickets available at here.

Interview | & Juliet | Miriam-Teak Lee

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Something VERY exciting is heading our way this September; brand new musical & Juliet opens at Manchester’s Opera House ahead of a West End run and will aim to prove that there is life after Romeo when instead of giving up on life Juliet decides it’s time for her to get a life!

This vibrant new musical will feature not only songs from legendary writer Max Martin (Britney Spears’ “Oops… I Did It Again”, Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody”, Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do”, and The Weeknd’s “I Can’t Feel My Face to name but a few) but also boasts a cast that literally reads like a who’s who of musical theatre including Miriam-Teak Lee (Hamilton, On The Town), Oliver Tompsett (Wicked, We Will Rock You, Kinky Boots), Cassidy Janson (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Chess) and Jordan Luke Gage (Bat Out Of Hell).

Pic copyright Phil Tragen 2019

This timely and innovative new musical is directed by Luke Sheppard (In the Heights) with a book by David West Read (Netflix’s Schitt’s Creek) and choreography from the internationally renowned Jennifer Weber.

& Juliet looks set to be an iconic new production which best of all Manchester gets first!

Former Hamilton star and award-winning actress Miriam-Teak Lee will take on the role of Juliet as she escapes to Paris with her best pals in a bid to choose her own ending. We were lucky enough to catch up with Miriam-Teak Lee ahead of the show’s opening in Manchester to hear a little more about this revolutionary musical and what we can expect from this new kind of Juliet. 

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How is the classic story of Romeo & Juliet reimagined in & Juliet and how where does it start in terms of the original play?

& Juliet reimagines the ending to Romeo and Juliet and asks, what if this was just the beginning for Juliet. & Juliet is a play within a play so it starts with Shakespeare (Oliver Tompsett) telling his fellow actors the ending to his new play Romeo and Juliet, when Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife (Cassidy Janson) hears, she asks why don’t we rewrite that ending… and continue on. She explains that Juliet is still young and has her whole life ahead of her, so why would she kill herself because of one boyfriend. So as she takes the quill and begins to write, we see Juliet at Romeo’s tomb, distraught and contemplating with the dagger. At which point she sings “Hit Me Baby One More Time” as she looks to the stars to “give her a sign”.

Juliet sounds like a strong, independent character and a really inspiring role model to women. What does it feel like to play such an exciting lead role in a brand new musical?

It feels incredible to play such a strong character. I genuinely believe that Juliet has always had strength but that isn’t necessarily explored in depth in the original Romeo and Juliet, so it is amazing to be able to tell a story that puts a magnifying glass on Juliet’s inner power and journey to self discovery. It’s important that young girls have someone to look up to, to be influenced by, and I really feel that Juliet could really be the inspiration that they need. To know that they can do anything they put their mind to, that they can be in the driving seat of their own life and that there is no limit to their greatness!

Performing in Hamilton must have been an incredible experience. Was this your West End debut and how did this role help prepare you for playing Juliet?

My actual first West End Debut was playing Claire DeLoone in Leonard Bernstein’s On The Town at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in Summer 2017. And I was awarded Best Actress in a Musical for that role at The Stage Debut Awards which was incredible. So that role, coupled with being a cover of all the Schuyler Sisters in Hamilton really did prepare me for playing Juliet. It taught me about constantly being aware of all the actors on stage, using my initiative when things went wrong, bouncing off people’s energy, staying true to my character but allowing myself to discover new nuances and relationships, even in the moments when I’m not speaking or singing. And it taught me that the power of whatever you feel on that stage is whatever the audience feel, so never deprive them of the truth.

The musical features an incredible score from prolific songwriter Max Martin. What is your favourite track to perform on stage and why?

With the public performances we have been doing recently, I have been performing Roar quite a lot and that is such a powerful moment in the show for Juliet. I love performing that song because it is the pinnacle moment for Juliet in her search for self discovery. She literally realises in real time the kind of person she used to be, how she used to “bite her tongue and hold her breathe” constantly trying to please others, and this is a moment where she says I am going to do as I please and you are all going to watch me succeed! It’s such an empowering moment in the show and the audience will feel that too!

What can you tell us about what your costume style in & Juliet?

I LOVE the costume designs by Paloma Young, I cannot wait for everyone to see them. It’s a very clever mix of Renaissance and modern day. We have included use of the tight bodices with corsets but shorter skirts and a sporty flare. It’s iconic!

How much choreography can we expect to see in & Juliet and what kind of dance genres have the creative team drawn upon to create a fresh new musical style?

There is so much choreography in this show by the incredible Jennifer Weber! There is definitely a hip hop/commercial/new age style to the choreography that works so effortlessly with Luke Sheppard’s brilliant direction to further the story, to transport us and to absolutely engulf us in this world of wonder!

Why do you think Manchester audiences in particular will love the musical?

Manchester is the home of music, seeing so many great artists go there and perform there. I think Manchester will receive the show incredibly and we can’t wait for them to see it first!

What three words would you use to describe & Juliet?

Revolutionary! Spectacle! Inspiring!

Shakespeare and pop music are a unique combination! How do the two blend together?

It combines the greatest pop writer of the 16th/17th century with one of the greatest pop writers of the 20th/21st century. So I think it’s a pretty iconic blend and one that will stick in people’s minds for years to come!

Finally, what can audiences expect when they come and see & Juliet?

They can expect to see a whole new outlook on Juliet Capulet, they can expect to have an incredible night, they can expect to laugh their socks off and go on a journey filled with all their favourite songs, sung in a completely different way with a whole new meaning. It’s a show not to be missed!

& Juliet plays at the Manchester Opera House from Tuesday 10th September until Saturday 12th October tickets available here.

Lea Salonga

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Theatrical royalty and original Miss Saigon Lea Salonga brought her sensational one-woman show to Manchester’s Opera House over the weekend as part of her current UK tour. Rescheduled from February due to an unfortunate skiing accident Salonga quickly proved to an excited Manchester audience that she was more than worth the wait.

Opening with the Nina Simone classic Feeling Good Salonga sets the tone for the evening, slick, sharp and effortlessly brilliant. Accompanied by a six-piece band which includes Musical Director Larry Yurman whom worked with Salonga back in her Les Misérables Broadway days the talented musicians accompany her beautifully. Each piece is perfectly paced while the incredible acoustics within the Opera House make it feel as though she is singing directly to each and every person there. The impressive lighting design adds to the visual appeal of the show while Salonga’s vocals really do speak for themselves.

Incredibly warm and charismatic her frequent exchanges with the audience between numbers further add to the charm of her incredible performance, already enraptured with her judging from the enthusiastic applause even before the first note was sung Salonga further seals the deal when she announces “Manchester, you are giving me life right now”.

The varied set list caters wonderfully for all tastes; there’s lashings of musical theatre numbers including Les Misérables, Miss Saigon, Company and Hamilton as well as a brilliant selection of contemporary songs ranging from Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car to perhaps rather surprisingly One Direction’s Story Of My Life which is delivered with warm emotion.

Of course no performance would be complete without Salonga treating audiences to pieces from the Disney productions she famously voiced. Her performance of Reflection from Disney’s Mulan allows for a significant introductory speech about the importance of representation and visibility and how honoured she feels to represent not just Asian women on stage but an ‘badass Asian warrior’.

From Reflection Salonga moves poignantly into Train’s Drops of Jupiter which she dedicates to all those who have been affected by cancer after revealing that the Grammy award-winning song was written by lead singer Pat Monahan after the loss of his mother.

Act 1 comes to a close with an absolute fan favourite which Salonga describes as ‘the gift that keeps on giving’; a song she has sung many hundreds of times but one which walloped her emotionally the first time she sang it after the birth of her now 13 year old daughter. I’d Give My Life For You sounds as fresh and as devastating today as it did 30 years on from those first days of Miss Saigon rehearsals.

Act 2 opens with a lively delivery of Another Hundred People from Stephen Sondheim’s Company swiftly followed by a spectacular rendition of Let It Go from Disney’s Frozen which Salonga wittily describes as a song ‘you simply can’t escape from’ while inviting the eager audience to join in with the chorus to which they happily oblige.

The addition of a stripped back acoustic version of A-ha’s Take On Me is a real highlight of the show, showcasing not only Salonga’s incredible range and control but also the sheer talent of guitarist Chris Allard. Next comes a haunting rendition of Burn from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash-hit Hamilton a work she describes as ‘absolute genius’ and a show she has seen three times.

Salonga’s first stint as a Disney Princess was voicing Aladdin’s Princess Jasmine which resulted in one of the most successful duets in cinematic history, A Whole New World. Salonga takes this opportunity to ask for a volunteer to join her on stage in delivering the iconic song. Audience member Mark Cunningham, a dedicated fan since he first saw Salonga in Miss Saigon back in 1989 when he was just 14 is the lucky person chosen and delivers an impressive rendition of the much loved piece, complementing Salonga wonderfully. The pair thrill the audience with the duet receiving one of the warmest responses of the evening; an unforgettable opportunity for Mark as well as a heart-warming moment for the watching audience.

Salonga brings the show to a close with a medley of Les Misérables numbers I Dreamed A Dream and On My Own. The first Asian actress to play the roles of Eponine and Fantine on Broadway Salonga leaves the audience speechless with her goose bump inducing, note perfect delivery.

Salonga thankfully sticks with the tradition of delivering an encore and reappears to thunderous applause as she bursts into a celebratory performance of This Is Me from The Greatest Showman followed by her final song for the night, Whitney Houston’s Greatest Love of All.

Salonga thrills effortlessly from start to finish, her voice smooth as honey is as powerful as it is perfect. Thirty years of entertaining audiences have cemented her as without doubt one of the most extraordinary talents in the world today. Her warmth and talent combined with a varied and accessible set list ensures her appeal endures while she no doubt gains new fans along the way.

With limited dates left on this current tour we suggest you summon your inner badass and get booking tickets ASAP!

Further information and tour dates for Lea Salonga can be found here.