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.

 

 

 

Jersey Boys

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Being the proud winner of 57 major international awards including the Olivier Award for Best New Musical brings about a huge amount of expectation; does this current Jersey Boys tour deliver? Yes, absolutely yes, and then some, and then a little bit more, the thunderous standing ovation at Manchester’s Palace Theatre confirming this for anyone still in any doubt.

Jersey Boys tells both the on and off-stage story of the original Four Seasons; Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi who together took the world by storm, selling a whopping 175 million records worldwide as well as being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, all before they hit 30. This exhilarating musical leaves no stone unturned as the highs, lows, heartaches, fears, joys and the all-important music come together in one seriously sensational show.

The structure is clever with the story being divided into ‘four seasons’ each narrated in turn by a different member of the quintet; offering an opportunity for several unique versions of events making for compelling viewing.

This is no bubble-gum jukebox musical, the journey we see Franki Valli (Michael Watson), Bob Gaudio (Declan Egan), Tommy DeVito (Peter Nash covering on press night) and Nick Massi (Lewis Griffiths) go on its intense, exhilarating and absorbing, there is so much to enjoy about this show it’s difficult imaging anyone not getting swept away by this slick and stylish production.

The four leads are outstanding, their harmonies sublime as they deliver hit after hit with perfection. With an epic back catalogue including Beggin’, Sherry, Walk Like A Man, December, 1963 (Oh What a Night), Big Girls Don’t Cry, Let’s Hang On (To What We’ve Got), Bye Bye Baby, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You and Working My Way Back to You the music in this show takes some beating. The lyrics are used to progress the story while the different take from each of the boys on the same situations offers a real honesty and moves the action along nicely.

This current production written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, with music by Bob Gaudio and lyrics by Bob Crewe is staged by the entire original Broadway creative team and it shows. The music alone is enough to sell the show but what you get is so much more as the emotion and energy of the piece takes hold.

Peter Nash opens the show confidently as Tommy DeVito, perfectly embodying the role, brimming with style and swagger, a commanding performance laying it out from the start that this ain’t gonna be no walk in the park. Declan Egan comes next as Bob Gaudio, charismatic, charming and brings a lot of fun to the role. Lewis Griffith’s most recently seen in Manchester as Dirty Dancing’s Jonny Castle makes for a complex and compelling Nick Massi while Michael Watson simply soars as Frankie Valli, mastering that iconic falsetto perfectly. The four leads are supported by a strong ensemble cast who help take this show to the next level, giving high-energy performances and complimenting the lead vocals beautifully.

It comes as no surprise that Jersey Boys has now been seen by over 25 million people worldwide, while the music itself is standalone brilliant add to this the sharp book and slick staging and you have the recipe for the perfect night out. Electrifying theatre which will no doubt keep the music of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons alive for a whole new generation.

Jersey Boys runs at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 16th February tickets available here.

 

Interview | Lewis Griffiths talks Jersey Boys

The international smash-hit Jersey Boys returns to Manchester this week as part of an extensive UK tour. Winner of an incredible 57 major awards worldwide, including the Olivier Award for Best New Musical, Jersey Boys tells the true life story of four boys from the wrong side of the tracks who went on to sell over 100 million records worldwide.

Featuring hit after iconic hit including Beggin’, December 1963 (Oh What A Night), Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Walk Like A Man, Bye Bye Baby, Big Girls Don’t Cry and many more, Jersey Boys is an unforgettable story packed with heart and humour making for a thrilling night at the theatre. We caught up with actor Lewis Griffiths who plays Nick Massi to hear a little more about this sensational show.

You’re returning to the show after a previous stint as the late Nick Massi, how does it feel to be back?

It’s great, it’s a dream role so I didn’t hesitate when they asked me to reprise the role and here I am. Since I’ve come back I’ve discovered every performance I do is different to the previous as it’s a whole new production, a whole new chemistry, a whole new cast so everything although I’ve done the show before feels very new and very fresh.

Is there an added pressure in portraying a real person?

It has a certain pressure particularly with the character Nick Massi being passed now there is a legacy to uphold. It’s tricky sometimes playing a real person because there’s not as much artistic license to have free reign but it’s a great challenge and with this story there is a lot to discover, a lot of twists and turns, unexpected secrets shall we say, it’s a great role.

Despite your experience in the role do you still get nervous before a performance?

Of course, there’s a certain nervous energy that you require to perform, if you have no nerves whatsoever that can sometimes come across as a little bit arrogant. Naturally you have to have an element of nerves, as a performer you’re starting from scratch for every show, you can’t ever think ‘oh I’ve done this before a thousand times it’s a piece of cake’ because for the audience watching you it may well be the first time they are watching the show so you have to act as thought it’s the first time you’re performing it, that’s really the added pressure that gives you the nerves.

While Frankie Valli is known for his iconic falsetto Nick Massi supplied the rich deep rich vocals, how do you look after your voice?

They are a hard sing, the best thing I find for me personally is making sure I get lots of sleep and drink lots of water. I know that may sound like a cliché but that’s honestly what works best. The hardest thing about the show is not the range it’s the endurance, Nick Massi doesn’t solo a lot but he does sing a lot in the show and it’s a wide range so the stamina to endure the intensity of the tracks is what’s really important.

Do you have any preshow rituals to help you get in the zone?

I used to, I used to have lots of silly little things I did but I don’t tend to do those things anymore. As long as I’m in the building at the half hour call and I’m ready for beginners I kind of take my time in that half hour window between the half hour and the beginners call call I just try and relax, listen to some music, have a cup of tea and let myself relax in order to play Nick so by the time I’ve got my suit on and I’m walking onto the stage I am Nick Massi.

Is there anything you can’t live without on tour?

I always take a picture of myself and my fiancé on tour, it comes to every dressing room with me so it’s always there with me. If I could take her I would. She lives in Newcastle so as we’re bringing the tour further up North I’ll get the chance to see a bit more of her which will be wonderful.

You’ve visited Manchester with a few tours now, is there anything in particular you’re looking forward to seeing or doing?

Manchester’s such a broad city, just when you think you know it you always find something else to discover, something you haven’t done or somewhere you weren’t expecting. Last time I was there with Jersey Boys we did I live performance on BBC Breakfast which was wonderful as they were interviewing Frankie Valli on the show so I’d love to explore around there a little more.

Finally is anyone is considering booking a ticket for Jersey Boys at Manchester’s Palace Theatre what would you say to them?

You’d be coming to see an eye-opening story which is made very special by not only the cast but every integral element of what makes the show work, from wigs, wardrobe, crew, it’s a real ensemble piece that brings to life something that is unforgettable, added to that the infectious music of The Four Seasons, then you can fully appreciate why this show is such a crowd-pleaser, it’s definitely one to beg, steal or borrow a ticket to see.

Jersey Boys opens at Manchester’s Palace Theatre on Tuesday 29th January and runs until Saturday 16th February tickets available here.

Win a VIP Motown experience!

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Smash-hit West End sensation Motown The Musical arrives at Manchester’s Opera House next month and music fans across the north west are being asked to share their memories of this magical music to be in with a chance to win an incredible VIP experience which includes tickets to watch the show on press night (27th February) as well as the chance to meet the cast backstage.

All you have to do to be in with a chance to win this amazing prize is share your Motown memories from when either the Tamla-Motown Revue UK tour featuring The Supremes, Martha and The Vandellas, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles and Stevie Wonder visited Manchester in 1965 or when The Jackson 5 played the King’s Hall in Gorton as part of their European tour back in 1972.

Motown The Musical as well as the Opera House would love to hear your memories of these ground-breaking gigs, whether it be pictures or anicdotes you may have.

To enter simply send written details of your memories to the marketing team via the following menthods

Email: commentsmcr@theambassadors.com

Post: Marketing Department, c/o Manchester Palace Theatre, Stage Door, 97 Oxford St, Manchester, M1 6FT

All entries must be received by 5pm on Friday 15th February 2019. Entries must include a name, address and telephone number and winners will be notified no later than Friday 22nd February 2019.

Motown The Musical tells the story of Berry Gordy’s world-famous Motown record label, which gave rise to huge stars such as The Jackson 5, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. The production is heading to the Manchester’s Opera House from Tuesday February 26th – Saturday 23rd March tickets can be booked here.

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday Night Fever

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Based on the 1978 film starring John Travolta in THAT white 3 piece suit, Saturday Night Fever strutted into Manchester last night for a week’s stay at the city’s Palace Theatre.

Set in the backstreets of Brooklyn, Saturday Night Fever is a coming of age story combined with a jukebox musical of the Bee Gee’s greatest hits.

Tony Manero (Richard Winsor) lives for his Saturday nights at the local discotheque; the perfect escape from his dull job and not so harmonious home life with his abusive father and downtrodden mother. Dancing is the one thing that gives Tony purpose, credibility and a means of escape. When a dance competition is announced Tony must decide who to compete with, local girl Annette (Anna Campkin) or new girl on the scene Stephanie (Kate Parr).

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While there have been several touring versions of Saturday Night Fever this is the first I’ve seen where the Bee Gee’s classics such as Stayin’ Alive, You Should Be Dancing, Jive Talkin’ and More Than A Woman are delivered on stage by a tribute group. Taking on the formidable challenge of becoming the Gibbs brothers are Edward Handoll, Alastair Hill and Matt Faull. The trio are note perfect in their delivery of the iconic soundtrack & could easily fool you into thinking it’s a real Bee Gee’s recording being played.

Experienced actor and dancer Richard Winsor struts his way around the stage as the infamous Tony, confident and cool he also manages to portray the angsty sensitive side of the determined dancer with ease. His skills as a dancer highlighted beautifully during his emotional solo during Immortality.

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There is a huge amount of talent on stage; the strong ensemble cast deliver Bill Deamer’s high-energy choreography with at times jaw-dropping commitment. The music too is superb and the show certainly looks the part as Gary McCann’s industrial set of moving stairs and walkways add authenticity to the piece while the colourful 70’s costumes take us right back to the period. The show however feels at times like something is missing, while the production touches on some real issues including suicide and drugs they aren’t ever developed or explored in any real way, we never really get to know anyone well enough to emotionally connect or even really care much about their journey which seems like a missed opportunity which could have taken this show to the next level.

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That said Saturday Night fever knows its audience and delivers spectacular dance routines complete with multi-coloured dancefloor and spinning disco balls with perfection. If you’re looking for some seriously sizzling dance routines and stunning vocal arrangements then you won’t be disappointed.

Catch Saturday Night Fever at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 26th January tickets available here.

 

 

 

Jerry Springer – The Opera heads to Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre

Newly formed production company Northern Ricochet today announced their first project, bringing an all new production of the award-winning musical Jerry Springer – The Opera to Manchester; almost 15 years since it was last performed in the UK.

This new revival will entertain audiences over a four-week run this summer from Thursday 8th until Saturday 31st August with tickets going on sale today at 10am.

Jerry Springer – The Opera proves nothing is off limits with its tap-dancing KKK members, provocative dancing stripper as well as the ultimate battle of good versus evil between God and the Devil.

The original show caused a storm when it first opened in the UK back in 2002 with this new revival promising the same raucous energy not to mention chaos and debauchery.

The show will be the first from new production company Northern Ricochet formed by James Baker (Parade, Yank), Tom Chester (Parade, Mamma Mia) and Bill Elms (Epstein The Man Who Made The Beatles, Twopence To Cross The Mersey). The trio aspire to passionately produce quality theatre in the north, for the north whilst using northern creatives, actors and voices.

James Baker said: “Jerry was ground-breaking and placed a mirror up to the audience. A mirror of reflection and a possibility for us to learn something. The big question is, have we learned anything? Sadly not, and I’d argue we’re even more divided than before. Prejudice still remains within race, sexuality and equality. Just because we don’t see it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I think we’ve just got better at pretending all is more harmonious. We’ve become even better actors than those in the Jerry show. Reality has become even more blurred. It’s time to hold that mirror back up. We are bringing you a fresh version of Jerry. One that is again a provocation but also a reflection of our times. We aim to create a movement.” 

Tickets for Jerry Springer The Opera are on sale now and can be booked here.

Facebook: /JerrySpringerManchester

Twitter: @JSTOMANC #JERRYJERRY

Stephen Schwartz Q&A at Hope Mill Theatre

Katy Lipson of Aria Entertainment and Joseph Houston and William Whelton of Hope Mill Theatre today announce An Evening With Stephen Schwartz, which will take place in Manchester on Sunday 17th February.

A drinks and finger buffet will begin at 6pm followed by a showcase of the multi-award winning lyricist and composer’s best loved works as well as Schwartz’s first ever UK panel discussion about his life and his work.

With a back catalogue which includes the critically acclaimed shows Wicked, Pippin and Godspell as well as contributing to the lyrics for the films Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame as well as songs from The Prince of Egypt this will be a night not to be missed!

All proceeds from ticket sales will go towards Hope Aria’s 2019 season which opens with Schwartz’s RAGS from 2nd March until 6th April.

Tickets for the Hope Mill Theatre event which include a drinks reception and buffet are priced at £45 and can be purchased here.