The Book of Mormon

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The cast of Book Of Mormon Manchester – Credit Paul Coltas

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ever since those first whispers  of “The Mormons are coming” way back in November, excitement levels have been sky high for the multi-award winning, (Tony’s, Olivier’s and Grammy’s to name but a few) smash-hit Broadway musical’s Manchester arrival.

Penned by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone along with Robert Lopez co-creator of Avenue Q as well co-writer for songs from Disney’s Frozen and Coco you quickly get the idea that this is going to be one seriously creative and wildly outrageous piece of theatre…and you wouldn’t be far wrong.

From the minute the bright-eyed, Colgate smiling, super-positive Mormons take to the stage with witty opening number Hello! you know you’re in for quite the ride, so buckle up, embrace the outlandish and leave the easily-offended at home.

M-Jae – Cleopatra, Issac – Kevin Clay, Conner Peirson in The Book Of Mormom, Manchester, Palace Theatre Credit Paul Coltas

The story introduces us to Elders Price (Kevin Clay) and Cunningham (Conner Peirson) a mismatched pair thrust together on their Mormon mission to convert the natives of a country far flung from Salt Lake City (no spoilers here), despite knowing nothing about the country nor the traditions or beliefs of the locals who live there. While Elder Price feels his mission is to “Blow God’s freakin’ mind” Elder Cunningham lies…a lot; what could possible go wrong?

From the off The Book Of Mormon pokes wicked and downright profane fun at every stereotype imaginable; nothing is off-limits in this all-out comedy assault and the audience lap up every close to the bone second of it.

The bouncy, infectious score with lyrics to make your toes curl is as outrageous as it is brilliant. There’s a genius borrowing from several other musicals: hilarious hints of The Sound of Music’s ‘I Have Confidence’ can be heard during ‘I Believe’ while ‘Joseph Smith American Moses” is a riotous, profanity laden homage to ‘The Small House of Uncle Thomas’ from The King and I; as for the jaw-droppingly offensive yet hysterically funny Hasa Diga Eebowai, The Lion King’s Mufasa would be turning in his buffalo trodden grave.

Nicole-Lily Baisden and Conner Peirson Book of Mormon, Manchester, Credit Paul Coltas

This ‘borrowing’ sends up other musicals so brilliantly yet feels incredibly original; at one point during ‘You and Me (But Mostly Me) you are almost prepared for Elder Price to rise up Elphaba style a la Wicked.

Kevin Clay is outstanding as Elder Price, full of ego and bursting with confidence his self belief seemingly unshakable. Conner Peirson makes for a perfect sidekick as Elder Cunningham so desperate is he to please that his wild exaggerations and implausible bending of the truth brings its own type of bedlam to proceedings. The two together are an absolute joy, their love/hate relationship being the backbone of the story and they deliver it with heart-warming conviction, ultimately teaching both characters a generous life lesson.

Nicole-Lily Baisden shines as Nabulungi, sweet yet sassy she brings a wide-eyed innocence to the role making her duet with Peirson during ‘Baptize Me’ all the more entertaining.

The cast of The Book of Mormon Manchester – Palace Theatre, credit Paul Coltas

Special mention must also go to Will Hawksworth and his outstanding troop of Mormons, every scene they feature in is perfection with Turn It Off and I Am Africa being two of the standout moments of the night, camp, completely over the top and laugh out loud funny.

There is not one weak link in this entire company, with many cast members taking on several parts and delivering each to the highest of standards with the vocal arrangements and choreography taking this production to the next level.

While the show happily tears through taboos with all the subtlety of Satan at a baptism its ultimate message is one of faith. Yes it’s outlandish, yes it’s irreverent but the core message is that it really doesn’t matter what you believe in just as long as you believe in something, be that yourself, your community or each other. While it pokes fun at organised religion it makes clear the message that faith is no bad thing once you see past the bonkers constraints that surround it.

The cast of The Book of Mormon Manchester – Palace Theatre, credit Paul Coltas

Rarely do you see a whole theatre leap to their feet but judging by tonight’s thunderous standing ovation The Book of Mormon is without doubt the hottest ticket in town. Riotous fun from start to finish, believe the hype this is without doubt a little piece of heaven on earth.

Outrageous and original this sensational production will leave you desperate to convert to that marvellous Mormon tribe!

The Book Of Mormon is on at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 24th August, tickets available here.

📷 Paul Coltas

 

 

Interview | Nathan Lewis | Motown The Musical

Nathan Lewis Headshot

X Factor finalist Nathan Lewis heads to Manchester next week as part of the sensational Motown the Musical. Playing the legendary Smokey Robinson, Lewis is amongst a talented cast who bring the legends of Motown to glittering life in a musical adaptation which uncovers the true story of the legendary record label that changed music history and created the soundtrack of a generation.

We caught up with Nathan to hear a little more about the show and how it feels to be making his theatrical debut in such a thrilling role.

For your first musical production this must be an absolute dream role?

Absolutely 100%, it’s the first time I’ve done any kind of theatre production before so it really is a dream come true. Beforehand I was so so nervous even just about auditioning for the role let alone playing it and Smokey Robinson was such an important part of the Motown story that it really is an honour.

How did you feel ahead of your 1st performance in front of an audience?

It was very, very nerve-wracking but at the same time we have such a great team here, an amazing cast, fantastic creatives, director, sound, wigs, costume, everyone is just so encouraging that while of course I was nervous the support I had from this great team really helped prepare me and helped me to feel comfortable and ready to take it on. Part nerves, part excitement!

13. MOTOWN THE MUSICAL. Nathan Lewis 'Smokey Robinson'. Photo Tristram Kenton

Do it add pressure playing a real person?

I think it definitely does, you have to be very careful not to make any of the characters too different from their real selves; it’s so important they don’t become caricatures. With it being based on real people and real events you do have to reflect that but it’s a lot of fun because their stories and lives are so real and so interesting.

It’s such a fast paced show including 50 Motown classics how do you look after yourself and stay well?

I’ve recently just got over having a little bug and I think what helps with recovery and getting back performing is just really knowing your body, some people can bang out eight shows a week no problem, others have to be really careful. For me things like honey, ginger, lemon, hot water, the occasional steam and even long hot showers all help in looking after my voice. Also and this may sound stupid but knowing when to shut up, when you have time off it’s best to use it as well as you can and to rest your voice, just chill out and relax.

How do you prepare for each performance?

I just try to get myself feeling nice and relaxed really, I might listen to some music, drink some hot water, ginger and honey, occasionally might go over my lines. I find feeling relaxed helps me to feel confident and ready to perform.

Which Motown artists dead or alive would you love to meet or even sing with?

Oh my God that’s such a tough question, I’d definitely love to meet Smokey, to sing with him would be amazing and also he’s such an incredible song writer. It would be incredible to not only see him perform but also to pick his brain as well and find out a little more about him and how he did things. Michael Jackson would absolutely be one of them, he’s one of the biggest stars there’s ever been, meeting him would be amazing, and I’m definitely gonna put Stevie Wonder on the list as well, 100%.

You’re with us in Manchester from 26th Feb until 23rd March have you made any plans while you’re here?

I’ve only been once or twice before so I’m looking forward to doing some sightseeing, when you get to stay at a venue for a longer time it’s great as you get the chance to get comfortable in the place you’re at, it can be quite jarring when you’re just doing a week somewhere then onto the next place so a longer spell is really lovely and an opportunity to discover somewhere new.

The show has been a huge hit on the West End and now the tour is taking audiences by storm, what makes it such a fan favourite?

I’d have to say the music, it’s got to be the music, it is so iconic. For me having never done a theatre production before being lucky enough to get Motown as my first has been amazing I can totally see why audiences love it so much. The music in it is all my favourite kinds of music, its high energy, great storytelling about real people. To say the music of Motown shaped the world is an understatement, the music and the creative way in which its delivered is what makes it so popular.

You can see for yourself why Motown The Musical continues to thrill audiences when it arrives at Manchester’s Opera House on Tuesday 26th 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.

 

An Evening of Eric and Ern

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

There are so many iconic images associated with Christmas: a piping hot turkey with all the trimmings, presents under the tree, pictures of drunken revellers plastered across the national press, and of course Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise dancing a merry jig. The Morecambe and Wise Christmas specials have been engraved into the festive TV listing since 1969 the reason simply being that they’re just bloody funny!

Well if you need your Eric and Ernie fix this Christmas you can go one better and see the pair in the flesh as An Evening of Eric & Ern comes to the Lowry for the festive season. Staring the Olivier nominated Jonty Stephens and Ian Ashpitel as the comedy duo, they treat us to an evening of cabaret and familiar sketches which include, Eric’s Mr Memory, the pairs take on ventriloquism and the iconic Greig’s Piano concerto sketch.

Eric 3

Adding a touch of glamour, as well as acting as a comedic foil to the pair is super talented singer Becky Neale who pops up throughout the evening, at one point belting out a fantastic version of the Mariah Carey hit All I Want for Christmas is You.

Despite an initial slow start, this is a hugely fun, trip down memory lane. All the classic gags are there, including those infamous well aimed barbs at Des O Connor. Stand out sketches include are of course the ventriloquist dummy which is brilliant in its simplicity and a beautiful rendition of the Stephen Sondheim’s Send in the Clowns by Neale which Eric and Ernie do there best to ruin.

Eric

The main strength of the show comes in the performances of Stephens and Ashpitel. The physical resemblance is clearly noticeable from the outset, but it’s more about how the mannerisms and facial tics are matched to perfection. You can see the two actors have analysed their heroes to give a genuine, authentic performance which sucks you in. Add to that the undoubted chemistry between the two as well as some exceptional choreography from Nicola Keen and you have all the parts for a heart-warming night of comedy and nostalgia.

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The show inevitably closes with a rendition of Bring Me Sunshine, from all three performers as well as the audience; and like a nice mug of hot mulled wine, it sends you out into the cold winter’s night with a nice warm glow, a spring in your step, and the perfect way to start the Christmas celebrations.

An Evening with Eric and Ern is at the Lowry till 6th January. Tickets available here.

Interview | Doctor Dolittle’s Brian Capron

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Doctor Dolittle returns to the stage this Christmas in Leslie Bricusse’s acclaimed family musical which opens at the Lowry on Tuesday 11th December.

Based on the much loved 1967 film with Rex Harrison, Leslie Bricusse’s family favourite promises fun for all as eccentric Doctor (Mark Williams) takes us on a magical adventure in his quest to find the Giant Pink Sea Shell which holds the secret of life and making the world a happier place.

Not only will we meet the Pushmi-Pullyu and the Doctor’s trusty sidekick Polynesia the Parrot but we’ll also meet many wonderful human companions along the way. Here at Opening Night we were lucky enough to catch up with one of the talented humans taking to the stage this festive season in the form of Brian Capron.

Coronation Street legend and much admired theatre actor Brian give us the inside info on what we can expect from this Christmas spectacular.

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Opening Night: This production sounds absolutely spectacular, especially the puppets.

BC: It’s going to be wonderful, so much thought and planning has gone into this production. The planning alone for the puppets has been incredible. It almost doesn’t feel right saying puppets as they are so lifelike, they’re such characters which their own individual personalities.

ON: Are you looking forward to performing with the puppets?

BC: Absolutely, I have a number with the Pushmi-Pullyu, which is a double headed llama & when I first saw the puppet it wasn’t quite finished but even then I could tell just how impressive it was going to be, it was already taller than me! It’s absolutely huge and has a performer in either end. It will be performing a dance in the middle of the number, Never Seen Anything Like It, which will be just magical.

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ON: It sounds like the show is really going to impress visually.

BC: Tom Piper the designer is one of the best theatre designers in the country. The way he has envisaged the whole thing, coming out of a storybook really is so very, very exciting.

The show will still be a period show but some things will be a little updated. It’s amazing really just how relevant to today this show is. There’s a charming message that comes through about the preservation of flora and fauna, conservation of animals etc. and it is presented so beautifully.

ON: You’re playing two characters in the production, can you tell us a little about them?

BC: Yes I play two characters; the 1st is Albert Blossom who owns the circus. He’s a big, fun character to play and of course I get to perform the fabulous Never Seen Anything Like It which is one of the big turns in the show. He’s a wonderful character to play. The second character is a complete contrast, a character called Straight Arrow, he is head of the natives on Sea-Star Island, the island Doctor Dolittle visits. He’s very posh so a wonderful contrast to the 1st half.

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ON: Are you looking forward to spending the festive season at the Lowry?

BC: Absolutely, I often do panto at Christmas, in fact last year I was at the Stockport Plaza so I’m really excited to be coming back to the North West with such a wonderful Christmas show.

Doctor Dolittle really is a genuine family show, suitable for young and old to enjoy together. It’s going to be wonderful, there’s a great cast, spectacular songs, incredible scenery and costumes, it really will be something special.

Doctor Dolittle opens at The Lowry on Tuesday 11th December and runs until Saturday 5th January tickets available https://thelowry.com/whats-on/doctor-dolittle/

 

When We Built A Rocket Ship

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

The Oldham Theatre Workshop is celebrating it’s 50th anniversary, and what better way to celebrate than by going on an adventure, When We Built A Rocket Ship is exactly that, a celebration of adventure and just how far your imagination can take you.

Opening in 1968, we are introduced to a group of childhood friends who meet up in a secluded woodland setting: they have a den, they each have each other, and they have a place to let their imagination run free: there are battles with pirates, encounters with mermaids and sea monsters, and later even an appearance from Charlie’s Angels. Accompanying the gang on the journey is a troop of forest friendly sprites who are always there to lend a hand.

With imagination knowing no limits, the gang decide to embark on an adventure into out-of-space: an adventure that will span 50 years and see them go through personal heart ache and tragedy, with the only constants being their friendship and the group’s haven.

As we go from decade to decade with the group and whilst struggling with the cruel blows that life can send their way from time to time: however, with every one of them knowing that they have each other’s back and no matter what happens they will face each problem together.

This is an ambitious, smart piece of musical theatre that is heavy on the feel-good factor, and has something for everyone: catchy tunes, an engaging story we can all relate to and a heavy dose of nostalgia.

With a cast boasting over 40 actors they all work their socks off throughout, especially during the exceptionally well-choreographed dance routines. The costumes are outstanding, especially on the forest elves: there is more than a wink to the lost boys from Peter Pan, the forest setting looks fabulous and has everything you would want for a secret hideaway.

The production is not without its flaws: Act 1 and 2 are slick and engaging whereas the final act felt a little laboured. There is a huge dramatic event that has is front and centre to the narrative and when this is first broken to the audience it isn’t done with the magnitude it fully deserves.

In addition, there were a few notable mis-queues and mis-steps which were quite distracting, although these may be down to opening night nerves.

Overall this is an entertaining and rewarding piece of theatre and the perfect birthday celebration for the OTW: with such a young talented cast, the OTW can go from strength to strength and we can all look forward to 50 more years of success.

When We Built A Rocket Ship is on till July 28th tickets are available here.

 

 

Interview – Sting | The Last Ship

Sting

Undoubtedly one of the most successful UK artists of all time having sold millions of records, won every award & prestigious accolade imaginable including multiple Grammy’s, Brits, a Golden Globe, 4 Oscar’s nominations, an induction to the Hollywood walk of fame and a CBE to name but a few, Sting has now set his sights on musical theatre with the self-penned, The Last Ship. We were lucky enough to be invited to an intimate launch of the musical which docks at the Lowry Theatre from 3rd July 2018.

Sting may have come a long way since his childhood days spent in the shadows of the shipyard in Tyneside but he has never forgotten his roots. In writing The Last Ship Sting rediscovers the impact industrialisation & loss of identity has on a town and it’s inhabitants. As a child Sting thought of the shipyard as a dark and dangerous place, his biggest fear that he would end up there, unable to fulfil his dreams of being a singer. “Many years later I realised I owed a debt to my community, a community who’d had their incredible skills set thrown on the scrap heap, their dignity in working taken away, I wanted to explore what happens when you take this away, economics does not exist without community.”

Not strictly autobiographical but certainly very influenced by Sting’s childhood, lead character Gideon has turned his back on his hometown, leaving to become a sailor, after 17 years away her returns to reconnect with a lost love, however tensions between his past and his future flare as the once proud town he left is now a community in demise as the local shipyard is closing and fear for the economic stability of the town is overwhelming.

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Of the story Sting said “I know how difficult it is to write an original story, many musicals are based on stories we already know, films, even cartoons but I wanted to take on that challenge, it was fun, it was hard-work, inspiring, challenging, disappointing, thrilling so many emotions, almost like a ship, there are so many moving parts and elements that need to come together, effectively you are the captain of the ship. It was hugely challenging but also so much fun.”

The musical has a very strong sense of regional identity, having lived away from the North East for so many years now Sting feels he is in the perfect place to look from the outside in, “I live an international life, I’m from a community but I live outside of it which to me feels like a good place to be impartial and give a voice to a community who maybe don’t have one.”

Giving his childhood community a voice is clearly a huge driving force behind The Last Ship as well as the emotional debt Sting feels he has to pay. “I was formed by the North East, my engine of ambition was created there, I was very lucky to be able to do what I did and it was only through good fortune when I left at aged 18/19 that I was able to, I am enormously grateful for the environment in which I was raised. It was rich and full of symbolism, the launching of a ship makes me tearful even now, something so enormous being launched by the hands of its makers, the workers of the town, happy and proud of what they have created yet at the same time anxious at when their next job might be.”

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Sting explained what drove him to take on the challenge of musical theatre, “I’m undoubtedly driven by curiosity, driven always by the thought of ‘What’s next?’ I never want to keep pressing the same buttons, creativity is an elusive animal, hunting creativity means putting yourself out of your comfort zone, I’m not driven by success but driven by my own curiosity, I’m an eternal student.”

After a runs on Broadway, Chicago, Salt Lake City and now Finland, Sting explained how the piece has been altered slightly for the UK and Ireland tour which opens in Newcastle in March. “I felt the show needed slightly refitting for this tour, it’s more political than it was on Broadway, the struggle of the men takes precedence here as opposed to the love story which was very much focussed on for Broadway. Once I’d started with the characters the songs then came very, very quickly, almost like it was stored up deep inside, a story just waiting to be released. I’ve never been so passionate about anything I’ve done.”

Directed by Lorne Campbell with set design by the Tony Award-winning 59 Productions The Last Ship promises to a powerful, emotional and inspiring piece of theatre. Steeped in the proud history of the North with a stunning score, melodic folk music as well as rousing ensemble numbers The Last Ship starring Jimmy Nail sails into the Lowry from Tuesday 3rd July 2018, tickets available here