Little Women

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Louisa May Alcott’s much loved classic about the four March sisters growing up in Civil War-era New England has been a literary favourite for almost 150 years now. Seen previously on the big screen, radio plays, TV series and straight theatre plays the March sisters undoubtedly have a place in the hearts of many, this is the first time however the Broadway musical has made its way to European shores as the incredibly successful pairing of Hope Mill Theatreand Aria Entertainment continue their vision to deliver accessible musical theatre in Manchester.

The production offers a condensed take on the heart-warming story of trailblazer Jo and her three sisters, Meg, Beth and Amy March, with Jo at the spirited centre of the piece. With their father off at war and their mothers encouragement to be the best versions of themselves they can be, the sisters set out on their path to becoming ‘little women’.

Amie Giselle-Ward is outstanding as Jo, passionate, strong and always true to herself, Giselle-Ward embodies perfectly the brash and bold Jo Marsh with a raw energy that utterly captivates, fiercely loyal and defiantly proud her characterisation is honest and raw as she delivers an incredibly moving and deeply emotional performance. She fizzes and boils over with a determination to live the life she chooses not one society choses for her, a woman seemingly ahead of her time when the book was first published in 1868 and an absolute heroine to women today.

The ten strong cast are incredibly hard working and beautifully demonstrate the importance and strength of family, love and hope regardless of the situation or difficulties they face. Each of the sisters are perfectly cast, Jemima Watling is superb as Meg, sweet and sensible, with a heart full of love. Katie Marie-Carter makes for a fabulous Amy, spoiled and selfish she is wonderfully dramatic. Cathy Read plays Beth with sweet affection, gentle and kind with a real sincerity she is the calm to Jo’s perfect storm.

Bronagh Lagan’s direction ensures the production remains entirely committed to delivering Louisa May Alcott’s message of love, family and female empowerment with wonderful storytelling throughout.

Ben M Rogers light design gently warms the production, allowing Nik Corrall’s simplistic yet effective set to shine. The intimate setting of Hope Mill Theatre is perfect for this engaging production, giving audiences the most wonderful connection with the characters as Jason Howard’s music and Mindi Dickstein’s lyrics are brought to life by Rickey Long’s superb musical direction.

Little Women is a celebration, joyful, spirited and full of heart. The perfect festive treat for all ages, delivering an important and current message that into each life some rain must fall but never let that diminish the fire within you.

On at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 9th December tickets available here

Hope Mill Theatre announces 2018 season!

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Award-winning Hope Mill Theatre and resident producer Aria Entertainment today announce their much anticipated 2018 season, with three bold, exciting and ambitious in-house productions.

The converted mill in Ancoats currently hosting the European premiere of Little Women enjoyed a landmark 2017 season which saw 5* critically acclaimed productions and London transfers for Yank! and Hair with Pippin following in early 2018 will begin the season with the world premiere of new British musical The ToyBoy Diaries (on sale today).

This new musical comedy which runs from 18 January to 10 February 2018 charts the hilarious and sometimes heart-breaking sagas of mid-life dating. When twice-divorced Lily inadvertently finds herself under a much younger man, it opens the door to a wild new world of inappropriate relationships. From Tom the Tender to Sam the Submissive, via Paul the Policeman, Hat Trick Patrick and Matt the Monstrous (with Old Willy and Philandering Phil mixed in along the way) Lily finally finds Ben the Bountiful.

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Spring Awakening will run from 19 March to 3 May 2018. A production hailed as “one of the great musicals of the last decade” (New York Times) and the winner of eight Tony and four Olivier Awards, Spring Awakening follows a group of teenagers in late-19th-century Germany navigating the struggles and virtues of blossoming youth, with an electrifying fusion of morality, sexuality and a Grammy award-winning rock score. This landmark musical will be presented in an intimate and bold new production helmed by director Luke Sheppard (In The Heights, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole).

Third show to be announced is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s romantic classic Aspects of Love which will run from 5 July to 4 August 2018. Featuring the iconic “Love Changes Everything” Aspects of Love tells the story of passion, love and loss across three generations of a family and their artistic companions, against a background of 1940’s France and Italy.

The hugely successful partnership between Joseph Houston and William Whelton, the co-founders of Hope Mill Theatre and producer Katy Lipson, of Aria Entertainment is further testament to their commitment to make Hope Mill Theatre the home of new musicals and revivals in the north and beyond with two more yet-to-be announced productions in Autumn/Winter.

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William Whelton and Joseph Houston, co-founders of Hope Mill Theatre said: “We wanted to make sure our third season was even more ambitious and we feel we have managed to achieve that with the world premiere of the new British musical The ToyBoy Diaries, an exciting revival of Spring Awakening with an Olivier Award-winning creative team and our first staging of an Andrew Lloyd Webber classic – Aspects of love. Once again we have proved the power of regional theatre and continue to spearhead Hope Mill Theatre as a leading player in new musical staging, musical premieres and exciting revivals.”

Katy Lipson, of Aria Entertainment, who has just seen her production of The Addams Family transfer to Singapore stated “I have enjoyed working with the theatre on taking our shows to new commercial levels in London and am extremely delighted to announce the first three shows of our 2018 season, it is an honour to share this diverse selection of work with you. We hope to continue to champion the genre and bring in audiences from far and wide.”

Further information can be found here

@Hopemilltheatr1

@ToyBoyDiaries

 

Spamalot

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Review by Matthew Forrest 

 The programme states that Spamalot is lovingly ripped off from the motion picture” of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Well for my money, this production is doing itself a disservice; if anything it’s enhancing the ‘Python’ legacy and introducing them to a wider audience. 

As a Python fan, you sometimes take it as a given that most people will love them and their work as much as you do. However that’s not always the case, as some people just “don’t get it” or have never seen the Python’s in action before. For die-hard fans like myself, the nay-sayers and the unacquainted, Spamalot is the perfect night out, suitably ridiculous, occasionally bewildering, but always hilarious! 

Following the plot of the film, Spamalot sees King Arthur and his faithful servant Patsy, as they attempt to enlist various brave and not so brave knights to join him at his court in Camelot. It is here that the voice of God or, more accurately Eric Idle, send Arthur and his Knights on a quest to seek out the Holy Grail. 

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As you would expect it’s absolutely bonkers: most of the set-pieces are in there, from The Knights who say Nee and Black Knight: with the welcome addition of a new character in the Lady of Lake. 

The cast are on great form: Bob Harms is excellent as the pompous, self-absorbed King Arthur, Rhys Owens is on equally good form as Patsy, a polar opposite to his master but certainly the brains of the outfit. Sarah Harlington offers a scene stealing turn as the Lady of the Lake, who has an equally inflated opinion of herself, similar to that of King Arthur. 

They are supported by a fantastic, hard-working cast with most taking on multiple roles, who are all given their moments to shine. Standout scenes include Jonathan Tweedie’s Lancelot and his daring rescue of Prince Herbert and the cast’s spectacular Knights of the Round Table routine. 

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Eric Idle, along with John du Prez have come up with catchy and funny tunes that aren’t strictly in keeping with the show. The Song That Goes Like This takes a much-needed swipe at musicals and their big defining tunes, whilst You Won’t Succeed in Showbiz, takes a well-aimed shot at celebrity culture and has been updated with numerous topical references. In addition, there is the über-camp His Name is Lancelot and of course the old faithful Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. However, it’s Sarah Harlington’s vocals on Whatever Happened To My Part? and her duet with Norton James in Lady of the Lake that really bring the house down. Harlington’s voice is phenomenal: so much power blended with her comic timing certainly make you wish her part was that bit bigger. 

Director Daniel Buckroyd has certainly got the best out of his cast, with all involved displaying a gift for comedy, and allowing room for a spot of adlibbing as well.  Some cast members just about managed to told hold it together, which really added to the fun of it all. 

I really can’t fault this wonderful show. It has everything you would want in a musical: silly, uplifting fun, catchy tunes and a sing-a-long, to boot. You really can’t ask for more. Spamalot is currently on a nationwide tour and is well worth catching when it comes to a theatre near you. 

 On at the Manchester Palace Theatre till the 11th November tickets available here

 

 

Flashdance the Musical

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By guest reviewer Casey Nicole Gwilliam

Flashback to the 80’s in this dazzling production of the all time classicJoanne Clifton dazzles as the feisty Alex, a young apprentice welder with a passion for dance, and a dream to get into the prestigious Shipley School of Dance.

With the help of her old dance teacher Hannah (Carol Ball), Alex prepares for her Shipley audition, as well as falling for the dashingly handsome Nick Hurley (Ben Adams) and having to save the day and set her friend Gloria (Hollie Ann Lowe) straight, she seizes the opportunity and dances her heart out.

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The numbers that were amongst audience favourites included “Maniac” and “Gloria” as well as the crowd pleasing “I Love Rock and Roll” which wowed the audience as the immensely talented ensemble dazzled with their moves demonstrating some  incredible tricks that made the audience wince and then cheer. The entire ensemble gathered together and created an absolutely amazing and retro atmosphere, wowing the audience with their moves and vocals that left even the audience breathless!

The lighting and set along with the extremely vintage costuming hurled the audience into the 80’s along with the perms and pumps. The authentic 80’s feel gave a sense of nostalgia, and was in keeping with the 1983 movie of the same title. Keeping audiences happily entertained.

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Joanne Clifton’s performance stood out as leading lady, Alex. Her husky voice was perfect for the scrappy young dancer and her acting and singing skills were on a par with her dance; proving to be a delightful triple threat. As well as having the audience envy her for pulling off spanks and a sports bra for the majority of the show.

Overall the show makes for an extremely enjoyable evening and was an instant hit with the audience, everybody was up dancing during the finale mega-mix ensuring everyone got a chance to show their moves!

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Flashdance the Musical is on at the Blackpool Opera House until Saturday 4th November, tickets available here http://www.wintergardensblackpool.co.uk/events/flashdance/

Behind the Scenes of Flashdance – The Musical – Part 1 Joanne Clifton

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Starring Strictly Come Dancing Champion Joanne Clifton and A1 heartthrob Ben Adams, Flashdance – The Musical based on the classic film arrives in Blackpool next week as part of a UK & Ireland tour.

Telling the unforgettable story of determined welder Alex, who dreams of becoming a professional dancer, Flashdance promises to be an unforgettable night of entertainment. With phenomenal choreography all set to an incredible score including the smash hits Maniac, Gloria, I Love Rock & Roll and of course the famous title track Flashdance… What a Feeling, Flashdance will have you dancing in the aisles as sparks fly and love blossoms.

We caught up with Joanne Clifton ahead of Monday’s opening night to hear all about the show plus her thoughts on returning to Blackpool and taking to the Opera House stage.

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Opening Night (ON) : You have received rave reviews for your performance, what can we expect from this show?

Joanne : I absolutely love the show and I think that comes across to audiences, I think they can see and feel that, it’s such a different role to the last musical I did playing Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Alex in Flashdance is a tomboy, quite serious, sexy, a really strong woman. I’ve always played lots of comedy characters so I didn’t know how much I’d like playing someone so different but I absolutely love it. The only thing I can’t do is ride a bike and the first thing I do in this show is come on stage and ride a bike, I’m having regular lessons, every day after warm up I’m on there practicing, it’s so much harder than it looks!

ON: Flashdance is such an iconic dance film, everyone who knows Flashdance immediately thinks of THAT water scene, it the water hot or cold?

Joanne: It’s actually cold, I did ask could it be slightly warm as the first few times when it was coming down it was actually shocking me, but if it’s warm it affects the mechanics of the machinery, but I soon realised it’s actually ok as I have been dancing just before that happens so it’s actually quite refreshing.

ON: Is there an additional pressure to deliver something so iconic?

Joanne: Definitely, I felt a similar pressure with Millie especially as Julie Andrew’s had played it, but what I tend to do is I’ll watch the film once then I’ll kind of try and forget about it, so yes I have a link to that character but I’m playing it in my own way. So there is pressure but I enjoy the challenge of doing something my own way and creating my own take on that character.

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ON: You’ve played Marylin Monroe in Norma Jean The Musical, Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie and now you take on the lead role of Alex in Flashdance, do you feel you have silenced any critics who may only associate you with Strictly?

Joanne: I do like the fact people may come to the show not realising that as well as being able to dance I can also sing, it’s nice to read reviews where people have been pleasantly surprised. I love to show people that I can do other things; I’ve been so lucky and enjoyed such great success with my dancing career that it’s wonderful to be able to show people that as well as dancing I can also act and sing and act.

ON: We have heard they may be a single in the pipeline with your co-star Ben Adams could a pop career be on the cards?

Joanne: It’s actually a song from the show, it’s the duet we do together in the show, we’re recorded it, Ben’s produced it so it’s a little bit different from how we sing it on stage, and we’re also filming a little video for it, all very exciting but I think I’ll leave the pop career to Ben and stick with musical theatre.

We’ve heard recently that you’ve signed up to appear in Top Hat during your Christmas break from Flashdance, you are literally the hardest working woman in showbiz!

Ha ha I’ll tell you something I literally haven’t stopped working since the 1st August last year, the 1st of August was when Strictly started so we had all our pro rehearsals and then the show started in September, then two days after the Strictly final was Thoroughly Modern Millie, then Flashdance rehearsals overlapped the final week of Thoroughly Modern Millie, Top Hat overlaps Flashdance, Flashdance then is back so my next week off is the 5th of March, I’m gonna take myself off on a plane somewhere warm and sleep!

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Not only do you ride a bike on stage but you also get a soaking each night, how do you look after yourself to ensure you’re fighting fit?

I think just the sheer amount of dancing I do in this show keeps me fit, I love it coz I really do dance a heck of a lot in the show, when we have two shows a day by the time I go to bed I’m really tired, I make sure I get plenty of sleep but the great thing is I can literally eat what I want, which is brilliant coz I love my food, sausage and mash, pie and mash, I literally can eat anything I want coz it all comes off!

Are you excited to be returning to Blackpool?

Definitely, it’s one of my absolute favourite places in the whole world and has been my whole life because I’ve danced there since the age of about six, from my ballroom dance career then Strictly it’s been a really important place for me and now going back as a musical theatre star, it’s really special for me.

You’ll be in Blackpool for Halloween; do your cast members play any tricks on each other?

Joanne: I’m rubbish at playing tricks because if I’ve done something you can tell, my face just gives it away but I’m hoping if anyone plays any tricks on me they don’t put anything in the water!

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Now you have committed into 2018, are there any other venues you’re particularly looking forward to?

Joanne: I think we’re going to Ireland which I’m really excited about as I’ve never done anything like this over there before so it will be a real adventure.

ON: Finally who would be your dream partner once Ben Adams finishes his run?

Oh heck, it’s going to be really hard to think of anyone else in that part because I get on really well with him so I’m secretly hoping that he will continue with us into 2018 because we have so much fun together, it’s literally a laugh a minute with him, he’s amazing to work with and I feel really lucky that I’ve found someone like that to be my leading man, I would really love him to stay.

Flashdance opens at the Blackpool Opera House on Monday 23rd Ocotber and runs until Saturday 4th November for tickets head to www.wintergardensblackpool.co.uk/events/flashdance/

Behind the Scenes of Elf – The Musical, Part 2

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Ben Forster as Buddy in Elf – The Musical

In the first part of our behind the scenes we chatted to the lovely Liz McClarnon who stars as Jovie in Elf – The Musical, which comes to The Lowry from 24th November 2017 – 14th January 2018.

Opening Night also got the chance to grab the ‘Elf’ man himself, Ben Forster, who takes on the lead role of Buddy.

Now you might remember Ben from winning the ITV talent show Superstar back in 2012 when he beat off thousands of hopefuls to play the role of Jesus in a revamped version of Andrew Lloyd Webbers Jesus Christ Superstar. In this show however Ben casts off the Jesus robes and instead dons an elf costume. It’s a part he made his own playing Buddy in the West End and now is taking it on the road with a short stint in Plymouth before spending Christmas at the Lowry.

At the show’s launch Ben gave us a festive treat, singing a preview of one of the key numbers, ‘World’s Greatest Dad’ (you can still watch that back on our Facebook page if you missed it). We grabbed him afterwards for a lowdown on what it’s like to star in a show based on one of the most iconic Christmas movies of all time…

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Ben sings ‘World’s Greatest Dad’ from Elf – The Musical at the show’s press launch

ON (Opening Night): So Ben what did you think when you were first approached about Elf – The Musical?

Ben: “What I really first thought was it’s going to be an awful pantomime version and I’m gonna be standing there singing ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen in an elf costume. Then I was sent the script and the music and I realised it is an incredible show. The musical score is unbelievable, it’s really big band Broadway music complete with a 16-piece orchestra in the theatre.  It’s really classy and it’s also really beautiful. I think after that I was just like ‘Oh my god I’ve got to try and give a version of what everyone loves about Will Ferrell’! The pressure to make around two thousand people laugh and deliver all those one liners that are so famous everyone has already laughed at them 100 times is a difficult thing but as soon as we got in front of a crowd I was like ‘Ah this is gonna be fine, the audience is so welcoming.’ It’s such a brilliant show, people love it and the movie has been in their lives for so many years it’s like a firm Christmas classic.

ON: Have you been tempted to watch the movie a few times to remind yourself of what it’s like?

Ben: I’ve consciously not watched the film since getting the part, it’s really important for me not to do an impression of Will Ferrell because it wouldn’t be the right thing to do. If you were watching the show and thinking he’s doing a good ‘Will’ impression then it’s not as fun or heartwarming plus you don’t connect fully to the character. I look at it as a part I have to act and take the honesty out of it. Essentially Buddy is a man who would have grown up with elves, lives in the North Pole and thinks it’s Christmas every day. If anyone would have had that reality and then come into normal life it would be hysterical, so I just play it like that – open and honest.

ON: Can fans expect a carbon copy of the movie though?

Ben: There’s a few tiny differences, but the story is exactly the same as it is in the movie – the moral, the message – it’s all there. It will still make you laugh, and it will still make you cry at the end because you’ll feel the Christmas spirit plus it reminds you what Christmas is about. For most people Christmas is about being with your family, travelling wherever you might be just to have that one special night with people you love to give them a present. To feel the love, to give love – that is what the musical is all about.

ON: With you doing this tour over Christmas will you miss out on seeing your family?

Ben: No not at all, just the opposite as I’m from the North East and my Mum and Dad now live in the North West. As soon as I finish the show at Christmas I’m gonna do exactly what Buddy did and trawl across the country and be back with my family. I want to be with my nephews and see them all opening their presents because that is the magic of Christmas time.

 

Well after that sneak preview and chat we can’t wait for Ben and the cast to arrive in the city for Elf – The Musical at The Lowry…is it too early for mulled wine and mince pies?? 

Grab yourself a ticket whilst you can as this show is guaranteed to make even Ebenezer Scrooge feel in the Christmas spirit!

https://www.thelowry.com/events/elf-the-musical

 

 

 

Behind the Scenes at The Band, Part 2

Director Kim Gavin (front centre) with Take That and the cast of THE BAND, credit Matt Crockett

Director Kim Gavin (front centre) with Take That and the cast of THE BAND, credit Matt Crockett

Part two of our backstage at The Band sees Opening Night meet director and choreographer of the musical Kim Gavin.

One of the UK’s leading creative directors and choreographers Kim’s back catalogue includes artistic director of the Olympic and Paralympic closing ceremonies for London 2012, the man behind the Circus stadium tour for Take That and the producer of some of the biggest live events of recent years, including Concert For Diana in 2007.

We grabbed him for the lowdown on the challenges of bringing the music of Take That to the stage and making it work as a musical.

(Opening Night) ON: This is an incredible show Kim, how do you get it to that level?

(Kim Gavin) KG: I’ve worked with Take That for 25 years so I know their standard, we created the standards together. Tim (Firth) came up with a great concept and about a year ago he came and spoke to me and said he had this idea.  Essentially about all the people who loved Take That…and hopefully there’s girls in the audience going seeing it now and going… ‘Am I that person?..‘Am I Rachel, am I Claire’? It’s just a great night out and you know you are going to get value for money; you are going to get singing, dancing and just escape for the moment. This is about being 16 and then jumping those 25 years to where you’ve got a lot more responsibilities but how do you feel at that time. I think it resonates with young and old who go to see it.

ON: Was it a difficult decision to come on board with the show?

KG: When I was presented with the story and Tim said this is where I’m going with it, there was no hesitation – I said ‘I’m in’.

AJ Bentley, Yazdan Qafouri, Sario Solomon, Nick Carsberg & Curtis T Johns, credit Jay Brooks

‘The Band’ (Left to Right) AJ Bentley, Yazdan Qafouri, Sario Solomon, Nick Carsberg & Curtis T Johns, credit Jay Brooks

ON:  Where do you start with bringing a show to the stage and making it a reality? Is it a long process?

KG: A surprisingly short amount of time really is needed when you are certain that you are going to go forward with it. You need to get everything in place and certainly from a touring perspective you need to get things in place much more in advance. Putting a show on you need a good 3 to 4 months to say right that’s what we are doing. You can look on paper and read the script in your own mind but when you go into a room at workshop stage with actors – it changes how you see it.  We did a really good workshop at the Manchester Apollo in March and we knew we were on a winner then.  It’s taken on quite a few changes since and we have learnt a lot from – in March we though we’re ready but we are not quite there yet in terms of the story, and what’s in it and how the production moves. Then we started rehearsals on the 17th July.

Howard Donald, Gary Barlow, Mark Owen, Robbie Williams and The Band, credit Jay Brooks

Howard Donald, Gary Barlow, Mark Owen, Robbie Williams and The Band, credit Jay Brooks

ON: There’s a huge back catalogue of Take That songs to choose from to put into the show…did you know straight away which ones you were going to use?

KG: It’s been weird for me doing this and placing the Take That songs in certain places during the show. I’m so used to working with the boys and I can second guess where they think things should be when we tour. If I’ve got a great idea for a number and the idea is fantastical and it should be maybe three quarters of the way in, we easily come up with a set list of what goes where at what time. We always close the Take That tours with Never Forget but for Never Forget to not close Act One in The Band and come before it – well that was quite hard for me to deal with in terms of it felt like we were throwing away a number, because we know how big it can be.  I guess with all storytelling techniques when you start listening to the lyrics with our story and when Tim explained why it’s so significant we have it there, it dictates it. But at first when you are not really immersed in events you think ‘is that the right choice’ then the further you go down the line you start to evolve the story and care about the characters you realise it could only go there.

ON: So what’s the plan for the show after the tour ends?

KG: We want a West End residency, that’s the ultimate. What’s fabulous about Take That is they make music for the people and I don’t mind if this show tours forever because it is about people from all walks of life and everyone will get it. I’m sure there will be some changes to be made if we did move to London as we built the show to ‘tour’ so there are restrictions on what we can do with it. If it went into the West End we would go for it a bit more as we would have the flexibility to be there for a long time without having to constantly move the set in and out.

http://www.thebandmusical.com