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.

 

 

Rotterdam

 

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Every once in while a play comes along that really strikes the right chord, one that you would encourage as many people as possible to go and see, writer Jon Brittain’s Rotterdam is that play!

First performed in 2015, this Olivier Award winning play offers an honest, raw portrayal of gender dysphoria and the impact that it can have not just on the individual but their loved ones as well.

Set in the Dutch city of Rotterdam, a vibrant port town where people come and go as much as the cargo that passes through its docks; however, this isn’t the case for Alice (Rebecca Banatvala) and her partner Fiona (Lucy Jane Parkinson).

The pair have been living there for seven years now, with both trying to come to terms with who they are. It’s New Years Eve and Alice has finally decided to come out as gay to her parents, with much encouragement from Fiona. However, before Alice undertakes this brave step, Fiona also has a confession to make that she wishes to be recognised as a man and would like to be called Adrian from now on.

This revelation has a huge impact on the pair and their relationship as Adrian seeks acknowledgement from a world that he sees will not accept him as a man, whilst Alice questions her own sexuality. Through their journey of discovery, the pair are supported by Lelani, (Stella Taylor) Alice’s free-spirited work colleague, who has more than friendship on her mind as it pertains to Alice. Making up the quartet, is Josh (Paul Heath) Fiona/Adrian’s brother who is also the former boyfriend of Alice.

This could so easily fall into a ‘preachy’ message driven play about transgender issues, instead focusing on the impact Adrian’s decision to transition impacts on those around him. The script handles its subject intelligently and sensitively, whilst pulling no punches. There are moments of levity throughout with some sharp, funny throw away lines.

The cast under Donnacadh O’ Brian, skilful direction are superb, with Parkinson giving a raw at times feral turn as Adrian: filled with conflict and heartbreak. Whilst Banatvala is also outstanding giving a more restrained but no less gut-wrenching turn as Alice. Both Taylor and Heath are on good form in their supporting roles, with the pair turning in great comedic performances, demonstrating a gift for timing and delivery.

There are some plot contrivances that test plausibility, such as Josh’s decision to stick around despite losing the women he loves to his sibling, but this is a minor quibble on what is a weighty, heartfelt, powerful piece of theatre that will make you laugh and may even cause you to get the odd bit of sand in your eye too.

Transgender issues despite having some media coverage are still hugely unrepresented. Productions like Rotterdam are much needed and important to help educate and hopefully create more positive conversations. This however is not the shows key drawing power, that comes because it is a beautifully told story about the struggles of relationships and real life that will resonate with us all.

Rotterdam is at the Manchester Opera House till 15th June. Tickets available here.

 

 

 

Club Tropicana

 

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

The cheesy, cheery and oh so cheeky Club Tropicana sashayed its way into Manchester this week taking audiences right back to the 80’s with an outrageously camp night of good natured theatre escapism.

Bride Lorraine’s (Karina Hind) hair may be big but her doubts are even bigger as with a little help from her friends she decides to play runaway bride and head to her honeymoon with the girls for some sun, sea and soul searching.

Heartbroken groom Olly doesn’t need much convincing that a little break in the sunshine could be what he needs to forget being jilted at the alter and you guessed it, heads with his pals to the same hotel! Add to this their arrival coincides with that of a mystery hotel inspector, hotel owners who are secretly in love and an ill-tempered Spanish housekeeper and you’ve got a great recipe for a night of hilarious mischief and raucous mayhem.

Fan favourite Joe McElderry is at the helm of the production as entertainment host Garry; camp, colourful and absolutely chockfull of charisma he is every inch a star performer. From teaching the audience a Macarena style dance routine at the start of Act I to leading the cast in an 80’s singalong he more than rises to the occasion. Oozing charm and bursting with talent his panto style interaction is lapped up while he takes every opportunity to prove what a vocal talent he is in the multiple 80’s classics which come thick and fast in this jukebox jape.

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Kate Robbins is hilarious as Spanish housekeeper Consuela, full of sarcasm and dry wit she proves what a talented character actress she is, her scene stealing performance is lapped up by the audience who are treated to several of her most loved impersonations.

Former Sugababe Amelle Berrabah is in fine voice as hotel owner Serena, her strong vocals if anything are a little underused while Nye Rees does a fine job of covering for Neil McDermott who is unable to perform tonight.

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Nick Winston’s choreography adds sass to the production and offers something visually solid when the paper thin plot needs a boost. The ensemble scenes are high energy and delivered with enthusiasm and precision by the incredibly talented cast.

Shakespeare is it not, nor is it trying to be and judging by the riotous standing ovation Club Tropicana will keep audiences entertained even when the drinks aren’t free. While the plot may be as shallow as a paddling pool and as predictable as Brits abroad tucking into a full English the audience are getting exactly what they came for, feel-good, frivolous fun and are loving every minute of it.

Club Tropicana is on at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 8th June, tickets available here.

 

The King and I

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Bartlett Sher’s production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic which wowed both New York and London audiences opened at Manchester’s Opera House this week; its first stop on an extensive UK and Ireland tour which sees the multi-award winning production hitting the road until May 2020.

Starring Jose Llana direct from Broadway as The King of Siam and Annalene Beechey from the West End production as Anna, The King and I remains without doubt one of the all-time greats from the golden age of musicals.

Featuring a company of over 50 as well as a full-scale orchestra no expense has been spared in ensuring this lavish production impresses from the moment the overture begins.

Following the death of her beloved husband, English widow Anna takes on the job as teacher to the King of Siam’s children. She soon discovers however that the job isn’t entirely what she expected as she ends up teaching not only the King’s many children but several of his wives too. Further complications arise when the house she was promised fails to materialise and conflict begins with the stubborn King: a dictator whose command all must obediently obey.

Although set in the 1860’s the story is still surprisingly relevant as we see Anna set about changing the King’s old fashioned and out dated views on women. While there is an element of civilised Westerner going to the East to teach what is decent and right the context here feels more like a meeting of minds proving both can learn from and benefit each other.

Michael Yeargan’s exquisite set design combined with Catherine Zuber’s sumptuous costumes mark this production out from the start as a lavish and beautifully enthralling revival.

Christopher Gattelli’s additional choreography breathes new life into Jerome Robbins original 1950’s choreography adding a fresh vibrancy which the strong ensemble deliver with impressive precision.

Annalene Beechey is everything you’d wish for as Anna: wonderfully engaging, gracious and warm, with a strong sense of self while gifted with the most sublime voice she embodies to perfection the compassionate teacher.

Jose Llana equally impresses as the King of Siam. Brilliantly sharp and incredibly witty he has a playful, cheeky charisma winning the audience over in an instant despite his characters archaic opinions on women.

The connection between the two feels genuine and well developed cementing the climactic scene as they waltz around the stage during Shall We Dance? as one of the most joyful moments you’re likely to witness in the theatre.

They are supported by a superbly talented supporting cast with special mention going to both Cezarah Bonner as Lady Thiang, Aaron Teoh as Prince Chulalongkorn and Kamm Kunaree as Tipton.

High praise must also go to the incredibly talented children in the show who together with Beechey deliver a delightfully endearing version of audience favourite Getting To Know You while Billy Marlow impresses enormously as young Louis Leonowens.

The pace of this rich production is consistent throughout with the significance of the story convincingly expressed. The King and I proves there is no puzzlement in its status as a timeless classic: this is a truly epic and joyous production both visually and musically. Thrilling in its scale and spectacular in its delivery, the King and I is a dazzling must-see.

The King and I is on at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 11th May here.

 

Abigail’s Party

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

First premiered in 1977 at London’s Hampstead Theatre then broadcast on the BBC that same year, Mike Leigh’s ingenious Abigail’s Party brings to brilliant life the most painfully awkward cocktail party in the most hilarious & enthralling of ways.

Suburban housewife Beverly has set the scene for her soirée; she’s prepped the cheese & pineapple on sticks, switched on the fibre optic lamp & stocked the drinks cabinet in readiness for the arrival of new neighbours Angela (Vicky Binns) and Tony (Callum Callaghan). Also invited is neighbour Sue (Rose Keegan) who is escaping 15-year-old daughter Abigail’s party over at her own house. Beverly’s husband Lawrence (Daniel Casey) is also in attendance in between running errands while his wife prepares to schmooze.

Janet Bird’s inspired set transports us right back to the 70’s as knowing giggles ripple through the audience from the off when Beverly enters the chintzy wood panelled living room cigarette in mouth, gin in hand, decked head to toe in garish paisley she glides around the stage to the sensuous sounds of Donna Summer.

Some spikey exchanges take place between Beverly and husband Lawrence before their guests arrive offering the opportunity for our brash hostess to really come into her own. She is liberal with both the booze and her opinions as some of the small talk soon begins to sting.

Jodie Prenger is exceptional as the infamous Beverly, getting more and more grotesquely brilliant as the gin flows. So versatile in her skills she embodies the desperate housewife to perfection. Daniel Casey gives a great performance as Lawrence keeping his pent-up irritation with wife Beverly hidden to begin with until pushed to breaking point when things quickly start to unravel.

Vicky Binns as Angela is eager to please her new neighbour, her genuine naivety and optimism making her all the more endearing. Her inane chatter leads to some terse tellings off from frustrated husband Tony whom Callum Callaghan portrays convincingly.

Rose Keegan shines as fifth party guest Sue, quiet and polite despite some overly familiar probing questions she gives a hilarious performance as the single guest caught in the middle of two clearly unhappy couples.

Director Sarah Esdaile at times focuses less on the uncomfortable interactions and undercurrent of frustration & more on the humour of the piece. Traditionally tense moments are played a little more for laughs than they were in the famous Alison Steadman led version, this does dilute the emotional impact of the ending a little however with such superbly executed performances the is no doubt that this is an enormously entertaining piece.

Although Abigail’s Party is very firmly set in the 1970’s its genius lies in its hilarious and at times painfully honest study on human interaction, ambition and all the complexities that come with it. Littered with laugh out loud humour and moments to make your toes curl Abigail’s Party is wonderfully entertaining theatre with themes as relevant today as they were 40 years ago, the most eventful party you’ll ever be invited to.

Abigail’s Party is on at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 13th April tickets available here.

The Full Monty

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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The Full Monty arrived back in Manchester this week and judging by the whoops and excited cheers from the audience when Gary Lucy and Co take to the stage their return is very welcome.

Adapted from Simon Beaufoy’s 1997 film of the same name, The Full Monty tells the story of six out of work Sheffield steel workers, bored, broke and battling various issues of their own.

Gary Lucy as Gaz is behind on his child maintenance, his custodial problems worsening by the day. Best mate Dave’s (Kai Owen) confidence is rock bottom and his relationship with wife Jean (Liz Carney) is suffering. After stumbling upon a Chippendales night at the local social club Gaz sees an opportunity to earn a quick buck and hopefully prove to son Nathan (Fraser Kelly) he’s not a complete failure.

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Right from the off it’s clear what the audience are here for; they want a reet good laugh and of course ‘that’ infamous scene at the end of the show. Each teasing flash of flesh is lapped up as this story familiar to many begins to play out. Fans of the film will be glad to know the adaptation has been respectfully done, characters remain the same ones they fell in love with back in the 90’s and the northern witty one-liners come thick and fast.

Designer Robert Jones has translated the industrial disused steelworks into an effective and efficient set, doubling up as offices, social clubs and performance space with ease.

What starts off as feel-good escapism soon deepens into something more as we see friendships grow, self-respect return and important issues raised. Beaufoy’s script doesn’t shy away from sensitive themes; suicide, sexuality and self-worth are all covered here but done so in a typically northern no-nonsense fashion where problems are faced with a laugh and a joke but at all times a genuine warmth.

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Heading up the cast Gary Lucy is clearly an audience favourite although his accent takes a trip across the Pennines on more than one occasion the audience lap up his cheeky banter as Gaz the Lad. Fraser Kelly as son Nathan is convincing and committed, leading you to question just who is raising who here. Kai Owen as Gaz’s best mate Dave gives a warm and relatable performance while both Joe Gill as Lomper and Andrew Dunn as Gerald shine in their respective roles. Louis Emerick as Horse proves despite a dodgy hip he’s still got the moves while James Redmond as Guy proves he’s packing more than just a girder down there!

The Full Monty is an entertaining night out, a heart-warming story delivered in a fun and feel-good way with more than enough laughs to send you home smiling.

Catch The Full Monty at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 23rd February tickets available here.