Avenue Q

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Today’s review for Avenue Q is brought to you by the letter X, F and the number 4!

Avenue Q makes a much welcome return to Manchester this week like an old friend you haven’t seen in while, it’s reassuring to see that it hasn’t lost any of its charm, shock factor and ability to make you smile.

Avenue Q is the tale of a group of friends just trying to get by in the world, that fact that the group are made up of humans, puppets, and monsters is irrelevant, they all have the same problems, including relationship issues, unemployment and in one case an over reliance on internet porn! This is the version of life that the likes of Sesame Street don’t prepare you for when growing up.

The show set in New York, introduces us to Princeton, a fresh faced graduate armed with an English degree, ready to take on the world, however having limited funds and no job has seen him arrive on Avenue Q: a rough part of town that makes skid row look like Madison Avenue. Also living on Avenue Q, are a young couple, Brian and Christmas Eve, Brian an inspiring stand-up comic, whilst Christmas Eve dreams of being a therapist but cannot hang onto her clients. There is also Nicky and Rod, a pair of best friends who live together, however Rod has feelings for Nicky that are more than plutonic.

In addition, there is also Trekkie Monster, a reclusive monster, who seemingly just stays at home watching porn, and Gary Coleman, former child star who has fell on hard times and is now landlord of the street. Finally, there is Kate Monster, a teaching assistant, who dreams of opening her own school for monsters, who is also Smitten by Princeton and it looks like the feeling is mutual. However, as we know the course of true love doesn’t always run smoothly at the best of times, but when you have  a couple of mischievous forces at work in the shape of the Bad News Bears, then it would be fair to say life is pretty tough for the residents of Avenue Q.

Jeff Whitty has taken the world of Sesame Street stuck it through a meat grinder and what has come out the other end is a script that is sharp, witty and pulls no punches.  There is the right mix of sentimentality and near-the-knuckle humour. Add to that the songs of Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx that include the bang on point Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist, the heart-breaking There’s A Fine, Fine Line. The firm favourite of the audience this evening was The Internet is for Porn, which could have dated, but still hasn’t lost its sense of fun, and with a little help from our cuddly puppets its shock value.

The small ensemble cast is superb with many of them pulling double duty performing as various puppets. Cecily Redman is outstanding in her duel role of Kate Monster/Lucy the Slut, crisscrossing seamlessly from upbeat optimistic heroine to trashy vamp Lucy the Slut.  Equally impressive is Lawrence Smith, as the idealistic, well-meaning Princeton as well as the uptight repressed Rod. There is also excellent support from Chole Gentles and Tom Steedon who bring life into a plethora of furry creatures Bad Idea Bears, Nicky and crowd favourite Trekkie Monster.  It’s a credit to the actors/puppeteers, that you forget they’re on stage and lose yourself in the cute, yet foul-mouthed creatures.

It’s not just the exceptionally talented puppeteers and actors who deserve praise, but the human characters are exceptional as well. Ellis Dackombe and Saori Oda, are equally impressive as engaged couple Brian and his Asian American partner, Christmas Eve. Oda is a tour-de -force, in a scene stealing turn, whilst Dackombe is perfect as laid-back Brian, very much in a Seth Rogen, ‘stoner’ role. Finally, we have Nicholas Mclean as Gary Coleman, who lights up the stage with every scene he’s in and gets some huge laughs mainly down to the absurdity of his characters appearance

Director Cressida Carré has done a tremendous job making this a memorable production. Some very funny song and dance number, with some hilarious set pieces, including a pot of puppet on puppet bedroom gymnastics that will live long in the memory. I loved the video screen cartoons used throughout the production which are glorious nod to Sesame Street and certainly add an anarchic touch to proceedings.

The production touches on race, depression, sexuality and plays with our own prejudices and how we see the world, genuinely having something to say, and if that can be done with a song and in such bad taste then count me in.

Today’s review was brought to you by the letters, X and F, the X is for X-rated, and the F is for funny, funny, funny! Whilst the 4 well that’s 4 stars, all the way, so take a stroll down Avenue Q you won’t be disappointed!

Avenue Q is on at the Palace Theatre until the 26th October. Tickets available here.

 

 

 

Curtains

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

We’ve all heard of opening night disasters when it comes to the theatre, from forgotten lines to sickly cast members, I’m certain actors and directors will have their fair share of horror stories. However, I’m sure none will match having their leading lady bumped off during the final curtain!

This is the premise for musical whodunit,  Curtains. This Tony Awarding winning  production is from the song writing duo John Kander and Fred Ebb, who  also wrote Chicago and Cabaret.

Set in 1950’s Boston we are backstage on the set oftroubled Broadway hopeful  Robbin Hood.  Leading lady Jessica Cranshaw (Nia Jermin) is murdered on opening night and, due to her rather shambolic performance, everyone is a suspect. Luckily, Boston’s finest, Lieutenant Frank Cioffi (Jason Manford), who happens to be a theatre super-fan, is on hand to crack the case.

Placing the theatre on lock down, Cioffi begins to work his way through the list of suspects that include estranged couple and writing partners Georgia Hendricks (Carley Stenson) and Aaron Fox (Ore Oduba). Then there are show producers Carmen Bernstein (Rebecca Lock) and shady Sidney Bernstein (Mark Sangster) and flamboyant director Christopher Belling (Samuel Holmes). In addition, we have ambitious rising stars, Bambi Barnét (Emma Caffrey) and Niki Harris (Leah West), with the latter catching the eye of Lieutenant Cioffi. Everyone is a suspect with cast and crew beginning to drop like flies, can Cioffi catch the killer and save the show?

On the surface, this is a classic murder mystery, very much in the Agatha Christie mould, but on the other hand this is both a love letter to, and a critique of showbusiness, in particular the  theatre. 

There are caricatures aplenty from over-the-top directors, to ruthless money grabbing producers and mean-spirited critiques. Despite a few minor issues, this is an enjoyable, entertaining romp, filled with neat one liners, catchy tunes and some plot red herrings that will keep you engaged throughout.

The cast are at the top of their game, Jason Manford is a likeable leading man, whose comic timing is matched perfectly with a fine singing voice. Carley Stenson and Ore Oduba are also on good form as the warring writing partnership, with Stenson really given the opportunity to flex her vocal cords. There are scene stealing turns from Rebecca Lock and Samuel Holmes who between them get the lions share of the best lines and certainly make the most of them.

They are supported buy an exceptionally hard working cast who put in tremendous effort throughout which are exemplified in the company numbers The Women’s Dead, He Did It, and In the Same Boat III, which are the undoubted highlights of the show, and showcase Paul Foster’s exceptional direction and Alistair David’s intricate choreography.

The production is not without flaws; it’s a bit flabby in parts and there seems to be a bit of filler, it doesn’t quite hold your attention throughout its entire running time, in fairness the show gets off to such an intriguing start that it would be difficult to maintain that level of interest throughout. 

On the whole this is an entertaining, clever, production packed with solid performances, great tunes and some fantastic set pieces, which despite its darkly comic narrative has a heart of gold at its core and is a slice of fun, feel-good musical theatre!

Curtains is on the Place Theatre till 12th October tickets available here. 

9 to 5 the Musical

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

As Dolly Parton bursts onto a screen introducing us to the musical adaptation of the hit 80’s movie she starred in it’s clear that this Manchester audience is up for fun and lots of it, lucky for them that’s exactly what this new touring production delivers.

As a song 9 to 5 has gained a life of its own, no party is complete without a blast of it so it comes as no surprise that the film in which it originated would be given the musical treatment. Writer Patricia Resnick along with music and lyric writer Dolly Parton prove that 9 to 5 the musical is much more than one killer song, it’s witty, cheeky and isn’t afraid to tackle important themes in its own unique and hugely entertaining style.

Our three leads Violet (Louise Redknapp), Judy (Amber Davies) and Doralee (Georgina Castle) are living in a hideously sexist world, there’s gender politics, not a hope of equal pay not to mention their overbearing, oversexed boss Mr Hart (Sean Needham). Continually overlooked for and undermined by most of their male colleagues the trio soon realise that it’s time for these sassy sisters to start doing it for themselves resulting in a comical revenge plot which will hopefully lead them to the illusive equality they so richly deserve.

Louise Redknapp is perfectly cast as Violet, strong and assured she has a commanding presence on stage, Georgina Castle captures Doralee’s genuine likeability to perfection while Love Island winner Amber Davies absolutely shines on stage; her delivery of Get Out and Stay Out brings the house down, quickly silencing any casting sceptics. The three each bring something uniquely special to the stage while their harmonies are heavenly.

The subplot about spinster Roz although delivered to great comedic effect by Lucinda Lawrence seems a little at odds with the rest of the fabulous female empowerment playing out on stage nevertheless the audience lap up her show-stealing number and she receives some of the biggest laughs of the night.

With slick staging and costume design from Tom Rogers as well as vibrant ensemble choreography from Lisa Stevens 9 to 5 has the audience toe-tapping from the start. Add to this superb performances, lots of laughs and a timely uplifting tale you’d be mad not to tumble out of bed and head to Manchester’s Palace Theatre to catch this Dolly good show! Fabulous, feel-good fun.

Catch 9 to 5 the Musical at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 21st September tickets available here.

Interview |Bo Jackson |Manchester Gala Night

Z Bo Jackson Company. Photo Garry Lake @theaboutstudio

The UK’s most exciting new dance company Z Bo Jackson Company are heading to Manchester with a star-studded gala hosted by Got to Dance judge and Pussycat Doll Kimberly Wyatt. The gala evening will include performances from guest artists Flawless (Britain’s Got Talent, Street Dance 2) and ITV’s Dance, Dance, Dance winner Chrissy Brooke.

We spoke to Choreographer Bo Jackson about her new dance fusion venture ahead of its gala night launch at Manchester’s Palace Theatre on Tuesday 10th September.

Can you tell us more about Z Bo Jackson and where the idea came from?

“I really became interested by today’s obsession with visual storytelling on Youtube, instagram and in video games. There seemed to be a gap in the market for a theatrical experience that satisfies this appetite both on screen and with live performances so I started to develop the concept for TV and stage. In February we had the opportunity to explain our vision of the live dance fusion theatre company to the Palace Theatre and Opera House in Manchester. They understood and embraced our concept and agreed to support the gala night to launch the brand.”

Bo Jackson Photo

What makes Z Bo Jackson different from other dance companies out there?

“We are the UK’s first dance fusion theatre company. Each production contains unique and diverse choreography, alongside a narrative structure dramatized by dance and creating a new kinetic language. The Z brand will break down the walls of dance to create a new kind of dance experience, as free runners mix with elite dancers, and ballet cross-pollinates with hip hop. Since the birth of the internet there has been an explosion of dance and we want to showcase the sort of talent and choreographic innovation displayed online. Z Bo Jackson will smash down the walls of the dance conventions and allow these ‘athletes of God’ to inhabit the stage! (‘Dancers are the Athletes of God’ is a quote from Einstein that I feel is very apt!)”

How has your career experience to date influenced the formation and direction of the new company?

“My choreographic career reflects the broad spectrum and eclectic vision of the Z Bo Jackson Company. Moving from the choreographic challenges of circus choreography to the movement restrictions of a comedy musical extended my creative expectations of myself and my performers and also pushed the boundaries of my theatrical taste. Directing was life changing for me as you need to see the bigger picture and have a distinct tone for the work while also problem solving and working towards opening a show!

“We want to become a platform for dancer, dancers and choreographers and hope to fill the gap between the elite dance companies and the commercial musical theatre productions giving dancers the chance to exploit their range and talents within an emotionally resonating piece of narrative theatre. I’m totally happy to be artistic AND commercial without any compromises or apologies.”

Z Bo Jackson Researsals1 Photo Credit Jack Walker

What kind of dance will be represented in the company and the gala night?

“We will move beyond the dance genres in some numbers and employ free running, acrobatic and aerial performers alongside the elite dancers. The Z Bo performances in the gala are primarily using jazz ballet, commercial fusion and acrobatic choreography. Our high profile guests are experts in their field with Kimberly and Chrissy trained as professional jazz dancers, alongside the urban hip hop locking talents of Flawless sharing the stage with the aesthetic beauty of ballet’s exceptional principal Brandon Lawrence.”

You are launching in Manchester – was launching in the north important to you and the company?

“It is personal and emotional and something I could never have dreamt of when I came to watch Alvin Ailey and the Dance Theatre of Harlem at the Opera House all those years ago!  The Greater Manchester borough of Wigan and Leigh paid for my professional training at a time when the funding system was more generous and the net was spread wider. This feels like coming home (the Mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham was previously my local MP) and that life has come full circle, back to the most vibrant cultural city in the UK. Manchester gave birth to the Industrial Revolution and this Northern Powerhouse is giving birth to the Z Bo Jackson company. This is the city of the worker bee and if you’ve been through professional dance training then you understand hard work!”

Kimberley Wyatt

You have some really big names appearing in the launch gala night. Why did you pick these performers to be involved and what will they bring to the Z Bo Jackson experience?

“They are all extremely talented and honed professionals but they also represent the dual aspect of the Z brand. We are going to showcase celebrity performers alongside unknown new talent, to create a viable commercial dance company.

“I had directed Flawless in Peter Pan and admired their work ethic and fabulous choreography and Kimberly is great friends with the boys having worked together in the past. I taught Chrissy at and I met Brandon at the Move It convention. It’s exciting that they all will be sharing the stage at the iconic Palace Theatre.”

Z Bo Jackson Company 5. Photo Garry Lake @theaboutstudio

What next for the Company?

“We hope that Z will be the go-to brand for dance across all platforms as we will bring in specialised assistants and choreographers in key areas and avoid the limitations of a solo named creative . Continuing script work on the TV series will be the main priority in the weeks following the gala. It’s a big world that needs big ideas to generate new audiences, new revenue streams and potential employment opportunities for the dancers of tomorrow.

“Dance is a universal and international language.”

Book your tickets now for an explosive night of entertainment at the Manchester Palace Theatre on Tuesday 10th September at 7.30pm. Tickets from £13 can be found here.

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

Z Bo Jackson Company. Photo Garry Lake @theaboutstudio

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

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

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

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

Z Bo Jackson Company 5. Photo Garry Lake @theaboutstudio

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

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

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

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

Kimberley Wyatt

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

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

The Book of Mormon

10-The-cast-of-The-Book-of-Mormon-Manchester-Palace-Theatre-Credit-Paul-Coltas

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

 

 

Hair

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This inventive production of Hair The Musical has been on quite a journey these past few years, from first opening at the intimate Hope Mill Theatre back in 2016 to a sell-out London run winning a WhatsOnStage Award along the way; it now makes its return to Manchester opening at the city’s Palace Theatre as part of an extensive 50th anniversary UK tour.

Set in New York’s East Village at a time when the emerging youth counterculture was rejecting mainstream America and growing increasingly disenfranchised by the controversial war in Vietnam, Hair still remains one of the most iconic rock musicals of all time. A tribe of free thinkers who turned their backs on convention creating their own family in which to belong, advocates of peace, love and liberal thinking. Central to the story is the plight of Claude (portrayed brilliantly by Paul Wilkins) torn between rejecting his military drafting and embracing this non-violent, peace loving tribe.

Very much an ensemble production Hair showcases a cast of incredible talent. Opening number Aquarius vibrantly and powerfully sets the scene, drawing the audience into this joyous celebration of love, freedom and pacifism right from the start. Maeve Black’s beautiful set design and costumes transforming the Palace Theatre into a psychedelic heaven lit to perfection by Ben M Rogers.

Director Jonathan O’Boyle ensures the audience are taken along for the ride involving them in this exuberant trip on multiple occasions. Jake Quickenden as Berger confidently leaps into the stalls in little more than a thong while Tom Bates takes great delight in perching on an audience members knee during his hilarious performance as Margaret Mead.

Paul Wilkins heads up the strong cast proving what a talent he is in the role of Claude. Thrown into turmoil at the life changing decision he faces, his anguish and torment delivered with passionate energy. Jake Quickenden makes for a confident and flamboyant Berger, athletically strutting around the stage dishing out powerful vocals along the way. Daisy Wood-Davis shines in the role of Sheila, her voice as powerful as it is beautiful.

Tom Bates has the audience in the palm of his hand as Margaret Mead while Natalie Green as soulful Cassie is a joy. Other notable performances in this excellent ensemble are Alison Arnopp as the enigmatic Jeanie, Aiesha Pease whose rich tones warm the soul and Bradley Judge who is enormously entertaining as Woof.

The cast work together superbly and all deserve praise, they deliver William Whelton’s inspired choreography to perfection, often moving as one, pulsing together in perfect harmony. Musical Director Gareth Bretherton leads the small group of on stage musicians confidently ensuring this electrifying score is given the platform it deserves.

While the themes may not be so shocking to audiences now in more free-thinking, accepting times its message still remains enormously relevant; the despicable quote from Donald Trump heard ringing through the auditorium at the very start proving this point entirely.

Hair gives a touchingly symbolic reminder of the fact that we really are just one tribe. Its hippie, trippy vibe is deliciously infectious bringing every audience member to their feet in celebration of this triumphant piece of theatre while the power of final song Let The Sun Shine In offers hope and proves just how powerfully emotive theatre can be. Hair’s transition from Hope Mill Theatre to the much larger stage of the Palace theatre is seamless as this beautifully crafted and joyously affecting theatre absolutely lets the sun shine in.

On at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 13th April tickets available here.