Dreamgirls

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Dream girls is a roller coaster of a story that introduces us to three talented young singers, who are starting out singing in a world where not everyone wants to hear them and not everyone has their best interests at heart.

The girls enter a singing competition, but they don’t stand a chance when small time star “Jimmy Early” (Brandon Lee Jones) loses his backing singers s and his manager Marty (Jo Servi) fails to entice the girls to go on tour with Jimmy. Enter Curtis Taylor Jr (Matt Mills) the man who will stop at nothing to convince the Dreamettes to do the tour and let him be their new manager. And he has big plans, which don’t always include everyone.

Curtis Taylor and songwriter C.C White (Shem Omari James) begin their dream to get the girls to the top of the charts, and in Curtis’ case, at all costs. The story tells the tale of fames, fortune and heartbreak. And most of all friendship.

And I am telling you , I am not going to ever stop raving about this show. 

Wow, wow, wow. I have never seen a show with such power and strength, in storyline, cast and music. This show is something else.

The casting are incredible: each and every cast member plays their part perfectly and with immense talent and emotion. The hits just keep coming. One after another. The staging is clever and functional. We are told the story through seeing, not by being told. We feel the emotions of the characters because the actors show us and pull us along for the ride.

The Dreamettes have a bond, both in script and onstage. Their performances as a group are electric and note perfect. Paige Peddie, who plays Lorrell, works the audience perfectly and we adore her within seconds. She starts of as a timid young girl, and we see her grow into a strong woman. Natalie Kassandra, who plays Deena, is excellent in her portrayal of a young woman who is manipulated by a man who is controlling and coercive. That is until she absolutely comes into her own in Act two in her duet of Listen, with Effie White (Nicole Raquel Dennis). I was mesmerised and moved by this number. These women are incredible.

Now I knew that Nicole Raquel Dennis was going to be good, because I follow her on Twitter and I’ve seen what she can do, but I was not prepared to see her live. This woman is something else. I have no idea how it is humanly possibly to do what she does, day in and day out. I have never, ever seen an audience jump to its feet in the middle of a song in Act One. “And I am telling you I’m not going”, was the single greatest performance I have ever seen. Nothing could have prepared me for how I would feel during that performance. I’ve heard Nicole compared to Jennifer Hudson, she doesn’t need comparing to anyone. She is exceptional in every single way, she’s beautiful, majestic and talented.  I can’t wait to see what she does next. 

Now, while it may seem that the women dominate this show, their talent is matched by the male leads also. Brandon Lee Sears performance as Jimmy is energetic, humorous and at times heart wrenching. And boy can that man move his hips! Shem Omari James is beautiful in his role of Effie’s brother C.C, he is a great talent, and I’m sure we are going to see him in the West End over and over again in the coming years.

Matt Mills, who plays Curtis Taylor is multi talented and plays the greedy, desperate manager fantastically. Another excellently cast performer, who delivers in every scene.

The entire cast deserves a mention, they are slick and powerful and deserve every standing ovation that they receive. This show is big, bold, loud and full to the brim with talent. 

The music, oh the music, I grew up with my parents listening to Motown, so I was always going to love the music. I wanted to get up and dance many a time during the show. Tom Eyen and Harry Krieger deserve every accolade they receive, they know how to write a hit.

This show is everything it should be- glitzy, glamorous and oozing with talent. It’s not to be missed. I want to go back again and again and again.

Dreamgirls is on at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 24th September tickets available here.

Lord of The Dance

Reviewed by Robyn Molyneux

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Last night I had the pleasure of attending one of Manchester’s most beautiful theatres, the Palace theatre. The architecture is just stunning, and having taken my seats with no pre-conceptions of what I was about to see, I was blown away by the talent shown by the dancers that made up the troupe for this mid-week evening performance; the energy was infectious, and it is clear to see the hard work and dedication that goes into preparing for and delivering each performance.

I wont lie, I’m not sure what I had expected but this felt like a dream you have had when you’ve had too much cheese before bed, the kind of randomness that just sort of works!

In almost equal measure was the cheesiness and fun that the show delivered, with a loose storyline of good triumphing over evil! The show was full of charisma and embodied the famous style of Michael Flatley, cut from the same cloth with light-hearted comedy moments and showcasing the talents of those toes whilst flexing and “blue steel” posing all at once.

Between the main acts of dancers was a solo female singer who although talented, felt like she was drafted in to give the audience a break from the high energy show however, I found a bit out of kilter with the rest of the shows essence. Also, there were two violinists who played beautifully that accompanied the dancers throughout some numbers, maybe they should stick to playing the violin and avoid the awkward dance moves that went with it?

In terms of the difference numbers, my favourite part has to be when a dance off takes place. The slow build of articulate noise that can be created from their tap shoes is amazing, you feel the beat and excitement build in the rhythm as it comes to point.

Overall, the show was great fun and something a little different that everyone should see at some point in their life, full of feel-good vibes and incredible talent!

Lord of the Dance is on at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Sunday 17th July tickets available here.

Anything Goes

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

First seen on Broadway in 1934, Anything Goes premiered at a time when the general public were unable to afford a theatre ticket due to the Great Depression, and those who were lucky enough to be able to buy a ticket needed a distraction from the drudgery of living in such difficult times. Fast forward nearly 90 years (I know! Can you believe it – nearly 90 years! ) and here we are again sitting in those velvet seats waiting to be transported to a world away from Brexit and partygate and fuel hikes.

Anything  Goes is a spectacular revival of a classic musical from a golden age and it doesn’t disappoint. It is predominantly set aboard a cruise liner crossing the Atlantic from New York to London. Where celebrities are in short supply and high demand.

We begin by meeting the Elisha Whitney (Simon Callow), a successful business man who is preparing to sail to England for the Henley Regatta. His trusted young assistant Billy Crocker (Samuel Edwards) is to organise Whitney’s paperwork for his trip and meet him with his passport ready to board. When Billy discovers that Hope Harcourt, a young lady that he had a brief romantic encounter with is to also sail to England, where she will marry Lord Evelyn, he stows away on board with hilarious consequences.

Hope Harcourt (Nicole-Lilly Baisden) is promised to another, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (played by the hilarious Haydn Oakley) . Her mother, Evangeline Harcourt (played by the legend that is Bonnie Langford) wants Hope to marry the Lord in order to secure their financial future.

Billy Crocker along with his new found friend Moonface Martin (Olivier Award winner Denis Lawson) hatch a plan or two to win Hope’s heart and call off the upcoming nuptials. Samuel Edwards is a delight in the role of Billy, he’s easy to love and he wins the audience over quickly, and what a voice – he was 100% pitch perfect in every number. 

Kerry Ellis as Reno Sweeny guides us majestically and magnificently through the narrative. She dominates the stage- her vocals are outstanding and it’s easy to see why she has been cast in so many big productions both in the West End and on Broadway. 

The big numbers such as Anything Goes and Blow Gabriel Blow bring the house down- they are glitzy, glamorous and the audience lap it up! Kerry Ellis owns this stage: her singing and dancing is top-class. Personally, I would have liked to have seen more of these incredible big numbers: Some of the scenes in the opening of Act one were slow paced and lacking in the same pizzazz as the bigger numbers. But it didn’t distract from the sleekness of the production and the talent of all of the cast including the brilliant ensemble acting as sailors, passengers, and angels.

Denis Lawson was a revelation to me in his role as Moonface Martin. He was polished in his delivery and his comedic timing was second to none. Every scene that he played was a roaring delight- he was also super quick and light on his feet too. A highlight was his duet “Friendship” with Kerry Ellis, which I sang the whole way home in the car.

Credit to the set and costume designers, whose creativity takes us back to a magical age of glamour and glitz. The orchestra was also impeccable. 

It’s impossible to write a review of this show without giving high praise to Carly Mercedes Dyer in her role as the ever randy Erma. She had the audience in stitches and the chemistry between her and  Denis Lawson was spectacular. 

This show is for musical lovers, it has a star studded cast who deserve all of the praise they receive. It’s a super fun way to spend the evening and it had the entire audience on its feet, cheering during the finale.

Anything Goes is on at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 18th June tickets available here.

9 to 5 The Musical

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewer: Matthew Forrest

Back in 1980, the film 9 to 5, was released, it starred Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton and was a huge box office success. It still often makes the top 100 list of funniest films of all time. In addition, it took Parton from being a hugely popular singer to the global superstar and cultural icon that she is today.

On the basis of crowd reaction tonight, there is a great deal of affection for the film and that has rubbed off onto 9 to 5: The Musical, as throughout tonight’s performance many audience members could be heard uttering the next line before it was delivered, and those that didn’t still lapped up this fun and at times outrageous show!

Adapted for the stage by its original screenwriter Patricia Resnick, the plot remains true to the original as three secretaries extract revenge on their sexist, bigot of a boss, Frank Hart Jnr. Opening with narration from Dolly herself, via a video message we are introduced to Violet Newstead (Claire Sweeny), a widowed single mum, who runs the office in everything but pay grade and title. Then there is Doralee Rhodes (Stephanie Chandos), a happily married secretary to Hart Jnr, who he constantly sexually harasses.  Finally, Judy Bernly (Vivian Panka) is a timid young woman starting her first job after separating from her husband.

Following a series of injustices inflicted on all three women by Hart Jnr (Sean Needham) the ladies set out to not just extract revenge on the ‘boss from hell’ but also change the culture of the office and parity with their male counterparts plus better working conditions for all employees.

This is a fun romp that judging from tonight’s audience will go down a storm for its run at the Palace. Chandos does a great job of bringing “Dolly” to life with her turn as Doralee, full of sass and charm. Sweeney is equally good as Violet, the focal point of the production, her comic timing and fantastic voice highlight why she continues to have such a notable career in musical theatre. Making up the tremendous trio is UK stage debutant Panka who brings the house down with her rousing and powerful rendition of ‘Get Out and Stay Out’.

For me the highlight of the night belonged to Needham as the vile boss. His comic timing was bang on point, although his accent slipped at times it didn’t matter he was brilliant throughout even making the loathsome Hart Jnr, likeable.  His rendition of ‘Here for You’, was as hilarious as it was grotesque.

I would like to give special mention to Julia J Nagle, as Roz, whose unrequited love for the boss is a subplot that runs throughout, who very nearly steals the show, with the ridiculous ‘Heart to Hart’. Nagle, like the rest of the ensemble cast, are solid throughout.

9 to 5 The Musical is a fun show that provides much-needed escapism for 2 ½ hours, so what you are waiting for? Dig out your hairspray and your shoulder padded suit, for an office party like no other!

9 to 5 The Musical is on at the Palace Theatre till 5th March 2022

Tickets available: here.

Blood Brothers

Reviewed by Demi Franks

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

“So, did y’ hear the story of the Johnstone twins? As like each other as two new pins…”

I mean if you haven’t…where have you been!?

Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers seems to have been around forever, be that in the West End, touring or internationally for over 30 years and yet still maintains it’s huge magnetic pull, attracting repeated audiences and new ones alike.

Set in 1960’s Liverpool, Blood Brothers is the all engrossing and poignant tale of the Johnstone twins, ‘Mickey’ (Josh Capper) and ‘Eddie’ (Joel Benedict), who are painstaking separated at birth, by their struggling single mother Mrs Johnstone (Nikki Evans). Whilst one is given away to Mrs. Lyons (Paula Tappenden), the other is kept, highlighting just how different growing up on the opposite side of the class system can be. This story sees the coming together of love, friendship, social circumstances, superstition, destiny and their fateful consequences…

It’s now the middle of February 2022, and yet again we are still reminded of the ‘fateful’ consequences and uncertainty of making theatre in a pandemic, as for this evening’s performance there were a couple of last minute on the day cast changes, with Mickey being played by Josh Capper and Sammy by Pete Washington. It has to be said whilst both did a fantastic job fitting into the company seamlessly, special kudos must go to Capper for not only stepping into one of musical theatre’s most iconic shoes to keep the show alive, but also managing to do it successfully with the style, verve and charisma that is needed to pull off the role of Mickey.

Setting the scene of down-trodden council estate 1960’s Liverpool, we see the ensemble cast flourish. In particular Tim Churchill’s hilarious turn as the ‘Milkman’ and quick change to the ‘Gynaecologist’ is a crowd pleaser. It’s these scenes that light up the stage, beautifully juxtaposed and offsetting the audience for what’s to come later. Musically the ensemble numbers are really enjoyable and allows for a welcome escape, with ‘Kids’ Game’ and ‘Bright New Day’ being two of the highlights.

Malone’s band are faultless and the score provides some great songs. Mrs Johnstone (Nikki Evans) has the best of them, her beautifully rich, empathetic voice is perfect for the role and we feel all her emotions through it, particularly with her powerful rendition of the iconic ‘Tell Me its Not True,’ which is a show stand-out and devastates the whole auditorium.

Whilst Tomson’s production is sharp, slick and polished, with all aspects of the production extremely well crafted and excellently brought together, one could argue that this production is pretty much a carbon copy of the countless Bill Kenwright productions that have come before it and doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the table. But the question is does it need to? After all there’s a reason Blood Brothers has stood the test of time both in the UK and internationally. It’s longevity is due to the grit and soul at the heart of the show, which however many times you watch it, is still there posing the same relevant questions about the same prevalent collective issues; be that the social class system or mental heath. This production still remains punchy, laugh-out-loud funny, heartwarming and heartbreaking all at the same time.

The ultimate standing ovation show, Blood Brothers has a bit of something for everyone. Whether you’ve seen it 10 times or you’re a first timer, Russell’s long standing smash-hit classic certainly makes for a wonderfully entertaining evening at the theatre.

Blood Brother’s runs at the Palace theatre, Manchester until Saturday 26th February tickets available here.

The Rocky Horror Show

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

There ain’t no party like a Rocky Horror Show party!

What an absolute feast for the senses this is. The cast, the music, the gags, the costumes, the lighting design, the choreography, the audience……everything was just as it should be – absolutely thrilling!

There is no other show in this world that grabs the audience and takes them on an journey of absolute wackiness and wild escapism like this ones does. 

The plot (loosely) centres around young, introverted couple – Brad, played by the truly delightful Ore Oduba, and Janet, played by the divine Haley Flagerty, who on their way home from a wedding become engaged just moments before their car breaks down. With no help to speak of, the couple take refuge in a nearby castle, where mayhem and sexual adventure awaits them.

The couple are greeted by Riff Raff (Kristian Lavercombe) who welcomes them in his own menacing manner and introduces them to the wild world of Frank N Furter (Stephen Webb) .

Frank is determined to sexually liberate these two young, naive souls on this special night, as he reveals his newest creation “Rocky” and boy does he liberate them indeed.

Lavercombe and Webb show us that it doesn’t matter how much time has passed since this show debuted (nearly 50 years!) or how many people have played these roles, it is possible for these characters to still be as mesmerising and engaging as they have ever been. Webb is simply outstanding – everything about his performance is sensational. He oozes confidence and swagger, and the audience are eating out of his hands from the moment he begins “Sweet Transvestite”. Even during the curtain call you can feel the audience willing him to sing us just one more number.

The audience participation in this show is something that has grown over time and the actors expect it and rise to the bait. Narrator, Philip Franks, is ready and waiting for the heckles and is hilarious in his quick comebacks and gags: the audience love him for it.

It’s obvious that many of the audience have been to the show plenty of times (and they certainly dressed for the occasion) but it’s not just for the veterans. It’s an experience for all adult theatre goers, who have a sense of adventure and aren’t easily offended. Not many shows have the entire audience up on it’s feet within the first fifteen minutes. Who doesn’t want to do the Timewarp on foggy Monday night in Manchester ?

There is, quite FRANKly, no other show in the world quite like this one.

The Rocky Horror Show is on at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 22nd January tickets available here.

School of Rock

Reviewed by Demi Franks

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

‘I thought you all were a bunch of little douche bags, but now I know that you’re soul brothers and sisters.

It’s no secret that turning the 2003 comedy cult classic ‘School of Rock’ into a musical had been on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s agenda pretty much ever since film’s inception. However, after making its debut on Broadway in 2015 and having since taken the West End by storm, it seems hard to believe Webber’s School of Rock is only just now embarking on it’s UK tour debut.

Based on the cult film, School of Rock the Musical follows the story of Dewey Finn (Alex Tomkins), a low-life loser who’s just lost his job and been kicked out of his own band. He becomes the ultimate opportunist when he poses as his substitute teacher flatmate, Ned Shneebly (Matthew Rowland) in order to pay his rent. However, teaching fourth-graders at the $50,000 dollar-a-year prestigious Horace Green would appear to be harder than he had hoped, that is until he witnesses their musical talent and forms…. ‘The School of Rock!’

‘Music is what speaks to you and that’s what matters most

A story ultimately about music’s transformative influence and power, particularly on young people; Webber is wise to keep in many of the classic iconic tunes (some a little re-mastered) but still holding their authentic power and affability, whilst complimented by some perfectly punchy and well-conceived new theatrical songs, all helping to aid the plot and character development, such as that of Principle Mullin’s (played wonderfully by Rebecca Lock) powerful solo number ‘Where did the rock go?’. The music is what brings all the elements of Director Laurence Connor’s production together and nothing is more impressive than the big group ensemble numbers, which certainly bring the ‘WOW’ factor. It also has to be mentioned that whilst Webber introduces us to the show via a recorded voice message letting us know that ‘yes the children really are playing their instruments live’, Riley’s ‘Grown Up Band’ doesn’t miss a beat and are the consistent backbone of the show.

Visually, it’s a feast for the eyes too. Louizos’ set effortlessly turns from classroom to rock stage in a matter of seconds and with the help of Katz’s lighting design and Potter’s sound design, which are equally impressive, we feel like we have been transported to a live rock concert!

It’s never a good idea to fixate on one specific actor playing one specific role, but having become so synonymous with the film, sitting down in the auditorium and much to my childhood disappointment, I had to remind myself that no, 52-year-old Hollywood actor Jack Black would not be bouncing up on this Manchester stage some 18 years later to reprise the role of Dewey Finn. That disappointment was however swiftly and skillfully dismantled by the buoyant and hilarious Alex Tomkins (alternate Dewey Finn) who stormed the stage, literally, exuding the most incredible amount of sheer and consistent energy and vivacity for the entirety of the two and a half hour production that I have probably ever seen.

The classroom scenes certainly prove to be the most heart-warming and enjoyable, as indeed the all ‘acting’, ‘singing’, ‘dancing’ and ‘musical instrument playing’ kids are the beating heart of this production. They pepper about the stage with bucket loads of enthusiasm from the off, but truly establish themselves in Act 2 as we see their character’s personal stories develop. As an ensemble they are quite the force and as such it is extremely hard to pick any standouts, but on this occasion it has to be said that Souparnika Nair’s Tomika had the entire auditorium firmly fixated in bewilderment at her breathtaking vocals as she performed ‘Amazing Grace.’ Special kudos must also go to the casting team here who have cast over 40 children alone (to allow for obvious cast rotations).

Webber, Fellows and Slater have masterly created a production that maintains the best of the film’s original warm fuzzy and familiar moments that in turn makes it a nostalgia inducing and an emotionally uplifting evening to all those ex-15 year olds, who like myself, would have grown up watching the film on repeat and known it word for word, whilst simultaneously establishing a current, up-to-date, modern musical, that equally speaks to the youth of today and families alike.

A whole lot more than just Rock n Roll, this is real life affirming stuff…

The perfect ‘January blues’ pick-me-up for the whole family, School of Rock the Musical plays at the Palace Theatre, Manchester until the 15th of January tickets available here.

The Book of Mormon

Reviewed by Demi Franks

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

“I love all these Mormon stories, they’re so f*cking weird!”

Its hard to believe The Book Of Mormon first premiered on Broadway only a little over ten years ago. However, its no surprise whatsoever that it won 9 Tony Awards including ‘Best Musical’ just three months after it’s opening night and has since gone on to smash box offices and garner mass critical acclaim, having played both here in the London’s West End and across continents continuously ever since. It’s only actually in recent years that we have been lucky enough to maybe catch a touring version of the show in this country… and boy are we lucky to have this on our doorsteps for nearly a whole month here in Manchester!

From the writers of ‘South Park,’ The Book of Mormon is the story of two young Mormons, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham (played by Robert Colvin and Conner Peirson respectively), who have been paired together and sent to Uganda on their mission. We watch them encounter a completely different culture out in Africa and see the trials and tribulations that comes with being a Mormon missionary in a place far far away from sunny, comfortable America, and where “everyone has aids!”

In an age of supposed ‘Political correctness,’ this laughs, dances and spits in its face. If you’re afraid of hearing the ‘C’ word shouted at you, then you might want to sit this one out. Yes it’s crude, but its fantastically, hilariously and unapologetically crude.

The merging of UK and US talent both on and off stage, brings almost the perfect synergy to this touring production and it’s results are frighteningly electrifying. One third of the writing team, Trey Parker, co-directs with Broadway’s Casey Nicholaw, who also choreographs again for this production, bringing a combined wealth of unmatched expertise and experience and the results most definitely pay off, having masterfully ignited and nurtured one of the strongest companies I have ever witnessed on any stage.

Although it has to be said that Peirson brings an incredible and unparalleled energy to the stage, having clearly honed in on inhabiting Elder Cunningham down to the bone; with every movement, every action, so beautifully and ingeniously crafted, so much so that its hard to believe he’s a long-term veteran of the role. Special mention must also go to Jordan Lee Davies(Elder Mckinley/Moroni) who particularly excels as McKinley performing an uproarious turn, subsequently having the audience right in the palm of his hands at all times. That being said, it’s hard to pick stand-outs as the entire ensemble are extraordinary — it is certainly no mean feat keeping a show of this scale running so exceptionally well as they do.

This production is a treat for all the senses. Musically we are gifted a feast, O’Regan’s band under Finlow’s supervision don’t miss a beat and are simply perfection. Visually too, Pask delivers exceptionally with his scenic design, having worked on over 50 productions on Broadway, including… yep you guessed it— The Book of Mormon. Broadway has well and truly been brought to the streets of Manchester, his attention to detail and artistry, together with Roth’s costume design are equally impressive.

The Book of Mormon has everything you’d expect from a big-scale, bright and buzz-y musical, ticking every box along the way…the eye-catching, entertaining WOW ensemble routines, including, ‘Spooky Mormon Hell Dream’ and ‘Turn it Off’ (which has an excellent and impressive tap sequence sneaked in for good measure). In addition,there are epic solo ballads such as ‘I Believe’ executed with power and exuberance by Colvin (Elder Price), culminating with a heartfelt and uplifting ending we all so desperately crave (especially in these current turbulent times). What this show has above all else, in between all of that, and better than any other show out there at this moment in time – is genuine, ridiculous, ludicrous, laugh-out-loud hilarity splattered throughout it’s entirety. Find me a funnier show… and I’ll call you a liar!

Never mind your Christmas parties 😉 … rest assured this has all the ‘feel good factor’ you’ll be needing to see you through to the new year. Don’t sleep on it — beg, borrow or steal a ticket whilst this show is in town!

‘This Book (of Mormon) WILL change your life’

The Book of Mormon runs at the Palace Theatre Manchester until 1st January tickets available here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hairspray

Reviewed by Nicky Jones

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Being whisked away from a dark autumnal night into 1960s glitz and glamour, whilst surrounded by fabulous drag queens strutting along the red carpet can only mean one thing; one of our all-time favourite musicals Hairspray is back in Manchester!

This is an incredibly exciting multi-coloured and multi-layered production, with a serious and important message at its core. Based on the 1988 John Waters film, Hairspray follows Baltimore teenager Tracy Turnblad’s dream to dance on The Corny Collins Show. Tracy isn’t as conventionally looking as the show’s usual crew and faces an uphill battle from the start. What begins as a burning ambition to win a role on her favourite teen show soon becomes a campaign for social change which sees Tracy crusade to promote racial integration as she battles not only bigots but body shamers too.

After receiving the job offer at the beginning of 2020 and having to wait until mid-2021 to start in the role, Katie Brace finally makes her professional debut as Tracy Turnblad – and oh was it worth the wait! With her infectious smile, powerful voice and boundless energy she fits this role perfectly. Her comedic acting is flawless, this young actress has a huge career ahead of her.

The show opens with Tracy waking up in her bed in Baltimore, bursting onto the stage with the first number Good Morning Baltimore. The strong Baltimore accents are prominent from the first note, and aren’t dropped once throughout the show. You’re really taken into Tracy’s world in Baltimore there and then.

Alex Bourne and Norman Pace star as the hilarious duo Edna and Wilbur Turnblad. The audience roared with laughter as they lapped up Timeless To Me – clearly a favourite throughout the auditorium. They both deliver their witty characters perfectly, never breaking character despite the audience being hysterical and the scene being rather raunchy!

The costumes throughout the production are bright and bold, and are coupled with strong, punchy, fast paced choreography – which together really take you straight back to the 1960s. The show promotes an important message of equality and inclusion with wit and charm, but it’s not at all preachy. The entire show has you beaming with happiness.

The set, the lights and the live band accompany the cast to make this incredible show really come to life. Hits like You Can’t Stop The Beat, Run and Tell That and Welcome to the Sixties are all feel-good songs that will keep you in smiling all week long.

This timeless show never fails to entertain – it’s empowering, it’s exciting, it’s hilarious and overall it’s a bloomin’ great night out!

Hairspray is at the Palace Theatre in Manchester from Mon 25 – Sat 30 October & Mon 8 Nov – Sat 13 November 2021 tickets available here.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

If there’s one thing theatre audiences love, it’s a Disney adaptation. From full-scale productions such as the long-running Lion King to the newly opened five-star smash, Frozen, right through to magical musical numbers and glittering finale scenes in local pantos; Disney’s influence runs right through British family theatre and is often the first theatrical experience many children have.

Latest adaptation, Bedknobs and Broomsticks flew into Manchester’s this week, stopping at the Palace Theatre on it’s World Premiere UK tour, amazing to think despite celebrating it’s 50th anniversary there’s never been a full-scale production before!

While the lesser recreated of the Sherman Brothers penned Disney hits (Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) it’s charm and appeal have made it a firm favourite for fans, while it’s classic score is still a childhood staple. Yes, the plot is a bit bonkers at times, but for many that’s a huge part of this cult classic’s charm.

Film fans will be happy to hear that this stage adaptation remains largely faithful to the film with some padding out of backstories which works beautifully.

Set in the 1940’s, evacuees and siblings Charlie, Carrie and Paul have been sent to the countryside after losing their parents during an air raid in London. Miss Eglantine Price takes them in and they soon discover all is not as it seems as apprentice witch Price reveals she just needs one final spell from former tutor Professor Emelius Browne in order to use her magic in a bid to help the war effort. With the help of an enchanted bedknob their adventures begin!

Additional songs by Neil Bartram fit well with the much-loved classics, Portobello Road, The Beautiful Briny, The Age Of Not Believing and my personal favourite Substitutiary Locamotion with new addition Negotiality feeling like it’s been there all along.

Jamie Harrison’s impressive set and dazzling illusions really add to the magic of the piece. The bed really does fly as does Miss Price who swoops up into the air on her broomstick and as for the final battle scene, well seeing really is believing!

Gabriella Slade’s costumes are stunning, intricate, elaborate and utterly gorgeous while there’s a wonderful use of puppetry weaved into the production. Designer Kenneth MacLeod has created some spectacular puppets while the cast bringing them magically to living, breathing life. Norton the Fish portrayed fabulously by Rob Madge deserving of a spin off show of their own! While actors being turned into rabbits right before your eyes is a whole lot of fun! This really is physical theatre at its finest.

Dianne Pilkington is sublime as Miss Englantine Price, witty, charismatic and with a voice that’s pure perfection. Charles Brunton compliments her wonderfully as Emelius Browne, his eccentricities and magic skills endearing him to the audience immediately.

Conor O’Hara gives eldest child Charlie true depth as he demonstrates powerfully the influence war has on the life of a child. His journey as Charlie breathing fresh ideas into to this classic tale.

The quieter moments are given the time that they deserve to be impactful while the big full ensemble numbers really take the entertainment levels up a notch. The Portabello Road scene and the Beautiful Briny dance competition are a joy and leave you wishing there were a few more full ensemble numbers to enjoy. I must also mention how wonderful it is to see such a representative cast on stage, more of this please!

The ensemble work hard in this show, moving sets and becoming scenery throughout. This took a little getting used to and on occasion felt like there was a little too much to look at. The pace of Act 1 slows a little at times while Act 2 burst into gorgeous, glittering life and before you know it the bows are being taken.

This is a beautifully crafted show, technically brilliant, superbly designed and wonderfully delivered. There’s peril, romance, incredible puppetry and thrilling magic. Film fans will come away happy while an army of new fans no doubt will be gained. An enchanting production which will delight young and old alike.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks is on at the Palace Theatre until Sunday 24th October tickets available here.

The Osmonds : A New Musical | Casting Announced

The five actors who will be playing Osmond brothers in the world premiere of THE OSMONDS: A New Musical have been announced.

Ryan Anderson as Merrill Osmond, Jamie Chatterton as Alan Osmond, Alex Lodge as Jay Osmond, Danny Nattrass as Wayne Osmond and Joseph Peacock as Donny Osmond will lead the UK &  Ireland Tour which begins at Leicester’s Curve on 3 February 2022 and will arrive at Manchester’s Palace Theatre on Tuesday 9th until Saturday 13th August 2022.

THE OSMONDS: A New Musical with story by Jay Osmond tells the true story of the five brothers from Utah who were pushed into the spotlight as children and went on to create smash hits, decade after decade.  From their star residency on The Andy Williams Show from 1962 to 1969, to pop stars and ‘Osmondmania’ from 1971 to 1975, to the arrival of The Donny & Marie Show, a popular variety TV show, from 1976 to 1979, The Osmonds lived a remarkable life recording chart-topping albums, selling out vast arena concerts and making record-breaking TV shows – until one bad decision cost them everything. 

The musical features a list of 1970s anthems, including One Bad Apple, Down by the Lazy River, Crazy Horses, Let Me In, Love Me for a Reason, (We’re) Having a Party, Puppy LoveLong Haired Lover From LiverpoolPaper Roses and many more. 

Website:  TheOsmondsMusical.co.uk 

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/theosmondsmusical/

Twitter:  @OsmondsMusical 

Instagram:  Theosmondsmusical                   

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.