Mamma Mia!

Opening night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Chock-full of classic Abba anthems, witty one-liners that will have you roaring with laughter and more feel-good factor than you could shake your Fernando at, Mamma Mia! arrives at Manchester’s Palace Theatre for a 2 week stop as part of its current UK tour.

The popularity of the global smash-hit, written by British playwright Catherine Johnson, based on the classic songs penned by Benny and Bjorn shows no signs of waning and nor should it. The joyful party atmosphere is infectious, as each song is greeted with affectionate sighs of recognition and a spontaneous audience clap-along…and that’s just during the overture!

Lucy May Barker returns to the role of Sophie, a naive twenty year old on the verge of getting married to her sweetheart Sky (Phillip Ryan). Having never known her real father Sophie is desperate to have him at her wedding. She takes matters into her own hands and through some stealth investigation narrows it down to three potential candidates, unbeknown of course to Sophie’s fiercely independent, free-spirited mother Donna (Shona White). So, what’s the best way to work out which of her Mum’s ex-boyfriends is her birth father? Invite them all of course!

White is superb as Donna, hugely comedic with also a great ability to play the more tender heartfelt scenes beautifully, her performance during The Winner Takes It All no better evidence of this as she belts out the big notes with real heart and vulnerability.

Laughs are delivered in bucket loads by Donna’s two best mates Rosie (Nicky Swift) and Tanya (Helen Anker) who together are hilarious and individually deliver hugely entertaining solo performances. Rosie, during a lightbulb moment sets her sights firmly on Aussie adventurer Bill (Matthew Rutherford) and makes sure he knows it through her outrageous delivery of Take a Chance on Me, whilst Tanya teaches wannabe toyboy Pepper (Matt Jordan-Pidgeon) more than a thing or two about women during her fab rendition of Does Your Mother Know.

Daniel Crowder, Matthew Rutherford and Tamlyn Henderson who play Harry, Bill and Sam respectively are perfectly cast in their roles. Each very different from the next, adding a entertaining injection of charisma to proceedings.

The ensemble are superb, their delivery of Anthony Van Laast’s choreography is slick as they literally burst with energy in every scene offering some of the real stand-out moments in this glorious campfest full of fun and sprinkled with sparkle.

Mamma Mia will undoubtedly release your inner dancing queen; laugh out loud funny, touchingly tender, immensely uplifting feel-good theatre at its absolute finest!

On at the Palace Theatre until Saturday 14th July tickets available here.

Legally Blonde

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

High energy, fizzing with fabulousness and full of heart Legally Blonde bursts onto the Palace theatre stage this week for the final stop of the current UK tour.

Based on the 2001 film starring Reece Witherspoon which later became an award winning Broadway musical, Legally Blonde continues to be a massive crowd pleaser with every audience member up on their feet by the end of the show.

Dumped by law student boyfriend Warner for not being a serious enough girlfriend, Elle decides to take matters into her own hands and sets about gaining a place of her own at Harvard Law School in a bid to prove she is the perfect accessory.

The tongue-in-cheek innocence of the story ensure this camp, bright and fluffy production raises smile after smile while never taking itself too seriously.

Lucie Jones bursts with personality as the Malibu marvel, with great comedic timing and a voice that packs a punch her goofy but smart Elle proves her status as a musical theatre star is secured.

Rita Simons excels as Paulette, fun and feisty she ensures the loveable hairdresser gets her moment of glory with snake-hipped UPS guy Kyle, played superbly by Ben Harlow.

Special mention must also go to Laura Harrison as Vivienne and Helen Petrovna as Brooke Wyndham, both shine in their respective roles, with Petrovna’s skills with a skipping rope during Whipped Into Shape simply mind-boggling!

Director and choreographer Anthony Williams ensures this is a production bursting with energy, enthusiasm and most of all fun. There! Right There! Being a real highlight of Act II and further cementing Legally Blonde as a kitsch, camp couple of hours of perfectly pink uplifting escapism.

With a winning energy this pink princess succeeds against the odds to find her own perfect prince and sends a reminder about the importance of sisterhood that is more than just skin-deep.

On at the Palace theatre until Saturday 30th June tickets available here.

Blood Brothers

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Running at Manchester’s Palace Theatre for the next two weeks, Blood Brother’s remains as deeply moving and powerfully relevant as ever.

Willy Russell’s award-winning epic tale tells the tragic story of twin boys separated at birth only to be reunited by a twist of fate, a mother haunted by a dark secret and the heart-breaking reality of social depression. As they boys grow up on opposite side of the track the draw the timeless themes of inequality, social class and mental health struggles remain sadly as relevant today as the day it was written. Despite the though subject matter, Blood Brothers is by far one of the wittiest scripts of any musical with laugh out loud moments perfectly measured against the heartache.

Taking on the lead role is Lyn Paul, who first stepped into Mrs Johnstone’s shoes back in 1997 when she made her musical theatre debut in the West End production. She makes for a compelling and impressive Mrs Johnstone, with a depth of emotion that tugs on your heart strings, making you feel every ounce of her heartfelt pain.

Matthew Craig is exceptional as the ever-present and ominous narrator, a dark and menacing reminder of the shady deeds of the mother’s pact; he has a strong and foreboding presence on stage. With just the right amount of Scouse rasp his harmonies with Lyn Paul are simply beautiful.

Veterans of their respective roles as ill-fated twins Mickey and Eddie, Sean Jones and Mark Hutchinson captivate the audience with performances that will have you howling with laughter one moment and reaching for the tissues the next. Sean Jones gives a masterclass in character acting, lighting up the stay as care-free young Mickey making the journey he goes on, to broken and defeated young man in Act II all the more devastating.

The ensemble cast are impressively strong, delivering Willy Russell’s witty script with fresh energy as they take on multiple roles with gusto. Special mention must go to Sarah Jane Buckley, Danielle Corlass and Daniel Taylor who each shine as Mrs Lyons, Linda and Sammy respectively.

Blood Brothers has the ability to take you on a roller coaster of emotion from joyful highs to heart aching lows. The tear filled finale one of the most moving fifteen minutes of any musical, repeatedly followed night after night by a full standing ovation, a testament to the enduring appeal of this powerful production.

It is a story that will stay with you long after the final curtain, a timeless classic which no doubts cements Will Russell as one of Britain’s best loved and most talented storytellers. It is a show that appeals to all ages from eager school groups to audiences returning for the second, third, fourth visit and more, each and every audience member stunned into silence. The phrase ‘must-see’ is often banded about but in the case of Blood Brothers it is entirely true, a powerful, captivating and entirely moving production.

On at the Palace Theatre until Saturday 26th May rickets available here.

Interview | Neil McDermott | The Sound of Music

Neil McDermott Headshot

Manchester’s Palace Theatre is soon to be alive with the sound of music as Bill Kenwright’s critically acclaimed production heads into town.

The five star production sees Lucy O’Byrne returning to the iconic role of Maria, a performance which led to Lucy being described asquite possibly the best Maria since Julie Andrews herself” (The Scotsman).  Joining Lucy as Captain Von Trapp will be former EastEnders actor and West End star Neil McDermott.

Neil who was most recently seen in the city as Chief Weasel in the hugely successful The Wind in the Willows is delighted to be joining this production of The Sound of Music which has been receiving rave reviews across the country.

We caught up with Neil ahead of the show’s arrival at the Palace Theatre on Tuesday 13th March to hear a little more about his role, his thoughts on the show and his thoughts on Manchester.

ON – You’re playing Captain Von Trapp who goes on a real journey from when we first meet him compared to the end of the show, is it a fun role to play?

NM – It is a real emotional journey, he’s quite down and depressed at the beginning of the show, he’s lost his wife some time ago and is left to father the seven children and is finding it all very difficult. He’s trying to move on but finding that difficult emotionally and also at the same time there’s a continual threat from the Third Reich taking over Austria which is playing heavy on his mind as well. Maria then comes into the household and spends lots of time with the children and manages to free the Captain from his slumber/depression and they fall in love and he manages to re-find himself. It’s a great role to play as recently I’ve been playing lots of physical roles lots of comedy villains, so to get the opportunity to play the Captain is a great one and one that I was really pleased I was able to do.

ON – Is it more challenging to take on a role that people know well or to create something entirely new?

NM – Both are challenging in different ways, creating something new is a challenge as you want to make sure you create something new, exciting and interesting, creating something people know well you still have to create something new and fresh but I guess you’re dealing with the audience knowing the character from previous productions, perhaps the film or TV series in this case, a role is nothing if you don’t bring your own personality and sense of humour so my job is to tell the story as convincingly and as sensitively as I can with all the skills I possess. It’s a big role and a big challenge.

ON – Will the staging of the production be in keeping with the style of the film?

NM – The staging is beautiful, it’s not exactly like the film as the stage version is different in parts to the film, the stage version actually came before the film version and there are songs in the stage version which aren’t in the film version. There will be differences but you can tell it’s the same show, the show has a wonderful Austrian feel and our designers have really captured that beautifully as it was captured so well in the film too.

ON – The Sound of Music is such a fan favourite, what are your first memories of it?

NM – I actually played the part of Rolf 11 years ago now in the London Palladium version when Connie Fisher played Maria, so that was really my first memories of The Sound of Music; before I auditioned I watched the film then had a year of doing the show.

ON – With so many classic songs in the show are you able to pick a favourite?

NM – The Lonely Goatherd, it’s a song where Maria and the children are having fun, in the stage version they sing it when there’s lots of thunder and lightning outside so they use it as a song to cheer themselves up it’s a really fantastic song.

ON – As a lifelong Evertonian how is it working with Bill Kenwright?

NM – It’s very interesting for me, this was the first time for me auditioning for him and as you do with a Bill Kenwirght show when you get to that last stages you go up to his office and you see all the pictures and memorabilia of all the Everton players and managers, it’s quite something when you’re in that room and I suppose as an Everton fan I was almost more affected by that than I was the show! He’s a great guy and we’ve had lots of great chats about the show and about my character, he’s been really supportive of me, I’ve nothing but positive things to say about him.

ON – Do you have any pre-show rituals?

NM – I always make sure I prepare as well as possible, I make sure I warm up, both physically and vocally, I always keep a bit of ginger around and chew on that to a liven my vocal chords ahead of every performance.

ON – What are you most looking forward to about heading to Manchester?

NM – I’ve performed at the Lowry a couple of times but never at the Palace theatre, I’m really looking forward to it, it’s a beautiful theatre, a huge space. I always have a good time in Manchester, it’s a great city with a lot of great people and a lot of theatrical history, you can sense that when you perform for Manchester audiences, they really know what they are watching and have a good eye for good theatre, it’s a pleasure to perform for the Manchester public

ON – With Manchester being the final stop on the tour are you able to tell us where we can see you next?

Not at the moment, as we come to the end of the tour I’ll be out auditioning again, so there’s nothing I can tell you right now but of course I’m looking for something to do after this show.

On at the Palace Theatre from Tuesday 13th March until Saturday 17th March, tickets available here.

Thriller Live

Thriller cast production shots

Opening Night Verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Francesca Eagleton

The Thriller Live tour has moonwalked into Manchester, as it brought it’s all singing, all dancing soulful show back to the Palace Theatre.

You’d be wrong to think that Thriller Live is a biographical musical of Michael Jackson’s Life. Whilst there is potential for that to happen one day, director and choreographer Gary Lloyd very much focuses this show on Jackson’s iconic music and dance moves.

The lead vocalist and resident director, Britt Quentin proves that he’s certainly more than just a VERY uncanny lookalike to the great king of pop. From the outset, Quentin has his performance perfected, from pulling off the signature moonwalk to Jackson’s famous anti-gravity lean.

Thriller cast production shots

Thriller cast production shots

It doesn’t matter if you’re Black or White, or male or female in this case. Quentin is joined by five talented vocalists who perform some of Jackson’s classics including: Who’s Loving You, Smooth Criminal and Bad to name just a few.

Notably, amongst the performers Rory Taylor gives a chilling rendition of She’s Out Of My Life and Adriana Louise brings girl power to the show. As the only female vocalist, she proves that her vocals are just as powerful as the men’s, whilst providing pitch perfect harmonies and unique renditions to classics such as I Just Can’t Stop Loving You and Blame It On The Boogie.

Although, there isn’t a specific storyline the show begins in the Jackson 5 era with a set of Motown classics: I’ll Be There, I Want You Back and ABC performed by the incredible Ina Seido. This was quickly followed by Jackson’s 1972 hit Rockin’ Robin, but instead of being performed by a ‘younger Michael Jackson’ as it notably is in the West End version, there was a video clip of a young performer dancing and miming to the song displayed on a screen instead. This seemed a little out of place and dropped the energy of the show, as previous songs and the ones which followed were performed by live vocalists.

The cast is complete by a sensational group of dancers, who provide the energetic atmosphere that the show thrives from. They work tirelessly through every dance number without losing enthusiasm. A special mention must go to self taught dancer Antony Morgan, who brought humour and personality to various scenes throughout the show – notably during Adriana Louise’s seamless rendition of The Way You Make Me Feel.

Thriller cast production shots

It was expected that the cast would be receiving a standing ovation at the end of their opening night in Manchester. But the eagerly anticipated crowd were ahead of that game, as the opening of Jacksons 1982 hit Billie Jean began to play, the audience were straight up on their feet and dancing in the aisles for the remainder of the show.

Overall, Thriller Live feels very much like a concert rather than a musical, from the iconic set list to re-enactments of Jackson’s music videos.

But one thing’s for certain, you’ll leave singing, dancing and Shaking Your Body (Down to the Ground).

You’d have to be a Smooth Criminal to miss this Thriller of a show (sorry we couldn’t resist).

Thriller Live continues at the Palace Theatre until Saturday 24th February. For tickets and more information click here.

 

Flashdance

flashdance-company-credit-brian-hartley-08

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Francesca Eagleton

Get your legwarmers at the ready because Flashdance The Musical is in full swing at the Palace Theatre this week!

Not even the producers expected Flashdance to be a hit when it was originally released in cinemas in 1983, but, screenwriter, Tom Hedley has successfully taken on the challenge of adapting one of the most successful films of the 80’s for the stage in this all-singing, all-dancing neon extravaganza!

Alex Owens, played by Joanne Clifton of Strictly Come Dancing fame, is a feisty and confident female lead. Working as a welder in a workroom filled with boisterous strong males, she certainly doesn’t fade into the background as she knows how to stand her ground and make a name for herself. She shines in the role and commands the stage at every turn.

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Alex certainly doesn’t lose sight of her dreams of one day joining the Shipley school of dance, despite the potential distraction of falling for love interest Nick Hurley, (played by Ben Adams) and with a little bit of help from her tutor and mother figure Hannah, (Carol Ball) she makes steps to follow her dreams.

It was no surprise that Joanne Clifton’s dancing skills would be a real highlight of the show. Clifton’s stamina is extraordinary, one minute she’s kicking and splitting her way across the stage and the next belting out a ballad without even breaking a sweat. We were tired just watching her! A real triple threat performer.

Ben Adams makes for a hugely charismatic and enormously likeable love interest in the form of Nick, the on stage chemistry between the two is exceptional.

Fans of the original film wont be disappointed, as the show embraces iconic scenes including the infamous scene with Alex, a chain and a whole lot of water. The show also features hits from the original film soundtrack; Maniac and Manhunt – alongside original songs by Robert Cary and Robbie Roth.

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Cramming song after song into this toe-tapping musical forced the plotline, at times, to suffer a little, however fans of the film will know it’s not the deepest of plots. The second half moves the action on swiftly, packed full of high energy and fast paced – everything that we wanted and expected it to be.

Of course the audience aren’t left disappointed, as we finally get that all important audition scene. As the introduction to the title song Flashdance…What A Feeling began to play out, the crowd erupted, clapping and dancing along – earning Clifton and the cast a well deserved standing ovation at the end of the show.

Dig out your lycra  and catch Flashdance the Musical at the Palace Theatre from Monday 12th until Saturday 17th February, tickets available here.

Dancing Bear

Dancing Bear 1 credit Matt Tullett

Opening Night Verdict

As part of the Queer Contact Festival 2018, Jamie Fletcher & Company and Contact bring their dramatized musical, Dancing Bear to Manchester’s Palace theatre for two nights ahead of further dates at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in April.

Conceived by director/musician Jamie Fletcher and writer/musician Beccy Owen, Dancing Bear is an unflinchingly provocative piece of theatre which examines the navigation of daily life for many LGBTQ+ individuals while focussing on their individual challenges and fight for inclusivity, acceptance and a sense of spiritual peace in whatever forms that may take.

Each member of the company is given time and space to deliver their story, ensuring from the start we see each person as an entirely unique and special being. Stories are shared, some happy some painfully sad, offering an opportunity to reflect and consider our own views and experiences. A wonderful addition to the show is the inclusion of Katie, a BSL Interpreter who is wholly part of the company and who testifies like each other cast member.

Dancing Bear 2 credit Matt Tullett

The honest and personal testimonies are interwoven with an inspired piece of poetry in which we see the Dancing Bear move through various animal communities in a bid to find his people after being banished by his family; he yearns for somewhere he feels safe, loved, accepted and free to be the person he knows he truly is inside.

Whilst the show implores you to question and explore it also entertains enormously, with superb original songs and powerful contemporary dance in addition to the real-life stories, there is a wonderful cabaret vibe to the production. There is no preaching, nor pushing of an agenda other than delivering a message illustrating the importance of love and acceptance. The glorious array of individuals on stage wonderfully demonstrates our strength as individuals lies in acceptance and the grace to embrace difference in all its forms. In exploring faith it becomes wonderfully clear that to each individual God can be exactly what they want God to be, a powerful being in which faith can be placed. Poignant, provocative and an opportunity to find our own inner peace & spirituality on our own terms, conclusions need not be drawn as we celebrate the uniqueness of each other.

On at the Palace theatre 8pm this evening tickets can be found here.