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.

 

 

 

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