Avenue Q

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Curtains

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9 to 5 the Musical

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview |Bo Jackson |Manchester Gala Night

Z Bo Jackson Company. Photo Garry Lake @theaboutstudio

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

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

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

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

Bo Jackson Photo

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

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

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

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

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

Z Bo Jackson Researsals1 Photo Credit Jack Walker

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

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

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

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

Kimberley Wyatt

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

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

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

Z Bo Jackson Company 5. Photo Garry Lake @theaboutstudio

What next for the Company?

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

“Dance is a universal and international language.”

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

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

Z Bo Jackson Company. Photo Garry Lake @theaboutstudio

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

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

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

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

Z Bo Jackson Company 5. Photo Garry Lake @theaboutstudio

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

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

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

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

Kimberley Wyatt

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

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

The Book of Mormon

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

The cast of Book Of Mormon Manchester – Credit Paul Coltas

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ever since those first whispers  of “The Mormons are coming” way back in November, excitement levels have been sky high for the multi-award winning, (Tony’s, Olivier’s and Grammy’s to name but a few) smash-hit Broadway musical’s Manchester arrival.

Penned by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone along with Robert Lopez co-creator of Avenue Q as well co-writer for songs from Disney’s Frozen and Coco you quickly get the idea that this is going to be one seriously creative and wildly outrageous piece of theatre…and you wouldn’t be far wrong.

From the minute the bright-eyed, Colgate smiling, super-positive Mormons take to the stage with witty opening number Hello! you know you’re in for quite the ride, so buckle up, embrace the outlandish and leave the easily-offended at home.

M-Jae – Cleopatra, Issac – Kevin Clay, Conner Peirson in The Book Of Mormom, Manchester, Palace Theatre Credit Paul Coltas

The story introduces us to Elders Price (Kevin Clay) and Cunningham (Conner Peirson) a mismatched pair thrust together on their Mormon mission to convert the natives of a country far flung from Salt Lake City (no spoilers here), despite knowing nothing about the country nor the traditions or beliefs of the locals who live there. While Elder Price feels his mission is to “Blow God’s freakin’ mind” Elder Cunningham lies…a lot; what could possible go wrong?

From the off The Book Of Mormon pokes wicked and downright profane fun at every stereotype imaginable; nothing is off-limits in this all-out comedy assault and the audience lap up every close to the bone second of it.

The bouncy, infectious score with lyrics to make your toes curl is as outrageous as it is brilliant. There’s a genius borrowing from several other musicals: hilarious hints of The Sound of Music’s ‘I Have Confidence’ can be heard during ‘I Believe’ while ‘Joseph Smith American Moses” is a riotous, profanity laden homage to ‘The Small House of Uncle Thomas’ from The King and I; as for the jaw-droppingly offensive yet hysterically funny Hasa Diga Eebowai, The Lion King’s Mufasa would be turning in his buffalo trodden grave.

Nicole-Lily Baisden and Conner Peirson Book of Mormon, Manchester, Credit Paul Coltas

This ‘borrowing’ sends up other musicals so brilliantly yet feels incredibly original; at one point during ‘You and Me (But Mostly Me) you are almost prepared for Elder Price to rise up Elphaba style a la Wicked.

Kevin Clay is outstanding as Elder Price, full of ego and bursting with confidence his self belief seemingly unshakable. Conner Peirson makes for a perfect sidekick as Elder Cunningham so desperate is he to please that his wild exaggerations and implausible bending of the truth brings its own type of bedlam to proceedings. The two together are an absolute joy, their love/hate relationship being the backbone of the story and they deliver it with heart-warming conviction, ultimately teaching both characters a generous life lesson.

Nicole-Lily Baisden shines as Nabulungi, sweet yet sassy she brings a wide-eyed innocence to the role making her duet with Peirson during ‘Baptize Me’ all the more entertaining.

The cast of The Book of Mormon Manchester – Palace Theatre, credit Paul Coltas

Special mention must also go to Will Hawksworth and his outstanding troop of Mormons, every scene they feature in is perfection with Turn It Off and I Am Africa being two of the standout moments of the night, camp, completely over the top and laugh out loud funny.

There is not one weak link in this entire company, with many cast members taking on several parts and delivering each to the highest of standards with the vocal arrangements and choreography taking this production to the next level.

While the show happily tears through taboos with all the subtlety of Satan at a baptism its ultimate message is one of faith. Yes it’s outlandish, yes it’s irreverent but the core message is that it really doesn’t matter what you believe in just as long as you believe in something, be that yourself, your community or each other. While it pokes fun at organised religion it makes clear the message that faith is no bad thing once you see past the bonkers constraints that surround it.

The cast of The Book of Mormon Manchester – Palace Theatre, credit Paul Coltas

Rarely do you see a whole theatre leap to their feet but judging by tonight’s thunderous standing ovation The Book of Mormon is without doubt the hottest ticket in town. Riotous fun from start to finish, believe the hype this is without doubt a little piece of heaven on earth.

Outrageous and original this sensational production will leave you desperate to convert to that marvellous Mormon tribe!

The Book Of Mormon is on at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 24th August, tickets available here.

📷 Paul Coltas

 

 

Hair

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Les Misérables

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Les Misérables is one of those few tour de force musicals that need no introduction; the buzz surrounding its arrival in Manchester a rare phenomenon. Performances sold out within days while the shows return to the region in May 2020 at the Lowry was announced even before Jean Valjean had uttered ‘24601’ on this current visit; within minutes of the curtain raising at tonight’s performance it becomes abundantly clear why.

While the West End production of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s masterpiece has been running at the Queens Theatre since 1985 it is a newly conceived touring version that has been taking the country by storm since opening in Leicester in November 2018. 

This stunning production first conceived by producer Cameron Mackintosh in 2009 in celebration of the shows 25th anniversary offers a fresh vibrancy which will no doubt recruit a new generation of theatre fans while making devoted fans fall in love with Les Misérables all over again.

Laurence Connor and James Powell’s inspired direction ensures that the almost three-hour duration whizzes by; keeping the audience fully engaged throughout this epic spectacle. There is not one drop in pace nor lull in action. Act I ending with the rousing One Day More perhaps the most epic way to lead into an interval ever.

The biggest change from the current production running in the West end is Matt Kinley’s striking design. Gone is the famous revolve and in its place come vibrant and visually stunning projections; this new design still triggering the heartfelt emotion of the traditional show whilst adding the thrill of a cinematic feel to proceedings.

Kinley’s designs (expertly animated by 59 Productions) are based on Victor Hugo’s original paintings, and offer a new depth and authenticity to the material while Paule Constable lights each scene with atmospheric perfection. Benefitting from this design creativity the scenes in the underground sewers of Paris are outstanding while Javert’s demise is quite simply jaw-dropping.

The journey Killian Donnelly takes us on as Jean Valjean is bursting with gut-wrenching emotion; from embittered convict through to tired elder nearing ultimate redemption his commitment to the role never wavers. His voice is perfection, from the gentle soothing tones during the opening of Bring Him Home to the full-out goosebump-inducing Who Am I? Nic Greenshields is equally convincing as the brooding Javert, commanding in his presence and convincing in his delivery, his stunning performance during Stars receiving one of the biggest applause of the evening.

The Thénardier’s (Sophie-Louise Dann and Martin Ball) comical interludes are an absolute joy, both clearly delighting in their roles and cementing themselves as audience favourites.

Both Katie Hall as Fantine and Tegan Bannister as Eponine break audience hearts with their moving performances while Harry Apps’ emotional delivery of Empty Chairs At Empty Tables convinces further that this is a company for who nothing less than perfection will do.

The inevitable and well-deserved standing ovation confirms the power of this enduring story; combine that with the beauty of its soaring score and the astonishing quality of talent on stage and you quite literally have the perfect piece of theatre. Every person in the ensemble gives their heart and soul to this production and the result is sensational. Epic in its scale and breath-taking in its brilliance. If you only ever see one piece of theatre make it Les Misérables.

On at the Palace theatre until Saturday 30th March, currently sold out but check here for returns otherwise tickets go on general sale for The Lowry on Friday 1st March and can can be purchased here.

 

 

Interview | Nathan Lewis | Motown The Musical

Nathan Lewis Headshot

X Factor finalist Nathan Lewis heads to Manchester next week as part of the sensational Motown the Musical. Playing the legendary Smokey Robinson, Lewis is amongst a talented cast who bring the legends of Motown to glittering life in a musical adaptation which uncovers the true story of the legendary record label that changed music history and created the soundtrack of a generation.

We caught up with Nathan to hear a little more about the show and how it feels to be making his theatrical debut in such a thrilling role.

For your first musical production this must be an absolute dream role?

Absolutely 100%, it’s the first time I’ve done any kind of theatre production before so it really is a dream come true. Beforehand I was so so nervous even just about auditioning for the role let alone playing it and Smokey Robinson was such an important part of the Motown story that it really is an honour.

How did you feel ahead of your 1st performance in front of an audience?

It was very, very nerve-wracking but at the same time we have such a great team here, an amazing cast, fantastic creatives, director, sound, wigs, costume, everyone is just so encouraging that while of course I was nervous the support I had from this great team really helped prepare me and helped me to feel comfortable and ready to take it on. Part nerves, part excitement!

13. MOTOWN THE MUSICAL. Nathan Lewis 'Smokey Robinson'. Photo Tristram Kenton

Do it add pressure playing a real person?

I think it definitely does, you have to be very careful not to make any of the characters too different from their real selves; it’s so important they don’t become caricatures. With it being based on real people and real events you do have to reflect that but it’s a lot of fun because their stories and lives are so real and so interesting.

It’s such a fast paced show including 50 Motown classics how do you look after yourself and stay well?

I’ve recently just got over having a little bug and I think what helps with recovery and getting back performing is just really knowing your body, some people can bang out eight shows a week no problem, others have to be really careful. For me things like honey, ginger, lemon, hot water, the occasional steam and even long hot showers all help in looking after my voice. Also and this may sound stupid but knowing when to shut up, when you have time off it’s best to use it as well as you can and to rest your voice, just chill out and relax.

How do you prepare for each performance?

I just try to get myself feeling nice and relaxed really, I might listen to some music, drink some hot water, ginger and honey, occasionally might go over my lines. I find feeling relaxed helps me to feel confident and ready to perform.

Which Motown artists dead or alive would you love to meet or even sing with?

Oh my God that’s such a tough question, I’d definitely love to meet Smokey, to sing with him would be amazing and also he’s such an incredible song writer. It would be incredible to not only see him perform but also to pick his brain as well and find out a little more about him and how he did things. Michael Jackson would absolutely be one of them, he’s one of the biggest stars there’s ever been, meeting him would be amazing, and I’m definitely gonna put Stevie Wonder on the list as well, 100%.

You’re with us in Manchester from 26th Feb until 23rd March have you made any plans while you’re here?

I’ve only been once or twice before so I’m looking forward to doing some sightseeing, when you get to stay at a venue for a longer time it’s great as you get the chance to get comfortable in the place you’re at, it can be quite jarring when you’re just doing a week somewhere then onto the next place so a longer spell is really lovely and an opportunity to discover somewhere new.

The show has been a huge hit on the West End and now the tour is taking audiences by storm, what makes it such a fan favourite?

I’d have to say the music, it’s got to be the music, it is so iconic. For me having never done a theatre production before being lucky enough to get Motown as my first has been amazing I can totally see why audiences love it so much. The music in it is all my favourite kinds of music, its high energy, great storytelling about real people. To say the music of Motown shaped the world is an understatement, the music and the creative way in which its delivered is what makes it so popular.

You can see for yourself why Motown The Musical continues to thrill audiences when it arrives at Manchester’s Opera House on Tuesday 26th February tickets available here.

 

Jersey Boys

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Being the proud winner of 57 major international awards including the Olivier Award for Best New Musical brings about a huge amount of expectation; does this current Jersey Boys tour deliver? Yes, absolutely yes, and then some, and then a little bit more, the thunderous standing ovation at Manchester’s Palace Theatre confirming this for anyone still in any doubt.

Jersey Boys tells both the on and off-stage story of the original Four Seasons; Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi who together took the world by storm, selling a whopping 175 million records worldwide as well as being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, all before they hit 30. This exhilarating musical leaves no stone unturned as the highs, lows, heartaches, fears, joys and the all-important music come together in one seriously sensational show.

The structure is clever with the story being divided into ‘four seasons’ each narrated in turn by a different member of the quintet; offering an opportunity for several unique versions of events making for compelling viewing.

This is no bubble-gum jukebox musical, the journey we see Franki Valli (Michael Watson), Bob Gaudio (Declan Egan), Tommy DeVito (Peter Nash covering on press night) and Nick Massi (Lewis Griffiths) go on its intense, exhilarating and absorbing, there is so much to enjoy about this show it’s difficult imaging anyone not getting swept away by this slick and stylish production.

The four leads are outstanding, their harmonies sublime as they deliver hit after hit with perfection. With an epic back catalogue including Beggin’, Sherry, Walk Like A Man, December, 1963 (Oh What a Night), Big Girls Don’t Cry, Let’s Hang On (To What We’ve Got), Bye Bye Baby, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You and Working My Way Back to You the music in this show takes some beating. The lyrics are used to progress the story while the different take from each of the boys on the same situations offers a real honesty and moves the action along nicely.

This current production written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, with music by Bob Gaudio and lyrics by Bob Crewe is staged by the entire original Broadway creative team and it shows. The music alone is enough to sell the show but what you get is so much more as the emotion and energy of the piece takes hold.

Peter Nash opens the show confidently as Tommy DeVito, perfectly embodying the role, brimming with style and swagger, a commanding performance laying it out from the start that this ain’t gonna be no walk in the park. Declan Egan comes next as Bob Gaudio, charismatic, charming and brings a lot of fun to the role. Lewis Griffith’s most recently seen in Manchester as Dirty Dancing’s Jonny Castle makes for a complex and compelling Nick Massi while Michael Watson simply soars as Frankie Valli, mastering that iconic falsetto perfectly. The four leads are supported by a strong ensemble cast who help take this show to the next level, giving high-energy performances and complimenting the lead vocals beautifully.

It comes as no surprise that Jersey Boys has now been seen by over 25 million people worldwide, while the music itself is standalone brilliant add to this the sharp book and slick staging and you have the recipe for the perfect night out. Electrifying theatre which will no doubt keep the music of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons alive for a whole new generation.

Jersey Boys runs at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 16th February tickets available here.

 

Interview | Lewis Griffiths talks Jersey Boys

The international smash-hit Jersey Boys returns to Manchester this week as part of an extensive UK tour. Winner of an incredible 57 major awards worldwide, including the Olivier Award for Best New Musical, Jersey Boys tells the true life story of four boys from the wrong side of the tracks who went on to sell over 100 million records worldwide.

Featuring hit after iconic hit including Beggin’, December 1963 (Oh What A Night), Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Walk Like A Man, Bye Bye Baby, Big Girls Don’t Cry and many more, Jersey Boys is an unforgettable story packed with heart and humour making for a thrilling night at the theatre. We caught up with actor Lewis Griffiths who plays Nick Massi to hear a little more about this sensational show.

You’re returning to the show after a previous stint as the late Nick Massi, how does it feel to be back?

It’s great, it’s a dream role so I didn’t hesitate when they asked me to reprise the role and here I am. Since I’ve come back I’ve discovered every performance I do is different to the previous as it’s a whole new production, a whole new chemistry, a whole new cast so everything although I’ve done the show before feels very new and very fresh.

Is there an added pressure in portraying a real person?

It has a certain pressure particularly with the character Nick Massi being passed now there is a legacy to uphold. It’s tricky sometimes playing a real person because there’s not as much artistic license to have free reign but it’s a great challenge and with this story there is a lot to discover, a lot of twists and turns, unexpected secrets shall we say, it’s a great role.

Despite your experience in the role do you still get nervous before a performance?

Of course, there’s a certain nervous energy that you require to perform, if you have no nerves whatsoever that can sometimes come across as a little bit arrogant. Naturally you have to have an element of nerves, as a performer you’re starting from scratch for every show, you can’t ever think ‘oh I’ve done this before a thousand times it’s a piece of cake’ because for the audience watching you it may well be the first time they are watching the show so you have to act as thought it’s the first time you’re performing it, that’s really the added pressure that gives you the nerves.

While Frankie Valli is known for his iconic falsetto Nick Massi supplied the rich deep rich vocals, how do you look after your voice?

They are a hard sing, the best thing I find for me personally is making sure I get lots of sleep and drink lots of water. I know that may sound like a cliché but that’s honestly what works best. The hardest thing about the show is not the range it’s the endurance, Nick Massi doesn’t solo a lot but he does sing a lot in the show and it’s a wide range so the stamina to endure the intensity of the tracks is what’s really important.

Do you have any preshow rituals to help you get in the zone?

I used to, I used to have lots of silly little things I did but I don’t tend to do those things anymore. As long as I’m in the building at the half hour call and I’m ready for beginners I kind of take my time in that half hour window between the half hour and the beginners call call I just try and relax, listen to some music, have a cup of tea and let myself relax in order to play Nick so by the time I’ve got my suit on and I’m walking onto the stage I am Nick Massi.

Is there anything you can’t live without on tour?

I always take a picture of myself and my fiancé on tour, it comes to every dressing room with me so it’s always there with me. If I could take her I would. She lives in Newcastle so as we’re bringing the tour further up North I’ll get the chance to see a bit more of her which will be wonderful.

You’ve visited Manchester with a few tours now, is there anything in particular you’re looking forward to seeing or doing?

Manchester’s such a broad city, just when you think you know it you always find something else to discover, something you haven’t done or somewhere you weren’t expecting. Last time I was there with Jersey Boys we did I live performance on BBC Breakfast which was wonderful as they were interviewing Frankie Valli on the show so I’d love to explore around there a little more.

Finally is anyone is considering booking a ticket for Jersey Boys at Manchester’s Palace Theatre what would you say to them?

You’d be coming to see an eye-opening story which is made very special by not only the cast but every integral element of what makes the show work, from wigs, wardrobe, crew, it’s a real ensemble piece that brings to life something that is unforgettable, added to that the infectious music of The Four Seasons, then you can fully appreciate why this show is such a crowd-pleaser, it’s definitely one to beg, steal or borrow a ticket to see.

Jersey Boys opens at Manchester’s Palace Theatre on Tuesday 29th January and runs until Saturday 16th February tickets available here.

Benidorm Live

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matthew Forrest

The last time I was in Benidorm I was chatted up by a septuagenarian and managed to throw up all over myself: not the best holiday experience I’ve ever had, that was some 17 years ago, and I vowed never return. Last night I broke that promise to myself (of sorts) and I’m rather glad I did because Benidorm Live arrived in Manchester for a week-long run and it’s a fantastic, fun night out.

After 10 series and cultivating a huge fanbase show creator Derren Litten decided to turn the much-loved sitcom into a live show. Featuring fan favourites, Hotel Manager, Joyce Temple-Savage (Sherrie Hewson), oily barman Mateo (Jake Canuso), fiery rep Sam (Shelley Longworth), loveable swinger Jacqueline (Janine Dutvitski), and, ‘Blow and Go’ stylists and best friends Liam (Adam Gillen) and Kenneth (Tony Maudsley).

The show carries on where the TV series left off with The Solana Hotel facing a takeover: which could see many of the employees facing the sack. The arrival of stuck-up couple Sophie (Tricia Adele-Turner) and Ben (Bradley Clarkson) leads Hotel Manager Joyce to believe that they are undercover spies sent by the potential new owners. She orders the staff to give them the five-star treatment which of course doesn’t go quite as planned.

The live show is like an extension of the TV series with a bit more razzmatazz: packed with innuendo, stinging one-liners, and a fair few lewd jokes, swinger Jacqueline getting all the best lines: Janine Dutvitski is clearly having a ball and pretty much steals every scene she’s involved in.

There are a few song and dance numbers which look like they’ve come straight out of a jukebox musical, that is of course if said musical had been hammering the Blue WKD’s!

Series regular Asa Elliot demonstrates what a gifted singer he is throughout; whilst Jake Canuso get to show off his dancing skills and what a snaked -hipped performer he is: his entrance to the show is quite the snake-hipped spectacle indeed.

Following the interval, the show moves to the Neptune Bar, (which features heavily in the TV series) for a cabaret evening, providing a great opportunity for all the feature characters to get their moment in the spotlight: the highlights being a sensational singing performance from Shelley Longworth and a performance of comedy gold from Adam Gillen.

All plot strands are tied up neatly here with the entire cast uniting for a fantastic version of Y Viva Espana which is the perfect climax to the evening: camp, brash, loud and lewd just like a trip to Benidorm really. This an entertaining, fun evening out and the perfect way to fend of the winter blues!

Benidorm Live is at the Place Theatre until 1st December. Tickets available here.