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.

Madagascar

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Eve and Maisy Powell

Family favourite Madagascar burst onto our screens and incredible 13 years ago, it spawned several sequels and now takes the leap from screen to stage in an all-new Dreamworks musical adaptation.

For those who haven’t seen the film, Madagascar tells the story of four friends from New York’s Central Park Zoo, Alex the Lion, Gloria the Hippo, Marty the Zebra and Melman the Giraffe. The four find themselves on a rather unexpected journey to the crazy world of King Julien’s Madagascar after Marty the Zebra’s dreams of living in the wild don’t quite go according to plan.

We sent out mini reviewers Eve (aged 10) and Maisy (age 7) to give us their verdict on this brand new Selladoor and Hartshorn-Hook Production.

Eve Powell

I absolutely loved the show, it was so colourful and so funny. The dancing was incredible, the cast really worked hard and at one point the animals even did the floss which was a big hit with everyone in the audience.

The adults in the audience enjoyed the show just as much as all the kids. All the characters were brilliant and so inventive but my favourite has to be King Julian who was just so funny. It’s a really, really fun show suitable for all ages.

Maisy Powell

I just loved all the animal costumes, they were brilliant, the songs were great and the dancing was really good too but my favourite thing about the show was how funny it was, my tummy was hurting at the end because I laughed so much especially at King Julian.

Out of all the costumes Melman the Giraffe was my favourite and I thought the penguins were really cute although they are a bit naughty. Children will really love this show and will laugh all the way through.

Madagascar without doubt won over our mini reviewers with its host of colourful characters who impress from the word go. Director Kirk Jameson makes full use of Max Humphries exceptional puppetry design ensuring even the youngest of children will be captivated by this visually engaging and totally charming piece of theatre, while choreography from Fabian Aloise makes certain that the anthem ‘I Like To Move It’ isn’t the only opportunity for the characters to throw some impressive shapes as they twist and twirl to George Noriega and Joel Someillan’s high energy soundtrack.

Matt Terry impresses as the charismatic Alex, he is clearly loving every moment of this his professional stage debut while Jo Parsons has the audience in the palm of his hand with his sensational performance as the brilliantly bonkers King Julien.

Kevin Del Aguila’s script is incredibly witty and keeps young and old entertained from start to finish, with an enormously talented cast, hugely impressive design and an important message of friendship at its heart Madagascar will without doubt leave a great big smile on your face, charming, feel-good family fun!

You can catch Madagascar at Manchester’s Palace theatre until Saturday 18th August tickets available here.

Mamma Mia!

Opening night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legally Blonde

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blood Brothers

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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