Hockadooooooooo (It’s not rude is it?)

I quite often let my blog lapse these days, sometimes it is due to lack of time, sometimes my reviews are professional and get posted elsewhere and then I forget to link them to here and sometimes I simply can’t be bothered. But yesterday I headed to London for one of my faves – a two show day, or a ‘Snooky’ as it is sometimes known – and I saw a show which completely blew me away.

memphis

I have seen a fair few good shows lately, not as many as I was seeing at one time but quite a few nonetheless. And there has recently been quite a few closures and therefore new shows arriving in the West End, so plenty of choice and a lot of interesting and enjoyable productions. One of the new ones I was curious to see however was Memphis. I knew very little about this show – I watched the trailer for it and saw them on Sunday Night at the Palladium but that’s as much as I knew – but as a lot of you may know, I thoroughly enjoy watching Killian Donnelly on stage and as he is originating this role in London (Ok so he’s not the original Huey but he is the first on the West End), I wanted to go along to support him. Turns out this was the best decision I have made in quite a while.

I had of course been hearing excellent things written about it, but I avoided actually reading any reviews in order to make up my own mind about it. It started off well with managing to get front row seats. These were super and I personally love to see facial expressions so enjoy being that close. I was chatting to a couple sitting next to myself and my friend, they had seen Memphis before on Broadway and therefore had high expectations, so I asked them to report at the end what they thought – more on that later.

Well from the second the show began I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Right from the first few minutes there were some fantastic vocals accompanied by first rate choreography and very accomplished dancers. Set in the 1950’s, this was a time when racial segregation still occurred (and indeed even today not everyone is accepted or given the same rights as others) and Memphis tells the story of Huey Callhoun (played by Killian Donnelly), a local white boy, who has heard the R and B sound and fallen in love with it. He wanders into the ‘wrong side of town’ into one of their clubs and from there onwards continues to create a stir.

Donnelly is funny, as ever his comedy timing and expressions are spot on. He plays Huey as an annoying yet likeable, not particularly bright, not much good at anything chap but what comes across most strongly of all is how human and real he is. Huey is such an honest character – to him there is no difference between ‘them’ and the white folk. He vows to bring their music to the people and to get Felicia (Beverley Knight) heard.

Felicia is the sister of nightclub owner Del Ray and they are shocked at the way Huey tries to “steal” their music. However, Huey eventually wins Felicia over and they begin a romance and Huey keeps his promise of getting her songs played on the radio. Their relationship has to be kept secret and they have to deal with a lot of prejudice, particularly when they are caught together. There is some lovely chemistry between Huey and Felicia but I also enjoyed the relationships between Huey and Bobby, Gator and DelRay. Although this production is centered around some very serious issues (and they are by no means glossed over despite most of the songs being very upbeat) it is also extremely funny.

When Knight opens her mouth it is as if everything stops. She has got a cracking pair of lungs and some serious voice control on her. It was almost as though the audience held their collective breaths as she sang. And when she was joined by Donnelly I got goose bumps. Their voices work beautifully together, the tones of each complementing the other and rivalling one another in strength. There are not enough adjectives to describe how incredible they are.

I was captivated not only by the vocal capabilities of the leads but also by the wonderful choreography and slick moves. The dancers were so athletic and it was also nice to see Killian having a bit of a boogie too – albeit rather in Huey’s somewhat unique style. I genuinely cannot fault any of the cast vocally or performance wise. Another good thing about the production is that it keeps moving. Even the slow parts are kept short and quite intense so your attention never starts to wander, something that I have found happening in several shows, and they all have a purpose rather than feeling as though they have been added and dragged out to extend the show.

I don’t want to ruin anything else for those who haven’t been but I truly loved everything from the costumes to the sets to the score. I can see why this has been getting four and five star reviews. I spoke to the couple next to us again afterwards and they were full of praise. They had enjoyed the Broadway version of Huey but thought Killian was even better. And it seems the rest of the audience were in agreement. I heard compliment after compliment for Beverly and her incredible voice. There was cheering and whooping after every song. The standing ovation at the end was an absolutely spontaneous, genuine one. And it could not have been any more deserved.

I laughed, I (nearly) cried, I wanted to get up and dance. I heard it and I felt it. So if you only buy one ticket this year, make it a trip to see Memphis. I will be going back without a doubt, and it will be sooner rather than later. Everyone should see this phenomenal production and hear just how outstanding Donnelly and Knight are.

What are you waiting for!? Hockadoo!

Keep dreaming,

Naomi xx

The concert that never was…

Hello again,

Well after laptop issues a plenty I am glad to be finally bringing to you my thoughts on Let It Be when I went to see it on it’s return to the West End. As an added bonus however I was honoured to be able to ask Michael Gagliano, one of the cast members, some questions about the show.

Now being staged at the Garrick Theatre (its previous home was The Savoy Theatre), for a limited run, the change of venue has not altered the production at all. The show itself, as you may have seen in my previous blog, is less of a show and more of a concert. With musicals set around a band or an artist you can never be sure what you’re going to get. For example, Soul Sister tells the story of the life of Tina Turner. Tonight’s the Night introduces alternative characters whilst namedropping Rod Stewart and performing his songs. But Let It Be is simple, straightforward and instead of bulking it out with story, it is track after track of classic Beatles hits.

The four group members are dressed appropriately for whichever of the Beatles’ ‘eras’ they are portraying and it takes the more significant historical moments as a baseline. So the Cavern Club days, the release of their first film (A Hard Day’s Night), the Shea Stadium gig and Sergeant Pepper, among others, all come to the fore and the costumes perfectly reflect where they are – for a Beatles fan such as myself all it takes is a glimpse and immediately it is obvious.

Costumes (including a change of wigs and facial hair) are accompanied by backdrops and lighting effects to complete the scenes. The four ‘Beatles’ all played a multitude of instruments and took on all of the mannerisms of John, Paul, George or Ringo. Technically, too, this production has been researched. There are times on individual songs when Paul is on piano and John on base etc and these were absolutely correct throughout the show.

There are a few people for each ‘Beatle’ so you never know which cast you will get but they are all introduced and each of them brings a slightly different take and slight dynamic difference to the production, but this is not a negative, it is just interesting to see the different interpretations of the group. In my original blog (from January) I go into a little more detail about the overall show so please do go and check that one out too. It is hard to compare them as they are all musically gifted and have been chosen for their abilities and because they sound similar to the original group member.

Audience participation is actively encouraged, and certainly some of them took that to mean stand up through a majority of the show and wave your arms about – I don’t have a problem with this when the whole audience is doing it or at appropriate times but one or two people through the whole thing is a little irritating. That said, I wanted to sing and clap as the show totally rocks the theatre. Personally, I loved it, if you are a Beatles fan and you wish to relive those days, or if you are too young to have been there the first time (myself included) then it is an opportunity to see ‘The Beatles’ perform and it is easy to get caught up in the show.

If, however, you are after a musical in the traditional format, with some story, exquisite costumes and fantastic sets then you will be disappointed. If you are after a night of good music and somewhere you can let your hair down then you will love it. And if someone as sceptical of tribute acts and people pretending to be the Beatles as me can go and want to go back time and time again, then they must be doing something right. The packed audience which consisted of a wide age range of people all looked to be thoroughly enjoying themselves, for sure The Beatles will live on for many more years and I’d like to think that Let It Be will too.

And speaking of doing something right, here is my interview with someone who does it VERY right!

1. Please introduce yourself

I’m Michael Gagliano I play John Lennon in the smash hit west end musical about The Beatles called let it be. I am also the frontman of British band The Sails.

2. Can you talk us through a typical performance of Let It Be? What’s it about, what can the audience expect?

Let it be is a multi media rich extravaganza of the beatles greatest songs performed live at key moments of their illustrious career through a series of historical concerts and dreamscapes. It’s billed as the Beatles concert you never got to see.

3. The Beatles – are you a fan? Have you always been? And was John your favourite?

I’m a massive Beatles anorak and I’ve grown up with them in my life since a tiny child. Yes, John was my favourite to me he is the soul of The Beatles .

4. So when did you realise you were like Mr Lennon and how did you start out?

I never think I can be enough like John but I study him and the band in great anoraky detail every single day purely out of love for them. Hopefully this helps me to absorb him and the music more everyday in order to represent him to audiences in the most natural, honest and believable way, hopefully audiences can see my love for the man and the band he started.

5. You have been playing him for a while – how do the other bands you’ve been in compare to Let It Be?

I’ve played john for 8 years now in tribute bands and they all do their best in their own way to portray the band as they see them but Let It Be is on a different level because the show cherry picked the best Beatle performers globally.

6. Did you have to do a lot of research to be able to copy Lennon’s mannerisms? (Must’ve been a nightmare trawling through hours of Beatles footage – not!)

I’ve just absorbed John since I was small and hopefully people see that in my very being rather than being a cartoony version or overplaying him or falling into parody. I play him naturally and honestly which is who he was as a man. No other entertainer reached a level of humanism as much as John did which is why he was so loved by the masses. He and The Beatles represented the humanism in us all ,they reflected our hopes and dreams back at us.

7. When you heard they were making a Beatles musical, what were your first thoughts (I have to be honest, I was sceptical)? And now how do you feel about it?

The Beatles are the worlds greatest group – always have been and always will be. They are British and us Brits need to have a show that represents them best in the greatest entertainment city on Earth – London’s West End. I was very pleased to be given the role because it’s a dream come true in many ways.

8. What are audiences like? Do you find there are mixed ranges of people? How do they react to the show?

The Beatles appeal is universal and our audiences represent that, all ages love them and all ages come to see us do them proud (hopefully)! They go mad pretty much like the fans did for the band but our audiences are a bit quieter – Well…sometimes.

9. To play Lennon must be an honour. Do you ever feel a lot of responsibility? Are you ever nervous?

It’s a massive honour playing one of the greatest most loved musical icons in the history of our planet and I feel the weight of the responsibility every time I step on stage. The Beatles mean so much to people that it’s hard not to feel it but from the feedback I get from audiences I’m on the right track. However I never take it for granted that I’m doing a good job, I work on it everyday, but it’s hardly a chore playing /studying the greatest musical works ever made.

10. The Beatles are iconic. They set a lot of milestones. How does it feel to be able to re-enact many of those?

To perform as John Lennon at Shea Stadium or at the Royal Variety Performance is a childlike dream and I still giggle inside every night even though I’ve been doing it for years. Every night it still feels like the first time and that just shows how magical the Beatles and their music still are and will always be.

11. What have been the highlights of your career as Lennon?

I’ve stood on the West End stage playing my idol at the Royal Variety Show on the very same spot as John, at the very same theatre, 50 years to the very day and said the “rattle your jewellery” line which was surreal but how many other people can say they’ve done that?!! Recently we re-enacted the Abbey Road LP cover 45 years to the very minute that the Beatles made the crossing and that was also amazing. These are just two in a list of many.

12. Do you have a favourite Beatles song? If so, why?

‘Strawberry Fields’/’Penny Lane’ is the greatest double A side (N:for those people who remember vinyl…) ever released, but I also love ‘Hey Bulldog’, ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’, ‘I Call Your Name’,’Dear Prudence’,’She Said, She Said’,’Dr Robert’, ‘The Word’,’Nowhere Man’…..please someone stop me!!! (N: I know the feeling, I am the same!)

13. Do you have a favourite Beatles album? Again why? (Mine is Rubber Soul for the record!)

Rubber soul and Revolver are my desert island records but it changes to the White Album and Abbey Road, then A Hard Days Night and Magical Mystery Tour, then Help! and Let It Be depending on what mood I’m in. The Beatles have a song to match every single human emotion.

14. What is your favourite part of the show?

The beginning, the middle and the end and everything in between. Apart from the travelling to London, that’s the bit I get paid to do. The music and performing I do for free out of love.

15. You are in a band outside of Let It Be – what style of music do you perform? Can we listen to any of it anywhere?

I’m in a solo project called The Sails. I’ve released 3 albums all available online and in the 90’s i was in a band called Epic on the same label as the Stone Roses. All very Beatle-y and all available online.

16. Did you ever think you would be appearing on the West End?

Yes I always believed I’d make it one day somehow. You’ve got to keep believing in who you are and what you want to do with your life.

17. Why do you think the Beatles are still so popular now?

Because they represent every element of being a human being, they are the soundtrack to our lives and our dreams. They were more than muscians they were magicians and we are all still under their spell and long long long may it continue!!

18. Do you have any other musical influences? What is currently on your playlist?

I love modern bands like the Black Keys, Electric Soft Parade, The Cardigans, and influential British rocks bands like The Jam, The Who, The Kinks, The Small Faces etc.

19. Apart from music, what do you like to do in your spare time?

I don’t have any spare time but if I do I like to hang out with my amazing children and my beautiful girlfriend Maria.

20. What are your plans for the future?

To release a new Sails album and carry on playing music. Also hopefully people love me playing John and will want me to continue. I’m also open to the idea of other musicals one day. But who knows what else this crazy life has in store for me… answers on a postcard please, but keep them clean!

Please see the links below for some examples of what you can expect if you go to see the show:

HELP! From West End Live 2013: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUUGjR2M80o&list=UUCTne8KnCefwqWo8a-gSNFg

I Saw Her Standing There, WEL 2013: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9m2bM13xadY&list=UUCTne8KnCefwqWo8a-gSNFg

On both the above clips, Michael Gagliano is performing as John.

The final clip is another taster of what you can expect, taken from the recent production by myself. (Michael Gagliano was NOT performing on this occasion). Hope you enjoy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jv7_p1U0huQ&list=UUCTne8KnCefwqWo8a-gSNFg

Buy your tickets from here – Official Theatre (www.officialtheatre.com)

Once again, a huge thank you to Michael Gagliano for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions, and I HIGHLY recommend that you catch him in action. Also thanks to Official Theatre for arranging the bloggers trip and my sincere apologies to all concerned that this has taken me SO long to get out to you.

A fab (four) evening of entertainment.

Keep dreaming,

Naomi xx

Can’t buy me love? Then a ticket to Let It Be will do nicely

sign

Well, it seems ages since I have written a show review on here, but let’s start 2014 like I mean to go on – a new review blog, this time from Let It Be at the Savoy Theatre. As a massive Beatles fan, I had heard about this show when it was still in its creation stage. I dare say that I was somewhat sceptical to go to see a show containing people posing as my four favourite boys. I have seen countless ‘tribute acts’ and although I have always found them enjoyable (due in the most part to the music), I don’t think the originals can be matched. The only exception to this being the Bootleg Beatles, who’s performances, mannerisms and stage presence are like watching the ‘Fab Four’.

So, bearing the above in mind, I was unsure about seeing Let It Be. I have been tempted, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t until I saw a few numbers performed by the cast at West End Live that I actually seriously considered going. I was able to witness the show for myself, however, when a friend of mine won a competition of two tickets and a meet and greet with the cast after the performance. Perfect! I am SO glad we went, my only disappointment is that I did not go sooner.

The show itself is rather a condensed history of the Beatles and although the settings (such as the Cavern Club, Strawberry Fields etc) are in chronological order, the songs are not necessarily. I actually rather liked this fact as many of my favourites are from the mid-sixties, so chances are they would have been performed by the interval if this had been the case. It is clear that a lot of research has been done when bringing Let It Be to life. Everything, from the costumes, the instruments, the orchestral arrangements and the mannerisms of each of the cast according to which of the Beatles they playing, all are accurate, realistic and believable. Vocally, you can see why the individuals have been chosen for John, Paul, George and Ringo as they sound more than look like them – of course they are dressed appropriately, so from the minute they begin to play – in the day of Liverpool’s Cavern Club gigs- there can be no debating who’s who.

The selection of Beatles hits is an interesting one. They play many number ones and those which are expected (Let It Be, the show title, of course being the main one) but they also play a variety of songs which were only released as album tracks rather than singles. This was a pleasant surprise as very often only the most famous songs are played which is great as they are always crowd-pleasers, but not overly creative. I therefore thoroughly enjoyed the additions of It Won’t Be Long, Girl, Blackbird and Two of Us as just a few of the many chosen for the performance. All of the cast were talented musicians but John Brosnan who plays George Harrison was an extremely accomplished lead guitarist, I thoroughly enjoyed his version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps and couldn’t fault his playing.

abbey

What was very clear was from the beginning to the end the cast ‘were’ The Beatles. The theatre was rocking, people were on their feet, they were singing and dancing and clapping. At the end they were bombarded with noise and it was obvious that not a single person sitting in that auditorium, myself included, wanted that gig to be over. My friend, who knew nothing about The Beatles is now a total convert. She had been slightly concerned that it wouldn’t be engaging enough but in actual fact the music grabbed her and she was absolutely into it from the start. I think this proves that Let It Be is suitable for anyone – certainly the age range in the audience was hugely varied. There is minimal story, but there is humour and for me, nothing is needed other than the music as that, after all, is what it is about. I would be amazed if people hadn’t heard at least one of the songs, even if they didn’t realise it, for example All You Need is Love, Help! or Hey Jude.

I truly wish that I had taken the plunge and gone before so I could return time and time again. Sadly, I have limited time as the show is closing in February. For those who will be unable to catch it in that time, the production is going on tour so it may be visiting a venue near you. I strongly recommend that you look out for it and book your tickets as soon as you can. You truly do not want to miss this. I have already booked to go again. I would like to say so much more about this production, but as some of you may know I recently broke both of my wrists, so typing is rather painful hence the short post.

The icing on the rather marvellous cake was getting to chat to the four ‘Beatles’ after the performance. A thoroughly delightful bunch of people, they are naturally warm and funny and made us feel very welcome. Indeed, all the staff at the Savoy involved with our day were extremely helpful and pleasant and on behalf of myself and Jessica, we would very much like to thank everyone. I will leave you with a few tasters from the show (apologies for the filming- arms again made it awkward) which I hope you will enjoy. I only filmed in the second act as having my phone/any recording equipment in a theatre goes against everything I believe, but in this case it was allowed! A final shout out must go to Michael Bramwell who was effectively the ‘George Martin’ of the show and he really helped to crate some magic up on that stage.

Meeting 'The Beatles'

Meeting ‘The Beatles’

An extract from ‘Girl’ (sorry for blurry beginning): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tyb1Z18mdLg&list=UUCTne8KnCefwqWo8a-gSNFg

A snippet from ‘All You Need is Love’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWV6YmH4B98&list=UUCTne8KnCefwqWo8a-gSNFg

A portion of ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jx4c1gJbyQ0&list=UUCTne8KnCefwqWo8a-gSNFg

Two short clips from Let It Be at West End Live (a different cast, but for any performance you may get an assortment from all cast members. This is a good thing as all are really talented)

‘HELP!’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUUGjR2M80o&list=UUCTne8KnCefwqWo8a-gSNFg

‘I saw Her Standing There’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9m2bM13xadY&list=UUCTne8KnCefwqWo8a-gSNFg

Take your Mum, Dad, Granny, Baby nephew, get your dancing shoes on and have a brilliant time.

Keep Dreaming,
Naomi xx

The Commitments is DEFINITELY bringing soul to the people

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Last night I had the absolute honour of going to one of the first previews in the world of The Commitments musical. Directed by Jamie Lloyd (and already a film), the Roddy Doyle novel has been brought to life in London’s Palace Theatre.

It was my first time being witness to a brand new show with an original cast but I am so pleased that I managed to get tickets. I have to confess to not having read the book (my copy didn’t arrive in time) but I knew the sort of thing I was expecting and I was not disappointed. The story is set in Barrytown (a fictional town) in Ireland, in the mid 1980’s in a time of social upheaval due to high taxes and unemployment. Many people found themselves in the grasp of Heroin. The Commitments is a group formed from people who want to bring soul back to Ireland, to their lives and who are passionate about the music because it’s all they have.

Friends- Outspan, a guitarist, (Matthew Wycliffe) and Derek, a bassist, (Mark Dugdale) – are looking to progress in the music industry, so they end up looking for advice in Jimmy Rabbite, played by Denis Grindel. The Commitments is Grindel’s West End debut, but there is no hint that this is the case as he gives a confident and professional performance as the young hopeful. He has grand ideas for the group and begins auditioning for members. He remembers seeing a drunken performance from a young man and goes to ask him to join the group. This chap becomes The Commitments’ (who are as yet to be named) front man, Deco, played by Killian Donnelly.

After getting together, more members are added – these include The Commitmentettes (the backing singers) – Imelda, Natalie and Bernie (played by Sarah O’Connor, Stephanie McKeon and Jessica Cervi respectively), James the pianist, played by Barnaby Southgate, Joey the trumpeter (Ben Fox), Billy the drummer (Brian Gilligan) and Dean the saxophonist (Andrew Linnie).

An extremely mismatched group, with very little musical talent between them, Rabbite sends them away to learn various soulful tunes, from the likes of The Supremes and Marvin Gaye. They struggle to play their instruments, the singing is pretty terrible, as is the saxophone, and Deco is extremely difficult.The actors playing the Commitments all play their own instruments (initially very badly) but as they begin to perform in public, they begin to improve, gradually playing bigger venues and they eventually start to get press attention and the chance for a recording deal.

Donnelly plays the crude, arrogant and moody Deco with such conviction. He is very temperamental, inclined to walk out at the slightest thing and really only looking out for himself, and most of the other band members really don’t like him. They are told to tolerate him, however, for his vocal ability. And I have to say that Donnelly is incredible. Vocally he is extremely strong, powering out the soul. His energy on stage is infectious and despite the fact that he is difficult, obnoxious and a law unto himself he is hysterically funny (as is the entire production) and you cannot fail to be mesmerised by him. He also throws quite a few shapes, however, he also seems to like eating and getting his kit off!

Each of The Commitmentettes are strong characters, using their female charms to impress Joey the trumpeter, the only member of the group with any real musical experience. This leads to tensions and jealousy between the other members of the group (who all rather like Imelda, including Rabitte), so when she is seen kissing Joey, punches are thrown, fighting ensues and the band, which is barely holding it together anyway, falls apart. The girls throughout all hold their own, each one with a great voice and on occasions get their chances to sing, which they do most impressively.

One of my favourite performances came from Joe Woolmer, who plays the bouncer Mickah. He was absolutely superb as the ‘no messing’ character and literally every time he was on stage I was in stitches. For me, he was the icing on a rather delicious cake.

There are quite a few elements to the set and although much of it is set on one level there are scenes taking place upstairs and also ensemble scattered around in balconies and higher up positions. This potentially creates a problem for those faced with an overhang from upper theatre tiers, but I think probably not a lot is missed. I thought the set design was great though – some of it (the Rabbite house, for example) done using trucks which could be easily and quickly wheeled on and off.

At times there was an element of audience participation and there was a real sense of being part of it -on occasion the cast are in the auditorium – and with classic music – songs such as I Heard It Through The Grapevine, Knock On Wood, Mustang Sally and Reach Out I’ll Be There – it is nearly impossible not to join in. What I did enjoy is that although these are all classic hits, the performers in this production very much make them their own. It was hard to stay seated throughout, as my toes (and I could feel others too) were tapping along, so when the opportunity to get up and dance came about at the end, not one person remained in their seat.

Without giving too much more away, every single cast member has clearly worked hard to make this production really impressive. During the interval and at the end I heard only positive comments from the audience. Certainly there was hilarity all the way through, I don’t think I stopped smiling once. If bad language offends I would advise staying away, as it is rife throughout but it really doesn’t bother me in the slightest and apparently didn’t seem to be concerning anyone else either. I can’t find a bad word to say about any of the cast – if I haven’t given them an individual mention here it is simply because I don’t want to go on too much, but they are all super talented and a joy to watch, many of them making their West End debuts. I defy anyone not to be smiling and singing when they leave the theatre.

I absolutely can’t wait for a return visit, and there WILL be one. And another, and more after that…this is a watchable show which I would happily see again and again. And I very much intend to. Do go if you can, it really is great fun and this cast deserve to be seen. I hope this will be sticking around for some time.

Keep Dreaming,
Naomi xx

Review: Witches of Eastwick

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews and can be found in it’s original form here: http://www.thepublicreviews.com/the-witches-of-eastwick-the-watermill-newbury/

I have to confess that when I go to the theatre I generally like to find out more about what I am about to see. On this occasion I accepted at short notice and although I had heard of this show, I knew nothing about it. Needless to say it was not what I expected. I actually really enjoyed it but I was just very surprised by the content. I think I was expecting something similar to the Wizard of Oz or Wicked…erm, no!

The production is set in a quiet little town in Eastwick, New England where three friends, Alexandra (Alex)  Spofford (Poppy Tierney), Jane Smart (Joanna Hickman) and Sukie Rougemont (Tiffany Graves) are discussing their lives over Martinis, particularly their sex lives and wish that they could meet a nice man. Alex has a son, Michael, (Ross William Wild) who despite his mother’s promiscuity is actually pretty clueless about women and in need of some advice. The three girls are excellent, particularly Spofford, and they sing with power and clarity.

Clyde Gabriel (Jeffrey Harmer) is the long suffering husband of Felicia (Rosemary Ashe – original Carlotta, Phantom of the Opera) who is self-appointed Lady of Eastwick and who frowns upon almost everything that people in the neighbourhood do. Their relationship is unhappy and Ashe plays Felicia as a force to be reckoned with, stern and disapproving. They have a daughter, Jennifer (Naomi Petersen), who is dating Michael, but as with everything else, this is upsetting for Felicia. Sukie and Clyde have been seeing each other for years and the town are aware of the affair but as with most news in the neighbourhod, a lot of it is gossip. Michael and Jennifer are sweet if a little naïve, and Michael certainly has a figure to make the ladies in the audience jaws drop!

One day, everything in Eastwick is disrupted with the arrival of Darryl Van Horne (Alex Bourne). A smooth, attractive character who clearly knows it, Van Horne’s arrival creates upset and a whole world of gossip. Bourne is simply fantastic as Van Horne.  He quickly manages to seduce women into falling for him, encourages men into bringing out their wild side and makes Felicia very cross when he starts making alterations to her beloved Lenox House, into which he has moved. His entrance is grand – Darryl Van Horne – and his egotistical nature is clear from the outset.

As the story progresses the audience learn that Alex, Jane and Sukie are in fact witches and it was their powers which had brought Darryl to Eastwick. Through him they learn how to cast spells and pretty soon chaos ensues as they turn their mundane lives into something far more raunchy but also with sinister consequences. There is a strong sexual theme running throughout this production so it is unsuitable for a younger audience, however it is very funny and it is through the dialogue and songs more than the acting that this is apparent. Watch out for some revealing outfits though. For me, Waiting for the Music to Begin’ although very racy is performed brilliantly by Hickman and Bourne and is a really strong musical number, but all three witches have some fantastic songs and play their roles extremely well.

Another highlight of Act One is the song Dirty Laundry. Hilariously choreographed by Craig Revel Horwood (probably best known as a judge on Strictly Come Dancing) this had the audience in fits of laughter. Performed by  Marge (Esther Biddle), Girl (CiCi Howells) and two very lovely ladies (Gary Mitchinson and Greg Last) along with Felicia, this one is a really catchy number. Overall there are many memorable songs and extra impressive is that the cast all double up as the orchestra. Each member plays at least one instrument, often more, showing that their talents extend further than those onstage. There were a few moments through the show however when the singing was drowned out a little by the orchestra and it was hard to hear the words.

Act Two is a little darker and the main events of the story are played out here but as with Act One, there are some wonderful pieces, one being Dance with the Devil and another The Glory of Me. Both performed by Bourne – he has a majority of the best lines – these are great fun. The racy theme continues but there are also scenes which contain slightly more disturbing content, however the nature of the show is such that it is still done in an amusing way. I have to say I think Van Horne is a fantastic character and very funny.

There is a lot of action for a small stage and the set has been cleverly designed to fit quite a lot of it into a relatively small space. Parts of the set are pulled out from various locations and the main stage is very quaint, with circular windows and picket fences enclosing the instruments. The auditorium is put to full use as well with the cast leaving and entering through it several times. The cast also set the stage themselves so there are clever links between scenes. Revel Horwood has clearly put a lot of thought into making this work to its maximum potential.

Because of the content this production may not appeal to everyone but the cast as a whole are strong, the songs, though not perhaps as well-known as those from other shows are good and it certainly compels you to keep watching. The audience were extremely receptive to it, there were a lot of laughs and cheers and the venue is simply beautiful and full of history, so as a theatrical experience alone it is well worth a trip. The Watermill is old and the auditorium is cosy with a balcony which looks like a minstrels gallery running around three sides. I would definitely recommend a trip there – the old water wheel is preserved behind glass and there is a lovely bar area and gardens.

I think I would go and see the show again, though it wouldn’t be top of my list but I am definitely glad I got to see it and the raunchiness of it didn’t bother me (though sitting next to folk much older than me while they carried on onstage felt a tad awkward!) but it’s definitely not one for the easily offended. It was done well, a brilliant use of space and quaint set and a strong cast and if you are able to go to the Watermill to see it then do – it’s on until Sept 14.

 

Keep dreaming,

Naomi xx

Titanic – Small theatre, Huge impact.

It seems like ages since I went to the theatre. It was actually only about a month ago but that’s a fair while for me! But yesterday I was back in London to see two more shows – the first I shall write about here as both deserve their own post.

I recently interviewed Nadim Naaman (if you didn’t see this you can read it here: http://wp.me/p2RIFK-3o ) who is appearing in the musical ‘Titanic’. Held at the Southwark Playhouse, this production is only on for a limited time but I am SO glad that I got to see it. The theatre itself is small but the audience is set around the stage on three sides so the action all happens in a central location and the view from all seats is excellent. For a production such as this (which would also work on a grand scale) it means that you really do feel involved in the show.

titanic

Of course, everyone knows the story of Titanic, the unsinkable ship, which sank during her maiden voyage. Not really a spoiler as this production is of course true to history and yes, she still sinks. What makes this special and so watchable despite knowing how it will end is the characterisation of all the passengers and crew. The audience is introduced to the sailors, porters, stokers and passengers individually, each with their own stories and reasons for travelling.

The ensemble are fantastically strong and the harmonies and power in all of their numbers is immense. The score is beautiful – from the excitement of this huge creation to the panic and finally sadness of her loss the essence is captured perfectly. All cast members get a chance for a solo  which is a lovely touch as each deserves to be heard and the talent of the company is plain to see. Opening with Mr Ismay (Simon Green), owner of the Titanic, marvelling about human’s advances in engineering followed by the ensemble arriving, boarding and finally setting sail this production captivates from the outset.

Clever use of the stage ensures that no matter where you are sitting, you still get a view of every person on stage, there is plenty of movement and the direction and choreography has been well thought out. The space is used to its maximum potential with an upper level used as the bridge or a different deck and a movable staircase also used to it’s full scope to portray different decks or the lookout. It is certainly very obvious who is where at any one time.

It is almost impossible to write about individual performances due to the nature of the casting but Green’s Ismay certainly makes you dislike him as intensely as Barrett (played by James Austen Murray) makes you like him. The passengers are all extremely amiable and relatable folk – the rather irritating yet comical Alice Beane (Celia Graham) who is obsessed with the first class travellers and her long suffering husband Edgar (Oliver Hemborough). Kate McGowan (Victoria Serra) has a particularly endearing relationship with Jim Farrell (Shane McDaid) and the two other Irish Kates – played by Grace Eccle and Scarlett Courtney are both sweet characters.  The relationship between Caroline Neville (Claire Marlowe) and Charles Clarke (Nadim Naaman) is a rather more difficult one, though the love between them is plain to see. My favourite and, for me the most moving, were elderly couple Isidor and Ida Straus (Dudley Rogers and Judith Street) as their love has spanned forty years and never wained.

Mr Andrews, the ship’s builder (Greg Castiglioni) is convincing and easy to empathise with as is Captain Smith (Philip Rham). Backed by his masters Murdoch (Sion Lloyd) and Lightoller (Dominic Brewer) along with other crew members Etches (James Hume), Bride (Matthew Crowe), Fleet (Leo Miles) and Hartley (Jonathan David Dudley who also doubled as the bellboy) everyone had definite roles and positions and there was no weak link.

The class divide is always easy to see though the cast (apart from Ismay, Andrews, Captain and the masters) all double up and move with ease and fluidity from role to role, sometimes changing class as well as character. The six strong band accompany the whole piece with flawless playing throughout and really help to add to the scenes, whether with incidental music or backing the ensemble. By the time you hear the iconic words – ‘Iceberg, right ahead’ the atmosphere is overwhelming and you are willing that this time, please, the tragedy does not occur.

I would imagine that attempting to recreate a sinking ship in the confines of a theatre is no easy feat, but Thom Sutherland has done an outstanding job. The tension and fear within the cast is painful to watch and you really feel as though you are there, losing the ones you love, as you watch their fate being played out. Use of ropes and slow motion simulate the lowering of the lifeboats, the ship upending and people and objects falling about. Lighting and sound effects contribute to the effect, as does a large movable piece of scenery.

In all this piece of theatre is unmissable. Maury Yeston’s score may not be as well known as the ‘story’ of the Titanic but it is truly an incredible piece of writing. I loved the way that the real facts of history along with genuine passengers on the Titanic are used to recreate the events of 101 years ago. If you only buy one ticket this year then please make it to this production as this absolutely deserves to be seen. Sadly I don’t think I will be able to make it back, but if I can then I’ll be there with bells on. Superb.

Titanic is on at the Southwark Playhouse from 26th July to 31 Aug 2013.

Buy tickets here: http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/the-large/titanic/

Keep dreaming,

Naomi  xx

 

Billy Elliot

So another trip to London beckoned, this time to see a cabaret on Sunday organised by Scott Garnham, and, as I was coming up anyway, a trip to see Billy Elliot. 

I have so many shows that I want to see but I was keen to see Killian Donnelly in the role of Tony so Billy was booked. I knew bits about it and had heard quite a few songs along the way, but I was genuinely not expecting it to be quite so epic.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised as all professional productions are excellent in terms of quality/effects/orchestra/set but I just dont think I expected it to be so entertaining. I knew it was about miners and a boy who wants to dance, but in truth it is so much more than that.

Every time the miners sang it was extremely tuneful, I loved all of their pieces and its always a pleasure to see plenty of men in the theatre. I know from amateur productions that finding enough (or indeed, any) men is a real task sadly.

The children were all immaculate too. Each one word, note and step perfect. And remarkably impressive with their comedy delivery and timing (particularly Debbie played by Millie Thornton). There was a lot of choreography across the whole cast but everyone appeared to know exactly what they should be doing.

Deka Walmsley played a very convincing Northern dad, who was (in the words of several cast members) ” a bastard” yet you could warm to him by the end of the show despite all his faults. I thought he was great. Mrs Wilkinson,  played by Gillian Bevan was another character who you grew to be fond of and she did a valiant performance as the ballet mistress.

Steph Parry played Billy’s dead mam and she was a lovely character, both times the songs (which were meant to be letters being read aloud) between her and Billy  reducing me to tears. Comedy relief therefore (although actually the show is remarkably funny) was provided by Mr Braithwaite (David Muscat) as the accompanist for the ballet students and wannabe dancer. Very amusing.

Killian Donnelly as Tony Elliot,  Billy’s brother was as strong and every bit as convincing as I had hoped. He stands up and fights for what he believes in and is very passionate. Though as an elf it is a little hard to take him seriously! Grandma (Gillian Elisa) is another fabulous character and she’s a feisty one too! She was hysterical,  I loved her!

Final mentions must go to Joe Massey as Michael and of course Harris Beattie as Billy. Massey was so lovable and so funny and gave such a confident performance as the slightly confused and comical best friend. And Beattie was outstanding. Everything about his performance was superb. His vocals were strong, his accent, his lines were delivered clearly and with the emotion they required and his dancing was exemplary.  Look out for this lad, he will go far.

I laughed, I cried, I wanted to get up and join in. That has to be the sign of a great show, right? It was topped off nicely by meeting some of the cast afterwards as well, so thank you to those actors who stopped to chat and sign programmes. 

If you’re debating whether or not to go, then don’t think about it anymore,  just book. But be aware there is an imminent cast change so if you want to see some of those mentioned above you will need to go in the next couple of weeks.

Hope you enjoyed, got another one from tonights cabaret on the way later!

Keep Dreaming,
Naomi xx