Friday, 22 March 2019

The Addams Family (Manor Musical Theatre Company)

When your an Addams (so the song goes) you need to have a little moonlight ..... well that moonlight is currently shining over Sutton Coldfield Town Hall as Manor Musical Theatre Company bring the musical by Andrew Lippa, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, based on the original cartoons from the pen of Charles Addams, to the stage.

Strange stories often make the best and most imaginative of musicals and this is no exception, Pam and James Garrington have chosen not to fill the stage with too much clutter and allow a fairly extensive supporting cast to hauntingly overlook the action. This allows Maggie Moriarty's intelligent choreography to flow freely as there is always a ghostly figure to join the principal actors and enhance the mood. Tim Harding adds even more to the ambiance as Musical Director with some atmospheric interpretation of Lippa's score.

Heading the rather creepy yet lovable inhabitants of Central Park is Mark Skett as an imposing and gloriously voiced Gomez, complemented in every way by Beth Hooper as a delightfully domineering Morticia. Further inspiring and commanding performances are created by Karrise Willetts as daughter Wednesday, stunningly delivering the song 'Pulled' and Jack Dolaghan as diabolical son Pugsley.

Completing this peculiar family are the slightly surreal Fester played with great energy and characterisation by Andy Hooper and a highly engaging Grandma played by (I suspect a considerably less ageing) Kate Dyer. One can of course never really complete The Addams Family without old retainer and butler Lurch, perhaps not much to say but, a striking portrayal by James Dolaghan including a richly deep-voiced performance of 'Move Towards the Darkness'.

We are talking a story of love as Wednesday has fallen for 'normal' boy Lucas Beineke, probably the character performance of the night from Tom Lafferty, frustrated by his parents Mal, the authentic 'All American' father and convincing accent of Richard Parry and soon to be liberated mother Alice, another excellent performance from Megan Daniels.

I doubt that any evening in such company could be classed as 'One Normal Night' but, this is a talented cast and thoroughly entertaining production so don't let the few remaining performances slip you by, instead enjoy that 'Full Disclosure'.

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Thursday, 21 March 2019

Vulvarine - A New Musical (Fat Rascal Theatre @ The Old Joint Stock Theatre)

OK so there’s the slight disappointment of a missing Hugh Jackman (apparently The Music Man on Broadway is more important) but, Fat Rascal Theatre more than make up for it with an irreverent yet supremely entertaining piece of musical theatre, Vulvarine - A New Musical. In the intimate surroundings of the Old Joint Stock Theatre the laughter rang loud as a talented team of performers told the story of one Bryony Buckle, inconspicuous office worker in High Wycombe turned into Vulvarine, saviour of womankind, by the scientific meddlings of The Mansplainer.

Frankly if you’re not open to something a bit different, politically, socially and sexually teetering on the edge, you probably need to get out and see more of this type of entertainment. Where else might you see a talking cat, more spandex than a fitness video and listen to a song about how exceedingly unexciting High Wycombe is (apologies to the residents of said location), I suspect nowhere.

Oozing effortlessly from the creative juices of Robyn Grant, Daniel Foxx and James Ringer-Beck this is theatre at the bleeding edge (almost literally) and performed with pace, skill and a not inconsiderable amount of stunning comic timing by Allie Munro, Katie Wells, Jamie Mawson, Steffan Rizzi and the writer/lyricist herself Robyn Grant (some people really just have too many talents don’t they !).

This might just be something that can take the nation out of the doldrums of Brexit and give us something that little bit fantastic (and quite a lot astounding) to cling on to, so don't miss it on the current tour before Vulvarine loses her powers for good.

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Thursday, 14 March 2019

Return to the Forbidden Planet (Lupin Theatre Co.)

Hey Mr Spaceman ! Probably not the words you might expect to hear in Penn, Wolverhampton, however for the next three nights Lupin Theatre Company will take over Penn Bowling Club for their production of the twice Olivier Award winning, Bob Carlton Musical, Return to the Forbidden Planet, packed with classic rock'n'roll hits and sure to provide a great night of entertainment.

Magz Page's intelligent direction manages to eek everything possible out of a highly constricted acting space, probably a tenth of the normal area that would be available, equally admirable is Angie Astell's choreography as dancing regularly needs more room to express. Ben Batt provides the musicality behind some highly memorable tunes from the 1960s that I have no doubt will continue to be hummed by the audience for some time.

Jon Ranwell is the stoic Captain Tempest leader on this routine scientific flight, regularly confused by the antics of his crew and unexpected passengers yet keeping that 'stiff upper lip' throughout, supported by his right-hand man the ever reliable Bosun Arras played by Lee Connelly. Their newly appointed Science Officer (she of the soon to be revealed hidden secret) is the gloriously voiced Ellie Davies alongside a stunning performance as Cookie (the trainee cook on board) by Isaac Batt, including an awesome drum solo as part of ‘She’s Not There’ (originally a hit for The Zombies).

Having pulled the ship to the planet D’Illyria on which he has been stranded, Dr Prospero played strikingly and with an unforgettably powerful vocal by Paul Roberts, hitches a ride along with the vibrantly lit robot, Ariel played with composure and authenticity by Sarah Hodgkins and daughter Miranda, the naive charm and lilting voice of Megan Glover.

Sarah Campbell (Navigation Officer), Samantha Hesp (Vulcan Officer Spick) and Lisa Bell (Vulcan Officer Span) complete the cast providing some effective backing vocals and much needed busyness about the ship.

Not forgetting a cameo appearance from local comedienne Doreen Tipton as the Intergalactic (at least I think that is what she said !) Newsreader.

Unusually I’m reviewing a Final Dress Run here but, I’ll be amazed if this production isn’t a real winner with everybody who manages to see it. So get your motor running and head off into space for a night to remember before this flight ends on Saturday 16th March 2019.

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Friday, 8 March 2019

The Producers (Wolverhampton Musical Comedy Company - MUSCOM)

Where did they go right, well it started just before the curtain went up and finished just after the curtain went down for this precise piece of musical theatre, the highly irreverent but, strangely entertaining Mel Brooks classic 'The Producers'.

Whether it's the dry wit of Greg Yates delivering a commanding performance as 'flop' Broadway Producer, Max Bialystock, the highly engaging facial expressions and lilting vocals of Karl Steele as nervous Accountant, Leo Bloom or the beautifully provocative Rosie Harper as Ulla Inga Hansen Benson .... (shall we just call her Ulla) this is a production that it's almost impossible to fault.

Dan Smith is an enthusiastically forthright Franz Liebkind, Mike Astley an outrageously 'camp' Carmen Ghia and Dave Hayward a theatrically exuberant Roger De Bris (at one point fighting with a lively Hitler Moustache that refused to stay in place and just about winning that battle).

Musically commanded with style by MD, James Maddison we are talking non-stop, slightly risqué entertainment as only Mr Brooks can write it. Commencing with the 'Opening Night' number performed wonderfully by Lily Ellis-Powell, Daisy Roberts, Megan Russell and Helen Taylor and providing just a taste of the exquisite choreography to come from Kimberley Corsellis.

Probably one of the few musicals to have more than its fair share of 'little old ladies' branded with some 'near the knuckle' nicknames by Mr Bialystock and created in abundance by the ensemble cast but, with some exceptional leading examples from Johann Davis as 'Hold Me, Touch Me', Jessamine Cox as 'Lick Me, Bite Me' and Leann Barnett as 'Kiss Me, Feel Me'.

Tim Jones adds another professionally directed production to an already extensive list and if the levels of laughter from the audience are anything to go by this one will be long remembered  by those who manage to see what is sadly few performances.

So don't feel 'unhappy' that you've missed the 'opening night', instead, grab yourself a ticket for one of the three remaining performances and 'when you've got it, flaunt it' to avoid that feeling of being 'betrayed' !

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Thursday, 21 February 2019

Rent (Guild Musical Theatre Group)

University Theatre Groups I always imagine will be a ‘hot bed’ of future talent, imagine I might see at least one or two potential West End Stars and with Guild Musical Theatre Group (University of Birmingham) I wasn’t disappointed. Jonathan Larson’s ‘Rent’ is a deceptively complex piece of theatre to deliver well but, under the prodigious direction of Tash Wills this team give it every ounce of the passion and drive it needs. Choreography from Rochelle Jack is slick and completely integrated with the on stage action, complemented every step of the way by Larson’s score, ably supplied by Musical Directors, Joe Diggle/Jude Connolly and their on stage band.

Will Jackson is engaging and lucid as Mark, vitally so as the story simply wouldn’t flow without him, joined by Joe Griffiths-Bloor as an emotionally dynamic Roger. These two characters are at the centre of an intriguing array of interwoven stories that can easily become confused if the audience isn’t totally absorbed in the performance.

Having recently lost his girlfriend, Roger becomes entwined in a relationship with the almost fatally flawed Mimi, played with delightful intensity by Claudia Sugarman. Mark on the other hand has recently been ‘dumped’ by Maureen, probably the performance of the night from Rae Doyle who is now in a relationship with the slightly domineering Joanne, portrayed perfectly by Hannah Birmingham, the ‘Take Me or Leave Me’ number is a true highlight.

Friend of both Roger and Mark is computer genius Tom Collins, played not only with deep feeling but, an equally deep and soulful voice by Jason Obiri-Yeboah. Rescued after a mugging Collins is befriended and ultimately falls in love with drag queen Angel, a notoriously difficult part to cast, yet performed exceptionally by Fergal Mullan Wilkinson. Completing the principal cast is outsider Benjamin Coffin III, previously part of this close group of friends but, having married into money and bought the building his once close allays are existing in, it his indeed he that is demanding the ‘Rent’ and played with conviction by the aptly named Ben Cammack.

Adding richly to the on stage storytelling are a talented ensemble cast including the striking voices of Zoe Farrow (additionally providing an entertaining cameo as Alexi Darling), Phillip Muya, Lauren Ramsden and Ana Richardson.

Looking for further highlights, I have to admit to a tear during Angel’s Funeral Scene which is emotionally hard hitting and diametrically opposed but, strangely equally memorable, to the party scene and La Vie Boheme.

If it’s a night of intense entertainment you’re looking for, something to light your candle or perhaps just to indulge yourself with the ‘Tango Maureen’, this is the show for you. Book a ticket quickly though as there are only three performances left to join those ‘Seasons of Love’.

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Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Grease (The Young Ones)

So Rydell High has decamped to the salubrious surroundings of Netherton Arts Centre for just a few days and as MD Nick Jeavons strikes-up the overture, I could feel the buzz of anticipation from family and friends of The Young Ones. Deep breath as the curtain opens and I started searching for the 'bar', no not the one that serves the drinks but, the one set so incredibly high by Katie Woolman's choreography as the cast stylishly fill the relatively compact stage with some highly coordinated moves and sounds (I challenge anybody not to hum along, Grease is the 'word' after all).

Stage Crew (Team Hazelwood) under the direction of Stage Manager, Stewart Homer, transfer us seamlessly to the bleachers and cafe tables of Rydell High and we are slowly introduced to the principal cast. The Pink Ladies, a quietly smouldering Rizzo from Mia Price, Shannon Lee's vivacious Marty, the food focused Jan from Niamh Walker and the arrestingly likeable Frenchy by Izzy Westley-Smith, individually with their own strengths but, together a force to be reckoned with there is no doubt.

Where there are girls there has to be guys and they are the T-Birds, Joseph Neal as a cool and confident Kenickie, Luey Pearce as the quick witted and verbally adept Sonny Latierri, the nervous yet lovable Doody by Charles Hale and Thomas Homer as 'mooning champion' Roger (known to his friends as 'Rump' for obvious reasons). Individual character portrayals are again stunningly accurate and as a team, The Flaming Dukes are probably quaking in their boots.

What, I hear you say, of the Romeo and Juliet of this piece, well I have bought myself some time to try and find the right adjectives to properly and adequately do justice to Alex Cook as Danny Zucko and Alex Cooper as Sandy Dumbrowski, I'm just not sure that excellent or outstanding are quite at the right level, so let's go with astounding, I don't think there is much else that needs to be said about these two local stage regulars, it's obvious why they get lead roles time after time.

Of course it isn't all about the leading parts, there are so many other performances to enjoy, Owen Bradley's comic antics as Eugene, Heather Hadley as the unashamedly enthusiastic Patty Simcox, Amelia Roper as the only teacher to make an appearance, the domineering Miss Finch, the silkily suave Vince Fontaine played by Nathaniel Buffery, Laya Wood's dance sensation from St Bernadette's Cha Cha DiGregorio, the imaginary dream sequence Teen Angel by Daniel Cowdrey, Mark Bramble as dance band singer Johnny Casino and an array of other youngsters without named parts but, equally important to the show.

If you are looking for highlights you could pick almost anything throughout the production but, if I am pressed I would suggest you watch out for a particularly emotional rendition of 'There Are Worse Things I Could Do' from Mia Price and a soulful performance of 'Beauty School Dropout' by Daniel Cowdrey.

Managed to grab a few words with debut Director/Producer, Carl Cook before the show, normally on stage with numerous local societies, he was definitely feeling the nerves more from the other side of the curtain but, he had nothing to worry about and I have no doubt will be asked back to bring another production to the stage for The Young Ones at some point in the not too distant future.

Rumour has it that tickets for the remaining performances of this run which finishes on Saturday 16th February 2019 are as rare as girlfriends queueing-up to go out with Eugene, so grab one if you can.

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Saturday, 9 February 2019

The Toxic Avenger (Old Joint Stock Musical Theatre Company)

If anybody thought it was possible to find a subject that a musical can't be written about they probably thought that a 'toxic mutant superhero' was a safe bet but, that was until Joe DiPietro and David Bryan came along with The Toxic Avenger which could very well achieve 'cult' status along with the likes of Rocky Horror and Little Shop of Horrors if it continues to be a choice for regular productions.

Old Joint Stock Musical Theatre Company in their intimate performance space seem to be able to conjure up something special with anything they take on and much credit must go to Adam Carver's inventive direction and some ingeniously controlled choreography from Sarah Haines.

Richard Haines proves what an exceptional performer he is with the dual role of geeky Melvin Ferd (the Third) and superhero 'The Toxic Avenger' spending much of the performance in a grotesque mask which must make movement a challenge (not that any such obstacle is noticeable). Not content with the role of choreographer, Sarah Haines takes on the even more demanding role of love interest, Sarah the Blind Library Assistant (as a sighted person trying to move like a blind person is notoriously difficult, yet Sarah makes this seem almost easy).

Lizzie Robins as both the outrageous Mayor Babs Belgoody and Ma Ferd provides a triumph of characterisation along with a powerful vocal and the supporting cast of Alanna Boden, Elle Knowles, Joash Musundi and Gavin Whichello portray numerous roles, slipping effortlessly from one to another and delivering some highly entertaining scene changes in order to move the action along from location to location.

When there is such a small space in which to act, there is even greater requirement for mood to be set by both the music and the lighting/sound and Ian Stephenson as Musical Director alongside Paul & Hannah Finch as the Tech Team, add an array of appropriate dispositions to every scene.

If you haven't experienced the Old Joint Stock Theatre, you really should as it's something a bit different to most venues, so go and enjoy 'A Brand New Day In New Jersey' before The Toxic Avenger finishes on 16th February 2019.

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