Category Archives: MyTheatreMates

REVIEW: Motown the Musical – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Eight hundred dollars, a loan from his family, was all it took for Berry Gordy to set up the legendary Motown Records. Flash forward to 1983, and the eve of Motown’s 25th anniversary. Gordy is reflecting on his career at a point where the label is in deep decline, it’s biggest stars having left for better deals with bigger bucks. He sits at home deciding whether to attend the celebration in his honour. Thankfully, this self-reflection takes us back, right back to Detroit and the foundations of Hitsville USA and to those sublime, timeless tunes – an astonishing 57 number one hits.

And thank goodness for those hits, essentially, Motown the Musical is an extremely sanitised version of events written by Gordy himself. While it tracks Gordy’s infamous and adulterous relationship with Diana Ross (which produced a child, of whom there’s no mention here) at exasperating length, and tries to tackle some more serious themes of the era: JFK’s assassination, Vietnam, the race riots, its clunky and often embarrassingly simplistic script suffers badly in order to shoe-in another hit, it’s choc-full of cheesy lines: “that little Stevie is a wonder” as Wonder appears as a child with his head bobbing wildly (cringe). In sharp contrast, many recent jukebox musicals have managed to weave a decent story around the songs, Jersey Boys, Beautiful and Sunny Afternoon to name a few. It’s very much greatest hits and an exceedingly lazy script, and many of these glorious songs are frustratingly truncated, however, if you revel in the music alone, and the sheer number of songs (50) then you are in for an entertaining evening. 

The set is sparse and simplistic and complemented by colourful projections, so it’s down to the hard-working cast to deliver the goods. The  large ensemble double and triple-up (and more) as the rest of the fabulous Motown roster, including Stevie Wonder, Martha and the Vandellas, Mary Wells, The Jackson 5 and The Temptations, now stars of their own hit Broadway musical and writers Holland, Dozier, Holland, and do so with energy. Those with a larger role are Shak Gabbidon-Williams, a fine singer, as a conflicted Marvin Gaye and Nathan Lewis as Gordy’s life-long friend Smokey Robinson. Karis Anderson is a competent singer but her portrayal of Diana Ross neither sounds/acts or looks like the diva and the time spent in this already long musical to her relationship with Gordy, seriously outstays its welcome. The audience is left asking why are these greatest hits are being severely cut short when we are subjected to this mortifying cheese-fest. It also needs to be said that this is quite possibly the worst diction this reviewer has heard in many a year.

It skims the surface of Motown’s move from Detroit to Los Angeles and Gordy’s insistence on mainstreaming or prematurely ageing his young and hip roster into old-fashioned middle of the road entertainers. Ultimately the move signified the loss of credibility and cool of the label.

The directorial choices are also somewhat baffling. It doesn’t know whether it wants to be a tribute concert or a musical (there’s some audience interaction which entirely breaks down the fourth wall), which means the audience is unclear how to behave – it has arrived in Glasgow on the back of some controversy at a previous venue where audience members were asked to leave due to rowdy, concert-goer behaviour, as the rest of the audience had paid their hard-earned cash to enjoy the musical’s storyline as well as music. Unfortunately the problems seem to have travelled with it. The show is prefaced by an announcement to respect other audience members (unheard of in the venue), which is duly ignored by a section of the audience who are here for a sing-along, and who then cause major disruption as they refuse to leave when their behaviour is challenged by fellow audience members and staff of the venue. Props to the cast who manage to ignore the off-stage drama.

These songs are some of the finest ever written, performed by some of the most talented artists of all time, and the cast largely deliver, of that there’s no question, but this quite frankly awful script lets these talented performers and the Motown legacy down pretty badly.

Runs until 2 November 2019 | Image: Tristram Kenton 

REVIEW: Andrea Bocelli – SEE Hydro Arena, Glasgow

It’s oft been quoted, but it bears repeating: “If God had a singing voice he would sound a lot like Andrea Bocelli”, so said pop diva Celine Dion of the vocal phenomenon and 90 million album selling superstar, and she’s not wrong, Bocelli’s voice is so sublime it’s almost divine.

The world’s biggest selling classical artist is accompanied on this spectacular evening by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Cuban soprano Maria Aleida, flautist Andrea Griminelli, the Edinburgh Choral Union, some classical dancers and Britain’s own R&B queen Beverly Knight.

It’s hard to describe adequately the atmosphere, but it’s almost reverent, the audience are entirely rapt for the whole  evening, it’s a warm, comforting feeling, old-fashioned but just, well…lovely. Every detail has been thought of and every artist a master of their craft, every note, every bit of staging (including massive panoramic projections) is of the highest quality. There’s no facile chit-chat, the music does the talking and does so, beautifully.

There’s a perfect mix of classical favourites, some personal choices from Bocelli, his classical crossover hits and duets with his guest stars, interspersed with clips from his recent movie The Music of Silence which provides some background on Bocelli’s childhood and sight loss. There’s also exquisite dancing accompaniment and a selection of Spaghetti Western themes from flautist Griminelli. Soprano Aleida delivers impressive vocal gymnastics including those on The Doll Aria from Les Contes d’Hoffman, Knight sings a relaxed version of her hit Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda, and duets with Bocelli on Canto della Terra. The sentimental Glasgow audience erupt at Neapolitan classic O Sole Mio, Con te Partiro and Nessun Dorma which sends the audience home floating on a cloud.

Bocelli’s beaming smile at the rapturous reception says all that’s needed to be said about this perfect evening’s entertainment.

REVIEW: Tosca – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Sumptuous, stunning, shocking, and still sensational, Anthony Besch’s production for Scottish Opera of Giacomo Puccini’s once decried, but now beloved, “shabby little shocker” Tosca, still has the power to stir almost 40 years on. As evidenced by the packed house, this ninth revival, is as popular as ever, and rightly so.

Now widely utilised, but ground-breaking in the 1980s, was Besch’s re-setting of the work from the Napoleonic era to 1940s Fascist-era Rome, and the production looks and feels as fresh and relevant as the moment it first appeared.

As the curtain rises on Peter Rice’s glorious set there is an audible gasp from both those new to this production and those in the audience welcoming home an old and much-loved friend from its extensive travels around the globe. The magnificent realisation of the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle, is truly breath-taking, never more so than in the Te Deum, where the splendidly clad clergy and congregation bring the curtain down on the first act. The representations of Scarpio’s office in the Palazzo Farnese and the ramparts of the Castel Sant’Angelo are just as magnificent and historically accurate.

Puccini’s sublime music sounds strikingly modern and almost cinematic throughout, and the orchestra under the baton of Stuart Stratford sounds majestic, managing to strike the perfect balance of power without ever overwhelming the singers.

Natalya Romaniw is an out-standing Tosca, seamlessly marrying her stunning vocals to beautifully measured and highly convincing acting skills. Roland Wood is an assured Scarpia, but it is Gwyn Hughes Jones as Cavaradossi who is the knock out of the evening, never was a voice more perfectly married to a role, he is truly stunning.

This is a five-star, breath-taking production in every respect, and the perfect example of what opera can and should be.

Runs until 26 October 2019, then touring to Inverness, Aberdeen and Edinburgh.

For more information visit Scottish Opera

IMAGES: JAMES GLOSSOP

 

 

REVIEW: Amadeus and the Bard – Scottish Opera Production Studios, Glasgow

We’re invited to a night out at Poosie Nansie’s Inn, on of Robert Burns’ favourite hostelries, in Mary McCluskey’s Amadeus and the Bard.

Subtitled 18th Century Cosmic Brothers, this mixture of story and song, explores the lives of Scotland’s best-loved poet and Austria (and the World’s) most revered composer, Mozart and sheds light on the often startling similarities between them. Burns’ traditional Scottish folk tunes are blended with some of Mozart’s most popular arias. Tam O’ Shanter sits alongside The Magic Flute, A Red, Red Rose alongside The Marriage of Figaro.

McCluskey’s production is like a great, big all encompassing hug. From the moment the audience enters greeted by the cast, clad in their authentic looking, late 18th Century garb, to the last notes ringing out, the audience feel more like participants than on-lookers. The engaging performers, the songs, poems and script are delivered so warmly and invitingly that you can’t help be captivated.

The parallels between these two seemingly disparate men are cleverly woven together and delivered inventively. The mixture of professional performers both singers and an actor, and members of Scottish Opera Young Company, blend seamlessly to create an enchanting evening’s entertainment. Particularly of note are baritone Ross Fettes, a current student at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, a gifted young singer with a bright future ahead of him, and fellow RCS student, soprano Erin Spence, whose voice and artistry leave a lasting impression, Miss Spence has a rare talent of being able to act convincingly as well as deliver the songs with conviction. Tenor James McIntyre too throws himself fully into his multiple roles. It would be churlish though, not to acknowledge the quality of the entire cast, who are excellent.

That a national company is producing smaller-scale but highly engaging, original and appealing productions is to be lauded – more of this please.

Images: Sally Jubb

REVIEW: 9 to 5 – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

9 to 5, the 2008 musical based on the hit 1980 movie starring Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, would seem on the surface to be a strange choice for a West End revival and UK tour in 2019. In the era of #MeToo, it appears that too often that even the most questionable content can be given a free pass if it marks itself as a period piece, is given a glossy coating, has some jolly songs and is marketed as supposedly raising issues of gender equality and sexual politics, even if its done in the dodgiest of fashions. Thankfully, for the most part, director Jeff Calhoun has managed to address the most unpalatable Carry On-like antics of previous productions.

In a nutshell it’s the story of three office workers: Doralee (Georgina Castle), Judy (Amber Davies) and Violet (Louise Redknapp) who unite to turn the tables on their monstrous boss (Sean Needham), tying him up in his own bondage gear and running the office where they work under their own rules.

It is a show of two unequal halves, both literally and figuratively, the first running at one hour ten minutes and packed full of action, the second at a short 45 minutes is actually padded out with some unnecessary songs then rushes to a conclusion that neatly wraps up the action. The entire show is stylistically a bit unimaginative, it takes the stereotypical eye-poppingly colourful 80s look but doesn’t do too much with it, there are a few key set-pieces that are wheeled on and off multiple times. It is all perfectly pleasant but no more than that.

Both Davies and Castle are supremely talented, Davies’ rendition of the Defying Gravity-like Get Out and Stay Out is a show-stopper as is Castle’s Backwoods Barbie and to his great credit, Sean Needham manages to keep tyrannical, misogynistic, panto villain boss Franklin Hart Jnr. entirely likeable. Less successful, though is Redknapp, who, while competent in the pivotal role, is a little lacklustre in her energy level and her voice suffers in comparison to her co-stars. It also needs to be said that the shrillness of the dialogue and the uneven American accents mean that a lot of the jokes fail to land as the audience can’t actually hear them clearly.

While on the surface it may aim to be a rallying cry for working women everywhere, it still retains a few too many mores of 70s and 80s sitcoms. While director Calhoun has managed to negotiate a more palatable path through the material, it might be time for either a bit more of a refresh of the book or a female director. It is interesting to note that the most well rounded, nuanced character is the seemingly ditzy blonde. All that said, if you take it entirely at surface level then it is a bit of fluffy, escapist, crowd-pleasing fun, with a talented and committed cast, and the overwhelmingly female audience seem to adore it, needing no encouragement to get on their feet to sing and dance along with the encore.

Runs until 12 October 2019 | Image: Simon Turtle

Originally written for The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: What’s in a Name – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de la Patellière’s 2010 play Le Prénom was a hit of such magnitude it spawned not only a big screen French version in 2012 but a German film incarnation in 2018. Jeremy Sam’s translation, What’s in a Name? has arrived in Glasgow and proves to be a class act from start to end.

It’s the present day in a trendy double height loft conversion in Peckham, teacher Elizabeth (Laura Patch) is throwing a dinner party for her brother Vincent (Joe Thomas), brash, flash and with more than a hint of a Thatcher-era, boy-made-good bravado; all three-piece-suit, slicked back hair and ill-concealed misogyny. Vincent and his partner Anna (Louise Marwood) are about to become parents, lecturer husband Peter (Bo Poraj) and childhood friend Carl (Alex Gaumond), a trombonist with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, round out the company.

The revelation by Vincent of the name he intends to call his expected son, turns tiny tensions into a torrent of tirades, as every petty resentment  from the past thirty years surfaces. The accusations and recriminations fly, and some pretty big secrets are revealed.

What’s in a Name may be the typical upper-middle class intellectual, philosophical fare that the French typically love, but this fast, furious, and funny social comedy, is a welcome breath of fresh air. The witty, rapid-fire dialogue shines a light perfectly on a certain strata of bourgeois British society and the “pseudo intellectual pick and mix” of values they hold. It’s all enhanced by a knock-out cast who deliver the linguistic gymnastics with class and flair. A touch of class for the autumn theatre season.

Image: Piers Foley

Originally published at The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: Scottish Ballet’s The Crucible – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

American choreographer Helen Pickett seals her reputation as a masterful creator of narrative ballet in her adaptation of Arthur Miller’s seminal play The Crucible. Teaming up with Scottish Ballet, themselves with a not-too-shabby reputation for staging classic American literary works (2012’s A Streetcar Named Desire), together they deliver a gripping, unsettling, goose bump-inducing work.

The prescience of the subject matter is in itself chilling, that a work written at the height of the Cold War and set at the Salem Witch Trials in the 1690’s, has a relevance in 2019, is shuddering to acknowledge.

Pickett’s choreography is refreshingly original, a blast of beautiful, lyrical modernity set against a historic backdrop. Her background as not only a dancer, but accomplished actress, has reaped dividends in this work. Each character is clearly defined, and the choreography is sufficiently emotive, nuanced and descriptive enough to drive the narrative.

Emma Kingsbury and David Finn’s design, dark and claustrophobic, is almost a character in itself and the wonderfully named Peter Salem’s score is a knock-out, pulsating, atmospheric, the sense of foreboding building throughout. It is notable in its perfect reflection of time and place, and is played gorgeously by the Scottish Ballet orchestra.

This is a company of universal quality and the entire work is danced with conviction, Barnaby Rook Bishop shines as John Proctor as does Bethany Kingsley-Garner as his wronged wife Elizabeth, who has matured into a beautifully nuanced dancer, Claire Souet is explosive as the vengeful manipulator Abigail and Katlyn Addison’s powerful, exquisitely danced Tituba is a delight.

This explosive work is a thrill from start to end, a fitting and unmissable addition to Scottish Ballet’s 50th anniversary season.

Runs until 28 September 2019 | Image: Jane Hobson

REVIEW: The Exorcist – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

It’s a work that’s polarised audiences in both book and film form, and now, almost fifty years after William Peter Blatty’s best-selling novel first appeared, the stage version arrives in Glasgow on its first national tour. Is it a horror classic? Is it satanic porn? Is it even suitable for stage adaptation? What can be in no doubt is that many audience members will arrive in the auditorium with a certain set of expectations: will there be head-spinning? projectile vomiting? masturbating with a crucifix? Yes, yes and, err yes.

Inspired by a real 1949 case in Maryland, simply, it’s the story of the demonic possession of 12-year-old Regan MacNeil, daughter of actress Chris, and the repeated attempts to cure what ails her, moving from the worlds of science to religion, ultimately ending in the titular exorcism.

While claiming to explore some bigger themes: faith and disbelief, doubt and courage, it is ultimately an opportunity to be scared witless in the name of entertainment, and the largely solid cast (save for the inevitable adult over-playing a twelve-year-old child in an already over-the top role) and Anna Fleischle’s dimly lit design, complimented by Adam Cork’s soundscape, all help to enhance the sense of creeping tension. It’s a little flabby, even at a short 100 minute running time, and it never matches the nerve-shredding tension of the movie version, but there are sufficient scares to get the blood pumping.

What it does achieve to its credit, is attracting a fresh set of theatre-goers, and provides a welcome relief from anodyne plays and a glut of perpetually touring musicals.

Runs until 21 September 2019 | Image: Contributed (previous production)

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: Opera Highlights (Scottish Opera) – Motherwell Theatre

There’s much to delight in every season at Scottish Opera, but the annual Opera Highlights tour is always a shining star of the programme.

We’re invited to a beautiful country garden where our protagonists are setting the scene for a party. We’re not exactly sure who our host is, but while the action unfolds we are introduced to each character, a little of their back stories and their relationship to one other. The inevitable cases of mistaken identity, star-crossed lovers, heartache and romantic resolution ensue.

Scottish Opera 2019 Autumn Highlights – © Julie Broadfoot – http://www.juliebee.co.uk

Derek Clark, Scottish Opera’s Head of Music has again chosen an eclectic and engaging set of arias, from the comic to the heart-breaking on which to weave the lively narrative. Among pieces by Mozart, Handel, Lehár and Tchaikovsky there are works by Ambroise Thomas, Jean-Baptiste Lully, Mildred Jessup, Alfred Cellier and the great Kurt Weill. There is also a world premier from Scottish Opera’s Composer in residence Samuel Bordoli. As fitting for a tour that’s aim is to bring new audiences to opera, there are a large number of pieces in English, either pieces original written in the language or in translation, increasing the accessibility for opera newbies.

Scottish Opera 2019 Autumn Highlights – © Julie Broadfoot – http://www.juliebee.co.uk

As important as the selection of music is, much depends on the quality of the singers. This year the calibre is universally excellent. The quartet: Soprano Charlie Drummond, Mezzo Martha Jones, Tenor Alex Bevan and Baritone Mark Nathan, as well as having fine voices, are easy to warm to, each can act and draw the audience in, keeping them engaged throughout. Of note is Roxana Haines direction, which is tight and breathes even more life into the already sprightly programme.

Scottish Opera 2019 Autumn Highlights – © Julie Broadfoot – http://www.juliebee.co.uk

If you are an established opera lover or someone curious to find out more, Opera Highlights is the perfect event. The extensive tour continues throughout Scotland (see below for dates and venues).

As ever, a five-star production from Scottish Opera.

The Albert Halls

Stirling

Sat 14 Sep

Book Tickets

Stonehaven Town Hall

Stonehaven

Tue 17 Sep

Book Tickets

Duthac Centre

Tain

Thu 19 Sep

Book Tickets

The Macphail Centre

Ullapool

Sat 21 Sep

Book Tickets

An Lanntair

Stornoway

Tue 24 Sep

Book Tickets

Aros Centre

Portree

Thu 26 Sep

Book Tickets

The Corran Halls

Oban

Sat 28 Sep

Book Tickets

Volunteer Hall, Galashiels

Galashiels

Tue 1 Oct

Book Tickets

Perth Theatre

Perth

Thu 3 Oct

Book Tickets

Carnegie Hall

Dunfermline

Sat 5 Oct

Book Tickets

Thurso High School

Thurso

Tue 8 Oct

Book Tickets

Orkney Theatre

Kirkwall

Thu 10 Oct

Book Tickets

Haddo House

Ellon

Sat 12 Oct

Book Tickets

Ryan Centre

Stranraer

Tue 15 Oct

Book Tickets

Beacon Arts Centre

Greenock

Thu 17 Oct

Book Tickets

The Brunton

Musselburgh

Sat 19 Oct

Book Tickets

 

Amélie – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Amélie:The Musical is based on Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001 Academy Award-winning movie about eternal altruist Amélie Poulain, whose desire to help others, through a series of simple acts of kindness, prevents her from finding love. Amélie escapes her dysfunctional childhood and unhappy home life to work as a waitress in a Paris café where she encounters a rag-tag bunch of bohemian misfits, whose lives she sets out to make that little bit better. This 2019 musical version has been significantly re-worked for the UK tour after a less-than-successful and hugely curtailed run on Broadway in 2017, where it ran for only 56 performances after a hefty 27 days of previews.

Any production has to compete with the visually arresting movie and the tobacco-stained design by Madeleine Girling, with gorgeous lighting by Elliot Griggs, largely succeeds in distancing itself from the iconic big-screen version and establishing itself as its own visual entity. It does however exploit many Gallic clichés in its presentation of the Montmartre café where the action takes place. That said, it is an absolute treat to behold.

The film is a series of quirky vignettes from Amélie’s childhood to her life in Paris (the journey necessary to understand Amélie’s future motivations) and as a result there’s a lot of time spent establishing the back story, resulting in the first act of the musical taking its time to come together and hit its stride. The second act is more cohesive and as a whole it manages to almost replicate the entire movie storyline in the confines of a small-scale, fixed set, an impressive feat.

There are an astonishing 35 musical pieces in total, and if any gripe remains with the show, it’s the lack of variety in style and tone of much of the music, motifs are repeated just a tad too often. Yes, many are gorgeous, and they are perfectly played and sung by the actor/musicians, but many add nothing and arrest the progress of the narrative rather than advance it.

The cast are universally first class, Audrey Brisson (Amélie), a Cirque du Soleil veteran is a less soft but compelling version of our heroine and Danny Mac as the object of her unrequited admiration Nino, is sure-footed throughout.

Amélie seems to have largely overcome its previous faults. It’s a tad too long, something which seems to be endemic in most musicals, and there are a few too many musical intervals, but it looks beautiful and is imaginatively staged, with a plethora of tiny, quirky details to delight. And where else can you see ‘Elton John’, some people-sized, singing and dancing figs,  a suicidal goldfish, a Brazilian carnival dancing gnome and a leading lady coming and going by flying lampshade?

Runs until 24 August 2019 | Image: Contributed

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub 

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