The theatrical behemoth that is Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s first performed musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, really needs no introduction. From a humble cantata performed at Colet Court school in 1968, this most family-friendly of musicals has constantly been touring in one form or another for producer/director Bill Kenwright for 36 years.
This time around TV talent show star Joe McElderry, winner of the sixth series of X Factor (as well as emerging triumphant in Pop Star to Opera Star and The Jump) dons the loincloth and the coat of many colours. Following in the leather sandals of the much-loved Jason Donovan, Phillip Schofield and Any Dream Will Do winner Lee Mead (who, with his head of cascading black curls, McElderry bears a more than passing resemblance to), the pint-sized powerhouse delivers vocals that knock all those who’ve come before him into the proverbial cocked hat and turns in an accomplished acting performance to boot.
Indeed, this production is glorious from start to end. The choreography has been refreshed to give it an infectious energy, as have the musical arrangements (which in parts echo what’s was to come with shades of Jesus Christ Superstar popping up here and there), Tim Rice’s cynically witty lyrics, often squashed by poor performers, hit the mark every time in the hands of this excellent cast, and the sheer quality throughout gives this creaky middle-aged show a new spring in its step.
The staging, as always, is relatively simple but the technicolour tableaux are a treat and there’s still a nod to its school show origins in the dodgy balsa wood camels and the silly touches throughout.
It’s easy to be cynical about a production that’s been around as long as this, but the energy and verve of this hugely talented cast and McElderry’s blockbusting vocals and easy charm will make you fall in love with Joseph all over again. An irresistible delight.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat runs at Glasgow King’s Theatre until Saturday 14 May then touring the UK.
On one hand a masterclass in social climbing: B Movie actress and nightclub ‘hostess’ rises to become the saintly spiritual leader of the poorest and most disaffected in her country, on the other a portrait of a social climber who achieved riches and power in a finely calculated rise to the top. Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita is both a love letter to the saintly Eva Peron and an expose, through Che’s contradictory narrative that highlights Eva’s part in husband Juan Peron’s violent dictatorship, their silencing of enemies and the misappropriation of ‘charity” donations.
Evita is also a show melodically complex and huge in its staging, so it’s a brave undertaking for an amateur company, but Runway Theatre Company prove they are more than a match for Rice and Lloyd Webber’s epic musical.
The stage teems with life and under the disciplined direction of Robert Fyfe the hugely talented cast keep it tight and focussed throughout. Worthy of note is Greg Robertson’s exceptionally clever choreography, which plays to the strengths of a cast that varies in age and ability. At all times it is on-point and highly effective. There are some shining stars in the cast: as Che, Johnny Collins’ performance would put some recent castings in professional productions to shame, his diction is crystal clear and his delivery of Che’s iconic songs, in particular “Oh What a Circus” and “High Flying Adored”, are beautifully judged. Runway regulars J. Campbell Kerr (Peron) and Tom Russell (Magaldi) are in supremely fine voice as ever, as is newcomer Christina Rose Leon as Peron’s mistress. Less successful is Caroline Telfer as Eva, strong in her lower range, she ventures into shrillness in the soaring high notes, she also struggles in duets with Kerr and Collins, appearing to fight against the pair, who are both vocally excellent, instead of harmonising as the melodies require.
Runway do full justice to the dramatic intensity of Rice and Lloyd Webber’s much-loved work. This is a hugely accomplished staging with a stunning ensemble and strong core casting. As ever it leaves you waiting and wondering – what’s next from this exceptionally fine company?
The Boys in the Photograph is a reworking of the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton musical The Beautiful Game,set in the troubled Northern Ireland of 1969. The musical is the story of ordinary people in an extraordinary situation and follows the fortunes of a group of teenagers, all members of a local football team, and their friends.
Under the watchful eye of team coach Father O’Donnell, John and Del both show enough promise to pursue careers as professional footballers. When they find love they become swept up in the events that engulf their community and, as time passes, each has to decide whether or not to follow their hearts.
A show about the northern Irish troubles isn’t the likely choice for a musical, nor a typical subject for your average evening’s entertainment but that is exactly what The Boys in the Photograph is – and boy does it pack an emotional punch.
Unlike its short-lived existence on the West End stage, this production, here in Glasgow by Motherwell College’s BA(Hons) Musical Theatre graduating class, has found a home and an audience with whom its themes of sectarianism and bigotry still resonate.
This is a clever choice of material to showcase the talents of the actors, avoiding the well-worn classic fare as well as the recent preponderance of Stephen Sondheim and Jason Robert Brown productions, allowing as it does the opportunity for powerful and highly emotive acting as well as strong vocal skills. Packed with memorable and vibrant songs from heart-rending ballads to stirring Irish anthems, it would be a hard heart indeed who failed to be moved this piece.
The show benefits from a strong ensemble that deserves credit for effectively supporting the central cast. In the pivotal role of John Kelly, Martin Murphy not only delivers a perfectly judged performance of powerful emotion but also demonstrates fine vocal talent. As Mary, Fiona Harris subtly travels the path from spirited anti-violence protestor to dispirited wife and Bobby Weston turns in a highly-charged performance as Thomas, the classic angry young man blinded by a cause. Credit must also go to Steven Dalziel who deftly handles the only moments of comic relief as the tragic Ginger and the strong-voiced Gill Beattie as Christine.
The spare staging and costume design, also deserve mention, allowing the focus to be firmly on the cast, yet perfectly conveying a sense of place and time.
I can’t overstate how powerfully this material speaks to its audience or the quality of this cast – the audience remained transfixed from start to finish. This is an arresting tale, expertly realised and richly deserving acclaim – leaving a lasting impression long after the final note has rung out. Hopefully this won’t be the last we see of this musical or this fine cast.
A show that takes as its inspiration T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats wouldn’t at first seem to be the most likely premise for a musical, but 31 years on from its debut at the New London Theatre, Cats, the award-winning and record-breaking musical returns triumphant for this UK tour.
“On just one special night of the year, all Jellicle cats meet at the Jellicle Ball where Old Deuteronomy, their wise and benevolent leader, makes the Jellicle choice and announces which of them will go up to the heaviside layer and be reborn into a whole new Jellicle life.”
Despite its somewhat unusual source material, this is a captivating and engaging story. From the first explosion of twinkling lights and music to the dynamic end, every member of the audience, which included some very tiny members, was utterly mesmerised.
Part of the show’s success is the variety of tone and pace; there is never a point where the interest is allowed to wane. However, the most magical thing about this musical is the sheer skill of the cast. The actors bring the brilliantly observed characters thrillingly alive. Rarely can the word faultless be used for the whole of an ensemble. The complexity of the choreography and the effortlessness with which it is executed is truly to be marvelled at. It is a show of tiny details – each cast member limiting their movements and gestures to only those which a cat can actually do, (the exquisite hand gestures were, to a man, executed with thumbs firmly attached to their “paws”). After a time the movement is so enthralling that it becomes almost hypnotic.
It is difficult to single out any individual performer in a knock-out cast, but particularly captivating were: Ben Palmer as Munkustrap, rarely off-stage for the entirety of the show, the intricacy of his movements and focus and attention to detail were compelling to watch. Ross Finnie, a cast member from the original production, recreates his character Skimbleshanks with an engaging warmth and charm, and Oliver Savile raises the biggest cheers of the evening with his attention grabbing rebel with a glint in his eye Rum Tum Tugger.
It wouldn’t be a review of cats without mention of Grisabella who sings the most well-known of all the musical’s songs – Memory. Joanna Ampill, international star of Miss Saigon and Les Miserables, beautifully embodies the role of the “Glamour Cat”, shunned by the other Jellicle cats for leaving the tribe to explore the outside world. Weighed down and wearied by her life she desperately tries to return to the fold. Her, at first tentative and heart-breaking rendition of Memory in the first act gives way to a powerful and soaring rendition in the second, leaving the audience with goosebumps and the hairs on the back of their necks on end.
This is a sharply crafted show, beautifully realised and masterfully executed by its phenomenal cast. It is infused with electrifying energy leaving its audience transfixed from start to finish. If this first show audience is anything to go by this will be a sell-out. I urge you to get a ticket if you can – unmissable.
Runs at the Edinburgh Playhouse until Saturday 7th March
Cats was originally directed by Trevor Nunn, with choreography by Gillian Lynne and set and costume design by John Napier. Chrissie Cartwright re-creates the direction and choreography for this tour.
CATS opened at the New London Theatre on 11 May 1981 and played almost 9,000 performances. It closed on 11 May 2002 having celebrated 21 record-breaking years and winning an Olivier Award for Best Musical (1981). On Broadway it was the winner of 7 Tony Awards (including Best Musical and Best Director) and ran for an amazing 18 years making it second only to The Phantom of the Opera as Broadway’s longest running musical.
The publicity surrounding this newly revitalised Jesus Christ Superstar has been plentiful and vocal. From the naysayers who have decried it before even seeing it, to those railing against the snobbery surrounding it, who welcome the extravaganza with open arms. For what it’s worth here are my thoughts.
The score of this musical is demanding on its performers and success of this piece almost always hinges on the abilities of the singers involved. Search for a Superstar winner Ben Forster may have manged to belt out a few numbers on his TV journey to the role of Jesus but here his limited vocal range is exposed – fine when he’s in range but seriously under-powered when he’s not. His acting skills are also woefully limited, swinging between pained and pouting and not much else. Melanie C is an anaemic Mary Magdalene – again vocally under-powered and is in possession of a rather ear-grating nasal whine. The stand out star turn and power-house performance of the night is given by Tim Minchin who conveys the anger and anguish of Judas beautifully, though his vocals sometimes suffer from the efforts of his acting. Chris Moyles as Herod, only on stage for 3 minutes, milks it for all it’s worth and equips himself with more aplomb than you would imagine. Sheer theatrical class though is displayed by Alexander Hanson as Pilate whose experience on stage shows his younger counterparts how it should be done. Beautiful acting and a fantastic voice.
Director Laurence Connor brings us a rather rawer and grittier setting for this production: referencing the London riots of last summer, Guantanamo Bay, the Occupy movement and reality TV, indeed, the re-staging is one of the highlights of the production. My only complaint would be the sheer vastness of both the stage and the cast, often rendering the detail and any ensemble performances invisible.
However there was a large and very vocal number of audience members at the SECC last night complaining that they had absolutely no view of the stage in their £65 seats.
The action takes place in the centre of a square set with enormous scaffolding (containing the musicians) rising either side to the ceiling. However, this rendered the action completely invisible for anyone who wasn’t dead-straight, centre-front of the stage. The enormous screen at the rear of the stage which may have helped some of the audience follow the action was also completely obliterated by the staging.
This has always been one of my favourite musicals, it is certainly the musical I’ve seen the most and I’ve seen it staged in many forms. The experience, though a thoroughly enjoyable one, left me with a feeling that something was missing, it was neither fish nor fowl – never fully embracing its theatrical origins and never fully submitting itself to the full rock concert experience. It was a new and not entirely successful hybrid. Fundamentally this is a piece of theatre and despite its pounding rock score the subtleties, emotion and often delicate power that sets it apart from the rest has been lost in this vast arena.
Enjoy the rock spectacle, marvel at the size of the cast, revel in seeing Tim Minchin give a glimpse of his genius but take it from me – this is a beautifully written piece and is best seen at its simplest, I hope that those who see this for the first time here, go and see it in a theatre if it ever tours again.
After 25 phenomenal years in the West End and the 25th anniversary concert at the Royal Albert Hall last year, this new production, based on the Albert Hall celebration, is touring the UK.
The rather decaying glamour of the Edinburgh Playhouse with its faded colours, peeling paint and candle-lit gloom, is unintentionally, atmospherically and appropriately setting the scene for this production of what it is arguably Andrew Lloyd Webber’s masterwork Phantom of the Opera.
The key to the success of this re-staged Phantom is a foot-perfect, note-perfect and emotionally pitch-perfect cast. Added to that the brilliantly inventive design and new direction by Laurence Connor this is now a show with greater emotion and depth.
John Owen-Jones as The Phantom is an actor playing his strongest role. It is a role he has played a record-breaking 2000 times but to his credit it is as fresh as someone playing it for the first time. He brings real emotion and a tender vulnerability to his acting which makes you feel the pain of the man in the mask. He does, as always, sing with a voice so beautiful it would soften the hardest of hearts.
Katie Hall, is a very young Christine, but despite her youth she manages to convey the necessary fearfulness, love and a real sense of longing, which makes the love triangle between the Phantom, and Raoul far more believable.
Simon Bailey is renowned for his beautiful voice but here he gets the chance to show his acting chops, delivering a well-rounded performance, imbuing the often weakly characterised Raoul with drive and strength.
The production is impeccable throughout. It would be easy to enthuse for hours about the set, costumes and music, but that would only spoil the surprises in store. Tickets are like gold-dust for this month-long run and deservedly so, it is a rare thing to see a cast of this calibre and a production of this quality on tour. Beg, borrow or steal a ticket – you’ll regret it if you don’t.
Runs until 20th October at Edinburgh Playhouse details here.
There are amateur theatre companies and there are amateur theatre companies, and Runway Theatre Company are no ordinary amateur theatre company, this production, the Scottish amateur premier of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jim Steinman’s Whistle Down The Wind must be the closest to professional perfection that I’ve seen.
In an evening of delights it is hard to know where to start heaping praise: From the richness of the sound of the accomplished orchestra; to the stunningly versatile set; the soaring multi-layered voices of the ensemble; the scene-stealing junior players to the astonishing quality of the principals, this was in a class apart.
Special praise must go to Elle MacKenzie as Swallow whose crystal-clear soprano was a joy; to Kate McVey and Ethan Kerr whose performances belie their ages, both performing with a focus and strength that many adults could only aspire to – all the while never faltering in maintaining convincing American accents; but the most praise must go to the phenomenal power-house that is J Campbell Kerr. It is rare to see a performance of this quality on any stage let alone an amateur one. Kerr’s acting is pitch-perfect but his voice is simply sublime – good enough to challenge any of our celebrity tenors or baritones out there – indeed much of the interval chat was praising Kerr as a rival to Alfie Boe.
This simply shines with sheer quality from curtain up to curtain down. I urge you to beat a path to the Mitchell Theatre door before this ends on Saturday.
Ticket info from: Susan Russell 07801 048527 or firstname.lastname@example.org
STARLIGHT EXPRESS opened to packed houses at the Apollo Victoria in London’s West End in 1984 where it ran for over 7000 performances. It is one of the most successful musicals ever written with the original German production still running in its purpose built theatre in Bochum after 25 years.
Andrew Lloyd Webber originally wrote Starlight for his own children: It follows the dreams of a child whose toy trains come to life to take part in the greatest race of all time.
Although the storyline is well-used – the underdog who wins the race and the love of his life – it’s the spectacle of the skating, the glitz and sheer effort that make this show such an endearing piece of theatre. You would need to be very hard-hearted indeed not to be moved by its charms.
There is certainly plenty to keep the little’ uns as well as the grown-ups amused. The pounding beat of the music and the catchy refrains have both children and adults alike mouthing along. This production is of course, a scaled down version of the original with the famous race scenes now represented through 3D projections, but the dazzling lighting, eye-catching costumes and stunning choreography, as well as the sheer skill and talent of the cast mean that it is hard to fault it.
As Rusty, the steam train who comes out on top, Kristofer Harding (above right) has a charming innocence, as well as a fine voice that endears him to the audience. In complete contrast Jamie Capewell (below right) as Greaseball, is delightfully cocky as the Elvis-style diesel locomotive with the glint in his eye.
Mykal Rand (below centre) is a superbly camp Electra – the villain the children love to hate.
This is an excellent ensemble piece as every member of the highly talented cast literally has to pull their weight as well as each others!
It has a fabulous feel-good factor and you’ll still be smiling long after you’ve left the theatre. If you can get to the Edinburgh Playhouse in the next two weeks – then go – I promise you won’t be disappointed. This is a rare thing; entertaining,charming and heart-warming and shows like this don’t come around very often.
I watched this last night after a fortuitous sale purchase. Now it’s easy to criticise everything Andrew Lloyd Webber produces. So with an open mind, I sat down to enjoy this.
And did I? Absolutely! In the confines of The Royal Albert Hall which by no stretch of the imagination can be called a theatre – this was magnificent.
It stars Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess as The Phantom and Christine, both veterans of the original Phantom and the recent follow up Love Never Dies.
Now, Karimloo has his detractors among theatre critics but he is also regarded by many as the golden boy of musical theatre. Here, he is impressive. His voice soars and he is, in turn, sinister, menacing and heartbreakingly vulnerable.
The supporting cast is made up of Phantom veterans and members of the current Her Majesty’s production. It has a cast and orchestra of over 200 in contrast to the usual 40. On the whole they equip themselves very well, however the inclusion of Wynne “Go Compare” Evans was a bit of a jarring note.
Outside of his Gino Compario costume I’m not sure anyone in the audience actually knew who he was, and when he was called to fluff some notes for comedic effect the audience didn’t quite get the joke and remained silent.
Hadley Fraser plays Raoul and has an incredible voice, with great strength and power and phenomenal tone, he was absolutely excellent in the role, playing it with a maturity that is often lacking in other castings. Instead of the spoilt little rich boy whom you wonder why Christine would ever consider, he gives The Phantom a run for his money and you really believe Christine’s dilemma.
As with many recent productions this features a lot of projected scenery, now I’m not thoroughly convinced of its effectiveness as it can sometimes lack atmosphere but here, combined with props – it works.
If you get a chance to see this go for it, it really is worth it. If you’re a fan of The Phantom already you’ll love it!
I’m definitely on a mission to see as many of the musicals that I’ve missed over the years as I can. This year there’s a bumper crop of revivals on tour so I’m managing to cross a few off. Today it’s Evita. The story goes… “It is 26th July 1952. A young Argentine student, Che, is among the audience in a Buenos Aires cinema when the film is stopped by an announcement that Eva Peron, “the spiritual leader of the nation, has entered immortality”.
Eva’s funeral is majestic, a combination of the magnificent excesses of the Vatican and of Hollywood. Che is the only non-participant. Throughout the opera the role of Che is that of commentator and observer.
Flashback to 1934. A night club in Junin, Eva’s home town Eva Duarte is just 15. She asks the singer appearing in the club, Agustin Magaldi, with whom she has had a brief affair, to take her to the big city – Buenos Aires. He is reluctant, but she gets her way.
Once in Buenos Aires, Eva quickly disposes of Magaldi and works her way through a string of men, each of whom helps her one rung more up the ladder of fame and fortune. She becomes a successful model, broadcaster and film actress.
1943. Colonel Juan Peron is one of several military leaders close to the presidency of Argentina which in recent years has proved a far from secure job for its tenant. At a charity concert (featuring Eva’s old friend Magaldi) held to raise money for the victims of an Argentine earthquake, Eva and Peron meet. They both realise that each has something the other wants. From now on Eva hitches her ambitions to the political star. She evicts Peron’s mistress from his flat and moves into Peron’s life to such an extent that she excites the extreme wrath of two factions who were to remain her enemy until her death – the Army and the Aristocracy.
As the political situation becomes even more uncertain it is Eva rather than Peron who is more determined that he should try for the highest prize in Argentina – the presidency, supported by the workers whose backing she and Peron have long cultivated. Eva’s ambition is fulfilled, and from the balcony of the Casa Rosada on the day of Peron’s inauguration as president, the vast crowd gives Evita, now Peron’s wife, an even greater reception than that accorded to Peron – thanks to her emotional and brilliant speech and to her striking appearance. Che notes and experiences some of the violence that was never far away from Peron.
Che asks Eva about herself and her success but does not meet with a great response. Eva’s main concern is her forthcoming tour of Europe which begins in a blaze of glory in Spain but meets with later setbacks in Italy and France. She never gets to England at all.
On her return home, Eva resolves to concentrate solely on Argentine affairs, undeterred by continual criticism from the society of Buenos Aires. Che points out that the regime has to date done little or nothing to improve the lot of those Eva claims to represent – the working classes.
Eva launches the Eva Peron Foundation, which is a huge concern of shambolic accountancy and of little practical benefit to the nation’s economy but which helps to elevate her to near goddess status in the eyes of some of those who benefited from the Fund – including children. Che’s disenchantment with Eva is now total. He sneers at those who adore her and for the last time tries to question her about her motivation and the darker side of the Peron administration. Eva’s response is that of the pragmatist, ‘There is evil ever around, fundamental.’ She has realised that she is ill.
Anti-Eva feeling among the military reaches new heights and Che lists several of the major failures and abuses of the Peron administration. He draws attention to her illness. Peron and Eva discuss the worsening situation – he is losing his grip on the government, she is losing her strength. Eva refuses to give in to her illness and resolves to become vice-president. But the opposition to her from the army is too great; more importantly her body lets her down. She knows that she is dying and makes a broadcast to the nation, rejecting the post of vice-president, a position she knows she could never have won.
In her last hours, images, people and events of her life flow through Eva’s mind, while the nation’s grief knows no bounds – to the mass of the people she has become a saint. As her life draws to a close she wonders whether she would have been happier as an obscure ordinary person. Maybe then her life would have been longer…Che looks back on her short life at the same time, but hints at different conclusions.
But even in death she is denied obscurity. The moment she dies the embalmers move in to preserve her fragile body to be ‘displayed forever’ although this never happened. The story of the escapades of the corpse of Eva Peron during the quarter century after her death is almost as bizarre as the story of her life.
This is a sumptuous production which the photos don’t do justice to. I heard from a fellow audience member who had seen last year’s tour that this one was much richer and more detailed looking than that. Just a great show, sung and played beautifully with a story of substance – go and see it if you can.