Tag Archives: Ben Lewis

REVIEW: Love Me Tender – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Before Joe DiPietro wrote the multi-award-winning Memphis, he made his Broadway debut with the show All Shook Up, ten years on and All Shook Up has had a shake-up of its own from director and choreographer Karen Bruce and is now touring the UK as Love Me Tender.

A laudable sense of self-awareness elevates DiPietro’s show above the run of the mill, biographical, jukebox musical. Embracing as it does the madness of a show filled with cross-dressing, major misunderstandings, mistaken identity and misplaced love with utter relish is what makes it a winner.

It is as amusing as it is improbable and the humour manages to remain on the right side of charming (albeit with a huge side-order of corny): in a (literally) one-horse town (look out for the amusing sight gags, for this and throughout) a rabble-rousing roustabout arrives in town. There’s no music, no dancing and absolutely no smooching but our rebellious hero sets about using the power of music to change all that.

Aside from its clever self-mockery, another reason for the success of the whole endeavour is a top-notch cast of both theatre and TV favourites and new talent: Australian theatre star Ben Lewis (among whose many roles is the Phantom in Love Never Dies) is an amusing and utterly likeable, if unlikely rabble-rouser,Chad, and sings with gusto some of Elvis’ greatest hits, in rousing voice is soul diva Mica Paris as bar owner Sylvia, who delivers a goosebump inducing rendition of “There’s Always Me”, the pair are ably supported by stage and TV favourite and National Treasure in the making, Shaun Williamson as widowed father Jim and Sian Reeves, relishing the role of over-zealous Mayor whose greatest delight in life is upholding the Mamie Eisenhower Decency Law. But to its credit there’s new talent too: Aretha Ayeh as Sylvia’s daughter battling racial prejudice is a knockout (there’s even an appearance from the KKK!) as are Laura Tebbutt as cross-dressing car mechanic Natalie, Kate Tydman as repressed museum curator Miss Sandra and Mark Anderson as weedy but loyal Dennis.

The music of Elvis is cleverly employed throughout, appearing as snippets, re-arrangements and full-blown production numbers, however a word of caution, if you are a dyed-in-the-wool Elvis fan expecting concert-type renditions of his greatest hits then this may not be the show for you. What it is though, is good clean fun with a great big heart and utterly irresistible.

Yes, the characters are a set of caricatures, yes, it’s cheesy but it is hugely entertaining and in this grim summer it’s a welcome tonic for the soul.

Runs until Saturday 8th August 2015 then touring

This review was originally written for and published by http://www.thepublicreviews.com

REVIEW: Love Me Tender – The Playhouse, Edinburgh

This seemingly ‘new’ musical is actually a decade old, starting life on Broadway in 2005 as All Shook Up, it has been freshened up by director and choreographer Karen Bruce and is now touring the UK prior to a hopeful West End transfer as Love Me Tender.

The story is a familiar one, indeed it takes as its unlikely inspiration Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: charismatic drifter Chad moseys into a one-horse town where the downtrodden locals are under the control of the zealous mayor who has enforced the Mamie Eisenhower Decency Act “no loud music, no public necking and no tight pants” with a guitar on his hip and mischief in mind. Cue love at first sight, cross-dressing, mistaken identity and general mayhem.

Unashamedly cashing in on the eternal popularity of the music of Elvis Presley, the 25 songs are either cleverly or wittily inserted into the script, indeed central to it’s success is the fact that it whole endeavour doesn’t take itself seriously at all, the knowingly silly but witty book moves along at a fair pace  and manages to keep the interest levels high throughout. There are also a raft of witty visual gags to look out for. However, the sheer volume of music leaves little room for complex dialogue or fully developed characterisations. Another gripe is the fact that the rough rock ‘n’ roll edges have been well and truly smoothed off the songs which have all been given a musical theatre gloss over, indeed some of the arrangements are so far removed from the originals that they are rendered almost unrecognisable.

The sheer good natured fun of it all more than makes up for any gripes though, and the cast are universally top-notch: Ben Lewis as Chad has his tongue planted firmly in his cheek throughout and has a good stab at some of The King’s greatest hits, needless to say Mica Paris impresses as bar owner Sylvia and the ever-reliable and loveable Shaun Williamson provides the lion’s share of the evening’s laughs. There’s strong support too, in particular from Mark Anderson as nerdy Dennis and a fine-voiced Aretha Ayeh as Sylvia’s feisty daughter Lorraine and poor Laura Tebbutt deserves a medal for enduring the least flattering costume ever as the cross-dressing Natalie/Ed.

Shakespeare it isn’t but it is hugely entertaining, silly, escapist fun. If it’s a good-natured pick-me-up you’re looking for then look no further.

4 ****

Runs until Saturday 25 July 2015, visiting Glasgow King’s Theatre from 3 – 8 August 2015

REVIEW: Forbidden Broadway – Vaudeville Theatre, London

Since 1981 Gerard Alessandrini’s hysterically funny revue, Forbidden Broadway has been delighting audiences with its pin-sharp parodies of the great and the good of the musical theatre world.

Forbidden Broadway by Gerard Alessandrini. Anna Jane Casey, Damian Humbley, Ben Lewis and Christina Bianco. Credit Alastair Muir.

Known for its biting satire, (it spares no-one, not even the most beloved of performers or shows) it is, for the most part, done with genuine affection. This latest (specifically tailored for the West End) edition has transferred to the Vaudeville Theatre for a limited season after a successful run at the Menier Chocolate Factory and it’s a laugh-out-loud winner from start to finish.

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The cast sing, dance and act their way through a mind-blowing series of scenes at break-neck speed: The Lion King: “A story so bizarrey, it’s Hamlet on safari” and its cast resplendent in stuffed toy head-dresses crying agonisingly: “Can you feel the sprain tonight?”; a somewhat reduced helicopter scene from Miss Saigon and a “The heat is on in Saigon; is there a tune going on?”; The Sondheim parody “Into the Words”; a sweeping dismissal of Once: “once is enough”; Jersey Boys: “Walk like a man, sing like a girl”; Les Mis, where a bored cast member chats on their iPhone behind the barricade and ends with an “I’ll call you after I die,” Jean Valjean gives it welly in the too high bits and the infamous revolve is mercilessly evoked as the cast belt out a threatening “ten more years, ten years more”; the list goes on an on.

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The reason the whole endeavour works so well is the quality of the cast, only those as, if not more, talented than those they parody could possibly get away with this: Anna-Jane Casey, Damian Humbley, Christina Bianco and Ben Lewis are all stars in their own right and each shines.

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One word of caution though, the show is aimed squarely at musical theatre aficionados and a broad knowledge of both the West End and Broadway past and present is required to get the best out of it, so if you don’t know your Sondheim from your Miss Saigon then don’t bother. But if you do – don’t miss it.

Runs until 22nd November