Tag Archives: DVD

REVIEW: Billy Elliot Live! DVD

You would be forgiven for thinking that Billy Elliot is the much-loved but tired old workhorse of the West End: still pulling in the crowds but maybe lacking a little of its previous magic, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. This is a musical with enormous heart and soul, one that still has the power to move an audience and remains as thrillingly alive as the day it bounded on stage, almost ten years and 10 million ticket sales ago.


Ruthie Henshall, Deka Walmsley and Elliot Hanna Image © Adam Sorenson

More serious and therefor ultimately more satisfying than the usual musical theatre fodder, it resists the urge to sanitise the issues it touches upon, not least the effect of the miners’ strike of the 80’s which is at the heart of the tale, but it also features: Alzheimer’s, alcoholism, feminism, the loss of a parent, the class system, domestic violence and missed opportunity.

Based on Stephen Daldry’s 2000 film, it is, of course, the story of 11 year old Billy from a beleaguered mining village in the North East of England and his battle with his striking miner father to pursue his dream of becoming a dancer.


Deka Walmsley and Elliott Hanna Image © Adam Sorenson

Lee Hall’s raw, vivid and expletive filled script is as uncompromising as the times in which it is set. It is written with a sharp wit and an even sharper intelligence, and takes the audience on a genuine emotional rollercoaster ride. There’s no schmaltz here: every laugh wrought or tear shed by the audience is heart-felt.

The music by Sir Elton John and lyrics by Lee Hall are a veritable smorgasbord of musical styles: there’s a glitzy show tune beside a powerful anthem next to a jaunty folk tune next to a heart-wrenching ballad. There’s much to delight and keep the ears pleased throughout. A particular stand-out is the stirring “Once We Were Kings”.


Liam Mower and Elliott Hanna. Image © Adam Sorenson

Ian MacNeil’s set design evokes life in a beleaguered mining village in the 80’s and is cleverly ragged around the edges.

The choreography from Peter Darling is inventive and energetic, and is a clever balance between the rough edged: in the burgeoning talent of Billy and the burly miners and police and the refinement of the big show stopping numbers. Darling’s originality is particularly well showcased in the astonishingly clever “Solidarity” sequence.


Ruthie Henshall and cast © Adam Sorenson

Elliot Hanna is an outstanding Billy, his beautifully judged acting matching his sublime dancing skills perfectly. It’s easy to forget that this is a child carrying the weight of this show on his tiny shoulders, the maturity with which he pitches his performance is astonishing and is no better demonstrated in the touching relationship between Billy and best pal Michael and in the interactions with Granny. Deka Warmsley is particularly menacing as Billy’s dad and his transformation from prejudice to acceptance of his gifted son is touchingly done. The ensemble, rare for a long-running musical are of a particularly high quality, it would be churlish to single out any particular member as they are all first rate. The only gripe with the cast would be Ruthie Henshall, a West End veteran of many years standing, who is a tad vocally underpowered and has one of the dodgiest accents onstage (only to be surpassed in dodginess by the horrific attempt at a Scottish accent by one of the ensemble). One delightful and moving touch though, is the casting of the first ever stage Billy Liam Mower, now one of the country’s most highly regarded dancers with Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, as the older Billy. The scene between the two has the audience weeping on their droves.


Original ‘Billy’ Liam Mower returns. Image © Adam Sorenson

This is a musical that leaves an impression long after the curtain has fallen and it certainly leaves you with no mascara by the end, it is real and relatable and this DVD release is a perfect representation of a perfect show.


The ‘Billy Mash Up’ Image © Craig Sugden

The DVD comes with a charming backstage introduction from Elliot Hana and there’s a behind the scenes ‘making of’ video too. There’s also the magical and moving ‘Billy mash-up” where 25 of the actors who have previously played Billy, including the original trio Liam Mower, James Lomas and George Maguire dance together.


The three original Billys: James Lomas, George Maguire and Liam Mower. Image © Craig Sugden

The Billy Elliot Live! DVD will be released on Monday 24th November 2014

Title image Adam Sorenson

DVD: The Heat is On – The making of Miss Saigon documentary

I caught this documentary a few months ago about the making of Miss Saigon twenty years ago. It’s a fascinating insight into how a show on this scale is made and an embarrassing glimpse at the fashions of the 1980’s – curly perms and legwarmers abound!

By Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, with lyrics by Boublil and Richard Maltby, Jr. It is based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly, and similarly tells the tragic tale of a doomed romance involving an Asian woman abandoned by her American lover. The setting of the plot is relocated to the 1970s Saigon during the Vietnam War, and Madame Butterfly’s American Lieutenant and Japanese geisha coupling is replaced by a romance between an American GI and a Vietnamese bar girl.

The musical premiered at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in London on 20 September 1989, closing after over four thousand performances, on 30 October 1999 (putting it in the top 10 longest running West End musicals). The musical represented Schönberg and Boublil’s second major success, following Les Misérables which is mentioned in the passing here – little do they know that Les Mis would reach 26 years in the West End and going stronger than ever. The original production starred a very young Simon Bowman, (pictured above with Lea Salonga) and Jonathan Pryce, Peter Polycarpou, Monique Wilson and Claire Moore. Twenty years on Bowman is still starring in the West End – last seen as a magnificent Jean Valjean in Les Mis.

The most uncomfortable thing about the whole thing was the casting of the very Anglo-Saxon Jonathan Pryce as The Engineer (seen below), a character who is clearly Eurasian. The fact that at the time the taping down of his eyes is of no consequence, really jars today. It shows just how much things have changed. Incidentally he’s not the only English actor with taped up eyes!!!

It’s an interesting watch, if, for nothing else, to see how badly the actors are treated!

FEATURE: Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary DVD

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!

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