Tag Archives: Musical

REVIEW: The Rat Pack Live From Las Vegas – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Aiming to recreate the heyday of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr, The Rat Pack Live From Las Vegas has the potential to be a huge crowd-pleaser. The show, created by Mitch Sebastian has been doing the rounds both on tour and in the West End since 2002 with little change to its seemingly successful formula.

It’s the early 50s, the Sands Hotel and not only are the Rat Pack in town but Jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald is too. While it aims to create that Las Vegas glamour, the set is simplistic: the band on a raised platform, a grand piano, some stools and a representation of the Sands famous logo, are all that decorates the set, so it’s down to the music and the performers to sell the show.

First impressions are good, the band, under the tight musical direction of Matthew Freeman, are outstanding: crisp and pin-sharp, they recreate the sound of the best of the big bands, Freeman also has a fine, fine touch on the piano. Garrett Phillips as Frank Sinatra also makes his mark, recreating Sinatra’s sonorous tone perfectly as well as his idiosyncratic phrasing, although he’s entirely wooden as he moves around the stage. David Hayes has captured some of the voice, but is the least co-ordinated Sammy Davis Jr you are likely to see – for a man renowned for his dancing skills, you can’t help think they could have tried a little harder in the casting and while a heavily panstick-ed Nigel Casey has Dean Martin’s shtick down-pat and moves well, he is often over-powered by the band. Nicola Emmanuel as Ella Fitzgerald makes a fleeting appearance and while entirely competent, fails to make much of an impression.

While there is a fair representation of the main trio’s biggest hits: I’ve Got You Under My Skin, Mr Bojangles, That’s Amore, to name a few, there are some less well known numbers that will either delight or frustrate. In the case of this reviewer, it frustrates somewhat. With three (and with Fitzgerald, four) artists with such rich back catalogues, there is space to make this an evening of out-and-out highs, however, the uneven nature of the song choices means the evening never really hits its stride. That coupled with some utterly cringe-worthy linking dialogue and an attempt at humour in the second act, that falls flat on its face – you can feel the tumbleweed slowly making its way across the stage – you can’t help feel that it’s all an opportunity missed.

There’s undoubtedly talent on the stage, both in the singers and musicians, but their potential is not being exploited. It’s time to get rid of the sexist, racist and homophobic banter and while there’s an argument that it’s reflective of the era represented, it’s just lazy, especially with a cast with so much to give musically – less chat, more music please. These artists and they way they sang these songs can speak for themselves. An overhaul is needed to get the most from the music and the cast. Still an enjoyable evening if you concentrate on the music and ignore all the filler.

Runs until 10 February 2018 | Image: Betty Zapata

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub here

REVIEW: London Road- Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Chandler Studio Theatre, Glasgow

That anyone thought that a musical about the serial murders of five sex workers in sleepy Ipswich in 2006 would be suitable source material for a musical, might rightfully have been called utterly misguided – thoroughly insensitive, in fact, but that’s the premise for Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork’s London Road.

Delivered verbatim style, the lyrics are culled from interviews that creator Alecky Blythe conducted with the real inhabitants of London Road. The musical a reflection of how the residents, sex workers and media dealt with the terrifying and sensational events unfolding around them.

This work defies every preconception you might have about it. It is thoughtful, intelligent and utterly compelling and there’s not a whiff of exploitation or sensationalism throughout (neither the killer, Steve Wright (dubbed the Suffolk Strangler) nor his victims appear (save for a ‘blanket over the head’ moment when Wright is rushed to the courthouse). Each group involved are given their voice, no matter how unpalatable or un-PC it might be. The honesty and raw truth of it all is what sets it above its contemporaries. The plaudits the work received on its debut at the National Theatre, utterly deserved.

The work is in the safe hands of the 3rd year BA Musical Theatre students at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, under the direction of Philip Howard, and their quality and commitment to the work, make it unmissable. The large ensemble cast is faultless. The set design from Meghan Grieve, suitably dark and atmospheric, with an abundance of beautifully realised tiny details, the choreography by EJ Boyle is innovative and eye-catching. The only gripe would be the ear-splittingly loud band which overpowers the vocals and drowns out the lyrics at times.

This is a work of the utmost quality and a refreshing change to the lightweight musical theatre fluff that abounds – tickets are like gold dust, but if you can secure one – you won’t regret it.

Runs until 1 December 2017

REVIEW: Soho Cinders – Webster’s Theatre, Glasgow

It’s refreshing to see George Stiles and Anthony Drew’s little seen modern adaptation of Cinderella, Soho Cinders being staged in Glasgow, and highly anticipated when you know it’s Mad Props Theatre Company who are producing it. Known for fearless and original choices in their artistic output, Soho Cinders is another first for the company.

Life isn’t going well for skint student Robbie. His mother has died, and his lap-dancing club owning step-sisters have upped the rent on his beloved late mum’s launderette where he works and threatened to turf him out, coupled with that he’s fallen in love with the bisexual, engaged to a woman, London mayoral candidate, James. Oh, and to complicate matters even further, he’s also involved in a rather unconventional financial arrangement with a ‘fairy godfather’ Lord Bellingham.

The path of true love never runs smooth and needless to say there’s many a twist and turn until our Robbie is reunited with his mobile phone (the contemporary version of a glass slipper) and boy gets boy in the end.

There’s potential for Stiles and Drew’s work to be a bit more biting and make a bigger statement, but it remains a lightweight piece of fluff. The characters have been created with broad brushstrokes and the simplistic storytelling undermines the more serious points the musical is trying to make.

It has the feel both in tone and musically of Legally Blonde and Mamma Mia. There are also musical snippets that are reminiscent of Jesus Christ Superstar of all things. That said, the entire score is varied in style and pleasant on the ear. There are some knock-out tunes too – in particular, They Don’t Make Glass Slippers, sung by Mad Props stalwart Dominic Spencer (Soho Cinders marks his welcome return to the stage) they need him to elevate this average musical to something special, and he does. His rendition of this haunting ballad will leave you with goose-bumps. Marie-Anne McGrattan and Louise Daly-Creechan as Robbie’s grotesque step-sisters generate the lion’s share of the laughs, they look as if they’re having a ball and their energy transmits to the auditorium.

The supporting cast are universally solid and Jon Cuthbertson delivers a particularly repulsive turn as political aide William (his storyline uneasily resonant in light of the current sexual harassment scandals). Less successful is Stuart Taylor as Robbie’s love James. His voice doesn’t sound fully warmed up and it is often inaudible. On a side note, and a great coup for the company, the voice of Big Brother, Marcus Bentley provides the dead-pan narration.

Well worth watching for musical theatre aficionados who relish the chance to see less frequently staged works, and worth it alone to hear Dominic Spencer back in his finest form.

Runs until Saturday 4 November 2017 at Websters Theatre Glasgow.

Ticket details here

REVIEW: La Cage aux Folles – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

The much-loved La Cage aux Folles has had a long history: from Jean Poiret’s original 1973 play, then the 1978 French/Italian movie production, it became a stage musical in 1983 before becoming the English language film The Birdcage in 1996. It’s surprising to learn that despite numerous Broadway and West End revivals this is the first professional UK tour.

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Georges (Adrian Zmed) and Albin (John Partridge) run the most glamorous nightclub in St. Tropez, where Albin stars as the glamorous drag artist Zaza. When Georges’ son Jean-Michel (Dougie Carter) announces his plans to marry the daughter of a straight-laced homophobic politician set on closing the nightclub, mayhem ensues.

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It’s astonishing to think that this show is nearly 45 years old and even more astonishing to think how long it has taken for attitudes to change. This story of tolerance and acceptance is wrapped up in a blinding amount of sequins and feathers, and yes, it is awash with every camp cliché, but thankfully, Tony Award-winning Harvey Fierstein’s adaptation does justice to both the original subject matter and the message it conveys. It may sound glib to say it, but La Cage aux Folles is truly heart-warming, and the oohs, aaaahs, whistles and boos it elicits from its audience and the absolute warmth with which the whole production is received is enough to melt the most frozen of hearts.

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Gary McCann’s design reads well in the auditorium, the full-on glamour of the club contrasting well with the faded glamour of Georges and Albin’s apartment and the costumes are universally on-point.

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Partridge is an oustanding Albin/Zaza, it is a role tailor-made to showcase his acting, dancing and singing skills and US TV favourite Adrian Zmed is a fine Georges, there’s a deftness of touch in his portrayal of a character that could easily have been rendered a caricature, he is also in possession of a fine singing voice. Dougie Carter as son Jean-Michel is also a stand-out, a fine actor, his classic, musical-theatre tenor voice is a joy. Unusually, and wonderfully, there isn’t a single weak-link in the entire production.

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This is a production that will put a spring in the step and a song in the heart of even the most jaded theatre-goer. In a theatre scene brimful of repeated revivals and lacklustre works, this is a breath of fresh air – a genuine must-see.

Runs at Glasgow, King’s Theatre until Saturday 29 July 2017

All images: Pamela Raith

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Wonderland – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

In Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy’s Wonderland, their take on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Alice is now a 40-year-old divorcée. After a particularly bad day: lost her job, car stolen, ex-husband about to get re-married (you get the picture), the White Rabbit appears to Alice and her teenage daughter Ellie. Alice follows Ellie and her next-door neighbour (and secret admirer) Jack down the rabbit hole (a broken high-rise lift shaft) so far, so psychedelic and the trio embark on a voyage of discovery and redemption for both Alice and the whole of Wonderland.

Despite initial impressions that this is merely a modernised Alice, it’s actually a riff on finding yourself, moving forward instead of remaining mired in the past and the corruption of power, with a few dozen extra plot lines unfamiliar to anyone’s who has read Carroll’s work thrown in for good measure. All wrapped up in such a coating of saccharine sweet sentiment that any message it hoped to convey is in a diabetic coma. The song titles alone indicate the production’s intentions: I Am My Own Invention, This is Who I Am, I Will Prevail.

Festooned in eye-popping visuals (it’s a rainbow smorgasbord of colour) and delivered at road-drill volume, this mish-mash relies heavily on its performers to keep the attention, thankfully, they are largely excellent. Leading lady Rachael Wooding is a fine-voiced Alice as is Jersey Boys veteran Stephen Webb who provides some memorable comic relief. TV favourite Wendy Peters particularly impresses with a phenomenal set of pipes. Less successful is Naomi Morris as Alice’s daughter Ellie, in a rush to machine-gun her lines out, they are completely garbled. The supporting performers and ensemble are universally strong.

While the songs are executed well, they are largely forgettable and every one of them, two verses too long. It’s all a bit Eastern European Eurovision Song Contest circa 1990. Untroubled by any sense of self-doubt or skills of self-criticism, it’s never knowingly understated.

While this is a colourful spectacle with a fine cast, the material is just too in your face and the sentiment too forced to have any impact.

Runs until 8 July 2017 | Image: Paul Coltas

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: The Wedding Singer – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Based on the 1998 Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore romantic comedy of the same name, The Wedding Singer cashes in our nostalgia for the decade that taste forgot: big hair, big shoulder pads, and even bigger mobile phones.

Jilted at the altar, hapless romantic Robbie Hart (Jon Robyns), is resigned to living in his grandma’s basement and consigned to making a living singing at other people’s weddings. When he meets waitress Julia (Cassie Compton), she sets his broken heart a-flutter. Unfortunately, Julia is already engaged to oily, Wall Street banker Glen (Ray Quinn). As it always is in musical comedies, there’s many a misstep until the duo are ultimately united.

If you are a regular theatre-goer, you would be justified in being cynical about the seemingly never-ending trend of film to stage adaptations. With an audience almost guaranteed and less work required to convert an already written script, (here, it’s down to original screenwriter Tim Herlihy to adapt his own work) they are appearing from the woodwork at an alarming rate.

The flimsy plot is formulaic, and instead of being ‘hilarious’ as billed, it’s amusing. There’s also a high cringe factor with heavy-handed 80s references and cheesy jokes shoe-horned in. That’s those that you can hear over the over-amped band. And, yes, it’s supposed to be fluffy entertainment, but the two-dimensional characterisations of the women are woefully stereotypical: good girls longing to get married, slutty side-kicks and mad old grannies.

Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin’s score is largely forgettable. A few real-life 80s hits (as there were in the movie) may have elevated it above mere pastiche. That said, there’s a stand-out tune in Ray Quinn’s rendition of the ode to the dollar, All About The Green.

Nick Winston has laced the choreography with nods to MTV’s greatest video hits. There’s some impressive footwork in the all-male Single, and Ray Quinn shines in the few chances he gets.

Disappointingly Francis O’Connor’s costumes are less 80s excess than they could be, it all looks a bit polished, and ‘modern’ and the set design is functional rather than visually stimulating.

While the plot is thin and the music lightweight, there are a few stand-outs in the cast: Jon Robyns has been a West End leading man in waiting for years, here, he finally gets the chance to shine in a leading role. The talented Ray Quinn is underused and the biggest cheers of the night go to stage and screen veteran Ruth Madoc, who kicks up a storm as Robbie’s potty-mouthed, rapping granny.

There’s so much unmined potential here, an already well-loved film has been reduced to a mere ghost of itself and this over-long adaptation with its often unnecessary, repetitive and uninspiring songs, render this a shadow of what it could have been.

Runs until 22 April 2017 | Image: Contributed

THIS REVIEW WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR AND PUBLISHED BY THE REVIEWS HUB

REVIEW: All or Nothing – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

A guitar smashes, someone storms off stage and so starts the story of seminal Mod band The Small Faces.

Following in the footsteps of the Kinks’ musical Sunny Afternoon, All or Nothing capitalises on the wave of nostalgia for 60s bands, and covers the four short, turbulent years (1965-1969) from the band’s inception to frontman Steve Marriott’s departure, leaving the story of his replacement, (Rod Stewart) and reinvention as The Faces, for another show.

Narrated by an older incarnation of Marriott (Chris Simmons), the show retains the raw, rough-at-the-edges quality of the band whose story it tells. The story is depressingly familiar to fans of 60s music: exploitation, both financially and artistically by their management (in this case by Don Arden, famously the father of Sharon Osborne); gruelling schedules of endless touring and promotion, drugs, disappointment and creative differences. Along the way, there are cameos from musical contemporaries Dusty Springfield, Sonny and Cher, and Marriott’s one-time girlfriend P.P. Arnold as well as the word-mangling Stanley Unwin and Tony Blackburn.

The anger and swagger of the participants are well represented here, Marriott famously decrying Lennon and McCartney’s output as “Merseybeat girl music.” Described as a band that ‘looked sharp and sounded even sharper,’ the quality of the ‘band’ is critical to the show’s success. There’s a gig-like atmosphere throughout that adds an extra element of realism to the proceedings. The central quartet (Samuel Pope, Stanton Wright, Stefan Edwards and Josh Maddison) is completely on-point, and the group’s signature sound bounces off of the walls of the auditorium. The only gripe would be that we don’t hear enough of it. However, to its credit, the story doesn’t bend to fit the band’s hits. Instead, they occur naturally throughout the narrative.

All or Nothing is a highly detailed biography of a band that came from “bomb sites with no bathrooms,” and no stone is unturned in telling their story. However, it does result in a long set up and the sacrificing of some pace.

This bittersweet, raw, visceral show is a long overdue homage to a band that has sometimes been cruelly overlooked and a fitting tribute to not only Steve Marriott but Ronnie Lane, Kenney Jones, early member Jimmy Winston and Ian McLagan. Both long-time fans and those unfamiliar will be satisfied and it’s a welcome change from the fluff-filled, happy-ever-after jukebox musicals of old.

Runs until 15 April 2017 | Image: Contributed

THIS REVIEW WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR AND PUBLISHED BY THE REVIEWS HUB here

REVIEW: The Commitments – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

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This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub

Based on his 1987 novel, the first of the Barrytown trilogy and later made into a much-lauded film in 1991. Roddy Doyle has adapted his own work for the stage production of The Commitments, the tale of a group of unemployed friends from a council estate on the north side of Dublin who, in an attempt to escape their less-than-fortunate circumstances, start a soul band.

The film was an immediate attention grabber, the stage show is more of a slow burn, the first half hour while thoroughly amusing, lacks a bit of punch and doesn’t do much to build the characters back story enough to make us really, really care for them and throughout the plot remains paper thin. The characters and the story-line both need beefing up, the raw material is all there in the original novel, a vivid and humorous portrayal of the social decay that lies behind the picture-postcard streets of tourist Dublin, so it’s slightly bemusing why its creator has chosen the path he has in his adaptation. That said, by the end, this turns into a genuinely entertaining, irresistible, crowd-pleaser of a show. For all its faults it’s hard not to love absolutely.

The heart and soul of the show (and indeed the book and the film) are the ragbag “hardest working band in the world”, and the disparate characters that make it up, and the cast, (almost all actor/musicians) are faultless to a man. Brian Gilligan is the egotistical, arrogant front-man Deco (Gilligan originally playing the role of drummer Billy ‘The Animal’ Mooney in the West End production, was overheard singing to himself in the stairwell at the Palace Theatre and subsequently cast as the lead Deco a few weeks later). In possession of a voice that is utterly glorious, with a tone to die for, the only crime is that most of the songs are frustratingly cut short, and the audience never gets to hear as much of the music or Gilligan’s astounding voice as they might want until the closing moments of the show. When Gilligan and the band get a chance to shine, in Try a Little Tenderness, Mustang Sally and the gorgeous Thin Line Between Love and Hate, they create genuine ‘hair standing up on the back of your neck’ moments.

TV veteran Kevin Kennedy delivers a solid turn as Mr Rabbitte Snr, even if the accent is a bit on the dodgy side. Andrew Linnie, another veteran of the West End production is band creator and manager Jimmy Rabbitte. Linnie’s laconic portrayal is perfectly judged and plays well alongside the madness surrounding him.

Both Doyle’s original novel and the later film, capture a time of economic and social strife (not unlike today, but with less cynicism and less media savvy). High art it never was, but it had something to say for itself. Ground-breaking and gritty this musical isn’t, but it sure as hell has soulful music by the bucket-load. There are over 20 tunes, ranging from full-length songs to snippets from countless other classics. For a night of truly entertaining, undemanding, escapist fun, it comes highly recommended. Go for the utterly fabulous cast, the fantastic music and a plain old good time.

Runs until 30 December 2016 | Image: Johan Persson

REVIEW: Mamma Mia! – Edinburgh Playhouse

This post was originally written for The Reviews Hub

Sometimes, all you need at this time of year is to escape the hustle and bustle of festive shopping, freezing temperatures and the shock of your ever-dwindling bank account. 17 years after its first appearance on stage, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus’ Mamma Mia!, still has the ability to help you do just that.

In one small corner of Scotland’s capital city, the sun beats down on the azure blue Mediterranean island idyll of Kalokairi. 20 year-old Sophie is about to marry her sweetheart Sky, and all she wants is her father to walk her down the aisle. The problem is, she has no idea who he is. On finding her former party-loving mother’s diaries, she invites the three most likely candidates to share her big day. Unsurprisingly, things don’t go exactly to plan.

Essentially a thin storyline woven around the hits of one of the world’s greatest pop bands, it’s no less entertaining for that, and while it may seem like the young things are the centre of it all, it’s the more mature members of the cast who are the heart and soul of the piece. Sara Poyzer as mother Donna is a knock-out, both vocally and emotionally, the performance is a pitch-perfect portrayal of a mother losing her only daughter to the world. As Donna’s former band-mates Rosie and Tanya, Jaqueline Braun and Emma Clifford deliver the lion’s share of the laughs and are no slouches vocally either, and as the trio of potential dads Richard Standing (Sam), Tim Walton (Harry) and Christopher Hollis (Bill), imbue life and spirit into characters that could have easily been two-dimensional.

As undemanding as the whole endeavour is, it still packs an emotional punch and the glorious music never fails to get an auditorium on its feet at the end. It’s pure entertainment and does what most great theatre should do – transport you to another time and place for a few hours.

Resist the temptation to hibernate this winter, get yourself along to the Edinburgh Playhouse and bask in the reflected sunshine of this uplifting, feel-good show. A real tonic for the soul on these long, cold winter nights.

Runs until 7 January 2017 | Image: Brinkhoff Mögenburg

REVIEW: Carrie – Webster’s Theatre, Glasgow

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It takes a brave theatre company to tackle a show based on a 1974 Stephen King novel, notoriously dubbed the “most legendary flop musical ever produced”, well Glasgow-based Mad Props Theatre are just that, staging Michael Gore, Lawrence D Cohen and Dean Pitchford’s Carrie.

Debuting in 1988, (unbelievably) at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford, it was met with decidedly mixed reviews, but that was nothing compared to its Broadway run, plagued with script and technical problems and the near-decapitation of musical theatre legend Barbara Cook, it closed after five performances, the most expensive theatre flop of its time. Thankfully, time has been kind, and after a successful 2015 revival at the Southwark Playhouse, Mad Props present the Scottish premiere.

Told in a series of flashbacks by her only ally Sue, Carrie is a telekinetic teen with an oppressive religious fanatic of a mother, humiliated by her classmates at prom, she wreaks her revenge on those who’ve wronged her.

The problems that have always existed with the production – weak script, forgettable music are still here, but thankfully judicial trimming, tight direction and some fine performances elevate this production above its source material.

Stand out among the talented cast is Katy Allan as Carrie’s controlling and abusive mother,  hers is a finely measured performance, that, despite the titters from some of the audience, treads the fine line between hysterical exaggeration and frightening believability. Louise Creechan’s acting skills are also worthy of note, she delivers the requisite intensity and naive vulnerability of the put-upon teen perfectly (as well as bearing a startling resemblance to movie Carrie, Sissy Spacek). There is also a brace of fine performances from the ensemble, the only gripe being a lack of dancing skills that rendered this very professional looking production a bit shambolic at times.

The small stage at Websters fits the production like a glove and the special effects are impressive from an amateur company.

Hugely entertaining and impressively delivered, mad props must go to Mad Props for continuing to deliver something different to musical theatre audiences in Glasgow – long may it continue.

 

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