Tag Archives: musicals

REVIEW: Soul Sister – King’s Theatre, Glasgow starring Emi Wokoma

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Now let’s be honest about this, jukebox musicals – and this is certainly one of them, exist to varying degrees of success. There are those created with wit and intelligence: Jersey Boys to name one; those which despite a fantastically successful catalogue of songs and an interesting back story are just plain awful – Monkee Business to name another; those which are more tribute act than stage musical and then there are those which don’t fit into any of these categories. Soul Sister is a hybrid, never becoming a fully-fledged “musical” and never descending into full-blown tribute act.

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The weak book, which incidentally is neither mentioned nor credited, does no justice to the real-life drama of the lives of its subjects: Ike and Tina Turner. Tina’s abuse both physical and mental at the hands of her Svengali-like husband and Ike’s tragic upbringing which set him on a path to destruction from the age of five are only really hinted at here. Although it must be credited that, unlike the hatchet job performed on Ike in the 1993 bio-pic What’s Love Got to do With It? An attempt is made to give at least some explanation of why Ike became the man he did. Despite the dramatic and well documented source material the audience is left to inject its own drama, knowing as we do the rocky road the pair traversed on their path to fame and fortune.

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That said, it really is the music that’s the star, from the gospel and blues beginnings, the soul years through rock and roll, to Tina’s reinvention as an 80’s pop star – the music just shines through.

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The on-stage band is utterly faultless, each to a man playing to perfection, The Ikettes, a gyrating blizzard of sequins and sparkle are the perfect foil for “Tina” and Chris Tummings as Ike manages to inject what drama he can with the material he has been given, to present an Ike who despite carrying out acts of unspeakable cruelty and violence still manages to retain the audience’s sympathy. But the star is undoubtedly Emi Wokoma as Tina. Mere words cannot do justice to the absolutely flawless performance she turns in. This is high octane from start to finish – she is on stage for virtually the whole of the two and a half hour show, never once does her effort or energy flag. Wokoma is committed to every line, every move and every note and it’s the sheer force of her talent that has nearly two thousand people to a man and woman, in this packed theatre on their feet, shouting the words to What’s Love Got to do With It, Addicted to Love and The Best (amongst others) for the last 20 minutes of the performance. Wokoma is an absolute star and for that alone I urge you to get a ticket and see her before she goes on to bigger things.

Soul Sister runs at The King’s Theatre Glasgow until Saturday 19th January.

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

 

9 to 5 The musical originally opened on Broadway in 2009 and lasted less than six months after receiving some less than favourable reviews describing it as vacuous and tacky. Those criticisms can’t be levelled at this first UK tour. With a cast of well known faces with a wealth of West End experience behind them and the pop-country tunes of Dolly Parton, there really was no way to was going to fail. Despite a 45 minute delay in starting and an interval of over half an hour (due to “technical difficulties” – later explained as the fault of the King’s Theatre’s sloping stage which made the set roll all over the floor, requiring the speedy installation of brakes on all the furniture!) the sheer exuberance of the quality cast and the short and punchy storyline more than made up for the delay.

The show isn’t exactly a musical classic, but it’s enthusiasm and heart made for a highly entertaining and engaging evening. Due to the subject matter: three feisty women getting their own back on their sexist, lecherous boss, the women in the audience heavily outweighed the men, but that said, the men who were there appeared to be having just as good a time. There was much whooping and a hollering and a bit of a bop along to the title tune at the end. Dolly herself appears on screen as our helpful narrator – as engaging as she ever was.

The three female leads: Jackie Clune, Amy Lennox and Natalie Casey were all of fine voice and in possession of spot on comic timing, Ben Richards veteran of Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Saturday Night Fever didn’t have much to do on the dance front but was, as always, strong voiced and relishing the role of the worse than evil boss who gets his come-uppance at the hands of the three women. Bonnie Langford, in a small but memorable role shows her musical theatre chops as usual, throwing herself whole-heartedly into the part.

With a strong lead cast, high quality supporting performers and a fabulous band this is top quality escapist fun. Highly recommended. 

REVIEW: Phantom of the Opera – Edinburgh Playhouse with John Owen-Jones, Simon Bailey, Katie Hall.

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.

REVIEW: Sister Act – King’s Theatre Glasgow

“When disco diva Deloris Van Cartier witnesses a murder, she is put in protective custody in the one place the cops are sure she won’t be found – a convent! Disguised as a nun she makes the wrong impression on the convent’s strict Mother Superior. But when she transforms the convent’s choir into the most glorious new musical act in town, Deloris forms a lasting bond with her new found friends and the gang that’s chasing her finds itself up against an unstoppable team of soulful sisters!”

With major improvements to both its book and set – Sister Act stops here in Glasgow on its first national tour since its run in the West End, where it played to over 1 million people.

There’s no point posting a detailed critique on a show like this – all I need to say is that it played to a packed and very vocal crowd at The King’s Theatre who were on their feet at the end and nearly raised the roof with the volume of their praise.

This is an accomplished cast with not a weak link to be found and you would be hard-pressed to find more sequins on any stage, a better set or better lighting anywhere in the West End.

This would charm the hardest of hearts – just go and see it – trust me – you’ll love it.

Runs until 22nd September at King’s Theatre Glasgow, see ATG tickets for booking.

REVIEW: Edinburgh Fringe – Stafford Gatehouse Youth Theatre present 13 by Jason Robert Brown, C Venue C

This post was originally written for and published  by The Public Reviews

Book: Dan Elish and Robert Horn

Music and Lyrics: Jason Robert Brown

Director: Richard Poynton

Musical Director: David Easto

The Public Reviews Rating: ★★★★½

12 year old Evan Goldman is having a difficult time – his parents are in the midst of a divorce and his all-important Bar Mitzvah is looming. To make matters worse his mother announces they are leaving their life in New York for the quiet town of Appleton, Indiana.

Part of the Fringe experience is searching for a star of the future, but this reviewer didn’t think it would come in the form of a kid playing a 12 year old on the eve of his Bar Mitzvah. The maturity and surety of touch that Tom Slade brings to the role of Evan in Jason Robert Brown’s 13, is a jaw-dropping joy to watch. His subtly nuanced performance would put many adult actors to shame. This combined with a clear as a bell tenor voice makes him a sure fire star. The rest of Stafford Gatehouse Youth Theatre don’t disappoint either, bringing this Tony Award-winning show to Edinburgh with a professionalism that belies their years. In particular, Holly Musgrave delivers a performance of such sensitivity and strength as girl next door Patrice, that she elicits roars from the crowd after every song.

This rites of passage musical follows the usual themes: new kid in town; the life or death struggle to be cool; falling in love with the right/wrong girl; true friendship; oh, and some degenerative illness used for comic effect. What sets this apart from the run of the mill fare is the quality and wit of Brown’s songwriting and the choreography which is both inventive and varied, utilising perfectly the small space whilst never compromising on quality.

This show is about finding out who you are and what’s really important and it delivers with a punch – a real gem.

REVIEW: Little Shop of Horrors – Pitlochry Festival Theatre

“Business is so bad at his Skid Row Florists that Mr. Mushnik is considering throwing in the trowel, but just when it seems that the roses are destined for the garbage, Mushnik’s accident-prone assistant, Seymour, discovers a strange and exotic new plant. Seymour names his discovery Audrey Two, but Audrey Two is no ordinary shrub, it grows at a phenomenal rate thanks to a rather unusual diet, oh, and it has plans for world domination. Only Seymour knows Audrey Two’s terrible secrets and he’s prepared to risk everything for a shot at fame, fortune and true love.”

Once again, apologies for tardy posting, I saw this a few weeks ago.

Following on from last year’s success My Fair Lady, Pitlochry Festival Theatre present Little Shop of Horrors. Taking as its starting point classic 50s B-Movies, this comedy-horror musical is ably performed by a 14-strong cast who take on all of the roles as well as the orchestral duties. 

Deserving of praise are Charlie Tighe in the central role of Seymour, who takes tortured geek to a whole new level and Elliot Harper (above centre) who, amongst a series of roles, delivers a lesson in how to pitch an over the top role perfectly. Kate Quinnell (below), last year’s Eliza Doolittle turns in another accomplished performance, singing, dancing, playing the clarinet and acting with aplomb. Special mention must go to Dan Smith as the voice of Audrey, who had to step in to cover with minimal notice – so adept was the performance that you would never have believed he was anything other than the originator of the role. 

My only concern with this, as it was with last year’s musical show at Pitlochry, was that the vocals and music were seriously under-powered. It may be the fault of the amplification or the fact that the actors had to double up as musicians but it all needed a little more oomph. The quality was there it was just lacking in volume. That said, the sets, costumes and the fabulous animated plant Audrey were first class and there were laughs a-plenty to keep everyone entertained.

Pitlochry Festival Theatre, Port Na Craig, Pitlochry, runs until October 13

Author:  Howard Ashman

Music: Alan Menken

Director: John Durnin

REVIEW: Edinburgh Fringe – Active Virgin, C Venue C

Book, Music and Lyrics: John Keilty & Gerry Kielty

Director: Susie Dumbreck

Musical Director: Andrea Grody

The Public Reviews Rating: ★★☆☆☆

This review was originally written for and published by The Public Reviews.

The Cameron Mackintosh Highland Quest for New Musical winners the Kielty brothers and One Academy Productions bring Active Virgin to Edinburgh for its premier, and in many ways this reviewer wishes they hadn’t bothered. Following on the heels of the highly-lauded Wasted Love this piece seems to suffer from serious lack of effort on the part of the hugely praised writers.

The story tracks the quest for the body beautiful and the obsession it has become for the 247GYM members. They are beginning to lose track of what’s really important in life – but will the madness stop before it’s too late?

Again the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland deliver the most accomplished of vocal performances but the acting was straying wildly into hammy territory. The blame though can be put squarely in the lap of the writing. As well as being musically uninspired, with too many ensemble pieces, it felt like a step back in time as far as originality. It is a series of disjointed vignettes rather than a cohesive piece and it needs a clear thread to string it together. We are treated to Botox; plastic surgery, steroids, self-hate and serious amounts of misogyny with few of the advertised laughs, and the uncomfortably forced jokes soon wear thin.

Ultimately all this show is trying to say is that the search for perfection is impossible but it takes an hour to tell it, and with little variation it makes you wish the minutes away.

If this is your first experience of One Academy or the Royal Conservatoire then don’t let this put you off, they’ve been let down by their choice of material rather than their abilities. Save your money and go and see one of their other shows: Company or Towards The Moon.

REVIEW: Edinburgh Fringe – Bat Boy The Musical, C Venue C

This review was originally written for and published by The Public Reviews

Writers: Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming

Music and Lyrics: Lawrence O’Keefe

The Public Reviews Rating: ★★★½☆

Durham University Light Opera Group return to Edinburgh after last year’s Hot Mikado with “mocky-horror extravaganza” – Bat Boy. Writers Brian Flemming and Keythe Farley took as their inspiration a salacious Weekly World News headline and created this tale of small town prejudice and the fight for acceptance.

I’m sure you can probably begin to imagine what to expect from a musical with songs entitled: Another Dead Cow, Ugly Boy, More Blood and Apology to a Cow. But when you add into the mix: an ambitious gun-toting sheriff; some highly suggestible, small-minded locals; a whole heap of Baptist revivalists; bat pheromones and a Pagan wedding you get, quite possibly, the most unhinged musical ever written.

The staging is by necessity simple at the Fringe, so the vocals and the acting really have to shine. There is much opportunity in this show to ham it up, but to their credit the actors resist the temptation and deliver some well-judged performances. In particular the actresses playing Mrs. Parker and the hot-pant clad Sheriff show tremendous range and vocal subtlety and Mr. Parker had a beautifully toned voice.The actor playing Bat Boy also deserves praise for the convincingly real physicality he showed playing the feral teen. On the downside the ensemble were seriously underpowered and looked unconvincing and uncommitted at times and it didn’t help that they were often drowned out by the too-loud band.

Despite the stereotypes and the craziness, this is fundamentally a tale of a young boy struggling to fit in, and what elevates it above schlock-horror sensationalism is the fact that the characters are realised with affection. But be warned if you’re offended by cross-dressing, incest, serial killing, faith-healing or just plain campness then this ain’t the show for you. If not go along and enjoy the sheer 50′s B-Movie madness of it all.

Runs until 27th August

REVIEW: Starlight Express – Edinburgh Playhouse 4th July 2012

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.

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