Category Archives: musical

Dancing in the Dark

STRICTLY BALLROOM

Birmingham Hippodrome, Monday 31st October 2022

Back in 1992, Baz Luhrmann’s directorial debut took cinemas across the world by storm.  So popular was the film that the BBC nicked half of its title for their reboot of popular ballroom show, Come Dancing (rendering the adverb meaningless, in the process!).   Now, the musical stage adaptation is doing the rounds, directed by Strictly’s chief grouse, Craig Revel Horwood.  As you might expect, the choreography (by Horwood and Jason Gilkison) is impeccable.  The problem I have, unfortunately, is that too often the downstage area is in darkness, and characters who should be the focus of particular moments, disappear into shadow.  I can’t work out if this is down to strange choices by lighting designer Richard G Jones, or whether it’s because the follow-spot operators fell asleep on the job.

The two leads are played by Strictly royalty, Kevin Clifton as Scott Hastings and Maisie Smith as Fran.  Clifton is a wonderful mover and, as a singer, well, he’s a wonderful mover.  Belting out non-descript ballads is not his forte, I’m afraid.  Smith is a revelation, with a fine singing voice with an impressive range.  Fran is the ugly duckling, Cinderella and Eliza Doolittle rolled into one, as she learns to dance to a standard fit for a tournament in just three weeks.

The score is a mix of original songs (which aren’t up to much) and jukebox classics of the era, and so standards like Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time are shoehorned in, with the hope that at least some of the lyrics will be pertinent to the situation.

The Australian accents add to the campness of the whole, contrasting with the elegance of the formal dance clothes and coiffured hair. Nikki Belsher is a prime example, as Clifford’s selfish mother, Shirley. Gary Davis cuts an overbearing, almost Trumpian figure, as the corrupt president of the dance federation, Barry Fife.

When Scott goes to meet Fran’s folks, he encounters Rico, who puts him in his place, choreographically speaking.  Jose Agudo steals the show with a flaming flamenco that brings the house down, which brings the first act to a rousing finale.  The show never recovers, never retains these dizzying heights again.  Not even in the climactic dance tournament.  Agudo is magnetic, drawing the eye, embodying elegance and masculinity in the stamp of a foot, the sweep of an arm.  Tens across the board!

On the whole, I think the show would work better as a play, with the songs reserved for the dance sequences.  The quirky comedy of the original film is swamped here by the soul-searching ballads.

Kudos to the talented performers, who give their all, and to the excellent six-piece band under the baton of Dustin Conrad, but the material needs to be handled differently if the story is to delight and to move me as the film did thirty years ago.

☆ ☆ ☆

Kevin Clifton and Maisie Smith (Photo: Ellie Kurttz)


Leketid for barneskuespillere

MATILDA

Folketeateret, Oslo, søndag 9 oktober

Jeg så produksjonen på norsk så prøver jeg å skrive anmeldelsen min på norsk også! Her går vi!

Roald Dahls roman først dukket opp på scenen i den RSC produksjonen i 2010. Det bevegde fort fra Stratford Upon Avon til Londons West End hvor det fortsetter å spille.

Nå har showet kommet til Oslo og jeg er gled å få muligheten til å se det igjen.

Historien handler om den kjempesmart jenta, det svarte fåret til hennes uvitende familie.  Hun leser på en bok, gisper faren som kommer ikke å forstå hvorfor Matilda ikke vil se på TV hele dagen.  Matilda kjemper tilbake med praktikaliske vitser.  På skolen står hun opp mot urettferdighetene begått av den manndige rektor Miss Trunchbull. 

I denne forestillingen spilles rollen som Matilda av Agnes Sulejewski Bjerck, og hun er veldig imponerende. Alle barna opptrer som skuespillere med mange års erfaring.  De er betagende energiske, synger og danser med klarhet, presisjon og komisk timing.

Robert Stoltenberg er deilig grusom som Trunchbull i sterk kontrast til Maria Ovidias Miss Honey.  Gode ​​er også Haddy Njie som den entusiastiske bibliotekaren Mrs Phelps, Fridtjov Såheim som Matildas krasse far, Siren Jørgensen som Matildas glorete mor, og jeg liker spesielt godt Carl Martin Prebensen i den lille, men morsomme rollen som Rodolpho, den slangehippede ballroomdanseren.

Tim Minchins låter er like underholdende som alltid.  When I Grow Up er rørende og lengselsfull, og jeg finner noe spennende i måten barna svever på huskene.

Det er en historie om å finne familien din, hvor du passer inn, når familien du er født inn i ikke vet hva de skal gjøre med deg.

Helt tilfredsstillende og underholdende med en balanse mellom det morsomme og det emosjonelle, er denne produksjonen en stor og fargerik suksess!

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Fantastiske barn i et skuespill om et fantastisk barn
Photo: Fredrik Arff

Ocean of Emotion

SOUTH PACIFIC

The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Wednesday 28th August, 2022

The Chichester Festival Theatre production of the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic comes to town and it’s an absolute must-see.  The score reads like a Greatest Hits playlist.  So many great numbers, many of which have become standards.  Hearing them within the context of the drama renews their impact.

Set in World War II on an island outpost where the US Navy is itching for conflict with the Japanese, this is at heart a double love story, where both relationships are blighted by ingrained prejudice.  We have firecracker hick Nellie Forbush falling for the urbane and educated plantation owner Emile de Becque, and handsome young lieutenant Joe Cable having his head turned by Liat, the beautiful daughter of camp follower Bloody Mary.  Joe feels unable to marry the girl because of the way things are ‘back home’; Nellie is horrified to discover the late mother of Emile’s kids was, gulp, coloured.  The revelation of Nellie’s racism comes as a real kicker at the end of Act One.  This lively, perky girl, the life and soul of any gathering, who has entertained us and earned our affection is tainted by one of the most stupid attitudes going.  It’s a real blow, like finding out someone you otherwise admire votes Tory.

Sad to say, the show’s message is just as relevant today.  Cable’s song, You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught gets to the root of a problem that still plagues society today.

As the suave Emile, Julian Ovenden oozes romance.  Some Enchanted Evening has never sounded lovelier or more seductive.  Gina Beck’s Nellie is irresistible, funny and perky, with her heart on her sleeve, her vocals both belting and nuanced.  Rob Houchen’s Cable is spot on: the handsome young officer, dutiful and yet in love.  Houchen’s voice is surely the finest working in musical theatre today.  Sublime.

Joanna Ampil’s Bloody Mary brings plenty of comic relief, as does Douggie McMeekin’s Luther Billis.  Ampil’s impassioned pleas to Cable to give her daughter a better life are heart-breaking, and her rendition of Bali Ha’i is bewitching.

The big chorus numbers are stirring: There is Nothing Like a Dame, by the men, and I’m Going to Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair, by the women.  This production goes all out to deliver the goods.  Ann Yee’s choreography, especially for the marines, is energetic, hoe-down like without being camp, and there are plenty of exotic touches to evoke the island setting.

Romantic, thrilling and humorous, with a strong social comment, South Pacific reasserts itself as a pinnacle of musical theatre in this magnificent production that hits all the right notes, musically and emotionally.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Cable guy Rob Houchen and hair-washer Gina Beck (Photo: Johan Persson)


Straight Acting

I LOVE YOU, YOU’RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE

Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Saturday 17th August, 2022

Less of a musical and more of a revue, this show which has enjoyed one of the longest runs in American theatre history, charts, through unconnected scenes, songs and vignettes, the course of love (true, or otherwise) of heterosexual people.  When theatre holds up a mirror to life, it either validates what it shows or poses questions.  Many people (straight ones) will recognise something of themselves in the character types and cliched moments on view, but from a queer perspective, the show takes on a completely different meaning.  This is what your lives are like, the show tells straight people, and you are living a narrow nightmare of convention, societal expectations and guilt trips.  The laughter of recognition should be followed through by a cringe or two at the very least. 

The cast of six (customarily the piece is performed by four) work hard to pull it off, and it requires a certain set of skills to swiftly establish characters and emotions at the drop of a hat.  Every member of this sextet has the talent, the skill – and the considerable energy it takes! – to deliver this demanding cavalcade of songs and sketches.

Jimmy Roberts’s score is serviceable rather than memorable, containing a variety of styles.  Some standout numbers include I Will Be Loved Tonight performed by Hannah Lyons, and Hey There, Single Gal/Guy in which a pair of disappointed parents lay a guilt trip on their son and his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend.

Recognising the undiluted heteronormativity of the piece, directors Mark Shaun Walsh and Neve Lawler give one of the songs an LGBTQ+ twist, showing that the gays can have long-term relationships too, and have the same fears and doubts as everyone else.  The number Shouldn’t I Be Less In Love With You, is beautifully sung by Walsh, and this feels like one of those moments of validation I talked about.  This tweak broadens the scope of the material.

There is also some relief where single life is not depicted as a terrible condition that must be cured as soon as possible: the second act opener Always A Bridesmaid has the wonderful Kimberley Maynard revelling in her independence in a rousing countryfied number.

Some of the material is old hat (men not stopping to ask for directions) but some of it is acutely observant.  The monologue of a divorced woman making a dating video is painfully funny and superbly delivered by Hannah Lyons.  It also goes to show how the world has moved on from the world of the show, now that apps like Tinder dominate the dating experience.  The libretto could do with an update to make it more directly relevant.

The cast take full advantage of this opportunity to showcase their skills: Jack Kirby as a husband and father who has transferred his affections to his car; Luke Plimmer and Anya McCutcheon Wells as a pair of elderly people meeting at a funeral, in the show’s most sentimental sequence.  All in all, it’s flawlessly presented, with musical duo Chris Arnold (piano) and Lizi Toney (violin) giving virtuoso performances of the score’s diverse demands.

Given the almost relentless parodying of heterosexuality, I write in the notebook I keep on my knee, “Is the writer gay?”.  At home I look up Joe DiPietro.  He is.  Ten points to me!

An enjoyable evening of laughter, with the occasional poignant moment.  To sum up: I liked it, it’s imperfect, needs change.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆


The Peasants are Revolting

LES MISERABLES

Birmingham Hippodrome, Friday 12th August 2022

Victor Hugo’s sprawling novel of post-revolutionary France (honestly, you could derail a train with that thing) has become more widely known due to this musical adaptation, which receives something of an upgrade after all these years.  The staging is enhanced by video projections, mainly of gloomy watercolours (inspired by the daubs of Hugo himself), but these effects never overshadow the action.   The lighting, by Paule Constable, is absolutely beautiful, giving scenes the richness of the Old Masters.  The visuals match the quality of the music and the singing.  The show feels both familiar and fresh.

Dean Chisnall is powerful as the upright Jean Valjean, a man seeking to rehabilitate himself after a 19-year stretch for stealing a loaf of bread.  Valjean should try his luck in the supermarkets of today, where even the tubs of butter have security tags.   Branded a criminal for the rest of his days, Valjean is the moral heart of the story, and Chisnall’s singing has a purity to it.  His nemesis, the dogged Inspector Javert, is played by an imposing Nic Greenshields, towering over everyone else.  Greenshields brings nuance to the putative villain of the piece, even displaying tenderness over the (Spoiler) corpse of plucky little Gavroche.

At this performance, the role of young lover Marius is played by Caleb Lagayan, who really shines in the heart-breaking Empty Chairs and Empty Tables.  His voice blends marvellously with Paige Blankson’s soprano, and the trio, when the lovers are joined by go-between Eponine (Nathania Ong) is sublime.  Also strong are Rachelle Ann Go as the doomed Fantine, Rick Zwart as the kindly bishop, Samuel Wyn-Morris as the rousing Enjolras, and of course Ian Hughes and Helen Walsh, who rapidly establish themselves as audience favourites, the ghastly Thernadiers.

The chorus scenes are stunning, whether squabbling in a dingy factory, beckoning outside a brothel, or manning the barricades – these latter scenes are almost immersive, thanks to Mick Potter’s sound design; you can almost feel the bullets whizz past your head.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen or listened to the show.  I’d forgotten how repetitive the score can be, with tunes and phrases repeated and repeated.  The big numbers are bangers, of course, but I find the recitatives a little wearing.  (Incidentally, audience member seated directly behind me, it’s not really appropriate to whoop and holler to demonstrate your appreciation for someone’s tender death scene, no matter how well it’s performed.  Glad you’re enjoying it, but not down my earhole, please!)

For me, the star of the show is the translation of the book and lyrics into English by Herbert Kretzmer, giving dignity to the undignified, wit to the wretched, and compassion to the tortured.  It’s thrilling to see the show performed live with all the bells and whistles (no thank you, concert performance) and thank goodness you don’t need a degree in French history to derive an immense amount of pleasure from all this suffering.

The French have always been better at taking to the streets than we Brits.  The show emphasises romance over social injustice, hitting us emotionally rather than politically, so don’t expect to leave the theatre in revolutionary mood.

Stirring stuff, in one respect, but the message seems to be, The poor are always with us, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One reprise more!

Cher and Cher Alike

THE CHER SHOW

Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 2nd August 2022

Charting the life story of one Cherilyn Sarkisian, this show gives us not one, not two, but three Cher-alikes, depicting the diva at three stages of her career.  There is Millie O’Connell as Babe, taking us from bullied schoolgirl to budding hippie popstar.  There is Danielle Steers as Lady, showing us Cher in the Sonny Bono years.  And there is Debbie Kurup as Star, giving us Cher post-Sonny and beyond.  Each performer is phenomenal but I find when they’re all on stage together, I can’t help but compare them: this one looks most like the real thing… that one sounds most like the real thing… The other one can do the hair toss…  When they’re all chatting in that characteristic and highly mannered way of speaking, it’s a bit weird.  What starts as a narrative device becomes an alienation effect, and I can’t warm to any incarnation.

Rick Elice’s book contains some zingers but on the whole I get the impression that Cher has had a miserable life.  The script focusses on the low points, the relationship break-ups, the unemployment, while successes (winning an Oscar) are glossed over.  Some songs fit their moments better than others, but we get all the hits – and more.

With Arlene Phillips directing and Oti Mabuse choreographing, as you might expect, the staging of the musical numbers is top drawer, energetically executed by an excellent ensemble.  Production values are high, although the set, which mainly consists of row upon row of costumes in bags suspended on rails, gives the impression that the main events of Cher’s life took place in a dry cleaner’s.

As well as the three Chers, we get Lucas Rush bringing moments of tension as Sonny Bono, Jake Mitchell camping it up as Bob Mackie, and the versatile Sam Ferriday playing a range of parts including 70s rock yeti Greg Allman.  There is strong support from Tori Scott as Cher’s mum, although she does repeat the key line, “The song makes you strong” a little too often.  One moment is splendidly touching: the recently deceased Sonny duetting with Cher one last time, before she realises she’s no longer got you, babe.

Danny Belton conducts a splendid band.  The story might come across as a bit of a downer but the music is relentlessly uplifting, culminating in the inevitable megamix that gets everyone on their feet and enjoying the party atmosphere.  And there is much to enjoy, in the performances, in the music, but I feel unengaged and distanced from the material, and I love Cher as much as any gay man.

☆ ☆ ☆

Three Chers! Hip hip hooray! Danielle Steers, flanked by Millie O’Connell and Debbie Kurup (Photo: Pamela Raith)

Gangsters’ Paradise

BUGSY MALONE

The REP, Birmingham, Friday 29th July 2022

Alan Parker’s much-loved film comes to the stage in this exuberant touring production that originated at London’s Lyric Theatre.  As in the movie, the roles (the principal ones, at least) are played by child actors.  It’s New York in the 1930s, a city dominated by the gangland rivalry between Fat Sam and Dapper Dan.  The latter has the upper hand, thanks to the advent of a new weapon, the splurge gun.  Sam’s men are getting splattered, or ‘splurged’ at an alarming rate.  This is organised paintballing.  While the deaths are quite graphically executed, so to speak, the actors get up again and walk off, just like a child’s game.  Sam strives to regain dominance by tracking down the source of the new guns.  Meanwhile, the eponymous Bugsy is trying to raise the dough to get his new love interest, Blousey, to Hollywood…

As crime boss Fat Sam, Albie Snelson throws his weight around convincingly, portraying the long-suffering, the short fuse, to perfection.  He is supported by a host of characters played by the slightly-older chorus, ensuring his scenes are a lot of fun.  Jasmine Sakyiama’s statuesque gangster’s moll, Tallulah has a dignity and knowingness to her, but lacks the jadedness of Jodie Foster, but this production keeps almost everything upbeat.  As Sam’s rival, Dandy Dan, Desmond Cole has an unquestionable authority.

Mia Lakha’s Blousey, the wannabe star, proves she can deliver the goods, belting out a couple of torch songs that suggest this Blousey will go far. Special mentions go to Aidan Oti for his sweet but downtrodden Fizzy, and Mohamed Bangura as burly boxer Leroy.

In the title role, the diminutive Gabriel Payne gives a phenomenal performance, with singing and dancing that takes my breath away but not, apparently, his.  It’s as though Billy Elliott has turned to crime.  His acting his top drawer.   In fact, across the board, the stylised Noo Yoik accents are done well, suiting the snappy dialogue of Parker’s script. While the screenplay revels in its own cinematic artifice, the stage adaptation acknowledges its theatricality, in an almost Brechtian way. Fat Sam having to change his own scene, kvetching about it as he does so, is just one example.

The score is marvellous, with all music and lyrics by Paul Williams, and it’s a treat to be reminded of his brilliance.  Drew McOnie’s lively choreography brings us all the period tropes of the dancing of the era but strings them together in a manner that seems fresh and new.

Children acting as adults shows us the childishness of the adults’ behaviour, leading to nothing but death and destruction.  I would have liked more splurge in the climactic bloodbath, for the stage to be awash with foam and custard pies, but the point is made.  Society needs to put down its guns and ditch the territorial attitude if any of us is to have a chance to survive.

Exhilarating!

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Little big man: Gabriel Payne as Bugsy and Jasmine Sakyiama as Tallulah (Photo: Johan Persson)


Serves Us Right

WAITRESS

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 28th June 2022

The last musical I saw that was based around pie-making was Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd.  This show has a completely different flavour.  Based on a film from 2005, this hit musical is on the road at last.  It’s the story of Jenna (Chelsea Halfpenny) who is not only the titular waitress but also something of a master baker.  Her pie is the talk of the town and, this being small town America, when they talk of pie, they usually mean sweet dishes and desserts.

The scene is Joe’s Pie Diner and it’s populated with a host of eccentric characters.  Everyone we meet is clearly defined by their personal quirks.  Jenna’s co-workers are Becky, the sassy black one, and Dawn, the goofy, nerdish one.  Their boss is manager-cook Cal, who is irascible, and they are visited daily by the diner’s grumpy owner, Joe.  An ensemble makes up extras but also, with some nice touches of physical theatre, represent what’s going on in Jenna’s mind.

Jenna is at a turning point.  Her redneck husband Earl has put a bun in her oven, thwarting her dreams of leaving him, but then Joe tells her of a pie-baking contest where the prize money would be enough to set her up in a new life…  But then Jenna goes and falls for her gynaecologist.  Things are looking up, you might say.

Jenna’s the most grounded of the characters, and Chelsea Halfpenny plays her with heart and warmth, proving she can belt when required by the score.  You can’t help liking her.  David Hunter is hilarious as handsome Doctor Pomatter, socially awkward and gauche, making an unusual leading man.  Wendy Mae Brown lifts her Becky above the stereotype – her rich, chocolate voice a real treat when she finally gets a solo.  Evelyn Hoskins’s Dawn could quite easily be Hairspray’s Penny Pingleton, playing the comedy very broadly.  Again, we can’t help liking her.  Even sour-tempered Cal (Christopher D Hunt) has his moments.

Dawn’s dating-site suitor comes along and out-quirks everyone: George Crawford in a scene-stealing role as Ogie.  And there is more to Tamlyn Henderson’s Earl, Jenna’s controlling, redneck husband, the villain of the piece; we get to glimpse his vulnerability and why Jenna fell for him in the first place.  There is also some delicious sarcasm from Scarlet Gabriel’s Nurse Norma.  Michael Starke (yes, Sinbad off of Brookside!) channels Colonel Sanders for his turn as Joe, something of a father figure for Jenna.  His song, Take It From An Old Man touches even my jaded heart.

Music and lyrics are by Sara Bareilles, and it’s a jaunty, likeable score. beautifully played by the on-stage band, led by Ellen Campbell. Almost everything is sweet and upbeat – even a number about doing a pregnancy test.  Jessie Nelson’s book is peppered with good humour that the cast plays to the hilt.  Sometimes, the comedy feels a little forced and the resolution is a little too pat – but this is musical theatre, so we allow it.

All in all, Waitress serves a lot of feel-good fun, keeping on the right side of saccharine sickliness.

Flantastic.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Wendy Mae Brown, Chelsea Halfpenny and Evelyn Hoskins (Photo: Johan Persson)

Right as Rain

SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN

Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 7th June 2022

I maintain that the 1952 Gene Kelly-Debbie Reynolds film is a pinnacle of cinematic endeavour, so any stage production seeking to emulate this piece of perfection has an impossible task ahead.  This large-scale touring production  originating from Chichester Festival Theatre comes pretty close!

A spoof of the advent of ‘talking pictures’, this story of Hollywood glamour is funny, romantic and spectacular.  This show doesn’t stint on the large production numbers.  Andrew Wright’s exuberant choreography delivers period, verve and character.

Sam Lips makes quite a splash as leading man Don Lockwood, cocksure and on the right side of cheesy.  A lovely crooner, Lips can also hoof it – the iconic title song which closes the somewhat lengthy first act is everything you want it to be.  As Don’s love interest, the sunny, funny Kathy Selden, Charlotte Gooch is practically perfect, while Jenny Gayner is hugely entertaining as villainous diva Lina Lamont – you can’t bring yourself to hate her.

Stealing the show, though, is the indefatigable Ross McLaren as Don’s sidekick Cosmo Brown.  McLaren lights up the stage, combining terpsichorean talent with comedic flair.  His Make Em Laugh brings the house down, and his double act with Lips delivers some of the funniest moments of the show.  You can’t take your eyes off him.

Director Jonathan Church doesn’t miss a detail.  The filmed excerpts are a delight, and there’s a light touch to the comedy across the board.  The musical numbers are wonderful.  Some standouts include All I Do Is Dream Of You, Good Morning, and the extended, luxuriant Broadway Melody sequence, where the production values go through the roof. Simon Higlett’s costumes bring a rainbow after the downpour.

The infectious score is played by a tight-knit orchestra with Grant Walsh at the helm, the music so evocative of that bygone age.

An absolute joy, a celebration of showbiz, and  pure, unadulterated fun, the show’s message is to enjoy yourself whatever life chucks at you.  Sing in that rain!

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Storming it: Sam Lips, Charlotte Gooch, and Ross McLaren (Photo: Johan Persson)

Ooh, you are lawful…

LEGALLY BLONDE – The Musical

Stratford Play House, Stratford upon Avon, Friday 6th May 2022

Stratford Musical Theatre Company turn their talented hands to the musical adaptation of the well-known Reese Witherspoon comedy film, in a vibrant production at the Play House, a venue that is more suited to bands and stand-up comedians.  And so the staging tonight is minimal, leaving the floor free for the large chorus to occupy – director Georgie Wood has drilled her cast to maximum efficiency for getting things on and getting things off again, so the piece runs like clockwork.

It’s the story of Elle Woods who, dumped by her egotistic boyfriend, follows him to Harvard Law School in hot pink and hot pursuit, as though getting a law degree will win the chump back… Elle is faced with prejudice because of her looks and demeanour but she overcomes obstacles to prove she is top of the class, and hey, you don’t need a man to make you happy… The show’s message seems to be about not judging books by their covers and breaking down stereotypes, which is a pertinent point to make: to be one’s authentic self.  Why then, does writer Heather Hach tarnish the piece with homophobic representations of LGBTQ+ people, who don’t get a chance to demonstrate they are more than the effeminate, posing, skipping fairies we are subjected to here?  Signs, I think, of the material exceeding its show-by date.  I cringe throughout the song Gay Or European which goes against the positive stereotype-busting message of the rest of it.

Leading the cast as the titular blonde Elle Woods, Vanessa Gravestock delivers an engaging, impressive performance, balancing the dumb-blonde looks with Elle’s innate intelligence.  She’s an appealing presence with the star quality required by the role.

Other highlights (because she’s blonde!) include Christopher Dobson as the tough-talking Professor, effortlessly exuding his dominance and high status;  Casey McKernan amuses as Elle’s cocksure ex Warner; Ian Meikle endears himself as mild-mannered love interest Emmett; Katie Merrygold is stonkingly good as Elle’s new BFF, Paulette Buonufonte; and Oliver Payne makes a scene-stealing appearance as delivery man Kyle.

It doesn’t matter what the cast does though, because any time a dog is brought on, it immediately upstages everyone else!  And I can’t help wondering if the situation is stressful for the animals.

The chorus is great, filling the space with energy and performing Julie Bedlow-Howard’s lively choreography.  In particular, a cheerleading number is splendid.

The singing too is all the more impressive when you realise the singers can’t see musical director James Suckling and the band, who are walled up behind the backdrop!

Unfortunately, there are missed lighting and sound cues, and this is not opening night where you can excuse a few hitches.  Microphone coverage is patchy.  It feels like the show could have done with at least one more technical rehearsal to make these elements of the production as sharp as the rest of it.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

In the pink! Vanessa Gravestock front and centre as Elle Woods (Photo: David Fawbert Photography)