Category Archives: musical

Piece of Work

9 To 5

The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 16th November, 2021

Colin Higgins’s 1980 film came out when the world of work was very different.  The story of three secretaries who take on their sexist boss and change working conditions within a corporation now plays out like a period piece.  One of the film’s stars, Dolly Parton, provides the songs for this stage musical adaptation, introduces the action and gives a bit of narration via video.  Video Dolly even sings the opening number, the famous title song, with the entire company joining in.  It’s a rousing start and the best song in it.

Things soon slow down as characters are introduced.  And they each must get their solo, slowing down the action.  The women’s revenge fantasies about their sleazy boss become reality and what should be fast-paced farce is hampered by more songs and soul-searching.

Leading the cast is Louise Redknapp, flexing her comedy chops as Violet, the most straight-laced of the trio.  Redknapp is in good voice and gives an assured performance while Stephanie Chandos’s Doralee Rhodes inevitably channels Dolly P, to amusing effect.  Funniest of the three is Vivian Panka as new girl Judy, whose sweetness and naivete are swept aside when events get out of control.  When all three sing together, the harmonies are wonderful.  It sounds like Redknapp has found herself another girl band!

As the sleazeball Mr Hart for this performance, Richard Taylor Woods is deliciously abhorrent, although perhaps he’s too fit for the role. Give Hart a beer belly and a combover to make him thoroughly repugnant, I say! This would certainly heighten the contrast between Hart and Violet’s handsome love interest, Joe (Russell Dickson).

Julia J Nagle is in excellent form in a show-stealing portrayal of the sexually frustrated office snitch Roz, with a hilarious song about her lust for the boss.  It’s a pity Roz is exiled for most of the second act. 

But no matter how expertly the musical numbers are staged and how energetically they are performed by the hugely talented cast, what we get is a stop-start farce with some very funny scenes, interrupted by introspective songs that are tonally at odds with the comedy.  What it has to say about sexual equality and harassment in the workplace has been, largely, overtaken by the real world, so the piece is no longer a clarion call.  The women resort to kidnap to get their way, reminding us that many of our rights have been fought for by direct, often criminal, action.  Think of the Suffragettes.  And Stonewall.

Not every film has to be adapted into a musical.  This one would work just as well, if not better, as a play.

★★★

On the job: Sean Needham and Stephanie Chandos (Photo: Pamela Raith Photography)

Magic with Knobs On

BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS

The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Thursday 11th November, 2021

Fifty years after its release, the Disney film gets a stage adaptation, and I approach it curious to see how certain key scenes will be performed (the underwater scene, the football match, the flying bed…)  From the off, you can see we are in safe and creative hands.  The show opens with an extended dumbshow sequence, detailing the wartime experience of the Rawlins children and their evacuation to the countryside… Hold on a minute: orphans evacuated to go and live with an eccentric, and end up having magical adventures….  Isn’t that The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

In this case, the eccentric who takes in the children is apprentice witch, Eglantine Price, who has learned her spells from a correspondence course.  Price is played by a superb Dianne Pilkington, who makes the role her own — there’s not a trace of Angela Lansbury to her portrayal.  An early scene when she attempts to fly on her mail-order broomstick while singing is especially funny.  Pilkington is excellent throughout.

Members of the chorus bring on and take off pieces of scenery, items of furniture and props.  The action is constantly flowing, with physical theatre helping to create effects like the bobbing along under the beautiful briny.  Cinematic effects are translated to stage magic, with illusions and puppetry coming to the fore, so that characters can be turned into rabbits and so on.  Directors Candice Edmunds and Jamie Harrison really flex their creative muscles to deliver the magic, in this inventive and delightful piece of storytelling.

Most of the songs from the film are here; ‘The Age of Not Believing’ remains one of the Sherman Brothers’ loveliest songs, and there are new songs by Neil Bartram which have a strong Sherman Brothers feel to them.  Brian Hill’s book gives us the key plot points, with only a few alterations.  On the whole, it works brilliantly, but I find it begins to sag in the second act.  An example is Professor Browne (a splendid Charles Brunton) singing new number, ‘It’s Now’ in which he steels himself to take action, but only succeeds in slowing the action down!   Hill also gives the story a different ending.  I won’t say what it is but if you’ve seen the film version of another Sherman Brothers musical (the one about the flying car) you’ll know how this one pans out.

The underwater scene is there, tick box.  Obviously, the football match doesn’t happen, but I would like more animals populating the island.  And the bed is a marvel.  There are many moments when you think ‘That’s clever’ and ask, ‘How are they doing that?’ — the show is as much about the magic of theatre as anything else (like turning to your imagination to get you through the tough times).

A hard-working chorus keeps things moving, including the wonderful puppets, And there is also some amusing character work from Susannah Van Den Berg as Mrs Mason and Jacqui Dubois as Mrs Hobday.  Conor O’Hara, as eldest child Charlie, has a gorblimey accent but it’s not as strong as the one in the film so don’t worry.  O’Hara has a powerful singing voice and delivers the emotional punch Brian Hill gives him.  Charlie’s siblings (played, I think, by Isabella Bucknell and Haydn Court at this performance.  Correct me if I’m incorrect!) also give assured performances.

It’s a magical night out for the family even if it does run a bit long, past younger ones’ bedtimes.   It’s high-quality fun that will engage your imagination and touch your heartstrings, but not pluck them out!

★★★★

Giving it some stick: Dianne Pilkington as Eglantine Price. Photo Credit: Johan Persson/


Elephant in the Room

THE MAGICIAN’S ELEPHANT

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 10th November, 2021

It’s fantastic to be back in the RST, as it reopens with this year’s big family show, based on the Kate DiCamillo novel. Young Peter Duchene visits a fortune teller who intrigues him with a reading involving his presumed-dead sister and an elephant. Next thing you know, an elephant is dropping through the roof of the opera house in a conjuring trick gone wrong—don’t you just hate it when that happens? Peter sees this event as a sign that his entire life has been a lie and sets out to face the elephant and learn the truth…

Holding things together is Amy Booth-Steel as an affable Narrator, breaking the fourth wall with such charm we don’t want to sue her for the damage.  A strong ensemble includes delightful turns from Forbes Masson as a tightly wound, paranoid Police Chief, his underlings tumbling around him like Keystone Kops; Marc Antolin and Melissa James evoke empathy as childless couple Leo and Gloria; Sam Harrison’s fruity Count; Alastair Parker’s bumbling magician; Miriam Nyarko’s energetic orphan Adele; and Mark Meadows as Peter’s guardian, former soldier Vilna Lutz whose PTSD is startling, to say the least.

Villain of the piece is the mighty Summer Strallen’s Countess Quintet, who gets the most outlandish costumes.  Strallen channels Queen Elizabeth from Blackadder II and Cruella de Vil, with shades of Mozart’s Queen of the Night in her decorative vocal work.  It’s a stonking characterisation.

The Elephant itself is from the War Horse school of puppetry, with three operators bringing life to the pachyderm.  The scale of the beast is impressive but more so is the way it ‘lives’; there is grace to this animal and sorrow.  There is undeniably an elephant in the room with us.  It’s a captivating creation, skilfully performed by Zoe Halliday, Wela Mbusi, and Suzanne Nixon.

Giving a phenomenal performance as protagonist Peter is the elfin-featured Jack Wolfe, giving the role a quirky youthful energy, who is nothing short of perfection.  Instantly endearing, Wolfe is a true knockout when he sings, demonstrating beautiful vocal control and an impressive range.  You get the feeling you’re watching someone who is going to become a massive star.

With book and lyrics by Nancy Harris, and music and lyrics by Marc Teller, the show captures the tone of DiCamillo’s wonderful book. Colin Richmond’s design work delivers the grim, grey city of Baltese, with atmospheric lighting by Oliver Fenwick. It’s Sarah Tipple’s direction that makes us identify with, laugh at, and feel for the cast of offbeat characters, playing the humorous notes broadly and the emotional points deftly. The score is reminiscent of Sondheim and Gilbert & Sullivan and is performed by a tight band under the musical direction of Tom Brady.

It all adds up to a hugely entertaining piece, that speaks to us of people in strange times looking for answers (and not always in the right places), of hope, of the things that unite us rather than those that divide.

Beautiful.

★★★★★

Trunk Call: Peter (Jack Wolfe) visits the Elephant. Photo: Manuel Harlan © RSC

Feline Groovy

WHAT’S NEW, PUSSYCAT?

The REP, Birmingham, Friday 29th October, 2021

A jukebox musical?  A jukebox musical based on the back catalogue of Welsh superstar Tom Jones?  A jukebox musical based on the back catalogue of Welsh superstar Tom Jones with a plot inspired by Henry Fielding’s novel of 1749?

Oh, go on then.

It turns out to be a consummate example of the jukebox musical genre.  Writer Joe DiPietro takes the bare bones of Fielding’s book, transposing the action to 1960s London — the show’s aesthetic blends elements from both periods, and it works beautifully, to create a vibrant, post-modern experience that is a whole lot of fun.

In the lead as Tom Jones (the hero from the book, not the singer) is the snake-hipped, angel-voiced Dominic Andersen, who is absolutely perfect. Those rich vocals soar and his charisma never wanes. At one point, due to plot reasons, he is stripped down to his underwear (but he keeps his hat on) and I am reminded of his turn as Rocky Horror a few years back. Kudos to the casting director! Andersen seems born for this role. His ‘It’s Not Unusual’ gets the heart racing, and ‘I Who Have Nothing’ is stunning.

Dominic Andersen (Photo: Pamela Raith)

Tom’s love interest, Mary Western, is played by Bronté Barbé — don’t let her diminutive frame fool you; she possesses a belter of a voice, ideally suited to the melodramatic ballads of Tom Jones (the singer not the hero of the book).   Mary is an independent young woman,

There’s a comic subplot (even though the main plot is comic enough) involving Tom’s former teacher, Mr Partridge (Ashley Campbell) and ‘The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress’ (Rebekah Hinds), both of whom are delightful.  There is a touch of conflict stirred up by Tom’s rival for Mary, William Blifil (a supremely snobby Harry Kershaw), while Melanie Walters’s Mrs Western is good value as the acquisitive matchmaker.  These characters epitomise the clash of cultures in the world of this show: marriage as a transaction/sex as a pastime. Julius D’Silva’s kindly Lord Allworthy speaks up for love as the guiding factor. D’Silva imbues his two-dimensional part with warmth, and is not without his surprises.

Bringing the glamour is the fabulous Kelly Price as Lady Bellaston, a kind of Kim Cattrall cougar figure with designs on Tom.  Price gets to wear all the best outfits, including a plastic wedding dress that has to be seen to be believed.  Janet Bird’s costumes go all out to evoke the period settings, and her budget must have been generous.  The iconic fashions keep coming!

Special mention of Lemuel Knights as Big Mickey.  His ‘Delilah’ brings the house down in a show-stopping moment when the song is staged as a psychotic prison ballet.  Which seems like an appropriate time to mention the choreography by Arlene Phillips, no less.  She works the cast hard — the dancing hardly seems to stop, and its slick, of the period, and a delight.  The energy pours off the stage throughout this incredible production.

Luke Sheppard directs with brio, emphasising the staginess of the enterprise.  At one point, he has a couple of ‘stagehands’ come on to help create special effects for a train journey — I would have liked to see more of this kind of thing throughout.  Similarly, the chorus of three girls (think Little Shop of Horrors) come and go, fading from the forefront (but always fabulously dressed!)  The proposal scene is a riot of overblown kitsch; I can barely drink it all in.

It all builds to Fielding’s resolution of laughably convenient revelations, and while some might accuse the show of being a victory of style over substance, I think the meatiness of the songs adds depth to the stock characters, and the sexual politics are handled in a fun way.

An uplifting, energising piece of feelgood fun, this show deserves a long run in the West End.  The songs don’t feel shoehorned in, the design is gorgeous, and the exuberant, talented ensemble impresses. The nine-piece band, under the musical direction of Josh Sood, is absolutely phenomenal.

The next jukebox musical to come down the pike has a tough act to follow.

*****

Dominic Andersen and Rebekah Hinds, with Ashley Campbell (centre) Photo: Pamela Raith


Still Holding Up

HAIRSPRAY

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 19th October, 2021

Based on the 1988 film by self-proclaimed Pope of Trash, John Waters, this exuberant musical is doing the rounds again.  Admittedly, the source material is Waters’s most mainstream movie, but writers Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan retain much of the flavour of the original, especially the outlandish cast of characters.  I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen the show now but each time I’m struck by how brilliant it all is.

It’s 1962 and teenager Tracy Turnblad, whose heart is even bigger than her dress size, auditions to be on the local hip TV show.  She witnesses the injustice of segregation in her hometown of Baltimore and unlike most people, goes all out to do something about it.  Making her professional debut in the role is Katie Brace and she’s absolutely phenomenal.  An irresistible stage presence, Brace brims with talent and humanity.  Tracy is the closest John Waters gets to a Disney heroine.

Continuing the tradition of casting a man in the role of Tracy’s mother Edna (in honour of Divine who originated the character) we are treated to the comedic stylings of Alex Bourne, a big fella whose Edna is full of sass and vulnerability.  The show is not only about the fight for civil rights.  With the Turnblad girls, it has a lot to say about self-acceptance and body positivity.  Bourne is marvellous and he’s partnered with Norman Pace as Tracy’s dad Wilbur.  Pace’s comic business befits joke-shop proprietor Wilbur.  His duet with Edna brings the house down.

The emotional core of the show belongs to Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Maybelle.  The song I Know Where I’ve Been is a searing civil rights anthem, lifting the show beyond its comedic shenanigans.  It’s a blistering moment in a score that is bursting with great songs, from the opening number to the rousing, joyous finale, You Can’t Stop The Beat.  Marc Shaiman’s melodies are infectious, and his lyrics (co-written with Scott Whittman) are witty and knowing. Excellent as the villains of the piece are Rebecca Thornhill as the bigoted Velma Von Tussle and Jessica Croll as her shrill daughter, Amber.

Making strong impressions among a hugely talented cast are Charlotte St Croix as Little Ines, Akeem Ellis-Hyman as the sinuous Seaweed, Richard Meek as the cheesy TV host Corny Collins, and Rebecca Jayne-Davis as Tracy’s eccentric best friend Penny Pingleton.  Ross Clifton’s Link Larkin, Tracy’s love interest, is suitably swoonsome, and there is strong support from Paul Hutton and Ceris Hine as a range of authority figures (teachers, prison guards etc).  But truly, the entire cast is magnificent, in great voice and expending vast amounts of energy executing Drew McOnie’s period-inspired choreography.

Of all the musicals currently doing the rounds, this is the one to see.  It’s a perfect show, funny and relevant, with an important message about inclusivity that it delivers with wit and style.

This is powerful, life-affirming stuff and no matter how many times I see it, Hairspray still holds up.

*****

Brenda Edwards sings the house down as Motormouth Maybelle (Photo: Mark Senior)

“Give yourself over to absolute pleasure”

THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW

The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 27th September, 2021

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen this show over the decades, but each time I go back I am reminded why I love it and why it’s a complete and utter cult.  Audience participation has calmed down considerably, as venues frown upon people hurling slices of toast and other missiles to punctuate lines of dialogue, but there is still plenty to keep the fans occupied, and we have some expert hecklers in the auditorium tonight.

Richard O’Brien’s show has become highly ritualised.  Some of us chant responses like a litany, gleefully denouncing the hero Brad as an arsehole, and his girlfriend Janet as a slut, every time their names are mentioned—to the bemusement of those who’ve never seen the show before.  The taking part is a massive part of the experience, and you can feel free to shout as much or as little as you like, and indeed to dress up to whatever extent you like.

The show opens with a belter, Science Fiction Double Feature, beautifully sung by Suzie McAdam’s usherette, full of references to very old sci-fi movies and names of bygone actors.  It occurs to me that perhaps some of the younger audience members will only know Michael Rennie and Fay Wray et al from this libretto.  O’Brien’s show is a homage to those creaky old flicks of yesteryear.

Ore Oduba, TV presenter turned Strictly star, plays the nerdish Brad (arsehole!) and acquits himself rather well, with a strong singing voice, and the movement skills you’d expect.  He is supported by Haley Flaherty as Janet (slut!) who perfectly depicts Janet’s journey from wide-eyed virgin to wide-legged, experienced woman.  Her sexual awakening leads to actualisation; Brad’s leads only to confusion.

At this performance, Riff Raff is played by Danny Knott, lumbering around, encumbered by his hunchback, and singing some of the score’s most searing lines. Goosebump territory.  For all the fun and shouting out rude words, this is a beautiful show, musically and lyrically speaking.  There is something sophisticated underpinning everything, and this is just as crucial to the show’s longevity as the opportunity to dress up and shout things (but not throwing them!)

Lauren Ingram’s Columbia is spot on, with an extended moment in the spotlight, after she has been zapped by a device.  Columbia is the heart of the show, adding emotional depth to the glitzy, glamorous goings on. Ben Westhead is an appealing Rocky, and Joe Allens makes his mark doubling as the unfortunate Eddie and as Dr Scott.

Stephen Webb absolutely rules as evil scientist Frank N Furter, combining camp posturing with a macho demeanour.  The iconic Tim Curry is perhaps indelible, but Webb both delivers audience expectations and brings something new to his interpretation.  His Frank is masterful, and brittle, and predatory, and outrageous.  It’s a remarkable performance.

But for me, the evening belongs to Philip Franks’s narrator.  Often a role that is sidelined, sometimes drowned out by cries of ‘Boring!’ from the crowd, Franks handles the verbiage of the lines he has to get out, adding in bang up-to-date topical jokes—thereby keeping the material fresh.  He is also a skilful handler of the crowd, shooting down hecklers with savage wit, and clearly enjoying himself as much as we are.

Yes, it’s a load of fun, but I’m always struck by the rather downbeat resolution.  It’s one of the most poignant endings in musical theatre, all the shenanigans reduced to a couplet of nihilistic existentialism.  It’s a good job the cast is resurrected to get us to do the Time Warp again.  We need to go home on a high.

A fabulous night out with hidden depths.

*****

Sweet transvestite: Stephen Webb as Frank N Furter

High Hopes and High Heels

EVERYBODY’S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE

The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 14th September, 2021

Based on a true story, this musical by Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom Macrae centres on 16-year-old Jamie New, on the cusp of leaving school and becoming who he wants to be (which is not a forklift driver, as the careers service suggests).  Jamie wants to be a drag queen, a noble profession indeed, but he faces resistance from—well, he doesn’t face all that much resistance to be honest.  His mum (Amy Ellen Richardson) couldn’t be more supportive (she buys him his first pair of high heels), nor could his best friend Pritti, and he soon finds an ally and mentor in Hugo the proprietor of the local drag shop (every town has one, right?).  There is some conflict when Jamie learns the birthday cards he’s been getting for years haven’t really come from his estranged dad, but Jamie seems more than capable of standing up for himself.  School bully George Sampson can barely get a word out, in the full glare of Jamie’s devastating wit.  Jamie plans to wear a dress to the prom (We didn’t have proms, we had school discos) and to prepare for this he performs his first drag show at the local drag club.  Which seems arse-backwards to me – surely the show requires more preparation, rehearsal, and guts to do.  Anyway…

There is much to like about this show, with its poptastic score, its energetic staging, funny script and talented cast, but for me there’s something not quite there.  Moments of excellence arise: Jamie’s mum belting out her big number about her boy; Shane Richie as the former drag queen regaining his glamour; an unrecognisable Shobna Gulati as Ray, a high-camp northern woman (almost a drag character in itself); a trio of drag queens bitching in the dressing room…For me, the best-written character is Pritti, in a show-stealing performance by Sharan Phull. 

In the title role, Layton Williams gives a star turn, taking to the high heels like a fish to water.  It’s a pity we don’t get to see Jamie do his drag act, but this is very much Jamie’s origin story.  He is still developing his drag superpowers.

And yet, I find the story lacks the punch of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.  Here, the issues aren’t really issues, and acceptance seems easy to come by.  It’s a sanitised, almost facile version of growing-up gay.  Jamie has one supportive parent; many LGBTQ+ kids don’t have that, but what does come across is institutionalised homophobia, as represented by teacher Miss Hodge (Lara Denning), but even that is swiftly overcome and papered over with compliments about shoes.

Jamie is a snack, sweet and enjoyable while it lasts, but the subject matter could have made a more substantial and satisfying meal.

***

Layton Williams (Jamie) and Sharan Phull (Pritti) Photo: Matt Crockett

Nothin’ but a Good Time

ROCK OF AGES

The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Friday 10th September, 2021

There aren’t many jukebox musicals that can entice me back for a second viewing, but when I was invited to see this one, I jumped at the chance, remembering how much of a good time I’d had first time round.

Set in 1987-ish in a bar on LA’s famous Sunset Strip, the show tells the story of rock star-cross’d lovers, Sherrie and Drew.  She’s a small-town girl with dreams of making it as an actor; he’s a boy with a guitar and a voice to die for, with his sights set on playing the stadiums.  As Sherrie, Rhiannon Chesterman is in excellent form, with a strong, expressive voice and a likeable presence.  Returning to the role of Drew, Luke Walsh again impresses with his singing; his voice soaring above everything else.  It’s a treat to hear him once more.

Ross Dawes brings a gruff warmth and skilful comic business to his role as bar owner Dennis Dupree, while Vas Constanti and Andrew Carthy make welcome returns as the scheming German property developers bent on demolishing the neighbourhood.  The characterisations are comic-book.  In fact, the entire production has more than a whiff of adult panto to it, and that’s a good thing, in this instance.  What I enjoy most is the silliness, the cheeky breaking of the fourth wall.  This is a show that doesn’t take itself seriously and it’s all the better for it.

Gabriella Williams makes her mark as Regina, protesting the redevelopment and falling for Andrew Carthy’s Franz, but it’s Jenny Fitzpatrick’s Justice who stops the show with her astonishing vocals.

Strictly’s Kevin Clifton gets a chance to display his singing and his talent for broad comedy as opposed to his dancing and gives a thoroughly enjoyable portrayal of the egotistic rock star Stacee Jaxx.  But for me, the show belongs to Joe Gash as the camptastic, charismatic and mischievous Lonny, the narrator of the piece, prancing around like the lovechild of Jack Sparrow and Russell Brand.  Gash is a delight, with a powerful voice and a quick wit he uses to handle any hecklers. 

There is stonking support from a chorus of superlative singers and dancers.  The ensemble arrangement of Poison’s Every Rose Has Its Thorn is just lovely, among a set list of numbers that are mainly anthemic power ballads or hand-clapping standards, like Don’t Stop Believing and Keep On Loving You. Lonny and Dennis’s duet, I Can’t Fight The Feeling Anymore, is a highlight among many hilarious moments.

The onstage band, led by Liam Holmes, is flawless, making the old, familiar songs irresistible.  Of course, we’re all up on our feet before the end, rocking our socks off.  There is a party atmosphere from start to finish in a production brimming over with talent and loaded with laughs.

A funny, feelgood show that doesn’t wallow in nostalgia but reminds us there were so many great songs back then.  And it’s especially gratifying to hear a song by local band Slade!

Is it crass?  Yes!

Is it entertaining?  YES!

Would I see it a third time?

In a heartbeat!

*****

Kevin Clifton as Stacee Jaxx (Photo: Richard Davenport)


Czech, please!

ONCE

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 10th March, 2020

 

Continuing the fad of adapting films into musicals comes this staging of John Carney’s 2007 film, which at least had original songs.  These have been developed into a full score (by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova) and although the action takes place in Dublin it’s not all diddly diddly dee – although there is some of that to give local flavour.  Enda Walsh’s book is brimming with wit, warmth and charm.

An Irish pub forms the backdrop, the kind of place where everyone can sing and play a musical instrument; the ensemble remain onstage throughout, observing like a silent chorus, reacting with subtle choreography, and contributing physical theatre where necessary, as well as shifting furniture and pianos and so on to keep the story flowing.

The story is a little slight: girl meets boy, helps him reconnect with his musical ambitions, setting him up for a life-changing trip to New York City…

The boy, or ‘Guy’ as he is referred to in the programme, is a vacuum cleaner repairman, disillusioned with busking and his musical aspirations.  He is about to walk away from his guitar for good when up steps the ‘Girl’, a kooky Czech lass who imposes herself on him with unrelenting directness, in a resistance-is-futile kind of way.  The result is a sweet and gentle love story, infused with a vibrant, rich score of pop songs and ballads, informed by Irish and Czech traditions.  It is lovely stuff.

As the ‘Guy’ Daniel Healy is the least kooky of the lot, and it’s a treat to hear him sing and play.  His numbers smack of Damien Rice – and this is a good thing, as Healy’s voice builds in power and expression and the ensemble joins in.  Searing and emotive, the songs get you right in the feels.

The ‘Girl’ is winningly portrayed by Emma Lucia, getting lots of laughs from her character rather than from a comedy Czech accent.  She sings very sweetly and when she duets with Healy, it confirms our suspicions that the two are made for each other.

Among the ensemble there are notable turns from the likes of Dan Bottomley as music shop proprietor Billy, Samuel Martin as a bank manager who can’t sing (a hilarious number!), and Susannah van den Berg as the formidable Baruska, the Girl’s mother.  Lloyd Gorman makes a strong impression as Svec, ripping his trousers off to play the drums and learning English from a tawdry soap opera.  In this performance, the sultry role of Reza is played by Hanna Khogali, bringing an exotic touch to proceedings – the show demonstrates how music unites us, wherever we’re from.  It is part of what makes us human and something to which we can all relate.

A toe-tapping, hand-clapping, heart-warming production that celebrates differences between cultures while reinforcing the similarities between us all.

Grand!

Emma Lucia as Girl and Daniel Healy as Guy - Once UK Tour - Photo Mark Senior (3)

Dublin duo: Emma Lucia as Girl and Daniel Healy as Guy (Photo: Mark Senior)

 


Serving Fish

UNFORTUNATE – The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch

The Patrick Studio, Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 17th December 2019

 

Fat Rascal are back in town with another hilarious new musical.  Following up their hit show Vulvarine and previous Disney parody, a gender-swapped Beauty and the Beast, they turn their merciless attention to another animated classic, Disney’s The Little Mermaid.  Our protagonist is the film’s antagonist, the sea witch herself.  In a Wicked kind of way, the script by Robyn Grant and Daniel Foxx, gives the villain a back story, and we see the other characters through the prism of her bitterness.  The story then takes us through an extremely funny piss-take of the film.  If you have detailed knowledge of the original work, (as I have) you will appreciate the comic business at play, as moments, some large and some small, are recreated and held up for mockery.

Robyn Grant herself appears as Ursula, looking fabulous in her tentacled frock.  There is more than a hint of Katherine Hepburn to her drawling, high camp performance and the glint never leaves her blue-shadowed eyes.  A liaison with Triton, back when he was a prince, leads to her banishment in the dark waters, but the couple’s mutual attraction never fades.  Triton, now king of the ocean, seeks the sea witch’s help with his wayward daughter, the incredibly thick, Essex-toned Ariel (a brilliant characterisation by Katie Wells).  Ariel falls for upper-class twit of a human, Prince Eric, a dimwit with a silver spoon in his mouth and a flute in his pocket.  Jamie Mawson is terrific as the Prince – the playing is as broad as the humour, but the show is not without its sophistications.

Allie Munro chunters and nags as the crab Sebastian – presented here as Oirish rather than Caribbean, delivering one of the highlights of the score, ‘Under The Waves’.  Later, Sebastian sings about the importance of gaining consent before you kiss the girl – an important message served up in a fun way.  Fat Rascal never lecture but there are lessons for us in all their works.  Steffan Rizzi is in great voice as Triton and everyone is involved in operating some puppet fish and other creatures for additional silliness.  At times it seems like there is more than just five actors in the company.

The film references come as fast as the jokes.  The lyrics, also by Grant and Foxx, are witty and, like the dialogue, are peppered with perfectly placed profanities.  The tunes, by Tim Gilvin, stay just the right side of plagiarism, sending up the Disney hits as well as including some fine showtunes.

It’s light-hearted, filthy fun that will change the way you look at a dinglehopper for good.  Scramble to get a ticket; to miss this marvellously funny work of genius would be, well, unfortunate.

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Squids in! Robyn Grant as Ursula (Photo: Matt Cawrey)