Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Monday 29th April, 2019
Don’t you just hate it when your wedding is called off so your mates take you abroad to a hotel to drink it off and you end up at the same place as your intended and their mates? This is the set-up for this new jukebox musical, the flimsy framework on which to hang hit songs from the 1980s. Add to the mix a subplot about an anonymous hotel inspector and a stalled love affair between the hotel owners and we’re pretty much set. As with other shows of this type, we get musical theatre performers emoting their way through vaguely relevant pop songs – part of the fun is the recognition of each song.
But what sets this one above those other shows is the star quality of its leading lights. Talent show champion Joe McElderry is Garry, the hotel’s entertainment officer, sporting a pink (rather than a red or even a yellow) coat, coming across like the love child of George Michael and Dale Winton. The pop songs are a walk in the park for McElderry’s excellent vocals but it is especially pleasing to see how much he has developed as a comic actor, with flawless timing, a neat line in facial expressions, and some energetic physical comedy. It’s camper than Christmas and it feels like McElderry has found his home.
Also bringing the goods is veteran comic actor and impressionist Kate Robbins, appearing as Consuela the maid – from the Allo Allo school of funny foreigners. In the hands of a pro like Robbins, the character is more than a stereotype, and is a superb comic creation in its own right. Robbins gets the chance to show off her impressions, through the prism of Consuela attempting to make the hotel look busy by donning a succession of fancy-dress costumes (didn’t they use that idea in Crossroads?).
Other members of the company get their moments to shine. Amelle Berrabah’s Serena delivers a lovely Only You, Karina Hind’s Lorraine gives a kick-ass Call Me and Cellen Chugg Jones’s Olly shows his vocal range with a-ha’s tricksy Take On Me. Emily Tierney gives a broad comic turn as accident-prone snob, Christine, who is not all that she seems… Neil McDermott’s Robert appeals, with a neat delivery of some snappy one-liners.
Michael Gyngell’s script keeps the complications uncomplicated; we shrug off the thinness of the plot because he gives us so many funny lines. Nick Winston’s choreography recalls the signature moves of the decade, and the band, led by MD Charlie Ingles, gets the audience on its feet.
Strindberg or Ibsen, this ain’t, but it’s not trying to be. While Club Tropicana doesn’t exactly push the boundaries of theatre, it’s undemanding, hilarious, old-fashioned fun, performed by a likeable company.
But it strikes me as odd that the famous and much-loved title song is never sung. Perhaps the rights could not be obtained. In that case, they should have called the show something else – but then I suppose Hotel California is too downbeat for this hugely enjoyable farcical frolic.
Joe McElderry as Garry
Leave a comment | tags: Amelle Berrabah, Cellen Chugg jones, Charlie Ingles, Club Tropicana, Emily Tierney, Grand Theatre Wolverhampton, Joe McElderry, Karina Hind, Kate Robbins, Michael Gyngell, Neil McDermott, Nick Winston, review | posted in Review, Theatre Review
Birmingham Hippodrome, Thursday 10th July, 2014
Author Gregory Maguire’s prequel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a dark and sensuous novel, here translated to the stage by Stephen Schwartz (music and lyrics) and Winnie Holzman (book). It’s a fluffier affair that races through events but is not without its darker side. The inhabitants of Oz are shown to be easily swayed by colour prejudice and fear, like UKIP voters. Their propensity for scapegoating the evils of their society involves an actual goat who, like other animals must not be allowed to teach the children, and must be denied their voice. The show looks back at the rise of Nazi Germany but is also a rather chilling depiction of the current rise of the far right in Europe.
The story tells of Elphaba, a girl who soon learns it’s not easy being green, but despite that develops into an engaging character – we take her to our hearts even though we have been told from the get-go she is to become the Wicked Witch of the West, and we will have a right old ding-dong when she is dead at last. Elphaba gets into a loathing-at-first-sight relationship with perky, popular girl Glinda (Gah-linda!) when she enrols at Shiz University – a kind of Hogwarts, or Oz-warts, I suppose. The pair’s mutual hatred turns to respect and a lasting friendship that is touching to behold. As the standby Elphaba, Jemma Alexander gives a powerhouse of a performance, but it is Emily Tierney’s Glinda who delights and amuses in her every scene. She’s an airhead and hilariously so, but Elphaba brings out the best and the worst in her – this is as much her story as the green-skinned witch’s. As circumstances conspire against her and public opinion is manipulated by lies and propaganda, Elphaba becomes an outlaw and a figure of fear, Glinda too goes up in the world, even channelling Eva Peron on her way to becoming the ‘good’ fairy we recognise from the classic film.
It’s a spectacular presentation of a storybook world – the fairy-tale gothic of the sets and costume gives us a world that is like our own but not so. The humanity of the characters is recognisable and relatable, and the script cleverly includes in-jokes and references to the original source material. It’s also an origins story – we see how the friends of Dorothy get to be how they are, although Dorothy herself is marginalised. Holzman’s script is witty and fun – it’s a pity Schwarz’s score is patchy at best. The songs are hardly memorable – they serve a purpose within the plot as it unfolds with only the glimmer of an occasional refrain you might hum on the way out. The cast do their best to belt out the numbers and keep the energy levels high.
There is appealing support from George Ure as heartbroken Boq, and Liam Doyle as swaggering Prince Charming, Fiyero. Marilyn Cutts is strong as Madame Morrible, who looks like Barbara Cartland but has the cold black heart of Theresa May. Dale Rapley’s Wizard is the only one to speak in an American accent – the shyster from Kansas – in this very British-sounding production.
Unlike Maguire’s novel, it’s family fare – although there are some nasty moments. It’s more Brothers Grimm than Walt Disney. This grown-up fairy-tale has emotional and political resonance but above all it’s an enjoyable spectacle – it is so good to see shows of this scale and quality here in the Midlands.
Emily Tierney proves popular as Gah-linda
Leave a comment | tags: Birmingham Hippodrome, Boq, Dale Rapley, Elphaba, Emily Tierney, Fiyero, George Ure, Glinda, Gregory Maguire, Jemma Alexander, Liam Doyle, Marilyn Cutts, review, The Wizard of Oz, theatre review, Wicked | posted in Theatre Review