HEATHERS – The Musical
The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 16th May 2023
Based on the cult 1989 film starring Christian Slater and Wynona Rider, this high school musical is named after the mean girls who rule the school. Three girls named Heather, far from the nicest kids in town, form an unholy trio into which loner Veronica is inducted after she does them a favour. Veronica’s life is never the same again, but it’s not entirely due to the Heathers. Enter new kid on the block, J.D. with his long black coat and air of mystery, and Veronica’s head is turned. Suddenly, one of the Heathers is dead and everyone believes it’s a suicide… As the body count grows and Veronica learns more about the charismatic J.D. she also finds that life isn’t a popularity contest where the losers are eliminated…
Jenna Innes commands the stage as Veronica, impressing with the vocal talent and bringing a wry humour to the role, while still allowing Verity Thompson’s delightfully monstrous Heather Chandler to shine. Jacob Fowler brings the darkness as the too-cool-for-school J.D. and you can see why Veronica falls for him. Alex Woodward and Morgan Jackson are hilarious as the knuckleheaded ‘jocks’ Kurt and Ram, and there is a showstopping number from their fathers, played by Conor McFarlane and Jay Bryce. At this performance Heather Duke and Heather McNamara are played by Summer Priest and Eliza Bowden respectively but such is the tightness of the direction (by Andy Fickman) and the choreography (by Gary Lloyd) there is never the sense of them not playing the roles all the time! Katie Paine’s hippie teacher, Ms Fleming could be a bit more ‘out there’, I think, and the risqué, panto-style interaction with a man on the front row seems out of place in a scene when she’s supposedly addressing an audience of high-school kids.
The book, music and lyrics are by Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe, remaining true to the plot and spirit of Daniel Waters’s film. All the best lines from the screenplay are here along with witty lyrics and a highly serviceable score. There may not be any breakout songs that have become standards, but the tunes are strong and most importantly, add to character, plot and emotion.
Yes, it’s based on a film, like so many new musicals these days, but at least it’s not cobbled together from the back catalogue of hasbeen singers.
David Shields’s design economically conjures an American high school and it’s beautifully and atmospherically lit by Ben Cracknell. The rousing music is played live by a tight band led by Will Joy, and there are plenty of opportunities for cast members to belt with their moment in the spotlight. Kingsley Morton, as Veronica’s much-bullied friend Martha, brings the house down – it feels odd applauding her suicide attempt but that’s the kind of show this is. It makes us revel in the dark side of life. A wicked black comedy that turns out to be life-affirming, Heathers brings the laughter and the darkness, making for an excellent night at the theatre, serving as a reminder that even those who seem to have things together ‘have static’ in their lives. Which seems apposite, considering this is Mental Health Awareness Week.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Jenna Innes and Jacob Fowler (Photo: Pamela Raith)
Leave a comment | tags: Alex Woodward, Andy Fickman, Ben Cracknell, Christian Slater, David Shields, Eliza Bowden, Gary Lloyd, Heathers - The Musical, Jacob Fowler, Jenna Innes, Katie Paine, Kevin Murphy, Kingsley Morton, Laurence O'Keefe, Morgan Jackson, Summer Priest, Verity Thompson, Will Joy, Wynona Rider | posted in musical, play, Review, Theatre Review
JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT
Birmingham Hippodrome, Wednesday 3rd July, 2019
The only problem with this show, the first collaboration between Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, is its brevity. Having start out as a 20-minute piece for a school assembly, the running time has been expanded by the addition of new songs in order to reach a more conventional length for a night out at the theatre. Some of the additions add little more than repetition. We get previews of songs before they appear in the storyline. We get reprises and reprises. Joseph’s coat begins to feel like a padded jacket.
But beneath the padding, there is the kernel of brilliance. Rice’s witty lyrics and Lloyd Webber’s score of many colours are at their finest here. Name another Lloyd Webber show that has such a range of melodies. Answers on a postcard, please.
The show hinges on its leading man and here, in Jaymi Hensley, it has one of the best I’ve seen. Hensley’s vocals are richly textured and infused with emotion. His Close Every Door is breath-taking – it’s the show’s best number and, mercifully, is not reprised to death. Hensley’s acting matches the quality of his singing. He is expressive and funny, his reactions fleshing out the part: some Josephs can be arrogant and smug; Hensley combines strength with vulnerability. He also looks great in the loincloth.
As the narrator, Trina Hill is at her best when belting out, rock-star style. At times she is swamped by the action and you wonder where her voice is coming from. Andrew Geater’s Pharaoh replicates Elvis’s intonations – to the point of losing a little clarity. Even Joseph has to ask him to repeat himself. Geater pulls it off through energy and commitment. (At the time of the original production, Elvis was very much still in the building, and the show pastiched popular music genres of the day. Now its references may be dated, and its satire diminished but it’s still a lot of fun.)
Henry Metcalfe is not only a dignified Jacob and an elegant Potiphar, he also choreographed the production. With new moves by Gary Lloyd, the dancing is slick, sharp and funny too. The pas de deux in Those Canaan Days is as impressive as it is anachronistic. Mrs Potiphar (Amber Kennedy) is a glamorous cougar, stalking her prey. It’s the anachronisms that make the show endearing and somehow timeless. The French ballad, the cowboy song, the calypso. This show is bonkers. Some might say post-modern.
Among the lyrical and musical wittiness, the power of the story comes through. The reunion scenes have the power to move – director Bill Kenwright wisely includes moments of silence as events impact on the characters, and Hensley’s Any Dream Will Do, when it is performed in the context of the story, is a tear-jerker.
This production does the material justice, with a superlative ensemble of brothers, wives, and a highly disciplined children’s choir. But it’s Hensley’s star that shines brightest.
Dreamboat: Jaymi Hensley as Joseph (Pamela Raith Photography)
Leave a comment | tags: Amber Kennedy, Andrew Geater, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Bill Kenwright, Birmingham, Birmingham Hippodrome, Elvis Presley, Gary Lloyd, Henry Metcalfe, Jaymi Hensley, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, review, Tim Rice, Trina Hill | posted in musical, Review, Theatre Review
20th CENTURY BOY
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 28th April, 2014
I was a bit young for Marc Bolan. I was aware of him and some of his songs and I definitely remember when he died – this new musical, a biography, brought all that back. You can’t deny the nostalgic appeal of shows of this type and I think some members of the audience were expecting a tribute act rather than an actual drama.
Bolan’s story is framed around the device of his son, “Rolan Bolan” (Luke Bailey) now grown-up and hungry to learn about his famous father. Mum, Gloria Jones (Donna Hines) is tired of his probing and sends him off to London (or “London, England” as she calls it) so he can find out for himself. Rolan rocks up at his gran’s place, in Walford it sounds like, and meets both Gran (Sue Jenkins in Catherine Tate mode) and Uncle Harry (Pete Manchester) and as they pore over the family album, young Marc appears in school uniform and Davy Crockett hat, his main preoccupation before rock and roll took hold of his imagination. We see teenage Marc with a D.A. giving Helen Shapiro (a splendid Katia Sartini) the elbow because she gets a record contract before he does. A succession of wigs brings us to the familiar corkscrew mop of hair that was his trademark. It’s the stuff of bio-pics: the rise of the single-minded artist, although Bolan is depicted as a bit of a drip. The show seems to poke gentle fun at him, or rather this version of him that fits the mould of this type of story. The script is humorous but it’s the music that keeps the piece alive and kicking. The hits keep coming: Metal Guru, Ride A White Swan, Jeepster... and you realise what a rich back catalogue T.Rex had. The change of eras and fashions is marked by the energetic choreography by director Gary Lloyd.
There is a shortage of drama. The bitterness and resentment of Bolan’s mother towards Bolan’s widow, who was driving the car in which he was killed, is emphasised, but during Bolan’s life, there seems to be very little conflict. He argues with producer Tony Visconti (an excellent Andy Coxon) about shortening the name of the band, and capitulates after half a minute. He argues again about having strings in the arrangement of a new song, and again, thirty seconds later, gives in. It makes Bolan seem petulant and silly, rather than egotistic. With that wig it’s like Dennis the Menace having a strop.
We know it wasn’t Bolan’s ego or lifestyle that brought about his premature demise. We know there’s an encounter with a tree in his near future. Rolan contrives to get his mum and his gran at the accident site for a reconciliation to bring closure to the story – it’s a bit hard to stomach, whether that moment happened in reality or not. Sue Jenkins is a formidable stage presence and Donna Hines’s rich singing voice is marvellous to hear. I also enjoyed Matthew Ashcroft as two of Bolan’s collaborators, Steve Took and Mickey Finn.
At the heart of the show is an electric performance from Warren Sollars as Bolan, who gets the singing and the posturing spot on. Despite the script’s shortcomings, the show is ultimately a celebration of a life and a glorious opportunity to be reacquainted with some of the best music of the 1970s.
Warren Sollars IS Marc Bolan
Leave a comment | tags: 20th Century Boy, Andy coxon, Donna Hines, Gary Lloyd, Katia Sartini, Luke Bailey, Marc Bolan, Matthew Ashcroft, New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham, Peter Manchester, review, Sue Jenkins, T Rex, theatre review, Warren Sollars | posted in Theatre Review