Tag Archives: Joe McElderry

Holiday Camp

CLUB TROPICANA

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.

Club Tropicana 3

Joe McElderry as Garry


Rubbing the Right Way

ALADDIN

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 13th December, 2016

 

This year’s panto may be the Grand’s most lavish for years, containing moments of spectacle and glamour, but of course what matters most is the cast.  Qdos Entertainment has gathered a fine ensemble of familiar and not-so-familiar faces, all of whom go all out to deliver the goods.

aladdin-joe

Wow factor: Joe McElderry as Aladdin

In the title role is Joe McElderry, last seen on these boards as an excellent Joseph.  He sings like an angel from pop heaven, to be sure, but can he handle the comedy?  The answer is an unqualified yes.  McElderry is a natural for the panto style and makes an affable, adorable hero.  Lucy Kay is a beautiful Princess with a voice to match (her duets with McElderry are especially good); Adam C Booth’s Wishee Washee is a highly energised crowd pleaser and Ian Adams’s Widow Twankey is an old-school dame, played to perfection.  Lisa Riley, in great shape, is an amusing Slave of the Ring, bluff, Northern and friendly, but it is the Lazy Empress, played by Doreen who almost steals the show, giving Old Peking a decidedly and inescapably Black Country flavour.  Doreen also proves she is more than a one-trick pony (or should I say ‘oss’?) with a song-and-dance number that defies her supposedly lazy persona.  A real treat is Stefan Pejic’s delicious Abanazar.  Pejic plays the villain with such relish you can’t help liking him! Ben Faulks is fun as PC Ping Pong, although if you don’t know of his children’s TV gardening-based series, some of the references leave you a bit cold.  Neal Wright’s smart-talking Genie of the Lamp is a great surprise.

Michael Harrison and Alan McHugh’s script is faithful to the story – the bizarre mash-up of Arabian Nights and Chinese kitsch – while allowing for contemporary touches and moments of wonder.  We’ve seen flying carpets before but not like this one, but it’s a comic song routine about alternative employment for the characters that brings the house down.

Kelvin Towse leads a tight group of musicians. The glamorous dancers are complemented by kids from the Classic Academy of Dance. The belly laughs don’t stop coming and the impetus never flags.

This production is excellent value and unrelenting fun.  You couldn’t wish for a better show.

 


Fashion Victim

JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Wednesday 18th May, 2016

 

Way, way back, many centuries ago, I appeared in my school’s production of this show, as the Narrator, and so, of all musicals, this is probably the one I know the best.  In fact, it started life as a 20-minute piece for an assembly and has been added to and added to over the years.  Initially the additions were to flesh out the story.  Nowadays it seems the further additions are to extend the running time – perhaps to make people feel they’re getting their money’s worth.  There is an old saying, however, that less is more.

And so we get previews of songs before they crop up in the story, and endless reprises.  At the core though, the show remains a daft, funny and ultimately moving piece of theatre that can still work its magic despite all the padding.  The plot is, of course, a Bible story, an Old Testament tale from which God is absent.  It tells of Jacob, a fertile old man.  Eleven of his sons envy the twelfth.  The camel’s back is broken by the last straw: Jacob gives his favourite the eponymous garment.  The brothers decide to do away with this rival for their father’s affections and end up selling him into slavery.  Joseph rises through the ranks of Egyptian society, via a detour into prison, because of his ability to interpret the puzzling dreams of the rich and famous.  The fashion victim is able to turn the tables on his detractors.

Joe McElderry dazzles as Joseph.  He has never sounded better and when it comes to the acid test for all Josephs, Close Every Door, he nails it.  The song, not the door. I get chills; they multiply.  He looks great too – he can certainly fill a loincloth – apart from one scene when he is dressed like a gold Power Ranger doing Phantom of the Opera.  McElderry is matched, if not surpassed, by a terrific Narrator – soprano Lucy Kay, whose voice ranges from the operatic to power rock.  I can’t remember a better Narrator – me included!

Choreographer Henry Metcalfe appears as Jacob and the rich merchant Potiphar.  His choreography matches the genre of each song, adding to the fun and spectacle.  The chorus of brothers largely act as one – this production doesn’t give them each a wife to dance with, and so there is a distinctly masculine feel and sound to their numbers.  It’s difficult to single them out for praise but Benjamin Beechey makes his mark as eldest son Reuben, especially during Country and Western lament, One More Angel In Heaven; Jamie Jukes stands out as Zebulun; and Marcus Ayton’s Issacher delivers a rousing calypso; Lewis Asquith’s Butler is a curious mixture of Egyptian posturing and upper class twit.  The show requires everyone to be versatile and this lot pull it off with aplomb.  Those Canaan Days, an inexplicably French number, is hilariously melodramatic.

The other big role, that of the Pharaoh, is always a highlight.  Emilianos Stamatakis delivers The King, a Las Vegas Elvis in the white jumpsuit of his prime.  It’s an electrifying performance that is diluted by one-too-many encores and a relatively new song, an interpolation that seems nothing more than an excuse to namedrop as many Presley song titles as possible.  It makes me wonder what the youngest members of the audience get from this, with Elvis less than a current event.  There is much to enjoy in Stamatakis’s rendition at face value, I suppose, but it strikes me the primary school attendees will be more familiar with the Ancient Egyptian iconography in the set design than the works and mannerisms of the King.

A choir of local school children appears – they get their moment in the spotlight for a medley that kicks off the second act.  A great opportunity for them to appear alongside professionals in a high quality production.  The show is colourful, irresistibly and energetic, and is enhanced by plenty of silly business – a singing camel’s head, a bottomless boat, inflatable sheep that don’t always rise to the occasion.  Director Bill Kenwright somehow keeps the whole enterprise fresh, despite its familiarity and its playing-for-time padding.

To my mind, it’s Andrew Lloyd Webber’s best piece.  Nowhere else has he used pastiche so effectively and honestly.  The pop tunes, across a range of styles, are matched perfectly by Tim Rice’s witty, very English, lyrics.  All the fun culminates in a simple but moving moment of reconciliation and reunion that gets me every time. The emotional impact sneaks up on you – you’re surprised by how affected you are, and that is why this show works time and time again.

Joe McElderry in Joseph(c)Mark Yeoman (2)

 Joe McElderry displaying his X factor  (Photo: Mark Yeoman)