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
ROCK OF AGES
The Alexandra, Birmingham, Tuesday 13th November, 2018
As ever, I approach this jukebox musical with trepidation. Will it be the same sort of flimsy plot with old songs shoehorned in just for the sake of it? Will I sit there for two hours asking myself what’s the point?
All my fears were allayed within minutes. It turns out Rock of Ages is an absolute beaut of a show, hugely enjoyable from start to finish. Set in mid-to-late 1980s on L.A.’s Sunset Strip, this is a world of big hair and ripped jeans, where ‘rock’ is a verb and middle fingers are firmly jabbed upwards. At no point are we invited to take any of it seriously. The fourth wall is well and truly demolished and the script is peppered with theatrical gags, celebrating the artifice of the enterprise.
Our narrator is Lonny, performed by an irresistibly likeable Lucas Rush, camp, crass and hilarious. Lonny works as a ‘sound guy’ in the Bourbon Room, a club owned by ageing rocker Dennis (an unrecognisable Kevin ‘Curly Watts’ Kennedy). Rush and Kennedy make an excellent pairing: their rendition of I Can’t Fight This Feeling is a comic highlight of a show that has many such moments.
Leading man Drew, a wannabe rocker, is played by Luke Walsh, whose voice is absolutely searing. The only thing missing is a good head of big hair for him to bang when the need arises. Leading lady Sherrie, a wannabe actor who has a harder time of it than Drew (but this reflects the sexual politics of the era, I suppose) is played by Danielle Hope, combining strength and vulnerability. Her voice has Pat Benatar qualities and her rendition of More Than Words gives shivers.
The course of Drew’s love doesn’t run smooth, of course, and he is disheartened when Sherrie, believing Drew isn’t interested, becomes entangled with rock superstar Stacee Jaxx – a toweringly funny portrayal from the mighty Sam Ferriday. His Jaxx is all ego and charisma; Ferriday is lithe and sinuous and hilarious in his physicality. His voice is superb. I find myself falling for this long-haired, white-suited monster.
Vas Constanti and Andrew Carthy bring broad comedy as a pair of German property developers, the villains of the piece who make ‘Allo Allo’ seem subtle. Carthy also proves himself a nifty mover in some surprising dance moments. Rhiannon Chesterman is consistently bonkers as activist Regina, while the phenomenal Zoe Birkett is a strong contender for the show’s vocal crown as stripclub-owner Justice.
The book, by Chris D’Arienzo, keeps the jokes flowing along with a plethora of 80s soft rock hits, and I am surprised whenever, among the knockabout fun, moments of beauty arise: Every Rose Has Its Thorn stirs the blood. The music is provided by a brilliant onstage band under the aegis of musical director Barney Ashworth, and there is energetic pastiche choreography by Nick Wilson and Ryan-Lee Seager (who also direct) and of course we are all up on our feet by the end – how could you not be? How could you not adore this crazy cavalcade? You must be made of rock.
I leave the theatre exhilarated – and relieved they didn’t kill the mood with the title song!
Hair today: Lucas Rush as Lonny
Leave a comment | tags: Andrew Carthy, Barney Ashworth, Birmingham, Chris D'Arienzo, Danielle Hope, Kevin Kennedy, Lucas Rush, Luke Walsh, Nick Winston, review, Rhiannon Chesterman, Rock of Ages, Ryan-Lee Seagar, Sam Ferriday, The Alexandra Theatre, Vas Constanti, Zoe Birkett | posted in Review, Theatre Review
THE WEDDING SINGER
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 23rd May, 2017
There is a trend among theatre-makers to turn a mediocre film into a stage musical (eg Legally Blonde) and this show sits firmly in that genre. Adam Sandler was the go-to guy for film comedy decades ago, mixing gross-out gags with sentiment. Without his forceful personality, the material struggles. Even with the show’s book written by Sandler collaborator Tim Herlihy (along with lyricist Chad Beguelin) the result is a mismatch of tones that don’t quite gel.
Jon Robyns appears as the cheese-for-hire performer of the title, compering weddings at the helm of his band, Simply Wed (best joke in the piece). Where Robyns comes into his own is when, jilted at the altar, he becomes embittered and viciously savages the happy couple at his next gig, in a heartfelt and funny outburst, a public indulgence of emotion – which is what weddings are, I suppose! Robyns also shines in duets with Cassie Compton who plays Julie, a waitress who crops up at the same weddings. Compton is in great form, blending pop vocals with musical theatre expressiveness.
Julie is engaged to yuppie go-getter Glen (Ray Quinn, enjoying himself as the selfish and soulless financier/fiance) but from the start it’s clear (it would be clear to a blind man on a galloping horse) that she and the wedding singer are meant to be together. There are stumbling blocks along the way, like the reappearance of runaway bride Linda (an energetic Hannah Jay-Allen) an unlikely leather-clad rock chick-cum-Donna Summer to Robyns’s clean-cut Huey Lewis persona.
Maplins escapee Ruth Madoc appears as Rosie, the wedding singer’s grandmother, for some of the broader comic moments, and there is decent support from Tara Verloop as Holly, Ashley Emerson as Sammy, and Samuel Holmes makes the most of the marginalised role of token gay George, who doesn’t get a subplot of his own.
The tunes, by Matthew Sklar, are serviceable if not memorable, with Chad Beguelin’s lyrics snappier than the dialogue. Director Nick Winston’s choreography evokes the 1980s, and is performed by a lively chorus. The show attempts to arouse nostalgia in its look and with its pop culture references; I would have liked to see more mullets and bigger hair though among Francis O’Connor’s costume designs.
A run-of-the-mill love story with no surprises is the underwhelming heart of this bright and colourful production. There is something of a reminder that materialism is not the way to go – but then you knew that already, I hope – but I don’t get engaged (ha!) with the characters or care about their lives. This is no reflection on the cast or the production values. I think the script needs to decide which way it’s going to go: larger-than-life laughs or sweetly sentimental rom-com. I feel as though it tries to deliver both but ends up delivering neither. An unhappy marriage of tones.
Wedding tackle: Jon Robyns, trashing a wedding as Robbie Hart (Photo: Darren Bell)
Leave a comment | tags: Adam Sandler, Ashley Emerson, Cassie Compton, Chad Beguelin, Francis O'Connor, Hannah Jay-Allen, Jon Robyns, Matthew Sklar, New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham, Nick Winston, Ray Quinn, review, Ruth Madoc, Samuel Holmes, Tara Verloop, The Wedding Singer, Tim Herlihy | posted in Theatre Review