Tag Archives: Norman Pace

Firm Favourite

HAIRSPRAY

Birmingham Hippodrome, Monday 9th October, 2017

 

I don’t know how many times I have seen this show but I am always glad of the chance to see it again.  This latest tour does not disappoint in any department – which is what you hope for, of course – but yet again I am struck by the genius of the material.  Based on a film of the same name by the self-appointed Pope of Trash, John Waters, this is more than the story of a determined, chubby girl to get herself dancing on a TV show; it is a microcosm of the civil rights movement in the early 1960s and also, for our times, a fable that reminds us that different can be beautiful.  Yes, it’s a feel-good musical, there’s no getting away from that, but the social commentary packs a punch that goes beyond its historical relevance.  Look at the news and see right-wing morons behaving despicably in the USA today and you’ll see that abhorrent (and stupid) attitudes are still prevalent along with institutionalised racism – TV producer and the show’s villain, Velma would no doubt be a Trump supporter.

Making her professional debut, Rebecca Mendoza is superb as the irrepressible Tracy Turnblad, a veritable dynamo full of heart and energy.  Mendoza also brings out Tracy’s inherent sense of humour and her vocal stylings are impeccable.  Similarly, Edward Chitticks makes his Link Larkin more than a shallow Elvis wannabe – although he undoubtedly has all the moves.  Jon Tsouras is both sharp and smooth as TV host Corny Collins.  Brenda Edwards brings the house down as the sassy, brassy Motormouth Maybelle – her anthemic I Know Where I’ve Been gives goosebumps.  Layton Williams makes for a sinuous, sinewy Seaweed – Drew McOnie’s choreography certainly allows him to shine – while Annalise Liard-Bailey’s geeky Penny Pingleton is a pleasure.  Aimee Moore is particularly good as mean girl Amber Von Tussle while Gina Murray is marvellous as her mean-spirited mother.  Monifa James impresses as Little Inez and there is much to enjoy from Graham Macduff and Tracey Penn in a variety of pop-up roles, including the TV sponsor and a crude prison guard.

Inevitably perhaps, the showstoppers are Tracy’s parents, Wilbur and Edna – fellow Dudley boy Norman Pace and Matt Rixon.  Veteran star Pace shows no signs of waning and Rixon is pitch perfect in a role that is much more than a pantomime dame.  Edna’s journey from the ironing board to national television is truly life-affirming, and Rixon makes the most of the humour and the underlying pathos of the part.

The main players are supported by an indefatigable chorus of singing, dancing marvels and a tireless band under the baton of musical director Ben Atkinson.  Paul Kerryson’s direction keeps the fun factor high – you can’t help having a great time.

Marc Shaiman’s score has no filler and the lyrics, co-written with Scott Whittman, remain witty and sophisticated.  Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan’s book retains enough of the Pope of Trash’s acerbic spirit to keep the whole from becoming saccharine sweet.

Everyone is on their feet for the irresistible finale, blown away and exhilarated by the energy and talent exuding from the stage.   Hairspray retains its hold on me and while I’m uplifted by this fine production, I am saddened to realise that in these backward-facing times we need to heed its message just as much as we ever did.

Hairspray

Good morning, Birmingham! Rebecca Mendoza IS Tracy Turnblad

Advertisements

Not dreaming but being

THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Monday 13th June, 2016

 

Richard O’Brien’s cult camp classic is doing the rounds again in this exuberant production.  I’ve been a devotee for decades and I’m sure I would have enjoyed the show on its own merits were it not for the actions of one of America’s inexhaustible supply of gun-toting shitheads.  On Saturday night an inexcusable cunt murdered innocent people in a Florida gay bar, just because they were there.  My thoughts have been coloured by this act of hate-filled cowardice ever since.  And so it was heartening to approach the theatre and see so many people in costume.  Men in drag – straight men, many of them – getting into the spirit of the show, wobbling on high heels, squeezed into unfamiliar basques, and sweating under polyester wigs.  I felt decidedly underdressed by comparison.

It struck me, more than ever, how the show is a celebration.  Uptight straight couple Brad and Janet are changed forever by their encounter with the flamboyant, predatory Frank N Furter.  Their eyes (and their legs) are opened to other possibilities.  And it got me thinking what would our culture be like if LGBT people did not contribute?  Dull, flat, white bread – it doesn’t bear thinking about.

As saccharin sweet Janet, Diana Vickers is wonderful, showing her character’s sexual awakening in her voice as much as her acting.  Richard Meek is a sturdy, stand-up Brad, testing the boundaries of his masculinity.

Fellow Dudley boy Norman Pace excels as the Narrator, managing the audience interjections assertively but always with a sense of fun, and it is an absolute pleasure to see the remarkable Kristian Lavercombe as Riff Raff again – a masterful butler, if you can have such a thing.  Kay Murphy’s Magenta is a glamorous vamp, while Sophie Linder-Lee’s Columbia is perky and brittle – her drug-induced freak-out is hilarious.  Good value is S-Club 7’s Paul Cattermole appearing in two roles, as experiment-gone-wrong Eddie and as Nazi-leaning, wheelchair-bound Dr Scott.  Liam Tamne gives a magnificent star turn as Frank N Furter, adding a touch of Southern drawl and a whole lot of glamour.  Tamne is at his heart-breaking best in the closing numbers, with some soulful torch-song singing.  But tonight, for me, scene and heart were stolen by Dominic Andersen as Rocky Horror himself.  A perfect physical specimen in leopard-print pants, Andersen can sing, move and act.  It was love at first sight.

Director Christopher Luscombe somehow keeps things fresh while giving us everything we expect.  Seasoned audience members know exactly what to shout out and when – you don’t heckle, you participate.  It’s more of a litany than a pantomime.

The show is tons of fun but I am always struck by the downbeat denouement.  But tonight, especially, when Frank is gunned down for going ‘too far’, it is extra powerful.  That he is shot by someone inhuman says it all.

The show concludes with one of the bleakest assessments of our sorry species I have ever heard.  And crawling on the planet’s face, some insects called the human race, lost in time and lost in space and meaning.

The show has never been more relevant and necessary.

And then, we’re all on our feet and dancing the time-warp; we’re clapping and cheering and enjoying the moment, because that’s how life should be lived.

rocky horror

Rocky relationship: Dominic Andersen marvels at Liam Tamne’s Frank-N-Furter

 


The Whole Shooting Match

ANNIE GET YOUR GUN

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 1st July 2014

 

Irving Berlin’s classic musical is given a fresh makeover in this touring production.

Herbert and Dorothy Fields’s script still crackles with funny one-liners but new additions by Peter Stone give the show a slightly Brechtian feel, with the theatricality of the production laid bare, and scenes announced as they are set up.  It’s like a palatable version of Chicago – here the characters have at least one redeeming quality if they’re not out-and-out lovable.    The score contains standards everyone knows: There’s No Business Like Show Business is a gem of an opening number and recurring motif, and Anything You Can Do is a comic highlight.

Set in Buffalo Bill’s Big Top, the story of the rivalry and romance between Frank Butler (Jason Donovan) and Annie Oakley (Emma Williams) is played out, with only crates and cases for scenery, and the band and other cast members on stage throughout.  Billowing red and white striped cloths evoke the circus tent, but rather than alienating us, these devices draw us in.

Norman Pace looks hale and hearty as Southern gentleman and showman Buffalo Bill Cody – in his white suit and goatee you expect him to crack out the fried chicken at any second.  Jason Donovan looks great in Butler’s clothes (he should wear them all the while – when he’s not in his Joseph loincloth, of course!) and his characterisation works well.  I feel he lacks the vocal power at times to match Butler’s blowhard posturing – although I did hear his mic crackle a couple of times, so perhaps that explains it.

Lorna Want and Yiftach Mizrahi are charming as young lovers in a mixed-race subplot, and as Want’s elder showgirl sister Dolly, Kara Lane struts around splendidly as the show’s nominal villain.  There is strong character support from Dermot Canavan as hotel owner Wilson and Cody’ rival showman Pawnee Bill, while Ed Currie towers over the proceedings as a dignified but funny Sitting Bull.

The show belongs, though, to Emma Williams’s Annie Oakley.  From her entrance as a scruffy, cross-dressing trapper/hunter to her transformation into a star through the magic and machinations of show business, she is superb.  Her characterisation is broad but it works beautifully and her singing voice is by far the best in the company.  You admire the performer and care for the character in this vibrant and engaging treatment of a heart-warming, old school musical that hits every target.

 

Image

Emma Williams, Jason Donovan and Norman Pace