Tag Archives: review

Ooh, you are lawful…

LEGALLY BLONDE – The Musical

Stratford Play House, Stratford upon Avon, Friday 6th May 2022

Stratford Musical Theatre Company turn their talented hands to the musical adaptation of the well-known Reese Witherspoon comedy film, in a vibrant production at the Play House, a venue that is more suited to bands and stand-up comedians.  And so the staging tonight is minimal, leaving the floor free for the large chorus to occupy – director Georgie Wood has drilled her cast to maximum efficiency for getting things on and getting things off again, so the piece runs like clockwork.

It’s the story of Elle Woods who, dumped by her egotistic boyfriend, follows him to Harvard Law School in hot pink and hot pursuit, as though getting a law degree will win the chump back… Elle is faced with prejudice because of her looks and demeanour but she overcomes obstacles to prove she is top of the class, and hey, you don’t need a man to make you happy… The show’s message seems to be about not judging books by their covers and breaking down stereotypes, which is a pertinent point to make: to be one’s authentic self.  Why then, does writer Heather Hach tarnish the piece with homophobic representations of LGBTQ+ people, who don’t get a chance to demonstrate they are more than the effeminate, posing, skipping fairies we are subjected to here?  Signs, I think, of the material exceeding its show-by date.  I cringe throughout the song Gay Or European which goes against the positive stereotype-busting message of the rest of it.

Leading the cast as the titular blonde Elle Woods, Vanessa Gravestock delivers an engaging, impressive performance, balancing the dumb-blonde looks with Elle’s innate intelligence.  She’s an appealing presence with the star quality required by the role.

Other highlights (because she’s blonde!) include Christopher Dobson as the tough-talking Professor, effortlessly exuding his dominance and high status;  Casey McKernan amuses as Elle’s cocksure ex Warner; Ian Meikle endears himself as mild-mannered love interest Emmett; Katie Merrygold is stonkingly good as Elle’s new BFF, Paulette Buonufonte; and Oliver Payne makes a scene-stealing appearance as delivery man Kyle.

It doesn’t matter what the cast does though, because any time a dog is brought on, it immediately upstages everyone else!  And I can’t help wondering if the situation is stressful for the animals.

The chorus is great, filling the space with energy and performing Julie Bedlow-Howard’s lively choreography.  In particular, a cheerleading number is splendid.

The singing too is all the more impressive when you realise the singers can’t see musical director James Suckling and the band, who are walled up behind the backdrop!

Unfortunately, there are missed lighting and sound cues, and this is not opening night where you can excuse a few hitches.  Microphone coverage is patchy.  It feels like the show could have done with at least one more technical rehearsal to make these elements of the production as sharp as the rest of it.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

In the pink! Vanessa Gravestock front and centre as Elle Woods (Photo: David Fawbert Photography)

The Case of the Missing Mrs

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN

The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 25th April 2022

First Atlantis, then Dallas, and now Birmingham!  Patrick “Bobby Ewing” Duffy stars in this (to me) obscure comedy-thriller from 1965, which has been dug up by Bill Kenwright Productions.  Duffy plays Daniel Corban, a honeymooner whose wife has been missing for three days from the remote chalet they have borrowed from Daniel’s boss.  The local police are on the case but then a woman turns up.  Is she really the missing Mrs or, as Daniel insists, is she an imposter out to get him and, consequently, his life insurance?

On the surface, it’s standard genre fare, but its elevated by a dry and witty script by Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert.  With more twists and turns than a corkscrew, the plot keeps you guessing in this hugely enjoyable, somewhat cosy murder-mystery.

Duffy is in fine form as the neurotic Corban, tightly wound and sarcastic, and of course, it’s a treat to see him live, for reals, and not just in Pam Ewing’s dream.  No shower scene tonight, alas, but Duffy has a laidback confidence, which makes Corban’s increasingly desperate state all the more of a contrast.

As the is-she-or-isn’t-she wife Elizabeth, the alluring Linda Purl is great fun, and she is aided and abetted by Ben Nealon’s not-to-be-trusted clergyman.  Gray O’Brien is excellent as the wise-cracking, jaded police inspector, and there is strong character support from the wonderfully named Hugh Futcher as Sidney from the sandwich shop.  Paul Lavers makes his mark as Corban’s brash boss, with Chloe Zeitounian makes a fleeting impression in her brief appearance as the bit-on-the-side, ‘Mrs Parker’.

The mystery is intriguing enough to keep us hooked, while the rich vein of humour keeps us amused as the story unfolds and surprises.  Bob Tomson’s direction paces the action well to create such an entertaining evening, we’re willing to overlook the occasional stretches of credibility.  A well-made production, nicely played by all concerned.  (There was an issue of patchy microphone coverage at the performance I saw.  I prescribe a thorough soundcheck before the curtain goes up again.)

All in all, it’s good fun.  Catch it while you can.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Gray O’Brien, Patrick Duffy, and Linda Purl (Photo: Jack Merriman)

Star Man

JARMAN

The Old Joint Stock, Birmingham, Saturday 9th April 2022

Mark Farrelly is the write and star of this one-man piece about the life of filmmaker and gay rights activist, Derek Jarman.  From the off, we are immersed in the lyrical script as Derek describes the plants and flowers in his now-famous garden.  The descriptions are interrupted by short, sharp flashbacks from his childhood (You’ll go blind… etc) startling us out of the flowery idyll of his cottage.

Farrelly takes us through his subject’s life story sure enough but it quickly emerges that this show is about more than one man’s life.  It’s about all our lives, or rather our attitude to it.  Farrelly confronts us, albeit playfully, to confront what it is we’re doing with our allotted time.

It’s a small matinee audience.  Farrelly is sure to address us all as individuals, darting around, making eye contact here, asking a rhetorical question there.  Throughout the show, there’s a frisson of excitement and/or terror about being called upon to participate.  Farrelly is gentle with his volunteers and/or victims so there is no need to feel uneasy.  In fact, the message of the piece is to be unafraid to participate.  In our own lives!

We hear about sexual encounters, both real and fantasy.  We hear about Jarman’s repressive upbringing, his first jobs out of art college, before he launches into the film career that will make his name.

It’s all done in spartan fashion.  A single chair, a sheet, a roll of paper, and a multi-coloured flashlight are all Farrelly uses – as well as his considerable talent and presence as a performer.  He rides, not just a roller-coaster, but an entire theme park of emotions, sometimes snapping in and out of extremes at the flick of a lighting change.  What emerges is a portrait of the artist as a force to be reckoned with.  To see this vibrant, exuberant, rebellious figure reduced to a stooped and trembling shadow of himself, thanks to AIDS, is heart-breaking, and painfully portrayed.

Director Sarah-Louise Young keeps the contrasting moods and moments sharp, and Farrelly is friendly and fun, intense and, yes, a little intimidating. Confronted by his own mortality, Jarman confronts us with ours.

We come away with admiration for both Jarman and the actor who has channelled him so vividly.  At the end, Jarman admonishes us to ‘be astonishing’.

And that’s exactly what Mark Farrelly has been.

Fabulous, thought-provoking stuff.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆☆

Blue; Mark Farrelly IS Derek Jarman

Jacob’s Cracker

JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT

Birmingham Hippodrome, Wednesday 6th April 2022

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s first (and best) musical is on the road again in this refurbished production by director Laurence Connor.  There are a few interesting changes, most of which work brilliantly.  Firstly, the use of children.  Liberated from the usual choir corral, the kids come and go, singing and dancing along with the other performers.  Connor also uses kids in character roles: the younger brothers, for example, complete with comedy beards.  This serves as a reminder that the piece was originally conceived as a school play.

Another big change is the expansion of the role of the Narrator.  The mighty Alexandra Burke leads us through the story, with charm, good humour, and above all, that marvellous voice.   Connor also has her don a comedy beard to portray the patriarch Jacob.  Burke does a good job but I miss the old man.  At the show’s climactic point, the father-and-son reunion is therefore diluted, robbing the show of its emotional kicker.  Oh, well.  Burke also takes on the role of seductress Mrs Potiphar – surely there are guidelines about making a pregnant actor work so hard! – She is clearly having a lot of fun in this show, and she handles the crowd like a boss.

As Joseph, rising star Jac Yarrow is instantly appealing, with his boy-next-door good looks, powerful vocals, and broad shoulders.  His Close Every Door  stirs the blood.

Beardless, singleton Joseph is coded as different from his hirsute and married brothers, who soon tire of their father’s favouritism, Jacob’s encouragement of Joseph’s flamboyance —  he may as well wrap the kid in a Pride flag – so they plot to get rid.  This gives us the marvellous country-and-western number, One More Angel In Heaven, complete with a culture-clashing Hebrew hoedown.  The joy of this musical, for me, is Lloyd Webber’s shameless use of pastiche, cobbling different styles of popular music together in his richest, most fun score.

It’s a short show still, having been extended over the years from its school hall origins.  To give it a decent runtime, we get reprises and prolonged dance sequences.  I prefer a leaner version, where we don’t hear the same song twice.

Featuring as the Pharaoh is national treasure, former pop-and-soap star Jason Donovan.  Incredibly, it’s been thirty years since he donned a mullet and a loincloth to give us his pop-oriented Joseph (while Yarrow’s is more musical theatre) and it’s a treat to see him as the King, incorporating Elvisisms into his performance.  Donovan is golden, and there is much love for him in the room, a considerable amount of it coming from me.

The highlight of the second act is the brothers’ French song, Those Canaan Days, a wonderfully camp staging complete with a can-can.  All the dance routines bring a smile.  Joann M Hunter’s exuberant choreography and the cast’s tireless efforts give us much to enjoy, even if it’s chiefly to extend the running time.  The show has more padding than a drag queen’s bra, sacrificing dramatic impact in favour of fun.  But, hey, it IS fun, and fun seems to be this production’s watchword, and there’s nothing wrong with fun.

Yarrow is great, Donovan is marvellous, but if I’m being honest as coconuts, the show belongs to the indefatigable Alexandra Burke in a winning performance that demonstrates her comedic skills as much as her rich, tingle-inducing voice.

A bright and colourful, tuneful treat.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆☆

Musical Theatre gold: Jason Donovan and Jac Yarrow (Photo: Tristram Kenton)


Fete Accompli

CONFUSIONS

The Bear Pit Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Tuesday 5th May 2022

This collection of five short pieces by the prolific Alan Ayckbourn was first produced in 1974 – a fact which informs Jacquie Campbell’s costume choices for tonight’s show, subtly suggesting the period, when the piece is suited to anywhen. 

We begin with four park benches on which random individuals are taking their ease — or trying to.  What develops is a string of monologues as each individual seeks to escape the stranger who insists on talking to them.  It’s funny, with each stranger having their own individual voice, but it underlines the main theme of the piece (indeed of all five pieces): desperation born of loneliness.  Ayckbourn can write a funny line sure enough, but he is also an acute observer of the human condition.

Of the strangers, a couple of standouts are Kevin Hand’s Arthur and Margot McCleary’s Doreen.  Director David Mears avoids things becoming static by keeping people moving from bench to bench (this also helps with the in-the-round staging).  It’s like musical chairs without the music.  The cast perform with a sort of heightened naturalism.  Every character however bizarre or mundane their situation – rings true.

Next up is Lucy, a woman left too much alone with her children.  She has lost the ability to converse with adults, so when the couple next door pop round to check up on her, hilarity ensues.  Zoe Mortimer is great as the steely-eyed, assertive mother, and she is matched by Charlotte Froud’s timid Rosemary, with Barry Purchase-Rathbone providing contrast as Rosemary’s bluff husband Terry – until he is put in his place!  It’s very funny to see the adults revert to childhood, but the piece touches on darkness based on psychological truth.

The director himself appears in the next one, as Harry, Lucy’s absentee husband, a boorish, sleazy sales rep who thinks he’s God’s gift, trying to cop off with Jemima Davis’s longsuffering Paula.  Mears gives a cringeworthy performance as the desperate lothario — one of Ayckbourn’s finest middle-class monsters — and we can only sympathise with Paula as she fails to get away.  Rescue arrives in the form of her best friend Bernice, in a coolly forthright portrayal by Kristiyana Petkova.

Next we’re in a restaurant where two separate couples have issues to discuss.  We eavesdrop on their conversations as the waiter goes from table to table, valiantly trying to do his job.  As the waiter, Elliot Gear is a delight, reacting, interjecting, and keeping busy, all with a strained professional demeanour.  A star turn.

Finally, we move to the tea tent at a dreadful village fete.  Trouble with the p.a. system leads to an inadvertent broadcast that destroys a relationship.  With hilarious consequences.  David Mears appears again as Gosforth, the busybody organising the event, showing his versatility with another of Ayckbourn’s monsters.  Lily Skinner’s Milly is tightly wound, becoming increasingly frantic as the situation deteriorates.  Jane Grafton brings a strong whiff of Christine Hamilton to her portrayal of Councillor Emily Pearce, making her eventual humiliation all the more delicious.  Justin Osborne is a hoot as the emotionally immature boy scout leader whose life comes crashing down, and David Gresham adds value as a stock character comedy vicar.  Events descend into organised chaos, with the cast working superbly to convey the urgent desperation and the slapstick of the moment.  I would prefer a bigger bang with the electrics go awry, but that’s just me.

All in all, a splendid evening of entertainment and almost non-stop laughter.  Mears gets the tone just right and his talented cast (wish I had room to mention them all) deliver the goods in this showcase of their abilities.  If the Bear Pit is to stage any more Ayckbourn, I would like to see them tackle one of his later, more experimental shows.  Shows like Confusions are bread-and-butter to them.  I want cake!

☆☆☆☆☆

More tea, Vicar? David Gresham. David Mears, Lily Skinner, Justin Osborne. Photo: Patrick Baldwin

A Bridgerton Too Far?

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Sunday 3rd April 2022

Michael Barry sets his Much Ado in the Regency period, like the popular series on Netflix.  For the most part, it’s an excellent fit, with the exterior manners and elegance a suitable setting for Shakespeare’s wittiest rom-com. This is Bridgerton in looks and feel, but with an infinitely better script! Barry’s set design has two plastered columns framing the upstage area, the bases of which have cracked to reveal the brickwork beneath, representing the truth beneath the surface.  It’s a clever detail.

The ever-excellent Jack Hobbis gives us his Benedick, complete with mutton-chops and poufy hair.  He is Mr Darcy, an upright romantic hero with a quick wit and a big heart.  Hobbis does an admirable job and you can’t help falling for him.  Naomi Jacobs’s Beatrice has the acid tongue and merry wit down pat, but she’s a little too loud for the studio setting, delivering all her lines at full volume – sometimes going up to 11.  A bit more variance and she’d be perfect.

Andrew Elkington makes for a posing, preening Claudio, all righteous indignation in the pivotal church scene, and thoroughly detestable afterwards, until his redemption, of course; a pretty face masking his petulance and objectionable self-righteousness.  Spot on!  Also great is Papa Yentumi as Don Pedro, the fun-loving prince, at ease with his high status and game for a laugh.  As his bastard brother, Tom Lowde gives us a volatile Don John, but he needs not to race through some of his lines so we can enjoy his evil nature all the more. 

Man of the match for my money is Mark Payne as Leonato, effortlessly convincing throughout, and electrifyingly emotional in that church scene.

Suzie King’s Hero contrasts sweetly with the acerbic Beatrice, and there is solid support from Skye Witney as Antonia, Jessica Terry as Margaret, Colette Nooney as Ursula, and James Browning as the villainous Borachio.

I’m afraid though the Dogberry scenes don’t quite come off.  Ben Pugh could make more of the constable’s bombast, building him up more so he can deflate further.   There are more laughs to be gained here. The Watch scenes seem clumsily staged.  Perhaps there were council tax cutbacks in Messina at the time, but surely they could stretch to at least a third Watchman.

There is lovely music, all piano and strings, by Salwan Cartwright-Shamoon, but there at times when it is intrusive, detracting from the action rather than supporting it.

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating, the phenomenal Costume Department at the Crescent goes all out to create beautiful and accurate clothes to suit the world of the production.  Designer Jennet Marshall has excelled herself here, and credit is due to her team: Carolyn Bourne, Anne Hignell, Stewart Snape, Rose Snape, and Pat Brown, for the stunning array of uniforms, posh frocks and tailored coats on display.

A great-looking production that hits most of its marks, featuring some excellent performances by its leads.

☆ ☆ ☆ ½

Andrew Elkington and Jack Hobbis (Photo: Graeme Braidwood)

Bloody Great

MACBETH

The Attic Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 30th March 2022

This production by Tread The Boards takes a traditional approach, with splendid medieval costumes conveying the historical period, although with the Northern English accents, it’s less Glamis Castle and more Winterfell.  But at least there’s consistency, creating the world-of-the-play most effectively.  The action plays out against a huge map of Scotland, which has been torn —  symbolising the political climate of the story.

Judicious use of sound design (courtesy of the brilliant Elliott Wallis) makes the intimate Attic Theatre space feel larger.  The sounds of hurly-burly surround us.  Cast members running around and fighting put us right in the action.  Enter Three Witches… This ragtag trio engender an otherworldliness, even though they could pass for mortal women – their eye-of-newt scene later on is horrible, as they place the disgusting ingredients in their cauldron.  The Witches also double as other characters: servants, messengers, giving them a direct hand in the unfolding doom of their victim.  Witch 2 (Sally Hyde Lomax) doubles as the Porter, bringing much-needed comic relief to the tense scenes surrounding the murder of Duncan.  Witch 3 (Clara Lane) makes a sympathetic Lady Macduff, while Sarah Feltham’s Witch 1, the twitchy one, offers support in a string of minor roles.  The impression is given that the Witches are more directly involved in Macbeth’s downfall than we might have thought.

Speak of the devil.  Daniel Wilby’s Macbeth is a credible warrior (some Macbeths I’ve seen aren’t!) and his conversion to the dark side, while a little speedy, is also believable.  Wilby is at his strongest in the scenes where Macbeth unravels – the banqueting scene is especially powerful – and his portrayal of a man under immense stress, with violent outbursts, is captivating.

He is more than matched by Alexandra Whitworth, who is quite simply the best Lady Macbeth I have seen.  The steely-eyed wickedness, the growing sense of isolation, the mental breakdown… all played to perfection.  Whitworth brings out the character’s humanity.  She is so much more than a wicked woman who can’t cope with the consequences of her actions.

Honestly, this is a truly excellent cast.  Phil Leach’s King Duncan exudes kindness without losing any of his regal status; Ben Armitage’s Malcolm is superb – like Macduff, we take him at his word.  Armitage gives the boy king assuredness; he is definitely this Duncan’s son.  Pete Meredith’s Banquo goes from brave and noble best mate to terrifying apparition.  A versatile actor, Meredith later appears as the doctor – the contrast couldn’t be greater.  John-Robert Partridge’s forthright Macduff is thoroughly righteous and decent.  Partridge’s rich speaking voice is a pleasure to hear, and you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of him.

There is strong support from the likes of Tom Lane’s Lennox, Edward Manning’s Ross, and Patrick Large as Seyton.  Everyone handles the language with clarity and understanding.  John-Robert Partridge’s direction gets everything right, the supernatural bits are unnerving, the action scenes are exciting – the climactic swordfight between Macs Duff and Beth is thrilling – making the confines of the performance space seem large enough to contain this story of a nation in upheaval, while yet intimate enough to chart the decline of our tragic hero.  Partridge doesn’t clutter the stage (there’s no room) but lets Shakespeare’s text do the donkey work, ensuring that this superlative cast deliver the time-worn words with truth, ease and freshness.

Bloody marvellous.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Mr and Mrs: Daniel Wilby and Alexandra Whitworth as the Macbeths (Photo: Andrew Maguire Photography)

Oldies and Goodies

DREAMBOATS AND PETTICOATS – Bringing On Back The Good Times

The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 21st March 2022

The third instalment of the trilogy but it doesn’t matter if you haven’t seen the other two.  It really doesn’t.  This one is set vaguely in the 1960s, beginning in St Mungo’s Youth Club in Essex and travelling as far afield as Butlin’s in Bognor Regis, before taking in a selection contest for the Eurovision Song Contest, complete with Kenneth Williams hosting.  Well, a cast member doing a cracking impersonation!

Norman and the Conquests get their big break – summer season in a holiday camp, but guitarist Bobby is more concerned about his girlfriend Laura doing a stint in Torquay.  Norman’s womanising causes friction, so to speak, with his wife Sue.  And Laura momentarily thinks Bobby is at it with Donna, the fitness tutor.  But this is a jukebox musical.  Plot and character development are sacrificed in favour of bunging in as many songs as possible.  Any hint of conflict is soon overcome, and any throwaway line could lead to a full-on production number.  Some of the cues are less tenuous than others, but I do find myself wondering from time to time, ‘why are they singing this now?’

The songs that work best are the ones the characters perform, rather than those that are meant to express their emotional state.  There are quite a few standout numbers: Hang On Sloopy (featuring some killer guitar by Joe Sterling); an a capella rendition of Blue Moon; Laura’s You Don’t Own Me; Mony Mony

David Ribi and Elizabeth Carter make an appealing couple as Bobby and Laura, their harmonising in duets is lovely.  Alastair Hill is suitably predatory as the womanising Norman.  Lauren Anderson-Oakley as his neglected Mrs performs a couple of good numbers but like Ray, band manager and hair dresser (David Luke, also a fine vocalist), has very little to do in this plot that’s thinner than a wafer’s ghost.

Veteran artiste Mark Wynter plays Laura’s manager, later appearing as himself to do a medley of hits including Venus in Blue Jeans, proving he can still carry a tune and move it with the youngsters in the company.  There is supporting character work from Mike Lloyd as holiday club manager and authority figure  Percy Churchill, who also plays a mean trombone, and David Benson as Bobby’s dad, keen to land him a job in the motor trade.    Benson is also responsible for the wonderful Kenneth Williams scene – it’s great to hear the old Crepe Suzette song again.

The script by Laurence Marks & Maurice Gran has a sprinkling of good jokes, bordering on the seaside postcard, but they know we know the dialogue is just an excuse to cue up the next song.  The set, by designer Sean Cavanagh consists of posters and advertisements from popular culture, with illuminated signage denoting changes of location.  The costumes and Carole Todd’s lively choreography serve up the period, while Bill Kenwright’s direction keeps the performers at the forefront.  The cast sing and play instruments live and sound great.

This kind of thing is not really my cup of Horlicks, but it’s cosy, feel-good stuff that’s not going to tax anyone’s intellect, and it’s a fine way to spend an evening in the company of a talented cast, being reminded of some absolute bangers.

Foot-tapping, hand-clapping fun that delivers exactly what it promises without pretension or posturing.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

David Ribi and Elizabeth Carter

Band of Brothers

THE OSMONDS – A New Musical

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 15th March 2022

Some bands find their back catalogues turned into jukebox musicals.  Others have their life stories dramatized with their own music forming the score to the show.  This new musical about The Osmond Brothers falls into the latter category.  The rags-to-riches storyline is well and truly in place, and you know that sooner or later, the wheels are going to come off.  But will it be drink, drugs, sickness, or even a plane crash that will take the shine off world-wide fame and put the strain on the artists’ personal lives?

Jay Osmond himself has provided the story, formalised into the show’s book by Julian Bigg and Shaun Kerrison.  Onstage Jay (Alex Lodge) narrates the story, from early childhood success as a barbershop quartet on The Andy Williams Show to global acclaim, and the multitudes of screaming fans not seen since The Beatles split up.  Alex Lodge is personable and good-humoured; as Jay he is said to be the ‘glue’ in the family, and he also keeps the show together, in an excellent performance.  We see events unfold through Jay’s eyes, giving the show a ring of authenticity, and a more personal feel.

As the brothers, Ryan Anderson imbues Merrill Osmond with vulnerability; Jamie Chatterton gets across Alan Osmond’s stern leadership; Joseph Peacock’s Donny Osmond, complete with purple cap, sings like an angel about Puppy Love; and Danny Nattrass’s Wayne Osmond also gets his moment to shine in a later, more poignant scene.  Georgia Lennon channels Marie Osmond (the girl one) to perfection; and Austin Riley’s turn as Little Jimmy is absolutely spot on. The young boys who portray the brothers early on are also phenomenal and bring the house down.

Ruling the roost is Charlie Allen as strict disciplinarian father, George Osmond, while Nicole Bryan’s mother Olive brings a warmer style of parenting.  Allen is superb, making George more than a barking bully, a strong man, motivated by love, albeit in a militaristic fashion!

The entire family group go flat out to recreate the spirit of the era, the hit songs, the singing… aided in no small way by Bill Deamer’s 1970s-informed choreography.  Shaun Kerrison’s direction puts the performances at the forefront.  By the time we get to the drama of the second act (the wheels coming off the family business) we have come to love these incarnations of the characters. 

Lucy Osborne’s colourful costume designs evoke the spirit of the age: those white suits, the colours ascribed to each brother… while her set economically evokes tv studios, concert stages, and the family home.

The hits keep coming: One Bad Apple, Let Me In, Going Home, Love Me For A Reason… and, of course, Crazy Horses.  People of a certain age are awash with the nostalgia of it all, but even if you’ve come along and never heard of The Osmonds (how?) you will be swept along by the sheer energy of the staging, the perfection of the harmonies, the irresistible melodies of songs that have stood the test of time, performed here by a flawless cast and a top-notch live band.

There is a lot of humour too, and some touching moments of drama as tensions within the family reach breaking point.  There’s a glorious moment where Jay is introduced to a fan who wrote endless letters thirty years ago, which sums up our experience of the show.  Well, mine anyway.  I was fortunate enough to meet the real Jay Osmond during the interval, and I did my level best not to keel over in a faint.

A joyous, exuberant and heart-warming show, chronicling a moment of popular culture – well, fifty years in the business, and then some!   Ultimately, it’s a testament to what The Osmonds did best, and that’s entertainment. Musical theatre has got a second show about Mormons, and this one’s a party!

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Photo: Pamela Raith

Beauty and More Beauty

Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST – The Musical

Birmingham Hippodrome, Wednesday 9th March 2022

Disney’s best musical is back, touring stages across the country in this revamped production that pulls out all the stops to impress.  New sets and costumes dazzle and delight while remaining faithful to the original animated film, and all in service of the story.  For example, the wolf attacks are represented here by some rather scary animations, rather than the dancers in furry headpieces and leg warmers of yesteryear!  This is a production that uses bang up-to-date theatrical technology to deliver the goods, and boy, does it deliver!

Leading the cast in this performance is Grace Swaby-Moore as bookish, beautiful Belle, whose voice soars with clarity and purity befitting her character.  She is more than matched by Shaq Taylor as the Beast, who manages to be intimidating, funny, and sympathetic all at once.  He too has a rich singing voice, and his solo to close the first act is stirring stuff.  It’s genuinely heart-warming to watch these two fall in love.  I might be a little in love with Shaq Taylor, I freely admit.

A superb supporting cast keep the entertainment levels consistently at ten.  Tom Senior’s vain and posturing Gaston is a hoot, forming a hilarious double-act with diminutive sidekick Le Fou, played by Louis Stockil, who is like a living cartoon character with energetic physical comedy and facial expressions that are purely delightful.

Gavin Lee’s louche Lumiere with his deadpan French accent is perfect — no one can hold a candle to him! — while Nigel Richards’s tightly wound Cogsworth is as charming as he is overwrought.  Samantha Bagley’s Madame, half-woman, half-armoire, is a marvellously funny piece of character work.  Sam Bailey’s gorblimey Mrs Potts the teapot, is sweet; her rendition of the title song while the title characters dance is a goosebumps moment I will never forget.

There are massive production numbers:  Be Our Guest is a Busby Berkeley fever dream that brings the house down.  Gaston is exhilarating.  And the solo numbers are to die for.  And you never feel as though the songs are getting in the way of the story.  In fact, everything you see and hear is in service of the storytelling, which is what Disney does best. It’s fantastic to have a sizeable live orchestra playing the melodious, atmospheric score, under the baton of MD Jonathan Gill. It’s not every production that can afford such extravagance.

You can be as cynical as you like about the Disney money-making machine throwing money at the stage to make more money, but it’s the material that makes the show a classic.  Chiefly the score by Alan Menken and the lyrics by the late Howard Ashman.  This pair also created Little Shop Of Horrors, and brought their musical theatre sensibilities to the animated film.  Therefore it’s a good fit for a stage adaptation, rather than being a story with some songs bunged in.  There is a message about not judging by appearances but this is never forced or overemphasised.

The fairy tale magic is in full-force tonight, and it still gets me right in the feels no matter how many times I see it and it’s a real treat to fall under its upgraded spell.  This funny, beautiful, exciting, romantic, spectacular and uplifting production is just what we need.  Like Belle’s beloved books, the show takes us away from our present woes.  I’m afraid it’s a case where five stars don’t seem like nearly enough.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

The clock, the pot, and the candlestick: Nigel Richards, Sam Bailey, and Gavin Lee (Photo: Johan Persson © Disney