Tag Archives: Sam Ferriday

Rock Your Socks Off

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!

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Hair today: Lucas Rush as Lonny

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Hit Parade

JERSEY BOYS

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Wednesday 10th February, 2016

 

The mean streets of Jersey, a breeding ground for mobsters and organised crime, also spawned the remarkable talent of Frankie Valli and his fellow band members. Valli’s rise is the subject matter of this biographical jukebox show but what sets it apart from and above many others in the genre is its handling of the storytelling. The story is divided into four acts, one for each season, and each act sees a different character adopt the role of narrator, until we get to Winter and Valli himself gives us his point of view as he juggles professional success with personal tragedy.

The book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice is peppered with adult language, like the screenplay of Goodfellas – there is even an appearance by ‘Joe Pesci’ (Damien Buhagiar) whose path crossed with Valli’s on those mean streets. Short scenes give the story a cinematic feel. The score brings together all the great songs of Bob Gaudio but it’s more than a trip down Memory Lane. The hits and the snazzy jackets keep coming: Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk Like A Man… impeccably delivered by a talented quartet. It’s like watching the best tribute act ever but more so. The show doesn’t shy away from its grown-up material while managing not to be salacious or gratuitous. There is credibility to the tough-talkers as well as real heart in the performances.

Sam Ferriday is excellent as song-writing wunderkind Bob Gaudio and Lewis Griffiths’s basso profundo lends a humorous edge to the taciturn Nick Massi. Stephen Webb’s Tommy DeVito brings the group together and tears it apart in a rounded characterisation – DeVito’s excesses and drive are convincingly depicted. Inevitably, perhaps, the focus is on Frankie Valli. Matt Corner gives a blistering performance, emulating Valli’s range including that searing falsetto. The action covers several decades – Corner subtly shows us Valli’s advancing age and the weight of his problems on his shoulders.

There is strong support from the rest of the company. Mark Heenehan is powerful as mob boss Gyp Decarlo, Joel Elfernink adds a touch of camp as Bob Crewe and Amelia Adams-Pearce embodies the fast-talking nasal accent of Valli’s home turf in a sardonic portrayal of his wife Mary.

Valli’s story is a rare example of the American Dream coming true. Rising from a humble and criminalised background through dint of hard work, he reaches the top and stays there, weathering whatever storms life and Tommy DeVito throw at him. Jersey Boys celebrates his success, reminding us of the gifts he and Bob Gaudio gave the world with a back catalogue of timeless classics.

It’s just too good to be true and you can’t take your eyes off of Matt Corner. Jersey Boys is sheer entertainment that has you walking out of the theatre like a man with a head full of tunes.

Jersey Boys

The redcoats are coming: (L-R) Sam Ferriday, Stephen Webb, Matt Corner, and Lewis Griffiths (Photo: Helen Maybanks)

 


Show of Hands

HMS PINAFORE

Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Tuesday 22nd April, 2014 

 

This all-male production sets the action in the hull of a ship during the Second World War.  It’s Gilbert and Sullivan do South Pacific – in a way.  With only three sets of bunk beds and a length of rope for scenery and with judicious use of lighting (designed by Tim Deiling) the company of sailors perform the operetta in an evening that is never short of charming.

Accompanied by musical director Richard Bates on piano, the men are in excellent voice, with some beautiful harmonies and, most impressively, their singing of the female roles doesn’t descend into squawks and screeches.  In fact, as romantic lead Josephine, Alan Richardson displays a fine soprano, like an operatic Jimmy Somerville.  He imbues the role with dignity as well as femininity, wringing drama from the lines by means of understatement.  You get some idea how the Elizabethan boy actors might have got on with Shakespeare’s heroines.

Although disappointing to not see the mighty Keith Jack as romantic hero Ralph Rackstraw in this performance (Get well soon, Keith!) his stand-in, Sam Ferriday is a more than competent substitute as the dashing, lovelorn top man.  Also good fun is Neil Moors as Captain Corcoran, drilling his men like a PE instructor; and Davids McKechnie is suitably obnoxious as Sir Joseph Porter – Gilbert and Sullivan’s satire still rings true to this day: this ‘ruler of the Queen’s navy’ has never been to sea, is woefully unqualified to be the cabinet minister… (I’m looking at you, Gove.  And you, Hunt).  You can imagine Sir Joseph claiming expenses for his entourage of sisters, cousins and aunts (all of whom are delightfully presented!)

Alex Weatherhill’s Buttercup is endearing and funny.  The entire company camp and butch it up accordingly.  There’s a balletic sailors’ hornpipe and Lizzi Gee’s marvellous choreography also has elements of semaphore, I find.  There are shades of Derek Jarman’s The Tempest as they all scurry around but above all I was reminded how Gilbert and Sullivan are the forerunners of the silly songs of Monty Python.  Eric Idle owes them a lot.

A thoroughly entertaining evening that treats the original material with affection and respect, proving that with a director as inventive as Sasha Regan you don’t need to perform G&S on the grand scale for it to work as richly and as effectively as it does here.

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Hello, sailors! Neil Moors puts his crew through their paces