Hairspray The Musical Reviews

Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (four stars) – “The ecstatic choreography of Jerry Mitchell combines with the delightful, primary-coloured costumes of Broadway veteran William Ivey Long to create a riotous scene at the oversize shop where mother and daughter are kitted out in style and the resident mannequins include a Supremes tribute trio. Director Jack O’Brien has tapped adventurously into the British talent pool, not only in giving the richly voiced Michael Ball a role to relish, but teaming him with the wonderfully rumpled Mel Smith as the toyshop owner husband – he brings a battered vaudevillian charm to their “Timeless to Me” duet – as well as discovering the powerhouse talent of Leanne Jones as Tracy. Tracie Bennett makes a good impression, too, as the vampiric television producer, and Elinor Collett and Adrian Hansel are a dynamic duo on the dance floor where the beat you can’t stop erases the social divide. This is indeed a rare thing: a totally daffy and delightful musical where the serious issues are as good for you as a big stick of pink candyfloss.”

Michael Billington in the Guardian (four stars) – “Where the show really scores is in its ability to integrate serious issues into a lightweight plot. Jerry Mitchell’s joyous choreography is the beating heart of the show. There is something dionysiac about it; and, if the show achieves the ecstasy one looks for in a musical, it comes largely through the dance routines. But the performances, in Jack O’Brien’s deliciously fluid production, underline the show’s basic benevolence. Leanne Jones is a remarkable Tracy with a talent as high and wide as her scooped-up hair. She puts across Marc Shaiman’s numbers with belting brio. And Michael Ball is very funny as her muscular moll of a mum who once entertained dreams of being a designer. “I thought I was going to be the biggest thing in brassieres,” Ball announces in gravel-voiced tones. What makes him so good is that he reminds us that heftiness is not incompatible with haute couture. Mel Smith, as Tracy’s joke-retailing dad, seems underemployed until he joins Ball in a front-cloth duo.”

Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph – “If you are up for a good time, however, and especially if you are a teenage girl who has just downed a couple of alcopops, it will strike you as heaven on earth. You will laugh, you will scream, you might even shed a sentimental tear or two. I even managed to make quite a night of it myself, and I’m male and middle-aged, as the National Theatre boss, Nicholas Hytner, is fond of pointing out … A superb pop score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, which gloriously captures the sounds of pop before the arrival of the Beatles – girl groups, rock and roll, rhythm and blues and an amazing gospel number that almost lifts the roof off the theatre … Director Jack O’Brien ensures that sentiment and laughter are mixed in just the right proportions in a show that offers a sugar-rush of pleasure … I saw Hairspray at the final preview rather than the press night, and the audience’s whooping response and spontaneous standing ovation suggest it could prove to be the big hit that has eluded the Shaftesbury for so long.”

Nicholas de Jongh in the Evening Standard (four stars) – “It comes at us in rare musical parts: the first part is low-camp satire and burlesque: Michael Ball deliciously fattened up and dragged down in bland frocks and lurid gowns, majestically slips into the role of the fat, foghorned laundress, Edna Turnblad … It is through Jones’s endearingly earnest Tracy, who dances with a lightness belying her size, that links between love, comedy and radical politicsare forged … Marc Shaiman’s urgent score, with clever, often witty lyrics written with Scott Whitman, keeps Hairspray pulsating with musical excitement as well as political anger. And Leanne Jones, as smitten, adolescent lover and Miss Teenage Hairspray, effortlessly commands the stage. She will hearten all actresses who imagine that only the pencil-thin can inherit the lead dressing room.”

Simon Edge in the Daily Express (five stars) – “Tracy herself is played by newcomer Leanne Jones, on stage for most of the night as the compulsive dancer whose natural padding cannot spoil her lust for life – or for Link. It’s an impressive, exuberant performance and you can see why the director says she was instantly right for the role. She is well supported by a large cast, including fellow newcomer Ben James-Ellis – a semi-finalist in TV’s Any Dream Will Do – as Link; the ever-wonderful Tracie Bennett as the vicious Velma Von Tussle; a gob-smacking Johnnie Fiori as the black record shop-owner Motormouth Maybelle; and the rubber-faced Mel Smith as Tracy’s salt-of-the-earth dad Wilbur. But the stand-out turn is Ball, scarcely recognisable in the drag role as Tracy’s mother Edna, complete with 54EEE bust … Don’t expect fancy effects or clever spectacle. This is good, honest song-and-dance fun, where the riot of period pastels in the costumes and sets matches the relentless up-beat of the lyrics and tunes. “Prepare for something big!” say the posters: “Big musical, big comedy, big hair!” But the biggest thing about it, apart from Michael Ball’s falsies, is its heart.”

Benedict Nightingale in the Times (four stars) “The musical is as delightful as I recall it being on Broadway three years ago and more immediate than it could ever be in the cinema. True, the tale of chubby, chunky Tracy Turnblad, who wears what looks like a lacquered wolverine on her head and thinks she resembles Jackie Kennedy, is unashamedly and, at times, absurdly sentimental. But when Leanne Jones’ Tracy is bounding about the stage exuding all-American resilience and optimism — well, she brought out the inner cheerleader I didn’t know I had … Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan’s book is a salute to difference. That’s defined both as being fat, like Jones’s Tracy or Michael Ball as her gloriously bloated mother, and, more seriously, as being black in racially divided Maryland. So our heroine’s aim isn’t only to do well on the dance floor, beating her plastic-doll schoolmate Amber, but to integrate Corny Collins’s show, besting Amber’s ruthlessly ambitious, racially bigoted mother, Velma.”

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Grease the Musical Reviews

Grease was always supposed to be about an age of innocence tinged with sexual awakening, a paean to first love and first cigarettes, Cadillac cars and dance night in the school gym. Once upon a time in the West End, this seemed like a good idea; Richard Gere was the first, very good, UK Danny at the New London in 1973 (Elaine Paige had a small role).

Somehow, with the passing years and the iconic elevation of the very bad 1978 movie starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton- John, the fun has been squeezed out of it, and any residual charm in Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s ersatz rock and roll musical flattened in a rush to the finale of selected highlights.
As at the opening of this production by David Gilmore in 1993, I feel defeated by decibel levels and churlish with disappointment. The amplification has a tinny, invasive quality that’s the enemy of musical enjoyment, and when things quieten down a bit in the second act – you can actually hear some good rhythm guitar in “Sandy” at the drive-in movie – the songs are less good than the frantic ones.

For those who could bear to watch the entertainment abomination that was Grease Is the Word on ITV earlier this year, a verdict is required on the performances of 19 year-old Danny Bayne as Danny Zuko and 24 year-old Susan McFadden (sister of Brian McFadden, the Westlife pop singer) as Sandy Dumbrowski. That verdict is mixed. It’s impossible to isolate acting talent, or even personality impact, in the first half because the entire cast is encouraged to squeal, squawk, face-pull and cackle like a cage full of angry baboons in the zoo. No one bears even a passing resemblance to a human being.

But as Arlene Phillips’ whiplash musical staging (re-created by Stori James) kicks in, you can see that Bayne does indeed have a powerful stage presence and his command of the moves is total (it turns out he’s been British champion in hip-hop, freestyle and Latin American dance for years). McFadden’s Sandy, however, remains a dumb cluck even when she dons the black leotard and says goodbye to the wholesome image of Sandra Dee that has hampered her pulling progress. She’s sweet enough, but nothing special, and her singing lacks depth or resonance.

Terry Parsons’ design remains as colourful as it was, though the floating Cadillacs have gone and the sun shines with far less golden intensity on the bleachers. Thin strips of red neon light make a good design link between the local DJ’s recording studio and the high school, where everyone seems to be about 35 years old.

Jayde Westaby makes a mark as the suddenly pregnant Rizzo and Charlie Cameron is a prettily pneumatic Marti. Siobhan Dillon, one of the best of the runners-up in the BBC search for Maria programme, whom Grease co-producer David Ian slobbered over in the adjudications, is rather hidden away as Patty but will surely have a second chance in the near future.
– Michael Coveney

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Sound of Music Canada’s Cast is announced

Producers Andrew Lloyd Webber, David Ian and David Mirvish are delighted to announce the cast for their new production of The Sound of Music. Performances begin on October 3, 2008 at Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre, with the opening night set for Wednesday, October 15.

The cast consists of 51 actors, many considered to be among the best musical theatre performers in the country. Representing communities from across Canada — from St. John’s right to Victoria — the cast also features actors making their professional debuts, including 12 youngsters, chosen from thousands that auditioned, who will share the roles of the famous von Trapp family children.

Leading the cast in the role of Maria is Elicia MacKenzie, the winner of the top-rated CBC TV program “How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?” Elicia will perform the role six times a week, alternating with Janna Polzin, another popular contestant on the TV program, who is cast as the alternate Maria and will perform the role twice weekly.

Captain von Trapp is played by Broadway star Burke Moses, who won acclaim for originating the role of Gaston in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in New York (a role he also performed in London’s West End and in Los Angeles).

Noölla Huet plays the Mother Abbess. A mezzo-soprano with an impressive resume of credits in classical music and opera productions, Noölla has also performed in many theatrical works and toured internationally with the acclaimed Deux Mondes theatre company.

Playing Max is Keith Dinicol, a veteran of 24 seasons at the Stratford Festival, where he has played in productions ranging from A Midsummer Night’s Dream to To Kill A Mockingbird. Keith has also performed across the country in productions such as Guys and Dolls and Amadeus.

Blythe Wilson plays the Baroness. A star of both the Shaw and Stratford festivals, where last season she won raves for her work in Oklahoma!, Blythe has also performed in musical productions across the country, notably playing the lead role in Mamma Mia! at the Royal Alexandra Theatre.

Liesl, the oldest of the von Trapp children (and the one who sings the iconic song “Sixteen Going On Seventeen”), is played by Megan Nuttall. A recent graduate of the University of Western Ontario, this is Megan’s professional debut.

Playing Rolf, the young man who has caught Liesl’s eye, is Jeff Irving. With several seasons at the Shaw Festival, Jeff was most recently seen in The December Man at Canadian Stage, a work for which he received wide acclaim.

The rest of the von Trapp children, who are double-cast, with each performing four shows per week, consist of (oldest to youngest): Frederich, played by Spencer Walker and Simeon Vivian; Louisa, played by Emily Hawton and Michaela Snoyer; Kurt, played by Michael Murphy and Matthew Tissi; Brigitta, played by Libby Adams and Ana Golja; Marta, played by Camden Angelis and Addison Holley; and Gretl, played by Mia Vanwyck-Smart and Amariah Faulkner.

Jennie Such plays Sister Sophia, Mary-Ellen Mahoney is Sister Margaretta and Jayne Lewis plays Sister Berte. Admiral von Schreiber is played by John Robinson, Frau Zeller by Denise Oucharek, Franz by James Kall, Frau Schweiger by Deborah Overes, Frau Schmidt by Brigitte Robinson and Herr Zeller is played by Warren Kimmel.

The Ensemble is: Marianne Bindig, Josée Boudreau, Patrick Cook, Ian Farthing, Stephen Findlay, Neil Foster, Nigel Hamer, Megan Latham, Doug MacLeod, Janet Martin, Frayne McCarthy, Anwyn Musico, Ann O’Kane, Imali Perera, Louie Rosetti, Ted Simonett, Ashley Taylor, Deborah Tennant, Carrie Wiebe, Denise Williams, Andrea Wingelaar and Seana-Lee Wood.

About this Production

With music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse (suggested by “The Trapp Family Singers” by Maria Augusta Trapp), The Sound of Music is one of the most beloved musicals of all time.

The score for The Sound of Music touches the hearts of all ages and brims over with some of the most memorable songs ever performed on the musical stage including “My Favorite Things”, “Do-Re-Mi”, “Edelweiss”, “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”, “Sixteen Going On Seventeen”, “The Lonely Goatherd” and, of course, the glorious title song “The Sound of Music”.

The film adaptation of the original 1959 Broadway production won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture in 1965.

In 2006, producers Andrew Lloyd Webber and David Ian opened a new production of The Sound of Music at the legendary London Palladium. The first major revival in London since the West End premiere in 1961, this lavish new production was hailed by the critics, won major awards, broke box office records and is still playing to packed houses two years later.

The production at Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre is the North American premiere of the London smash and is overseen by the same, award-winning creative team — director Jeremy Sams, choreographer Arlene Philips and designer Robert Jones.

Visit the official Canadian website for more information.

Dirty Dancing Reviews

Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (2 stars) – “It’s admirable that the show follows the 1987 film so faithfully, because Eleanor Bergstein’s story is a good one… The ensemble dance numbers come thrillingly alive in Kate Champion’s choreography, and the central couple of Josef Brown and Georgina Rich are much more attractive than Swayze and Jennifer Grey in the movie, Brown especially taking Johnny on to a higher level of sexual intensity and technical dance ability. He also doesn’t have too annoying a hairstyle. The score is a jukebox of the Chantels, the Drifters, Tina Turner, Otis Redding, and so on, but it doesn’t have the coherent texture of a ‘proper’ musical and often seems quite arbitrary. In the end, you feel as though you’ve been cudgelled by a brand product, not gone through the genuine experience of musical theatre.”

Benedict Nightingale in The Times (4 stars) – “This makes Hans Christian Andersen look like a kitchen-sink realist. But who cares when Brown is on the dance floor or (inevitably) in his bedroom…. When he and Rich’s Baby are at their sinuous best, you feel what that movie suggested. Dancing isn’t almost as good as sex. No, sex is almost as good as dancing – or, rather, both are indivisible. Maybe that’s enough to justify a show which adds so little to the original…. All this is brilliantly staged, but raises an obvious question. Why not get a DVD of the movie…? Yet I found myself warming to Bergstein’s modern fairy story and to the principals: Brown, elegant of mind and spirit as well as body, and Rich, growing in assurance, skill and beauty as she takes her life into her own hands – and, of course, her own feet.”

Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail – “…. Dirty Dancing is a night of good, jiggly rubbish, blameless silliness which ends with an uplifting finale. It’s hard to dislike it, but it’s also hard to call it memorable art. It’s a product, and it shows.”

Paul Taylor in the Independent – “The dancing… is the delight of James Powell’s attractively staged and happiness-spreading production of the nifty theatrical adaptation by Eleanor Bergstein. True, as Johnny, the chippy dance instructor at the up-market American Butlins, Josef Brown does not have the balletic dynamism of Patrick Swayze in the movie, nor does he have the latter’s capacity to make you root for the little man, as he’s a tall, strapping mass of muscle. But he and the well-cast Georgina Rich – who brings light physical grace and just the right kind of unconventional attractiveness to the role of doctor’s daughter, ‘Baby’ Houseman – radiate an infectious pleasure in their dancing together. This is a show that will give keen pleasure to Dirty Dancing addicts and to newcomers alike…. The music is a mixture of recorded golden oldies…. in general, this is a very enjoyable evening.”

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Billy Elliot The Musical Reviews

“…Billy Elliot strikes me as the greatest British musical I have ever seen, and I have not forgotten Lionel Bart’s Oliver! or Andrew Lloyd Webber’s  Phantom of the Opera. There is a rawness, a warm humour and a sheer humanity here that is worlds removed from the soulless slickness of most musicals. Yes,
there are rough edges that would give Cameron Mackintosh a fit of the vapours, yes, there are occasional scenes that are not as powerfully played as those in the film. But there is so much more that is big and bold, imaginative and great-hearted. The emotion always seems real and spontaneous, rather than
cunningly manipulated to pull at the heartstrings… The whole cast is blessed with a freshness and sincerity I have rarely seen equalled, and one leaves this triumphant production in a mist of tears and joy.” The Daily Telegraph

“Turning small-scale movies into big musicals is a treacherous business. It failed with The Full Monty, which lost all of its gritty truth when musicalised. But Billy Elliot succeeds brilliantly because Elton John’s music and, especially, Peter Darling’s choreography enhance Lee Hall’s cinematic concept. The musical, even more than the film, counterpoints Billy’s personal triumph with the community’s decline… Stephen Daldry’s production is a model of fluidity and intelligence. He constantly reminds us that the special power of the musical is that it can express a lyrical idea through physical action…” The Guardian

“…Together, Stephen Daldry and Lee Hall have concocted a piece that’s tougher, bolder and, as my tear-ducts can attest, more moving than its admittedly admirable celluloid precursor. With its rags-to-riches, or rather poverty-to-piroutte, story, the piece invites sentimentality. But that’s almost entirely missing in the Geordie pit village where young Billy discovers he has a gift for dance… Moreover, the action exactly coincides with the 1980s miners’ strike — and this comes across far more emphatically than in the film…” The Times

Billy Elliot The Musical, based upon Stephen Daldry’s classic movie, is just irresistible. It catches you
– or at least me – in its fervent grasp, and pins you down with all the artfulness of a vintage seducer, right to the misguided, sentimental finale… This is an evening which throws a fierce political punch as well as an emotional one. No modern musical has struck such rebellious, old Labour, workingclass conscious notes… Stephen Daldry, always at his best on the grand scale, deftly marshals a throbbing mixture of angry miners, threatening policemen and little girls in tutus – all singing. Ian MacNeil’s versatile designs set the changing
scenes…” The London Evening Standard

“BILLY’S A WHIZ! He’ll lift your soul, make you cry and send you home high with hope. Quentin Letts dances with delight at the first night of the £5million musical adaptation of Billy Elliot. Only its heavy-handed politics take the shine off the show. DREAMY dancing, full-rip staging, stonking songs and terrible politics. But for its dismally trite, Socialist Worker angle on the miners’ strike, Billy Elliot the Musical would stand tall this morning as a production of the most searing quality. Even with that significant flaw this is
a glorious show. It’s a weepie, funny spectacle married to a super score by Sir Elton John. The beautiful blond boy playing the lead last night, Liam Mower, will surely become the biggest child star since Mark Lester played Oliver Twist…” The Daily Mail

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New Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music

Simon MacCorkindale will star as Captain Von Trapp opposite Summer Strallen playing Maria in the smash hit West End musical  The Sound of Music at the London Palladium from Monday 25 August. Best known for his starring role as Harry Harper in three series of the hugely popular and successful Casualty on television, his other television credits include Obsessive Love, Falcon’s Gold, Quatermass, Jesus of Nazareth, Gemini and Dynasty. He has starred in films including Juggernaut, Death on the Nil and The Riddle of the Sands. He has directed a number of theatre productions including The Dark Lady of the Sonnets at the Royal National Theatre and Pygmalion at the Albery Theatre.

The Sound of Music is currently booking until 28th of February 2009 Book Tickets for The Sound of Music

Never Forget Transfer from the Savoy Theatre to Lyrics

Never Forget Transfer from the Savoy Theatre to Lyrics Theatre. The season will run from Thursday 20th November 2008 to Saturday 25th April 2009 and is now available for bookings.

Never Forget is the story of Ash Sherwood, an aspiring singer-songwriter struggling to make it on the Manchester music scene. Along with Jake Turner – his best friend and brother of Ash’s fiancée, Chloe Turner –Ash auditions for a Take That tribute band, desperate to try anything that might elicit his big break.

At the auditions Ash and Jake meet band manager Ron Freeman. Ron, a budding pop Svengali, is searching for a group of willing and amenable lads so desperate for success he can mould them into his very own version of the ultimate boy band: Take That. Never one to dream small when big will do, Ron not only wants to enter the band into a big competition, he also wants his band to be capable of transcending their humble beginnings and “to change the face of pop”. However, instead of the fame hungry puppets he wanted, our Svengali soon realises that he has instead recruited five creative and original characters – each committed to the group for their own reasons.

There’s Ash, who after years of wasting his talent in dingy bars and clubs is chasing the prize money that might help save his mum’s struggling pub and pay for his wedding to Chloe; Jake ‘The Face’ Turner, a sharp witted, wannabe ladies man hoping the band will get him out of his dead end job; Adrian Banks, an introverted bank manager, hopelessly attempting to win over his adulterous wife; Dirty Harry, a dim yet endearing stripper looking to recover his self respect; and Jose Reize, a wide-eyed and optimistic Spaniard, who has travelled to England to make something of himself – away from the clutches of his overbearing mother.

Having been brought together by Ron with promises of world domination the boys quickly form a genuine bond, practicing long and hard for the competition they hope will launch them towards stardom. However, the arrival of ambitious record executive Annie Borrowman throws those bonds into doubt and tests the loyalty and friendship of all those involved.

Never Forget is a story of dreams, ambition and betrayal: because sometimes you can only really discover who you are by pretending to be someone else…

Never Forget is currently booking until 25th of April 2009 Book Tickets for Never Forget

Josh Hartnett makes his West End debut

Hollywood actor Josh Hartnett makes his West End debut as Charlie Babbitt in this complex, moving and funny stage adaptation of the iconic film Rain Man which opens on Tuesday 9th September at the Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue. Josh is joined on stage by Olivier?nominated British actor Adam Godley as his autistic savant brother Raymond.

Writer Dan Gordon has radically re?imagined the multi Oscar Award winning 1988 film for the stage, resetting this timeless story in the present day. The result is touching, surprising and often laugh?out?loud funny. Definitely funny, as Raymond would say.

Charlie Babbitt (Josh Hartnett) is a self?centred Los Angeles?based automobile dealer and hustler, who is at war with his own life. Relationships are not Charlie’s strong suit and love is quite outside his experience. Raymond (Adam Godley) is the elder brother Charlie never knew he had ? an autistic savant who has been hidden away in an institution for most of his adult life. Raymond is dysfunctional in many senses, but – as Charlie is soon to discover – also touched with a kind of stellar genius which Charlie harnesses to save his business. The two brothers embark on a rollercoaster journey together which shows Raymond a world beyond the hospital gates and Charlie the meaning of unconditional love.

Josh Hartnett is well known for a range of films from the small independent to the big Hollywood blockbuster including Pearl Harbor, Black Hawk Down, The Black Dahlia and Lucky Number Slevin.

Adam Godley
is well known to theatregoing audiences for his Olivier nominated roles in Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick (National Theatre) and Mouth to Mouth (Royal Court). Other productions include Private Lives (West End and Broadway), Paul, The Pillowman and Two Thousand Years (NT). His film credits include Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Elizabeth: The Golden Age and the upcoming X-Files: I Want To Believe.

Josh Hartnett makes his West End debut
Josh Hartnett

Rain Man is currently booking until20th of December 2008 Book Tickets for Rain Main

Rain Man changes directer

David Grindley, director of the Apollo’s forthcoming production Rain Man, has been forced to pull out of the project due to family reasons and has been replaced by Terry Johnson.

Hollywood screen star Josh Hartnett will make his West End debut in the premiere stage adaptation of the 1988 Oscar-winning film Rain Man, which opens on 9 September 2008 (previews from 28 August) at the Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, where it’s booking for a limited season to 20 December.

Hartnett will play Charlie Babbitt, the part taken on screen by Tom Cruise, with British stage actor Adam Godley as Raymond, his autistic savant brother, the part for which Dustin Hoffman won a Best Actor at the Oscars. The film also numbered amongst its four Academy Awards the all-important prize of Best Picture.

Rain Main is currently booking until 20-Dec-2008 – Book Tickets for Rain Main

Never Forget Moves to Lyrics

Never Forget is going the transfer from the Savoy Theatre of Never Forget to the Lyric Theatre. The season will run from Thursday 20th November 2008 to Saturday 25th April 2009 and is is now available for bookings.

Please check for more details as the performance schedule has been changed.

Never Forget is currently booking until 25th of April 2009 Book Tickets for Never Forget