Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Beyond The Barricade

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews.

Beyond the Barricade 2014 Poster

Celebrating their fifteenth year of touring the UK and mainland Europe, Beyond the Barricade spent one night at the Royal & Derngate, allowing the people of Northampton and beyond the chance to revel in some of the best of musical theatre tunes. This show is a fantastic amalgamation of songs, including those from Miss Saigon, Jersey Boys, Chess, Blood Brothers, Evita, and of course Les Misérables, to name but a few. Each member of this powerhouse quartet has a strong theatre background and it certainly shows through in their exceptional vocals and stage presence.

Andy Reiss and David Fawcett devised Beyond the Barricade after appearing in the Manchester and London casts of Les Misérables. Andy Reiss is the best character actor by far throughout the show, switching seamlessly from one to another, all the while being pianist and conductor simultaneously. He is no stranger to versatility as he remains the only person to take on both the role of resident director for Les Misérables as well as perform in the show at the same time.

David Fawcett does an excellent job of hosting the evening and seems at home chatting to the audience and joking with them and his fellow performers. His voice is a force to be reckoned with and is at its best during performances of Phantom of the Opera tunes and the show stopping Les Mis numbers.

Rebecca Veer gives effortless performances and it doesn’t seem as though there is a note her voice cannot hit. It appears that she also has a propensity for comedy as twice during the show last night she received the biggest laugh from the audience, firstly during her Spamalot duet with David, and secondly during ;Master of the House where she made a distinct and effective alteration to her appearance to make the most of her character’s short time on stage.

Katie Leeming’s voice on occasion gets lost amongst those of her fellow performers, but it’s when she has her opportunity as a soloist that she really shows what she is made of, and proves that she deserves to be there just as much as her cast mates.

The one minor peeve about this show is the performers’ recurring need to move up to and away from their microphones during a song. It looks a tad messy and it really doesn’t seem necessary, especially as they also use spotlights to determine which performer the audience should be focussing on.

This show is perfect for theatre lovers of all ages, as it covers such a range of shows from the classics which have been running for almost three decades, to the more modern productions which are equally as popular. What is also great to see is that the group don’t just perform the more well known or recognisable numbers (for example there was no ‘Defying Gravity’ during the Wicked ensemble) and this is really refreshing.

Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews.

Buddy the Musical Production shots 2011

Rock ‘n’ Roll icon Buddy Holly introduced the world of music to a sound it’d never heard before. Even though record labels remained cautious, the bespectacled, fresh faced singer/songwriter never gave up trying to prove that being somewhat different was a good thing, and when sitting through this musical and hearing the incredible songs he produced, audiences are so grateful for his persistence and ingenuity. The Royal & Derngate theatre in Northampton is currently home to The Buddy Holly Story and, while the overall book could do with some refreshing, the timeless classics of Buddy Holly are still as captivating and feel good as ever.

If you’ve been to see a jukebox musical before, the story line for this show will not be anything new. A young group known as The Crickets, led by Buddy (Roger Rowley), is trying to get a record deal with their rock ‘n’ roll sound, while being persuaded time and again that they should be sticking to country music. With a lot of hard work, Buddy and his friends Jerry (Adam Flynn) and Joe (Scott Haining) see their music progressively become known and appreciated around the world. With a string of hits such as “Peggy Sue”, “True Love Ways”, “Oh Boy”, and “That’ll Be The Day”, this show doesn’t go wrong when it comes to entertainment and musical value.

Rowley makes an exceptional Buddy Holly, and his voice transports the audience back to the 50s with his relentless energy and skilful guitar playing. There is a well-executed contrast between the endearingly awkward day-to-day Buddy, and the performing star Buddy who the audience cannot stop watching. The vocal similarity is uncanny, as are the fun ‘Buddy Holly’ moves during the songs. Each and every cast member make their characters their own, and it is obvious that they all have so much love for the music; Flynn and Haining especially have so many tricks up their sleeves and are clearly very gifted musicians and entertainers.

The first half is well paced when it gets going. The beginning of the second half however is quite slow, and the whole show would probably be improved without the 10-15 minutes of audience interaction which seemed an altogether unnecessary break in the story. The end of the second half however is the highlight of the evening and, even though we are reminded of the tragic plane crash that ended Buddy’s life when he was just 22 years old, his contribution to the world of music is further reiterated, especially when it hits home just how short a time he had to make it in.

Although perhaps not as slick, The Buddy Holly Story is very similar to Jersey Boys, in the way that you recognise almost every single song in the show, but you just didn’t realise who was behind them. This show will remind audiences of a time when music wasn’t about image or being part of the industry just to be famous, it was about the sound, the story, and playing the songs the crowds wanted to hear. Buddy Holly especially had a gift for the latter, and this show is an excellent dedication to him.


This review was originally written for The Public Reviews.

CATS Royal and Derngate  Alessandro Pinna

From the simple but iconic programme covers of silhouetted dancers doubling up as a cat’s pupils, to the very realistic staging and costume design, everything about this musical has been thought through in exceptional detail. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s original production of CATS enjoyed a twenty one year run in London’s West End and the standard of the current UK tour goes to show that this musical has plenty more lives to go.

When writing a review one would usually dedicate a short paragraph to summarising the story line of the production, but in this case a couple of sentences will suffice: Once a year the eclectic clan of Jellicle Cats meet for the Jellicle Ball, which is a celebration of who they are as a collective and as individuals. During this time their elderly leader, Old Deuteronomy (Nicholas Pound), chooses one cat to ascend to the Heaviside Layer and be reborn into a new Jellicle life. For some this almost non-existent story line may be a problem, however the multitude of unusual characters and the uninterrupted flow of the showcasing of each one will provide plentiful entertainment for most.

The lyrics, set to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s immersive score, are taken from T.S Elliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats and there have only been a few minor revisions and additions to the poet’s original words. Many of the songs are among the best Lloyd Webber has ever composed, although there are a couple of slow sections that perhaps go on for a bit too long. Throughout the show we are introduced to characters such as the mischievous double act and cat burglars Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer (Barnaby Thompson and Katie Warsop), the magical Mr Mistoffelees (Joseph Poulton), and the glamour cat Grizabella (Sophia Ragavelas) who is shunned and treated poorly by the rest of the Jellicle cats. Poulton’s execution of his feisty routine is of a standard equal to that you’d find on the west end stage, and Ragavelas’ stunning rendition of perhaps the most well recognised tune, “Memory”, reminded me of why I love going to the theatre in the first place.

Gillian Lynne’s choreography for this show is in a league of its own and the humans are completely lost in their feline counterparts. This is supported by John Napier’s outstanding costume and set design, which make the whole experience unforgettable, especially when the cats venture out into the audience and you get a closer look at the extraordinary detail.
Everything on the stage is designed from a cat’s perspective so the audience are very much transported into the Jellicle world. This show is a true spectacle, and one not to be missed.

Miracle On 34th Street The Musical

This review was originally published for The Public Reviews. Click here to see!

Miracle on 34th Street New Theatre Oxford Darren Bell

The original Miracle on 34th Street was a 1947 film, written by playwright Valentine Davies who came up with the idea while waiting in a queue at a department store just before Christmas. In 1963 Meredith Wilson, who had had a previous hit with The Music Man, created the Broadway version, then known as Here’s Love, and following this in 1994 the film version starring Richard Attenborough as Kris Kringle made its appearance. The Music Man featured timeless numbers such as ’76 trombones’, but unfortunately the current version of Miracle on 34th Street did not provide any such memorable content.

This time of year is very much consumed by pantomime fever in the theatre world, so it was good to hear that there was potentially another kind of production out there for those who aren’t a fan of the obvious humour and the all-round silliness and tomfoolery. Miracle on 34th Street, however, is almost as cartoonish as the regular pantomime; the characters are 2 dimensional and there is no deep connection made between any of them.

There is more than one story line running throughout the production and they all lack conviction. Doris (Genevieve Nicole) and Susan Walker (Poppy Carter) are a mother and daughter who are practical and straight thinking, and they don’t believe in anything that they can’t touch, see, or smell. That is until Susan meets Kris Kringle (James Murphy) who believes he is the real Santa Claus and, one assumes, convinces the young girl to believe, although her transformation from non-believer to believer is sudden and no progression from one to the other is really displayed on stage. There is also the relationship between Doris and Fred (Daniel Fletcher) that blossoms to love within around thirty minutes in the story and is originated by Fred taking Susan to meet Santa behind Doris’ back. The second half is held mostly in a courtroom, where Kris Kringle and Fred are responsible for proving that Kris really is Santa, although the audience are originally led to believe that he is supposed to be in court facing charges of assault with a walking stick.

For a story that is set in New York there is a particularly low count of East coast accents to be heard; most of them are either southern or west coast sounding, so there is a lack of authenticity in that respect. The ensemble are clearly doing their best, but there is not enough of them to fill the stage and as such it feels empty at times, especially during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade that is supposed to be bursting with life, colours, and music, but is reduced to a few cheerleaders and pom poms at the beginning of this show.

Vocally the cast cannot be faulted. Acting wise however, everything seems over the top and it was all too sugary sweet, even for a Christmas show. Most of the jokes fall flat as the delivery is rushed or just timed incorrectly in general. There is just not enough depth and not enough magic, and at this particular performance the children seated around were very restless and did not seem taken by the show at all, which I think speaks volumes.


Friday, January 10, 2014

Pride and Prejudice- Oxford Guild Theatre

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews http://www.thepublicreviews.com/pride-and-prejudice-oxford-theatre-guild-oxford/

Pride and prejudice Oxford Theatre Guild Joseph Kenneway

Peter Kenvyn Jones’ adaptation of Jane Austen’s 200 year old novel, Pride and Prejudice, stays very true to the comedy and romance of the original piece. The Oxford Theatre Guild also do justice to the story of the Bennet family, and this outdoor production, nestled in the grounds of the Trinity College Gardens, will certainly satisfy fans and will also inspire newcomers to read the novel itself.

Snuggled in an array of different coloured blankets, the audience sit around the stage as the nineteenth century Hertfordshire countryside is brought to life and we home in on the goings on of the Bennet family. While Mrs Bennet hysterically flits from one daughter to another in attempt to find each a husband, Mr Bennet sits back in exasperation while injecting dry humour in between the shrill outbursts from his wife. Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia are the five sisters all with different personalities and yet all brought up to believe their main goal in life is to find a wealthy partner. While Kitty and Lydia giggle and flirt their way through their teenage years, Mary would much prefer a book to a husband, Jane remains the calming influence on the family, and Elizabeth is the most headstrong and independent of them all. When the neighbouring Netherfield Park is let to Mr Bingley, his sister Caroline, and their friend Mr Darcy, the Bennets are thrown headfirst into a world of balls, dancing, romance, misunderstandings, and unexpected marriage proposals.

This well rounded cast have remained very loyal to the characters they are portraying. Sarah Pyper as Mary Bennet and Colin Burnie as Mr Bennet are particularly comical; Pyper’s characterisation is especially larger than life and she never fails to evoke loud laughter with her delivery of overly intellectual explanations for the different scenarios she finds herself in. Laurence Goodwin and Adam Potterton are strong leads as Elizabeth and Mr Darcy; the underlying chemistry is noticeable during all of their interactions and even when they are merely on stage at the same time, pretending not to be paying any attention to the other.

While the garden setting itself is a wonderfully immersive idea for such a play, it brings with it some sound difficulties; the conversation between Darcy and Elizabeth during the dancing scene was completely lost and inaudible to those seated stage right. Sitting in the seats at the sides also means that characters’ backs are towards you quite a few times, so I would recommend getting to the venue early to sit in the central block if you can.

Hair and costumes are very authentic, although some of the outfits could do with a bit of TLC and straightening out, but this is only really noticeable to those very close to the stage. The set is also very creative with the enlarged pages from the book in the background, and the cast members are very efficient when it comes to the scene changes.

This is a very enjoyable production in general, and is also fairly easy to follow for younger audience members and those who have not yet encountered this beloved story. Pride and Prejudice is a timeless classic that already has many rejuvenated adaptations to its name that are just as appreciated; this one is no exception.

Save The Last Dance For Me- New Theatre Oxford

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews http://www.thepublicreviews.com/save-the-last-dance-for-me-new-theatre-oxford/

Save The Last Dance New Theatre Oxford

While nowadays we dream of and save up for an exotic holiday on an island as far away as possible, back in the sixties a trip to Butlins, or Lowestoft in the case of sisters Jennifer (Verity Jones) and Marie (Elizabeth Carter), was a hugely popular choice. Save the Last Dance for Me, written by the same duo who brought us Dreamboats and Petticoats, is a simple but fairly charming jukebox musical in which two young girls go on holiday alone together, and find themselves in the company of a few members of the US Air Force. Some of the guys have strictly honourable intentions towards the holiday goers, others not so much. While older sister Jennifer enjoys all of the attention, shy and uncertain Marie only has eyes for the chivalrous Curtis (Kieran McGinn).

A straightforward, romantic comedy like this allows the musical hits such as Viva Las Vegas and Please Mr Postman to shine through, and judging from the enthusiastic clapping and singing along by the audience, it is obviously this element of the show that attracted them to the theatre in the first place. You certainly will not be disappointed if you’re one of those people because the live band and vocal quality, especially from Carter and Jay Perry, who plays the Sergeant known as Rufus, have all the class and energy that will make you want to jump up and shimmy. It is also apparent that the musicians are having a good time, which does make a difference to the feel of the show overall especially when they are in plain sight.

The performing while not singing takes a bit of a backseat role; the acting is at times a bit wooden, and aside from McGinn the American accents could do with some fine tuning. The two lead lovers are sweet together, but once or twice it goes slightly overboard and becomes a bit too cutesy. The comedy is a healthy mixture of cheese and tongue in cheek, some jokes arefunny and some aren’t, but again the script is of lesser importance than the musical performances, and the story is mainly there to link the hits together. The choreography is lacking a bit of sparkle and ingenuity but it is fun to watch. The standout dancer isPerry, ironically so as his character comes across as quite stern; his fluidity and clear cut moves are in a league of their own;l it is hard to take your eyes off him.

A couple of the sets let this show down, with the exception of the main bar with its jazzy lights and feel good atmosphere. The caravan backdrop especially is a bit like something cut from the back of a cereal box; it serves its purpose but it leaves the stage a bit bare and uninteresting.

Save the Last Dance for Me has all the ingredients of a worthwhile night out. It is lacking that extra special something, but I defy anyone to leave the theatre without feeling like their spirits have been lifted.

Swan Lake- Royal & Derngate Northampton

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews http://www.thepublicreviews.com/peter-schaufuss-ballet-swan-lake-royal-derngate-northampton/

Swan Lake Royal and Derngate Bo Kudsk Kristensen

Composed by Tchaikovsky in the late nineteenth century, Swan Lake is a well-known ballet with an enchanting and heart-wrenching story. If you go to see Peter Schaufuss’ production with no previous knowledge of classical ballet or Swan Lake then it’s more likely that you’ll be taken with this interpretation currently on show at the Royal and Derngate. Unfortunately, this ballet/contemporary infusion is unlikely to please if you’re a traditional ballet lover.

Originally a ballet in four acts, this show has been condensed into two, and consequently the story telling is weak. Without reading the summary provided on the cast list to fill in the blanks, the show seems fragmented and disjointed. The story follows a young Prince (Thaddaeus Low) who is being pressured by his mother the Queen (Katherine Watson) to find a bride. He stumbles upon a moonlit lake and finds a group of young men and women who have been cursed to live as swans by day and humans by night. The Prince falls in love with their swan leader, known as the Swan Girl (Ryoko Yagyu), who turns back into a swan at the break of day. The Prince vows to marry the girl, but he does not count on the appearance of Sorcerer Rothbart (Josef Vesely), the man who placed the curse in the first place, who tricks the Prince in to falling in love with his daughter, the Black Swan (Yoko Takahashi), instead.

Aside from the entrance of the swans, which was well staged and showed promise of elegance, the swan lake scene itself was a disappointment. There was no romance between the Prince and the Swan Girl, and a lot of their choreography is floor work which, to those seated in the stalls, simply looks like a lot of awkward shuffling around side by side. If you’re sitting in the dress circle and looking down on them, however, it may provide a better angle. In addition, possibly the most recognisable element of this scene – the swans dancing in a row – was replaced with a heavy footed contemporary routine that clashed with the music, and not in a good way. While Tchaikovsky may well have been open to interpretations, I doubt this is what he had in mind.

In terms of the characterisations, the strongest are the Queen, the two jesters, whose acrobatic tomfoolery is impressive at times but could be a bit of an annoyance at others, and the four princesses from Act two, whose performances are the strongest and most enjoyable in the show. The Prince doesn’t overly impress until his very last dance, when all of sudden he becomes an explosion of energy, strength, and passion, and the drama he creates at the end almost compensates for the drama missing throughout the show.

When classic stories are revamped and dragged into the twenty first century it can sometimes be a success, but there are art forms that should perhaps be left well alone. While opposites may attract, ballet and contemporary dance simply do not fit comfortably together and they are best kept apart. This production had its moments of effortless excellence, but it did not live up to expectations.