When? Tuesday 18th December 2012
Where? Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, stalls
Who? Billy Pearce, Lynda Bellingham, Brendan Sheerin, Brian Godfrey, Ben Stock, Hannah Grover, Christopher Drake, Afnan Iftikhar, Daisy Boyles, Matthew Prince Chambers, Jack Gow, Chelsie Johnson, Ricky Lee Loftus, Kerry Pearce, Innis Robertson, Laura Watson, the Children of the Sara Packham School of Dance
Billy Pearce has become as much a staple of Christmas as mince pies, The Snowman and difficult relatives. The “80′s TV comedian” – in his own words – is clearly enjoying his 14th year of pantomime at the Bradford Alhambra. Starring as Buttons in Michael Harrison and Alan McHugh’s new Cinderella, Pearce is a blast and provides the beating heart and northern soul of a very strong pantomime production.
Harrison, who Executive Produces, wisely keeps the focus on high quality for all-comers, not just the very young, making Cinderella a very successful family show. The sets are astonishing and no expense has been spared; in particular, some wonderful moments of stage magic are sure to delight the younger members of the audience, with gasps of delight clearly audible in the packed house on press night. Throw in live animals, some incredible puppet design and plenty of knowing nods and winks for the more mature panto-lover and Cinderella delivers a near-flawless pantomime experience for young and old alike.
Joining seasoned performer Lynda Bellingham – who gave a disappointly stiff Fairy Godmother – are a talented cast of triple-threat performers and some fine comic turns. Brian Godfrey/Ben Stock are amusing as the traditional Ugly Sisters, with their first act cover of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” winning plenty of laughs. Christopher Drake makes a dashing Prince Charming and Hannah Grover is an appealing Disneyfied princess Cinderella. Afnan Iftikhar has a lovely singing voice but could do with practice on his Prince Charles impersonation! Supporting the adult cast are a well-drilled teams of children from the Sara Packham School of Dance, who perform without fear. Lastly, in a classically tenuous pantomime link, Brendan Sheerin – host of Channel 4′s Coach Trip – is the coach driver. Ouch! Sheerin does well enough in the part and enjoys himself – I have certainly seen much worse!
But it is Pearce who sells the show with his infectious enthusiasm and humour. The children go crazy for him and he is cheered, clapped and screamed at (he usually screams back) whenever he is on – or about to come 0n – the stage. The adults in the audience can also take a lot from Pearce, with plenty of self-deprecating humour and safe innuendo. Throw in the occasion ad-lib and Pearce is a name that is guaranteed to sell tickets year after year.
In Bradford Alhambra pantomime tradition, bookings are already being taken for next year’s production – Aladdin – shout out if you can guess who is returning?!
- Harry Zing
When? Tuesday 3rd July 2012
Where? Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, stalls
Who? Faye Brookes, Iwan Lewis, Les Dennis, Ray Quinn, Tracey Penn, Hannah Grover, Sinead Long, Sophie Isaacs, Micha Richardson, Lewis Griffiths, Katie-Marie Hicks, Zak Nemorin, Jon Reynolds, Lori Barker, Gemma Baird, Graham Lappin, Mark Anderson, Rhona McGregor, Chris Milford, Nia Jermin, Antony Hewitt, Niamh Bracken, Michael Steedon, Barnaby Thompson, Amy Ross, Hannah Woolley, Andy Rees, Tara Young
Legally Blonde: The Musical is the campiest, fluffiest musical you could ever wish to see. The show has earned a cultish status since its 2007 Broadway debut, with no small help from the popular 2001 movie which inspired it, indeed many even arrived in costumes; long blonde wigs and bright pink sparklies were the order of the evening – and not just from the women! With the West End and Broadway sister productions now sadly gone, this 2011/2012 national touring production certainly hits the mark with laughs aplenty, some catchy tunes – and as much kitsch as anyone could possibly want.
The story sees Elle Woods (Faye Brookes) embark on a gloriously implausible journey of self-discovery, as she decides to enrol at Harvard Law School in order to impress her would-be boyfriend Warner Huntington (Ray Quinn); supported by her doting friend Emmett (Iwan Lewis), Elle discovers there is more to life than boys and designer handbags. Briefly. Heather Hach’s book is so delightfully passive so as not to interfere with the crux of the matter in Legally Blonde: The Musical, which is just good old fashioned Broadway style showbiz. In actuality, Legally Blonde: The Musical is a classic musical along the lines of 42nd Street – cleverly and attractively packaged for a younger theatregoer.
Despite being somewhat smaller in scale than the West End and Broadway predecessors, Legally Blonde: The Musical is a fantastically well-produced show in every sense. The production values remain exceptionally high, the bright, shimmering costumes (Gregg Barnes) are wonderful, as is the ever-reliable Richard Mawbey’s wig work, proving Legally Blonde doesn’t always translate to Literally Blonde. Director/Choreographer Jerry Mitchell gives the piece as much double entendré as the masses can accept and never crosses the bad taste barrier. His choreography work is exemplary as ever and, naturally in line with both the theme of the piece and this particular choreographer’s oeuvre, is absolutely screaming; hilarious, yet just as focused and appropriate as is necessary. The production numbers are the most memorable moments of the show without any question; the subtext laden second act opener “Whipped into Shape”, for example, sees the young company savouring some potentially tricky unison dancing with skipping ropes. Later on, we witness a hilarious ‘outing’ of a ‘gay European’ – under cross examination in court! With the kitchen sink all but thrown, I should mention the dogs – yes, dogs – which make several appearances throughout the evening to much adoration from the audience.
The cast fizz more than they pop; young Faye Brookes heads up the cast in just her second professional show. Brookes can sing and dance with the best of them, but at times struggles to find the humour in potentially hilarious scenes. Brookes is however quite likeable and believable in the role, thanks to her age and committment to her acting. As Professor Callaghan, Les Dennis – outstanding in 2009′s Eurobeat – has a similar opportunity to camp things up nicely. Whilst not in the least bit scary or as formidable as the book would have us believe, he is at least visibly enjoying himself and proved a surprisingly good singer, particularly in his first act ‘bad guy’ song “Blood in the Water”. Rhona McGregor performs admirably covering for Niki Evans as salon owner Paulette; McGregor has some impressive chops and rinsed every second of her act one number “Ireland”, an expositionary ditty which pays off in the Finale. The Greek Chorus of ‘Delta Nu’ ensemble ladies are nothing if not vocal throughout, whereas Lewis Griffiths gives something more of a visual performance as the comically virile UPS Man. Undoubtedly the standout performance comes from Iwan Lewis as the stolid Emmett Forrest, a performer I saw most recently in the Donmar Warehouse’s trite 2010 production of Passion. His characterisation and commitment to the moment belies his young age; if Lewis can truly bring life to a character as plain-Jane as Emmett, I would be fascinated to see him in bigger and better acting challenges in the future.
Legally Blonde: The Musical offers a fabulous few hours of pure escapism; musical theatre in its purest, campiest form – and I love it.
- Harry Zing