2012 was an incredible year for Britain – and for our regional theatres. The biting recession certainly hasn’t slowed the thriving arts scene in our great country and 2012 saw some truly remarkable blockbuster productions visit our beautiful and historic Yorkshire theatres. Happily 2013 promises a lot more of the same! Here are some of the biggest shows coming up in the first quarter of 2013…
Until 13th January 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
Cinderella – The Rock ‘N’ Roll Panto
From press release; “Following the sensational audience reaction to our first rock ‘n’ roll panto, Aladdin, the team return with the most popular pantomime of all. Starring a cast of actor-musicians, singalong rock, pop and soul hits and of course the amazing boulder fight all the essential elements of traditional panto are all here.”
I was very disappointed to be unable to attend this production as it looks an absolute blast. The reviews are also very solid and hopefully a third Rock ‘N’ Roll panto will be in the offing for the 2013/14 season.
21st-26th January 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
Sex & Docks & Rock ‘N’ Roll
From press release; “From the team that brought Big Society! A new musical comedy with a riot of songs, cookery classes, cups of tea and class war, Sex & Docks & Rock ‘N’ Roll is a family comedy about love, change and solidarity set against the backdrop of the 1960 Liverpool dockworkers’ and seafarers’ strike.”
The second City Varieties musical theatre offering in as many years from the quirky Red Ladder Theatre Company. Expect politics aplenty and a fair few laughs.
27th January 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “Tikaram is renowned for taking an age between albums – on average seven years – which has only added to the enigma.”
This one certainly one which has me intrigued as I must profess until now ignorance to Ms. Tikaram’s lengthy and – at times – bizarre career. A quick look on YouTube reveals that Ms. Tikaram is certainly not an unknown, in fact this video from a 1988 edition of “The Top of the Pops” has been watched by over 2.2 million people. Even the ticket price is enigmatic, the erroneous 60 pence just screaming intrigue…
29th-31st January 2013 – St. George’s Hall, Bradford
The Moscow State Circus – Babushkin Sekret
Along with Cirque, the Moscow State Circus are one of the most revered names in circus performance. Their latest production, Babushkin Sekret, is inspired by The Legend of the 12 Chairs, and promises the usual astounding collection of aerialists, clowns and acrobats in a setting a million miles away from the big top.
31st January 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “Hansard is celebrated as the principal songwriter and vocalist/guitarist for the Irish group The Frames. He has a reputation for grounded, real life songs whether he’s busking the streets of Dublin or at the Hollywood Bowl.”
Another journey back to YouTube reveals another intriguing booking for the City Varieties. Hansard makes a folksified, mature Ed Sheerin, in closest comparison. A promising date in the diary.
Until 3rd February 2013 – Bradford Alhambra
It would be remiss of me to forget Cinderella, starring Billy Pearce, at the Alhambra. The annual pantomime’s mammoth run sees it occupy the theatre until 3rd February. This production is of the highest order, as detailed in my review here and is well worth a visit – even without youngsters in tow! *Must See*
Until 23rd February 2013 – Leeds Grand Theatre
Opera North: Otello/La clemenza di Tito/La voix humaine + Dido and Aeneas
Opera North’s new season sees no fewer than three new productions debut at the Grand.
Verdi’s Otello (16th Jan-16th Feb) “reunites the production team of director Tim Albery and designer Leslie Travers who created Opera North’s recent, widely acclaimed Giulio Cesare; Music Director Richard Farnes conducts.”
Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito (31st Jan-22nd Feb) sees “ John Fulljames, Associate Director of Opera at the Royal Opera House, directs Opera North’s first production of Mozart’s sublime opera seria.”
Finally, from 14th Feb-23rd Feb Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine shares a double bill with Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas to conclude the season.
2nd February 2013 – St. George’s Hall, Bradford
Brendan Cole: License to Thrill
Brendan Cole, noted ballroom dancer best known for his appearances on “Strictly Come Dancing”, brings his brand new show “License to Thrill” to Bradford’s St. George’s Hall for one night only. The show promises a cast of 20 musicians and dancers in a “spectacular night of theatre entertainment”. Having watched a few press videos, this production looks an excellent dance show and one that looks well worth a visit.
2nd February 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
The Guestlist (A charity event in aid of Cancer Research)
From press release; “A two-hour set of MTV unplugged-style songs including those by Adele, Amy Winehouse, U2, Seal, George Michael, Paul Young, The Eagles, Snow Patrol, The Killers, Elton John, Michael Jackson, KT Tunstall, Alison Moyet, Otis Redding, The kinks, Bill Withers and Dolly Parton performed by an array of musicians who have performed with Justin Timberlake, James Blunt, Sting Squeeze, Joe Cocker, Jools Holland, JLS, Alexandra Burke, Ben E King, Ronnie Wood”
8th-21st February 2013 – Restaurant 1914, Bradford Alhambra
Fawlty Towers: The Dinner Show
Yes, I know what you’re thinking and no, I haven’t lost my mind. Situated in the completely redesigned upper circle bar area, the brand new Restaurant 1914 at the Bradford Alhambra looks very nice indeed. Having only peeked up there myself, I noted the privacy blinds segregating the smartly-dressed diners as waiters whizzed past me with plates of delicious-looking food. What better way to showcase this ambitious new investment than recoup some of that expense with a dinner themed show? Fawlty Towers: The Dinner Show sounds rather self explanatory; “A delicious three-course meal and interactive comedy is hosted by Basil Fawlty, his long-suffering wife Sybil and their confused but loyal waiter Manuel – all brought to life by a critically-acclaimed cast of professional actors!”.
As always, these events hinge on the quality of two things – the food, and the cast. If both are as good as they promise to be, this could be a fantastic evening and something a little different for adults young and old alike.
9th February 2013 – The Studio (Bradford Alhambra)
Paul Tonkinson: Fancy Man
From press release; “After storming the comedy circuits for years and much badgering from fellow professionals, Yorkshire man, and former (double award-winning) Time Out Comedian of the Year,Tonkinson takes to the road, with his eagerly anticipated debut tour”
12th February 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
John Shuttleworth – Out of Our Sheds
John Shuttleworth (created by comic Graham Fellows) is back with a brand new touring production “Out of Our Sheds”. From press release; “Shuttleworth ventures beyond the garden gate to tread the mean streets of Britain. Which is better: city life or country living? Supermarket or village shop? Or is it better to sit in your shed and count the cobwebs?”
12th February 2013 – The Studio (Bradford Alhambra)
Jethro: UK Tour 2013
From press release; “Always slightly on the edge, Jethro’s fruity Cornish humor is the perfect remedy to cheer everyone into cachinnation. Turning everyday events into farcical stories, embellished into hilarity with his trademark west country dialect.”
Jethro is of the “having a funny voice is funny” school of comedy, one which made Joe Pasquale into a star. The difference is, Jethro actually has some amusing material and, waffle aside, you are guaranteed a few laughs at this one!
12th-13th February 2013 – Bradford Alhambra
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo
You can sum up Trocks (as the company are affectionately known the world over) in three words; really, really, funny. Essentially a comedy dance troupe, Trocks are an all-male dragged-up ensemble who believe they are the greatest ballet dancers in the world. Much like the late Tommy Cooper, who himself was a talented conjurer who sent himself up for laughs, Trocks’ act is funny because each member of the ensemble is actually a talented and accomplished dancer. *Must See*
13th February 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
Sadie and the Hotheads
From press release; “Downton Abbey star and Hollywood actress Elizabeth McGovern takes up lead vocal duties with her hotly tipped band Sadie and the Hotheads as they head out on a headlining UK tour.”
Another fascinating booking from the ambitious City Varieties team. Actress Elizabeth McGovern has become one of the most recognisable faces on television thanks to her performance as Cora in Downton Abbey. It seems music is a great passion of hers and, having listened to a few “Hotheads” songs, I must say I am impressed. Definitely worth a look.
15th February 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “Totally offensive and he hates your guts. He once emptied a room with just his warm-up material.”
16th February 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “World-class stand up from the internationally acclaimed star of Live at the Apollo and Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow. No gimmicks, just great craic!”
17th February 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
Russell Kane: Posturing Delivery
From press release; ‘What if I’m one of the guys who never has a baby? Why is this not a male subject? I plan to give birth live on stage then raise it – in front of you. Come along!”
18th February 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “Celebrated virtuoso of the Flamenco guitar, Juan Martin has been voted one of the top three guitarists in the world. His latest project explores the roots of flamenco, with music including Moorish and Indian gypsy music, Sephardic song a well as his own inimitable flamenco style.”
19th February 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “Famous for his role as founder member of rock group Del Amitri, Currie’s music is dominated by strong imagery and storytelling.”
21st February 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “Hailed as the originators of British folk-rock music, Fairport Convention has just celebrated its 45th anniversary. The 2013 Winter Tour features songs from their most recent studio album Festival Bell. There will also be an opening set from John Watterson who will perform revivals of Jake Thackray’s quirky songs.”
21st February 2013 – Bradford Alhambra
Cannon, Campbell, Watchorn & O’Conner formerly of ‘The Dubliners’
From press release; “Sean Cannon, Eamonn Campbell, Patsy Watchorn and banjo virtuoso Gerry O’Connor continue the legacy of Legendary Irish Folk group THE DUBLINERS, celebrating 50 glorious years in the music business.”
22nd February 2013 – The Studio (Bradford Alhambra)
Tom Stade Totally Rocks
From press release; “Following last year’s sell-out debut UK tour, don’t miss Canadian émigré Tom Stade with his brand new live show”
23rd February 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “The star of Everyone Quite Likes Justin (R4) goes back on tour with his stand-up romp.”
23rd February 2013 – The Studio (Bradford Alhambra)
WOW, A Celebration of the Music of Kate Bush
My only tribute act inclusion, simply because I am a big fan of Kate Bush and this production is a new one on me. The show promises “Kate’s greatest songs and a state of the art light and video show will ensure a fabulous evening of entertainment”. Worth a look simply because it is a little different.
24th February 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
Al Murray – The Only Way is Epic
From press release; “Britain’s most irrepressible innkeeper will be serving up his premier brew of ale-inspired acumen and bar-room buffoonery. Get your orders in now!”
26th Feb-2nd March 2013 – Bradford Alhambra
James and the Giant Peach
Roald Dahl is still a hit with children and this production, from children’s specialists The Birmingham Stage Company promises to pack them in. If your children enjoyed their previous production of George’s Marvellous Medicine, Horrible Histories and The Jungle Book, they will love this.
1st March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “Sharon Shannon has music at her fingertips….literally! The accordionist from Ireland has achieved legendary status throughout the world and has made the much-maligned accordion ‘cool’ in her home country. Renowned for her collaborations, not just in Irish traditional music, but through all musical genres, Hip-Hop, Cajun, Country, Classical and Rap. “
2nd March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “World Famous Hypnotist Andrew Newton makes a welcome return to the City Varieties after last year’s sell out tour of Australia and New Zealand. This show marks the 31st year since he first performed at the theatre and promises to be as funny as ever. It’s not just the people on the stage who will find themselves part of Newton’s carefully controlled insanity – someone at home will have an unexpected call!!!”
2nd-9th March 2013 – Leeds Grand Theatre
Northern Ballet: The Great Gatsby
From press release; “Discover the heady, indulgent days of New York’s Long Island during the glamorous 1920′s as Northern Ballet bring F Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby to the stage. Nick Carraway comes to know his infamous neighbour Jay Gatsby – a mysterious millionaire with a secret past and a penchant for lavish parties and beautiful women. As the sparkling façade of Gatsby’s world begins to slip, Carraway comes to see the loneliness, obsession and tragedy that lies beneath. The seductive style of the era is recreated through stunning sets and costumes. Music by Academy Award nominated and BAFTA winning composer Sir Richard Rodney Bennett CBE (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Murder on the Orient Express), will be played live by Northern Ballet Sinfonia. With an unparalleled reputation for telling stories through dance, Northern Ballet are the perfect company to translate this popular American novel into ballet. As The Great Gatsby steps into the spotlight, don’t miss your opportunity to see what promises to be one of the most stylish adaptations of this classic work.”
3rd March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
Pete Firman – Hoodwinker
From press release; “Don’t miss Pete Firman, ‘the new poster-boy for British comedy magic’ (The Telegraph), as he returns to the road with an all-new box of tricks. Fresh from BBC1′s ‘The Magicians’, with his own trademark blend of comedy and jaw-dropping magic, this is a show not to be missed!”
4th-9th March 2013 – Bradford Alhambra
The Woman in Black
I am not afraid to say it, The Woman In Black is a genuinely frightening experience. Forget the sub-par movie adaptation starring Daniel Radcliffe, the stage play is atmospheric, dark and moody – and bound to have you on edge throughout. Yes, it has been touring and playing the West End for decades – but it keeps on delivering. *Must See*
10th March 2013 – Bradford Alhambra
Richard Herring – Talking Cock
From press release; It’s an object of shame and pride; it inspires laughter and fear; it’s a symbol of power, yet it’s incredibly fragile; it can be a pound of flesh or an ounce of winkles, it can be used to express both love and hate; it creates life, it can condemn us to death… and it can do wees as well. How can one tiny flap of sponge and sinew be all these things? Richard Herring intends to find out in this tenth anniversary update of the critically acclaimed show that exposes the truth about men and their flutes of love. Sell-out at the Edinburgh Fringe 2002 and Melbourne Comedy Festival 2003, translated and performed in over a dozen European countries, published as a book by Ebury press.
Herring is a fine comedian and wordsmith and is at his absolute best when staying on-script.
11th-16th March 2013 – Leeds Grand Theatre
The Mousetrap – Diamond Anniversary Tour
12th-23rd March 2013 – Bradford Alhambra
Hairspray is an absolutely joyous musical and the tour is a triumph. I have seen this tour several times previously – as well as several visits to the now departed West End production and the novelty and sheer delight simply doesn’t wear off with repeat viewings. The current cast stars comedian Mark Benton as Edna, EastEnders’ Lucy Benjamin as Velma Von Tussle, X Factor 2011 competitor Marcus Collins and newcomer Freya Sutton as Tracy. *Must See*
13th March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “LipService, Britain’s favourite literary lunatics, are back with ’A Swedish self-assembly crime thriller’. Inspector Norse (orThe Girl With Two Screws Left Over). It is bitter mid-winter. Ex-popstar recluse Freya looks out of her log cabin at a rural winter scene. She smiles and turns back to her meatballs. but who is the stranger Nordic Walking across the frozen wastes? In a fur hat. With a chisel. Days later a man is found dead in a barn nearby with a bizarre message carved on his forehead. Enter Inspector Sandra Larsson in her authentic, rustic knitwear. With her own personal life unravelling before our eyes, it is up to her to follow the pattern of a mystery with many holes. Cast on multi-award winning comedy duo LipService, Maggie Fox and Sue Ryding. Cast off your preconceptions as they weave a web of mystery that will leave your nerves jangling!”
14th March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
The Irish House Party!
From press release; “Dublin’s No’1 award winning music and dance show offers the warmest of welcomes to the finest house party in town.”
Also playing at Bradford St. George’s Hall on 16th March.
14th March 2013 – St. George’s Hall
From press release; “One of British comedy’s biggest stars comes to Bradford for one night only! Don’t miss Micky Flanagan at St George’s Hall!”
Limited availability remains on this one, so book early!
14th March 2013 – St. George’s Hall
Justin Moorhouse: Justin Time
From press release; “He won’t have his face painted as a tiger but we can guarantee laughs from Justin!”
16th March 2013 – St. George’s Hall
The Irish House Party!
From press release; “Dublin’s No’1 award winning music and dance show offers the warmest of welcomes to the finest house party in town.”
Also playing at Leeds City Varieties on 14th March.
17th March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “Gretchen Peters returns after rave reviews for her eighth album, ‘Hello Cruel World’ – a joke that, like the lovely melodies and deliciously textured arrangements framing these 11 songs, sweetens this captivating music spun from a year of turmoil. Her career kick started with Martina McBride’s 1995 recording of Peters’ ‘Independence Day’ which made her a songwriting sensation.”
18th March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “Folk rock pioneers, pop stars, an inspiration to generations – Steeleye Span have been many things, and are now a six piece again, This show will see them visit the classics that have made them one of the most successful British Folk Rock bands ever. 2012 finds Maddy Prior – the voice of Steeleye for 37 years – back at the helm of a line-up featuring band stalwart and fiddler extraordinaire , Rick Kemp on bass, Peter Zorn and Julian Littman on Guitars and Liam Genockey on the drum stool.
20th March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “Following on from their hugely successful 2012 tour, the girls return in 2013 with hilarious all-new sketches, as well as all the very best bits from last time round. Looking at everything that makes today’s woman tick (or ticked off!) – from the joys of teenagers, to the hell of IKEA, the madness of holiday reps and the insanity of DIY. Is your man more James May than Christian Grey? Then grab your girlfriends and head for a hilariously funny evening with the Hormonal Housewives – what they can’t teach you about modern womanhood isn’t worth knowing!”
21st March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “The Manfreds, with original front-man Paul Jones, will be performing many of the tracks from the highly acclaimed album The Five Faces Of Manfred Mann, re-released as part of their 50th anniversary celebrations, along with a mix of their biggest hits and the jazz and blues songs for which they are famous. Paul Jones, with his award winning harmonica sound, will be joined by Mike Hugg on keyboards, Tom McGuinness on lead guitar, Rob Townsend on drums, Marcus Cliffe on bass guitar and Simon Currie on saxophone/flute.”
21st March 2013 – St. George’s Hall
From press release; “Shakatak have enjoyed a level of success and career longevity rarely paralleled in contemporary music but then Shakatak is a particularly unusual group.”
22nd March 2013 – St. George’s Hall
Boogie Nights – The ’70′s Musical in Concert
From press release; “The original and best loved West End hit 70′s musical in an unmissable remixed one night concert event of the year”
It can be very hard to judge which of these tribute productions will be of the highest quality and which might leave a slightly disappointed feeling. This production certainly has some names in the “cast of 14 singers, dancers and live musicians” including The Osmond Brothers (Merrill, Jimmy and Jay), Gareth Gates, Andy Abraham and Butlins regular Chico, which might go a little way to justifying the £35.50 top price. I’ll reserve judgement on this one until I see it.
24th March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
Jo Caulfield – Better the Devil You Know
From press release; “The minute Jo Caulfield hits the stage you know you’re in for a good time. Nominated as ‘Funniest Woman’ (LAFTA Awards) and ‘Best Female Stand-Up’ (Chortle Awards), Jo Caulfield is one of the most popular and successful female Stand Up comedians in the country. Star of Radio 4’s critically acclaimed It’s That Jo Caulfield Again and recently seen on Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow, Mock The Week, Have I Got News For You, Never Mind The Buzzcocks, Best of The Comedy Store and The Apprentice: You’re Fired. Expect razor-sharp observations and scandalous one-liners as Jo asks; Why are drunken girlfriends so much fun? Which hotel has the best porn? What constitutes an airtight alibi? Is friendliness overrated? The celebration of anger continues with acerbic stories about dating, relationships, bad service, wrestling with a self-scanner in Tesco Supermarket and humiliating herself in public. Come join Jo’s celebration of anger.”
25th March 2013 – Leeds Grand Theatre
Hairy Bikers – Larger Than Live 2013
From press release; “Last time round we told you our story, but this time, we’re taking you round the world. Starting with our northern roots, we’ll share our rip roaring tales of decadent do’s, big dinners and culinary catastrophes. There will be a bit of dancing, a bit of flirting, a bit of singing, and some downright hilarious stand-up comedy. Filled with plenty of surprises, expect the unexpected… and if you like us on the telly, you will love us ‘Larger than Live’.”
26th-30th March 2013 – Bradford Alhambra
Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty
From press release; “New Adventures’ 25th birthday culminates with the world premiere of Matthew Bourne’s latest re-imagining of a ballet classic. Sleeping Beauty sees Bourne return to the music of Tchaikovsky to complete the trio of ballet masterworks that started with Nutcracker! and the international smash hit, Swan Lake. Our story begins in 1890 at the christening of Princess Aurora, a time when fairies and vampires fed the gothic imagination, before moving forward in time to the modern day. Featuring designs by Olivier Award winners Lez Brotherston (Set and Costumes), Paule Constable (Lighting) with Sound Design by Paul Groothuis, which will take the audience into the heart of Tchaikovsky’s magnificent score in specially recorded surround sound.”
Fresh from Sadlers Wells and a deluge of glowing reviews, Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty has all the hallmarks of another world class production. Bourne’s new Sleeping Beauty is arguably his most modern ballet re-imagining yet, even going so far as to remove the orchestra and replace them with a pre-recorded score, a move which has caused much controversy in the industry but was deemed essential for the affordability of the show. I really can’t wait for this one. *Must See*
27th March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
Ian Hunter + Guests
From press release; “Ian Hunter & Mott The Hoople recorded four crazed but critically-acclaimed and highly influential albums for Island Records and possessed enormous live prowess, but poor record sales led to a temporary split and a move to CBS/Columbia. With David Bowie’s ‘All The Young Dudes’ as the launchpad, Mott The Hoople hit superstar status between 1972 and 1974 – seven hit singles, four chart albums (including ‘Mott’ – still regarded as a seventies’ classic); they were the first rock band to sell out a week of Broadway concerts in New York’s theatreland, and Ian wrote his universally acclaimed book, Diary of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star. Mott reunited for five nights at London’s prestigious Hammersmith Apollo in 2009 and were awarded Lifetime Achievement Awards from Mojo and Classic Rock magazines respectively.”
27th-28th March 2013 – Leeds Grand Theatre
Harry Hill: Sausage Time
From press release; “The self-styled floppy-collared loon is back with a live show that promises incontrovertible proof that God exists. Joined by showband ‘The Harry’s’, there’s a section exclusively for Tongans, a chance to catch up on Harry’s Nan’s latest ailments, the legendary Stouffer the Cat and a debut solo stand-up spot by Gary, Harry’s son from his first marriage and recognisable for his role as Alan Sugar in Harry Hill’s TV Burp. There’ll be expert-whistler-of-chart-hits grandson Sam and an all-singing, all-dancing finale. Oh, and a giant sausage.”
29th March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “The first album from folk-rock legends Strawbs, was recorded with Sandy Denny in 1967, a year before her first album with Fairport Convention. On the strength of this, A&M signed Strawbs as the first British band on the label. The band has a devoted fan base that continues to grow on the strength of both their recent recordings and classic hits. As Strawbs now move gracefully into their fifth decade of music making, the band comprises David Cousins, along with lead guitarist Dave Lambert, and the astonishingly versatile Chas Cronk, who together formed the front-line of the classic 1970s line-up. “
30th March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
The Animals & Friends
From press release; “The Animals were the second British band to top the American charts after The Beatles with the multi-million selling and legendary anthem, House of the Rising Sun. The band subsequently achieved over twenty global Top Ten hit records, many of which reached No.1 in various parts of the world. Animals & Friends features original Animals’ members John Steel (drums) and Mick Gallagher (keyboards – The Blockheads, The Clash, Paul McCartney) plus Danny Handley and Peter Barton.”
30th March 2013 – Leeds Grand Theatre
The Solid Silver 60′s Show
From press release; “They say that if you remember the 60s you weren’t there! Fill that gap in your memory with The Solid Silver 60s Show and relive the 60s with original artists singing their greatest hits! Now in its 28th year the show features the unforgettable talents of Mike Pender (the original voice of The Searchers), Dave Berry and Wayne Fontana, all backed by New Amen Corner, and with special guests The Merseybeats. Hear the classic hits performed by the original hitmakers!
- Harry Zing
When? Thursday 8th November 2012
Where? Grand Theatre, Leeds, stalls
Who? Neil Morrissey, Samantha Barks, Iain Fletcher, Sebastian Croft, Daniel Huttlestone, Stephen Moore, Jack Edwards, Claire Machin, CJ Johnson, David Langham, Emma Dukes, Stevie Hutchinson, Victoria Hay, Sophie Caton, Alison Connell, Sarah Cortez, Beth Davies, Hadrian Delacey, Lee Dillon-Stuart, Nicholas Duncan, Paul Farrell, Kade Ferraiolo, Mary Fox, James Gant, Matt Harrop, Lincoln Hudson, Kara Lane, Joe Maxwell, Mikaela Newton, Ryan O’Gorman, Claire Parrish, Annie Wensak
2012 has been a truly defining year for the Leeds Grand Theatre. Under the ambitious leadership of General Manager Ian Sime and his team, the venue has steadily grown in stature and is now rightly recognised in the industry as one of the largest and most prestigious receiving venues in the country. Following a record-breaking sell-out run of The Phantom of the Opera – which followed equally noteworthy visits of AAA touring shows Dirty Dancing, Sister Act and South Pacific - Cameron Mackintosh’s Oliver! revival, which is playing the Grand for five weeks, is arguably the pick of the bunch in the theatre’s breathtaking 2012 calendar.
Oliver! is many people’s favourite musical for a reason; the songs are catchy, numerous and memorable – the show running order reads like a list of musical theatre standards: ‘Food, Glorious Food’, ‘Oliver!’, ‘Where is Love?’, ‘Consider Yourself’, ‘You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two’, ‘I’d Do Anything’ and ‘Be Back Soon’ are some of the well-known songs which feature in the first act alone. Oliver! is ageless, Lionel Bart’s book is poignant and entertaining in equal measure, the characters are instantly recognisable and wonderfully intriguing – the material is simply a godsend for the right production. And this is certainly the right production!
This 2011/13 tour, adapted from the 2009 London revival, is a joy from first to last – and I left the theatre beaming. The production numbers, in particular, are an absolute joy to behold with the teams – nay hoards – of talented children performing to an exceptional standard. A synopsis for such a well-known show is unnecessary; the only real variations from the original 1960 production – or the iconic 1968 movie – come in the form of minor directorial tweaks and the aesthetics of the staging, rather than in the plot or any aspect of character development. Laurence Connor takes the directorial helm and does a sterling job in balancing the importance of the plot with accessibility – of course, it helps when the book provides a showstopping production number every ten minutes, should the attention begin to wander! As it is though, the acted scenes are equally entertaining thanks to the weird and wacky cast of faintly menacing characters which fill the Oliver! universe.
Young Sebastian Croft, playing Oliver, sang with clarity and power throughout. Opposite him Daniel Huttlestone, set to feature as Gavroche in the 2013 Les Misérables movie, makes a very cheery and cheeky Artful Dodger. The highly experienced and hard-working adult cast are a match for the youngsters; David Langham gave an amusing turn as the mildly sinister Child-Catcher-esque undertaker Mr. Sowerberry and Stephen Moore shone as the kindly Mr. Brownlow. Samantha Barks, a runner-up in the BBC I’d Do Anything search for a Nancy, possesses a superb voice and belts with the best of them. ‘As Long as He Needs Me’ and the subsequent reprise proved arguably the stand-out number of the evening. Iain Fletcher is perhaps bordering on the panto as the villainous, psychotic Bill Sikes – indeed, he was roundly booed at the curtain call – but comes into his own in his final, dramatic moments leaving his performance feeling stronger than expected.
In my previous visit to Oliver! in the West End, I had seen stage legend Russ Abbott don the famous Fagin rags to great success and, initially, I had doubts about lead Neil Morrissey’s musical theatre credentials. However, after a nervy start, I am delighted to say Morrissey was terrific as a very bona fide Fagin. Thankfully shunning early slapstick for a much ‘smaller’ – and certainly more sincere – second act performance, by ‘Reviewing the Situation’, Morrissey had the audience rapt – the eruption of appreciation at the end of the number was one of the loudest and longest I have heard at the Grand.
Oliver! is also a particularly beautiful production and the sets and super-slick staging are a marvel. Very reminiscent of past Cameron Mackintosh productions such as his outstanding 2001 My Fair Lady or 2005′s Mary Poppins, the evening simply glides by as sets are flown in from all angles with such smoothness and symmetry as to leave you open-mouthed at the technical wizardry on show. Totie Driver/Adrian Vaux’s set designs are beautiful, the vast backdrops of London are living, breathing environs. The orchestrations (William David Brohn) are of the highest order, as one would expect from a tour of this quality. From the cheery bounce of ‘Oom Pah Pah’ to the swelling orchestral arrangement of ‘As Long As He Needs Me’, Oliver! boasts a particularly strong, classy band of fifteen, under the strong leadership of musical director Toby Higgins.
A fantastic, upbeat end to a year to remember at the Leeds Grand with Oliver! providing a West End experience in the heart of Yorkshire.
- Harry Zing
When? Tuesday 14th August 2012
Where? Grand Theatre, Leeds, dress circle
Who? John Owen-Jones, Katie Hall, Simon Bailey, Angela M Caesar, Simon Green, Elizabeth Marsh, Vincent Pirillo, Hannah Cadec, David Phipps-Davis, Ben Sleep, Greg Castiglioni, Lee Ormsby, Claire Platt, Rosie Bell, Henry Grant Kerswell, Richard Woodford, Leigh Rhianon Coggins, A C Garcia, Kirk Jameson, Olivia Brereton, Sarah Joyce, Sam Harrison, James Bisp, Caroline Crawley, Cindy Ciunfrini, Rachael Crocker, Sophie Hartley, Lauren Lotz, Emma Roberts-Simms, Liesl Dowsett, Alistair Barron, Michael Diana, James Pullum, Hannah Grace, Siani Owen
Excerpts of this review of The Phantom of the Opera are taken from a previous review, “The Phantom of the Opera 2012 Review Comparison: UK Tour vs. West End” published in April 2012.
The Leeds Grand Theatre’s ongoing ambition and determination to secure the hottest shows on the touring circuit arguably culminated last night, with the press night of Cameron Mackintosh’s brand new record-breaking touring production of The Phantom of the Opera. General Manager Ian Sime’s long-term vision for the venue has, in 2012, elevated it on a par with the leading receiving venues in the country; not since My Fair Lady in 1966 has a show been booked for as many consecutive performances – or will be seen by as many visitors from across Yorkshire and beyond. It is fitting, then, that Laurence Connor’s vibrant new staging does Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic 1986 West End musical justice. Regular readers will know I am no stranger to Phantom, having reviewed the original production and tour here, the Las Vegas production here and the 25th Anniversary Concert and subsequent comment here and here.
Having only been on the road for a few months, very early into what will surely be a very long touring run, this new production of The Phantom of the Opera feels brand spanking new and worth every pretty penny that has been poured into it. The new production offers a far more literal depiction of the same Phantom universe as seen in the celebrated West End production for the last 26 years, the biggest difference being Paul Brown’s new set designs; gone are the lavish backdrops and curtains, instead we have unobtrusive projections, flown in set pieces and a large revolving multi-purpose drum with doors, which most memorably replaces the ‘travelator’ on the journey to the Phantom’s lair. It also rotates to show the swish new manager’s office, complete with exquisite red velvet styling. The drum serves to fill many of the visual gaps left (intentionally?) by original designer, the late, great Maria Björnson and on this level succeeds – however, purists would argue that Björnson’s imagery is synonymous with the Phantom brand.
Many will have seen the original production and will be curious to know what makes this production different; in actuality, besides the score and the fundamentals of the book, Connor’s Phantom is entirely original. Some changes truly improve the staging; the most notable example is the on-stage murder of a supporting character, which is shown in full gory detail and excellently executed (pardon the pun!). It was a rare chance to see The Phantom at his most evil and sadistic; again, this more literal depiction of The Phantom changes the entire dynamic of the piece and perhaps better explains the actions of key characters later in the musical. Björnson’s Phantom is very much a Romantic anti-hero, Connor’s is a cold blooded murderer and kidnapper – both characters are equally fascinating.
Connor has made a clear statement with the production; this is his Phantom, however, the trappings of the classic original remain and are entirely unavoidable. The costumes are near-identical (although the Phantom is missing his hat), the boat in the Phantom’s lair makes a brief appearance – one feels as something of a token – and a huge ornate chandelier is raised above the stalls menacingly, but unfortunately does not fall, which will inevitably come as a disappointment to some, such is the notoriety of that particular theatrical moment in audiences collective consciousness.
Phantom is of course an ensemble piece, but in my experience the success or failure of a performance hinges on the abilities of the three leads, The Phantom, Christine and Raoul, played in the tour by John Owen-Jones, Katie Hall and Simon Bailey respectively. All three performers have Phantom previous in the West End production and it is little surprise to find them perfectly capable. Owen-Jones has over 2,000 performances in the mask to his name, yet his performance has never felt fresher in this new production. He manages to bring a softer side to his performance – which is welcome – and sings as beautifully as ever. Owen-Jones has, since my last visit to this production in Manchester, visibly adapted to the physical demands of the role and makes a striking figure as The Phantom. Katie Hall makes a very young Christine and sings beautifully; her chemistry with Bailey’s weak-willed Raoul was convincing. Her standout number, ‘Think of Me’ was warmly received and she brought the house down on this occasion with her performance of ‘Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again’. Bailey sings well enough for the part but can seem a touch wooden with his acting; but I suspect this may be directed as the character is more similar to his reincarnation in the depressingly trite Love Never Dies. The supporting cast are all capable; Angela M Caesar has settled in wonderfully as Carlotta, adding some much-needed comic relief throughout. Greg Castiglioni does particularly well with the expanded part of Monsieur Reyer and understudy Lee Ormsby gives a confident performance as Monsieur Firmin. The performance was very tight all the way through and the dancing from the ‘ballet corps’ impeccable.
For theatre-lovers in Yorkshire, this production marks the welcome end to an 11 year wait for Phantom to return. It by no means makes the original West End production obsolete, but is well worth a visit as an outstanding production in its own right, with a strong cast led by experienced Welsh tenor John Owen-Jones (whose solo album ‘Unmasked’ I have reviewed here).
- Harry Zing
When? Tuesday 26th June 2012
Where? Grand Theatre, Leeds, stalls
Who? Samantha Womack, Matthew Cammelle, Cameron Jack, Daniel Koek, Jodi Kimura, Elizabeth Chong, Luke Kempner, Dominic Taylor, Nigel Williams, Carly Anderson, Jill Armour, James Austen Murray, Chris Bennett, Lawrence Carmichael, Mairi Cowieson, Stephen John Davis, Eddie Elliott, Maria Lawson, Nyron Levy, Dean Maynard, Adam Pritchard, Rebecca Seale, Dominic Smith, Mikel Sylvanus, Danny Whitehead, Bleu Woodward, Nick Wyschna, Matthew Crowe, Lisa Dent, Chris Jenkins, Sophia-Rose Kerry, Nicholais Kerry
I am certainly no stranger to Bartlett Sher’s sumptuous 2008 Lincoln Center production of South Pacific, which arrived at the Leeds Grand Theatre last night. I have had the pleasure of seeing the production (winner of seven Tony awards) both home and abroad – and the show has lost none of its charm, appeal or, most importantly, quality since my first visit. Sher’s South Pacific has rightly been recognised as one of the great classic musical revivals and, in my opinion, this tour is the finest and most grandiose touring musical theatre production in recent history.
Sher’s production is the first full-scale revival to hit Broadway, and presently the UK touring circuit, in almost forty-five years and it has a lot to say, always doing so with clarity, beauty and intelligence. Unlike many classic musicals, the message of South Pacific is timeless and universal; it teaches but never preaches. The central love story between self-confessed ‘hick’ Ensign Nellie Forbush (Samantha Womack) and refined French plantation owner Emile de Becque (Matthew Cammelle) is entirely believable and the central theme of racial prejudice is never used cheaply or without factual historical justification. The second act ‘You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught’ sung by Lt. Joseph Cable (Daniel Koek) provides a seething indictment of the inherently racist culture of the day, speaking almost directly to the audience and asking them to examine their own prejudice. Indeed, it was this perceived ‘communist agenda’ which saw the song cut when performed in some Southern United States. Cable, himself, cannot hide his self-loathing for the prejudice he feels, risking his own chance of happiness with native beauty Liat (Elizabeth Chong).
But it isn’t all politics; the book is extremely good, but it would mean far less without Rodgers and Hammerstein’s iconic score. Accomplished Musical Director Jae Alexander produces an incredible sound from his talented seventeen piece orchestra; from the moment the Overture swells the audience are tuned in. South Pacific boasts an incredible amount of memorable tunes: “Dites-Moi”, “Some Enchanted Evening”, “There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame”, “Bali H’ai”, “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair”, “A Wonderful Guy”, “Younger Than Springtime”, “Honey Bun”. South Pacific is a masterclass of how to work in some truly wonderful showtunes to a meaningful and deep story, one moment you may be tapping along to a belting production number, the next you are fighting back a tear. South Pacific is a masterpiece.
Originally designed for a thrust stage, the adaptation to a standard proscenium arch changes little; Michael Yeargan’s designs are delicious and set the scene wonderfully well with wooden shutters giving that desired ‘thrown together’ native shack feel; similarly the costumes (Catherine Zuber) are perfect in that they are rather worn (by stage standards!) giving that touch of realism which is so often overlooked. The second act ‘variety show’ segment sends this up wonderfully well, the script calling for costumes made from recycled bric-a-brac – we get just that! Donald Holder’s crisp, island paradise lighting deserves praise as does Richard Mawbey’s good wig work, particularly with Womack’s Mitzi Gaynorish rug.
The outstanding cast more than do the production justice; Samantha Womack makes a very likeable Nellie Forbush and excels with her acting throughout, overcoming the difficulty of the curveball act one finale wonderfully well and keeping the audience on side. Matthew Cammelle, who has replaced the superb Jason Howard since my last visit, does a good job and looks entirely comfortable as Emile de Becque, his bass-baritone voice is perfect for this role and he shares some lovely moments with Womack and his stage children. Daniel Koek, returning to the Leeds Grand stage for the first time since 2008′s Sadler’s Wells production of West Side Story, sings absolutely beautifully and is one of the finest pure tenor voices I have heard sing the part. Much like in 2010′s Chess, Koek doesn’t solely rely on his outstanding vocals; he has clearly worked very hard on his acting in recent years and has come a long way to give such a well-judged Lt. Cable. Jodi Kimura is also excellent as Bloody Mary, proving far less sinister than her predecessor, Tony Award winner Loretta Ables Sayre. Kimura had played the part for eighteen months on the US tour, so she brings a wealth of experience to the part and it shows, right down to the exaggerated physicality she adopts for the role, her Bloody Mary is more entertaining than scary.
Across the ensemble the quality is sky-high; Cameron Jack, covering for Alex Ferns, gives a very funny take on Luther Billis – the comedy relief of the show – his New York accent is perfect, as is his comic timing, his dragged-up second act performance at the variety show was particularly memorable! On this evidence, Jack has a lot to offer and I’m looking forward to seeing him in future roles. Nigel Williams and Dominic Taylor are solid as the authority figures Captain Brackett and Commander Harbison, largely playing with a straight bat. Stephen John Davis, whom I had previously seen as The Phantom and as Javert in Les Misérables in the West End, makes the most out of his ensemble role as a Seabee, particularly being allowed to shine in “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame”. I would be very interested to see what Davis was able to do with the role of Emile de Becque, for which he is first cover, as he possesses an outstanding voice and has proven he can cut it in the top roles in musical theatre.
I simply cannot rave about this production enough. The cast and orchestra are among the finest I have ever seen in a national touring production and the production values are mind-blowing. South Pacific is the definition of a must-see show. South Pacific plays at the Leeds Grand Theatre until 7th July 2012.
- Harry Zing
When? Thursday 31th May 2012
Where? Grand Theatre, Leeds, stalls
Who? Emily Holt, Paul-Michael Jones, Charlotte Gooch, Thomas Aldridge, Colin Charles, Lynden Edwards, Joe Evans, Tony Stansfield, Shona Lindsay, Jack McKenzie, Emelia Williams, Aimie Atkinson, Gareth Bailey, Jacquie Biggs, Lizzi Franklin, Nicky Griffiths, Tim Hodges, Sarah Kitson, Helen Kurup, Fela Lufadeju, Liam Marcellino, Jonathan Ollivier, Adam Philpott, Kate-Emma Portlock, Russell Smith, Justin Thomas
It looks to be a year to remember at the Leeds Grand Theatre this year – and the summer season kicked off in style with the arrival of Dirty Dancing, Eleanor Bergman’s 2004 adaptation of the iconic movie, for which she also wrote the screenplay. The adaptation is entirely faithful to the movie, much to the delight of the primarily female audience, who watched in awe as Baby and Johnny brought the screen to the stage. That’s not to say Dirty Dancing is exclusively for fans of the film; there is much to savour here in the outstanding dancing, featuring wonderful choreography from Kate Champion, with Paul-Michael Jones particularly excelling in this field as Johnny. Jones has the unenviable task of emulating the late Patrick Swayze, whose performance is so synonymous with the film; I am delighted to say that Jones is an absolute success. Charlotte Gooch gives a top quality turn as Penny; she is entirely convincing with her acting but, more importantly perhaps in the context of the show, is an outstanding dancer and shines throughout. Emily Holt is Jennifer Grey incarnate in both appearance and mannerisms and is convincing enough in her portrayal of Francis “Baby” Houseman. I am truly impressed by the sensible and intelligent casting; the dancing from the company is superb and extremely tight throughout the performance, this is due to a high number of out-and-out trained dancers in the cast, who for the most part are not expected to sing. Naturally, a number of excellent vocalists are on hand to ensure the quality of the singing matches the excellence of the dancing. In avoiding the well-trodden triple-threat path, the production gains immensely in technical quality. Aimie Atkinson possesses a powerful, soulful voice and her singing is outstanding throughout.
The stage play visually mimics the film to great success, the simplistic sets (Stephen Brimson Lewis) feature clever use of blinds and shutters and, delightfully, incorporates a revolve which is used to great effect throughout. Video projections (Jon Driscoll) are used – thankfully sparingly and in an unobtrusive manner – much of the time as a simple visual backdrop to the static upstage set pieces. Some decent effects are incorporated in the second act to portray some of the most iconic scenes from the movie, including the water scene, and there are plenty of nods and homages to the film throughout, including some watermelons being carried across stage, to the audience’s delight. Jennifer Irwin’s costume designs help with establishing the period and feel suitably 60′s, with the movie as a helpful inspiration. Tim Mitchell’s lighting is very complimentary to both sets and actors and his best work comes when creating visual magic in combination with the projections.
Dirty Dancing tells a simple tale, it is right to say it is rather two-dimensional and glossy, which may turn off some of the more hardened theatregoers. However, this is also the case in the movie – and the stage show certainly stands up in its own right to critical scrutiny. This is thanks to the very high production values, superb dancing from the talented cast and the inclusion of all the iconic moments which made Dirty Dancing the phenomenon it remains today. The jubilant standing ovation in some quarters before the lights had even dropped are testament to how much the audience invested in the evening. It is worth noting that this is the final date for some of this superb cast, who I cannot rate highly enough.
- Harry Zing
When? Friday 25th May 2012
Where? Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, stalls
Who? Abel Rojo, Alberto Gonzalez, Lisvet Barcia, Aymara Vila, Carlos Blanco, Jenny Nocedo, Liesbeth Saad, Jennifer Tejeda, Mario S. Elias, Marta I Ortega, Norge Cedeno, Thais Saurez, Yaday Ponce, Yelda Leyva, Yosmell Calderon, Yoerlis Brunet, Alejandro J Ransoli, Raul Reinoso, Claudia Iglesias, Gabriela Burdsall, George Cespedes, Heidy Batista, Denis Martinez
Right on cue in the middle of a (rare) early British heatwave, ‘Danza Cuba’ began its short stay at the Bradford Alhambra last night. On the back of a successful 2010 UK tour, this new production features three new and very different independent pieces. The dark, boxing-themed ‘Sombrisa’ (D Dir. Itzik Galili) opens the show with the full company clad in mock boxing attire down to black gloves; the black backdrop miles away from the audience’s expectation of a summer festival of dance. The serious and dramatic piece is adequately performed, a relentless drum solo works the dancers to their physical limits, yet perhaps lacks the theatrical drive required to truly engage the audience. The second piece, ‘Carmen?!’ (D Dir. Kenneth Kvarnstrom) is a comic speed re-telling by the male ensemble, set to Bizet’s iconic score. There were laughs aplenty from the warming audience and the male company appeared far more comfortable with this piece collectively, given the opportunity to play a role rather than rely on solely technical ability. The final routine, ‘Mambo 3XXI’ (D Dir. George Cespedes) promised from the title alone to be more in line with the audience’s expectations of the show and didn’t disappoint. ‘Mambo 3XXI’ features a wider variety of dance than the other pieces and is heavily influenced by Latin-American themes. A loose narrative threads the segments together nicely and the show is brought to an impressive conclusion with some of the tightest and most impressive dancing of the evening.
Unlike some similar touring productions, ‘Danza Cuba’ features no live music or singing, favouring pre-recorded drum solos, bands and singers. Whilst this helped to maintain a focus on the dancing, based on my previous experience of exceptional dance productions to visit the Bradford Alhambra (such as Burn the Floor and, especially, Havana Rakatan) I feel live music would have benefitted this production hugely.
The production is sparse to say the least; the sunny, Cuban imagery from the colourful promotional material is simply absent. However, with simple lighting, basic costumes and a high work rate from the company, the show seems full enough. The proficient Cuban troupe are known as their nation’s flagship contemporary dance company and many may go expecting a classic taste of Havana. ‘Danza Cuba’ are, in actuality, a dance troupe who happen to hail from Cuba, and who specialise in Modern, Caribbean and Classical dance (albeit only with a comic twist) rather than traditional Cuban dances, at least in the three routines premiered in this particular outing.
This production is ideal for newcomers to dance, being both accessible and digestible in terms of length. In fact, the production includes two twenty minute intervals and a total running time of just under two hours. The evening zipped along nicely and each individual piece had its own quality and unique style. The tour has played and is still yet to play many of the other great regional theatres, with Sadlers Wells notably yet to come.
- Harry Zing
When? Wednesday 4th April 2012
Where? Leeds Grand Theatre, Stalls
Who? Cynthia Erivo, Denise Black, Michael Starke, Julie Atherton, Edward Baruwa, Cavin Cornwall, Gavin Alex, Jacqueline Clarke, Tyrone Huntley, Laurie Scarth, Daniel Stockton, Deon Adams, Donovan F. Blackwood, Livvy Evans, Nolan Frederick, Grace Gardner, Allison Harding, Sarah Harlington, Natalie Hope, Shirley Jameson, Dean John-Wilson, Kadiff Kirwin, Gemma Knight Jones, Katie Lavelli, Hannah Levane, Kathryn Martin, Joel Montague, Lucie-Mae Sumner, Laura Thorogood, Dina Tree, Mark Hilton
Excerpts of this review of Sister Act are taken from my previous review published in November 2011.
The gloriously entertaining Sister Act arrived at the Leeds Grand Theatre this week; the current stop for this blockbuster tour and the latest major touring production to arrive at Leeds Grand Theatre. It is testament to the theatre’s increasingly lofty status as one of the top receiving venues in the country that it continues to secure shows of Sister Act‘s calibre. Sister Act remains a simply fabulous production. Saint or sinner, there really is something for everyone here and with a talented cast, impressive sets and some great tunes, this ‘Divine Musical Comedy’ is a must see and, if anything, is even more dazzling four months on since my last visit.
Based on the 1992 family comedy starring Whoopi Goldberg (who co-produces), Sister Act tells the story of Deloris Van Cartier (Cynthia Erivo), a jobbing club singer and wannabe star who seeks police protection after witnessing her married, mobster boyfriend (Cavin Cornwall) shooting a man dead. Placed in a convent and transformed into Sister Mary Clarence, Deloris is in the care of the strict Mother Superior (Denise Black); initially baffling her fellow nuns with her outlandish behaviour, but later transforming them into an all singing, all dancing show choir, she wins the hearts of the nuns and the audience alike.
Unusually for a popular stage adaption, one of the key staples of the film’s success, the music, is in fact entirely original to the production. Alan Menken’s upbeat 1970′s inspired score is the perfect platform for the ensuing shenanigans, and Glenn Slater’s lyrics are certainly some of the best I have heard from him.
Of the strong cast, Cynthia Erivo continues to shine as Deloris, possessing great comic timing and a fantastic voice. The spontaneous standing ovation she enjoyed was fully deserved, the appreciative Leeds Grand audience rising as one. Cavin Cornwall is a strangely likeable villain as smooth gangster Curtis Jackson, ably supported by his comic band of goons, Pablo (Gavin Alex), TJ (Tyrone Huntley) and Joey (Daniel Stockton). The four of them share some of the most hilarious and memorable moments of the evening, with Huntley particularly impressing with some strong vocals. Jacqueline Clarke also deserves a special mention as Sister Mary Lazarus, the aging hip-hopping nun, who drew huge laughs and applause from the Leeds Grand audience. The top-billed Denise Black and Michael Starke have both developed their performances since my last visit, and left a greater impression this time around.
Sat in the stalls, I marvelled at Lez Brotherston’s wonderfully showbiz costumes – I defy anyone to find a show with more sequins on stage at one time! Klara Zieglerova’s vast sets and Natascha Katz’ striking lighting help make this tour every bit as impressive as its West End predecessor – in fact, the improvements made to the book and staging actually make this tour a far more enjoyable experience which continues to delight on repeat visits.
With The Phantom of the Opera, Dirty Dancing and South Pacific still to come in an impressive 2012 line-up, the future has never looked brighter for this historic and beautiful venue.
- Rebecca the Guest Writer
When?: Monday 26th March 2012
Where?: Leeds Grand Theatre, Dress Circle
Who?: Lynda Bellingham, Camilla Dallerup, Jan Harvey, Sue Holderness, John Labanowski, Jane Lambert, Ruth Madoc, Joe McGann, Deena Payne, Lisa Riley, Kevin Sacre and June Watson
This is an update of a review of Calendar Girls, published in October 2011; the production has seen a cast change since my last visit. You can find the original review in full here which details the plot and production in more detail.
Having only just discovered the moving, funny and genuinely warm Calendar Girls last October – despite several years of touring and a successful West End run – I was delighted to be given the opportunity to re-review this wonderful play when it opened at the Leeds Grand Theatre last night.
The evening was as poignant and charming as my previous visit, if not more so thanks to the presence of the original Calendar Girls in the audience, who themselves received a standing ovation when introduced by actress Lynda Bellingham at the curtain call. The atmosphere was positively electric and the cast did themselves and the cause they essentially represent proud. It wasn’t the glamour of the red carpet event which the performance so special; it was the genuine sensation of community as the audience and cast came together to both create a beautiful evening of theatre and draw attention to such a worthy cause.
Bellingham as Chris plays it just right; her drive and ambition once in the limelight never wanders into arrogance and her presence alone spearheads the cast perfectly. Sue Holderness, replacing the outgoing Rula Lenska, is a slightly posher Marlene, giving a well-rounded and amusing performance. Deena Payne plays Cora with a straight bat; whilst perhaps the laughs weren’t quite as hardy as with the terrific Jennifer Ellison who preceded her, she is certainly giving her all. I also noticed the changes in the book to accommodate Ellison had been reversed, so that Payne’s Cora and Ellison’s Cora become almost entirely different creations – a wonderful compliment to the work of director Jack Ryder and his team on the production. Lisa Riley makes much stronger Ruth than the meeker, more vulnerable Debbie Chazen – and she really enjoys her payoff in the second act, which almost brought the house down. June Watson is again simply hilarious as retired teacher Jessie, Joe McGann’s performance is exceptional as John and had many of the audience visibly moved. I was one of them.
“This is your story” Lynda Bellingham told the home audience of Leeds – and with the show apparently set to finally hang up the iced buns for the last time later this year, Calendar Girls at the Leeds Grand Theatre is one of the must-sees of 2012.
Calendar Girls runs at the Leeds Grand Theatre until Saturday 31st March.
- Harry Zing
(Original review published October 2011 by Rebecca the Guest Writer)
When? Tuesday 20th March 2012
Where? Grand Theatre, Leeds, dress circle
Who? Mark Extance, Colin Haigh, Paul Jesson, Sue Kelvin, Nell McCann, Abigail McKern, Damien Molony, Lauren O’Neil, Tom Peters, Alexander Semple, Antony Sher, Kate Webster, Jonathan Woolf and Alexis Zegerman
The National Theatre remains arguably the most prolific – at least, in terms of volume – producer of new stage plays in Britain, and this new effort by accomplished playwright and National Theatre regular Nicholas Wright is certainly one of the stronger efforts from the National in recent years. Indeed, it is the National’s determination – or, rather ‘obligation’ as the largest Arts Council funded straight theatre company – to portray as wide a variety of theatre to the masses across the country as possible, hence this large-scale big budget tour featuring no less than two knights of the realm, in director Sir. Nicholas Hytner and veteran stage actor Sir. Antony Sher. Indeed, many in attendance at the Leeds Grand Theatre last night had already seen the play – albeit through a live video stream beamed direct from the National Theatre earlier this year.
It is easy to see why they would return for a second helping; Travelling Light is a perfectly enjoyable evening at the theatre with plenty of laughs. The story is told retrospectively from the viewpoint of the elderly Maurice Montgomery (Paul Jesson) in 1930′s Hollywood. Montgomery is portrayed as the classic Hollywood producer; he is wealthy, he is dominant – and he is most definitely Jewish. Montgomery has a story to tell, and within moments we are transported back to the ‘old country’ to meet his younger self, then Motl Mendl (Damien Molony), a slightly arrogant young burgeoning genius of motion pictures. In fact, according to the (entirely fictional*) book, he seemingly invented them. He quickly meets and falls in love with his beautiful assistant Anna (Lauren O’Neil) and a romance soon blossoms as they invent the concepts of modern cinema before our eyes. Aided by the money local patriarchal bully and Tevye-sound/lookalike Jacob (Antony Sher) can provide - at a cost – the story is set up for a dramatically tense second act.
Travelling Light is a smart play with plenty of good ideas; even the title’s dual-meaning is well thought through. Whilst the piece isn’t social commentary, nor is it biographical for such a history-driven piece, it simply washes over you as gentle fiction with an easy charm. As do the performances; the slightly hysterical young Mendl is the perfect foil for the older, wiser Montgomery – whose experiences in the shtetl (“small town” in Yiddish, says the programme) have shaped the man he was to become. Although the role of Jacob was seemingly written as a vehicle for Sir. Antony, his performance is solid if nothing else. The faux-Eastern European accent he affects is noticeable rather than distracting; the usual brand of larger-than-life acting he adopts is present and correct. In fact, there are a bewildering array of accents on show ranging from Sir. Antony’s ‘oy!’ theatrics, to Nate’s very cod-Brooklyn whine with a lot inbetween – and none of them prove terribly convincing. It is Lauren O’Neil who gives the standout turn as Anna, I must be careful explaining why, except to say that the relationship she has with Mendl is the dramatic narrative drive of the whole piece. Her appearances on the mock ‘silver screen’ are impressive to say the least.
Designer Bob Crowley’s work is first class, truly bringing to life the shtetl with aplomb. Credit must also be given to the tour production team for the very successful use of the Leeds Grand Theatre’s accommodating existing setup, with the projected images beamed on to the main ‘back wall’ of the set also being replicated on the large LCD screens normally used for opera productions. The lighting design from Bruno Poet is equally as impressive, managing the tricky task of balancing the use of projections, numerous small interior lights and, in the second act, Hollywood Studio lighting rigs.
But, for all its charm and high production values, there is just one problem with the book and unfortunately it’s a big one – the last fifteen minutes of the play. The finale is a disappointment, being both cliché and cheesy enough to annoy even the hardiest theatregoer. Simply, the play ended fifteen minutes later than it should have done. That is not to say it is too long, it is well-paced and feels about right at 2hrs 30mins with interval; the first, or ‘fake’ ending feels like the perfect conclusion. Instead, I am helpless but to watch as the narrative tension is sucked out of the piece with the cosy, yukked-up finale which is a borderline sleight to not only the audience’s emotional investment in the piece, but also Wright himself, undermining the slow and clever build up that had preceded it. If, like me, you always used to press ‘stop’ when watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ten minutes before the end, you may well share my frustration.
This latter frustration aside, Travelling Light is an entertaining, nicely executed piece which is well worth a visit. A fine example of nice, harmless fiction.
- Harry Zing
*Whilst the play is technically a work of fiction, the programme does allude to many of the inspirations which inspired this look at the Jewish involvement in the early days of film, indirectly comparing the fictional Mendl’s route to success to that of Samuel Goldwyn. It does beg the question, however, why so many concessions were made to the story to allow for more ‘reality’, when, as a work of fiction with no pretence of biographical accuracy, Wright could just as easily have spun a much headier yarn.
When? Tuesday 29th November 2011
Where? Grand Theatre, Leeds, stalls
Who? Tom Chambers, Summer Strallen, Martin Ball, Vivien Parry, Ricardo Afonso, Stephen Boswell, Lucy Jane Adcock, Lauren Appleby, Caroline Bateson, Jeremy Batt, Hannah Cauchi, Ed Currie, Jennifer Davison, Russell-Leighton Dixon, Luke Fetherston, Charlotte Gale, Ian Goss, Fenton Gray, Alyn Hawke, Daniel Ioannou, Paul Kemble, Jenny Legg, Martin McCarthy, Grace McKee, Kay Murphy, Tom Partridge, Adam Rhys-Charles, Holly Rostron, Alexandra Waite-Roberts, Anthony Whiteman and Jason Winter
It is remarkable to consider that some seventy-six years after the classic RKO movie musical premiered, we finally have a stage production of – arguably – Irving Berlin’s finest musical, the wonderful Top Hat (1935).
American stage performer Jerry Travers (Tom Chambers) is visiting London to appear in producer/friend Horace Hardwick’s (Martin Ball) new production. Naturally boy meets girl, Dale Tremont (Summer Strallen), and our rather haughty girl immediately takes a dislike to our cheeky Romeo – not least for tap dancing on her ceiling at night. Add in a cast of wacky characters, some spousal violence, comedy foreigners, the classic “misunderstanding” scenario, a lot of laughs and a happy ending and you have the synopsis of Top Hat, the quintessential 1930′s musical comedy farce. The cast are nothing short of outstanding; whilst the casting of a talent show winner in the lead role of a legitimate musical may feel as off-putting as it is attractive, it mustn’t – Tom Chambers is simply fantastic as a loveable and warmly endearing lead. He doesn’t put a foot wrong, handling the tricky choreography with aplomb. Singing wise, he is certainly up to the job, if a little copycat as to be expected in a stage adaption of a classic movie. But he knows this; the producers want to recreate the movie on stage – down to the performances – and Chambers is a revelation as Fred Astaire reincarnate. Similarly, playing “Ginger Rogers” was West End regular Summer Strallen, who gives a fine turn singing and dancing well in her own right. Her acting was also on the money. She really looks “of the era” and suits this type of role perfectly (Anything Goes, anyone?). Martin Ball makes do with one of the weakest numbers of the evening, but makes the most of every moment on stage giving a very warm and inoffensive Horace. The purely comic turn from Richard Afonso as Italian fashion designer Alberto Beddini is hilarious as he gleefully munches his way through the scenery earning the most laughs of the night from the game audience.
The production feels classy, the show-stopping Act I finale sees the male chorus tap dancing in unison looking extremely dashing in their matching evening suits, an iconic image from the movie, beautifully recreated on stage. The sets (Hildegard Bechtler) are equally roomy and impressive, making the most of the Leeds Grand’s space, especially impressive was the hotel foyer set. Jon Morrell’s costumes are generally superb with a just a couple of faux-pas, the decision to dress Strallen in jodhpurs for a large chunk of Act I was a curious one and did nobody any favours; in Act II she is given a recreation of the infamous feather dress worn by Ginger Rogers in the movie, but it doesn’t really work and perhaps is somewhat unflattering to poor Ms. Strallen.
The stage “adaption” is faithful to the movie to the letter; almost nothing is left out and whilst lengthy at two hours and forty five minutes, the evening simply flew by. The wonderful music of Irving Berlin won the audience over from the Overture, the tunes are classic and memorable even for those who aren’t necessarily too familiar with the show or even the style of the period it comes from. “Isn’t this a Lovely Day”, “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails”, “Cheek to Cheek”, “Let’s Face the Music and Dance”.. the score is one of the best from the era, the additional songs a triumph – and then there’s the dancing. Regular readers will know I am more than a little partial to a ‘bit of tap’ – Top Hat has it in spades and performed with gusto by the talented and hard-working cast. It is hard to say which aspect I enjoyed more – the music, the wonderful light-hearted performances from the cast or Bill Deamer’s commendably focused choreography, with more than a touch of homage as inspiration.
This show was, in fact, my most hotly anticipated show in 2011; boasting a huge cast, orchestra and fabulous sets and costumes – Top Hat exceeded even my own sky-high expectations, making this into one of the best productions I have seen this year. A joy from first to last, Top Hat is a must for anyone who loves musical theatre at its purest. This tour has already received great critical acclaim and it is easy to see why – more tour dates have been added and the inevitable West End transfer announced for the Aldwych Theatre from April 2012 – I expect this production to become a new staple in the UK touring circuit in the years to come.
Playing at the Leeds Grand Theatre until Saturday 10th December. Click here to book tickets.
- Harry Zing