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
*UPDATED 26/04/2012 – The Phantom of the Opera 2012 Review Comparison: UK Tour vs. West End (April 2012)
When? Tour: Saturday 6th April 2012. West End: Thursday 12th April 2012 (matinee)
Where? Tour: Palace Theatre, Manchester, stalls. West End: Her Majesty’s Theatre, London, stalls
Who? Tour: John Owen-Jones, Katie Hall, Simon Bailey, Angela M Caesar, Andy Hockley, 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 West End: Peter Jöback, Sofia Escobar, Nadim Naaman, Wendy Ferguson, Barry James, Gareth Snook, Cheryl McAvoy, Jeremy Secomb, Anna Forbes, Tim Laurenti, Michael Kerry, Nicola Rutherford, Duncan Smith, Marc Vastenavondt, Joseph Claus, Ellen Jackson, Simon Rackley, Matthew Powell, Carmen Vass, Claire Doyle, Joanna Loxton, Richard Munday, Annatt Bass, Nicole Cato, Alison Croft, Layla Harrison, Charise Renouf, Anna Shircliff, Claire Tilling, Fiona Morley, Eleanor Blythman, Lyndsey Gardiner, Simon Shorten, Patrick Smyth, Colin Zammit
*This review contains spoilers!
Another year, another visit to The Phantom of the Opera. In fact, so under-dosed on the campy capers of the masked supervillain did I feel that I even managed to squeeze in visits to two different productions within a week. First on the agenda was a visit to the brand spanking new blockbuster tour, which has landed at the Manchester Palace from 5th April-19th May. The brand new non-replica production – a UK first – promised a new take on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic musical. A subsequent visit to the West End production was inevitable for the purposes of this review, primarily to cast my good eye over new cast member Peter Jöback, who will don the mask until September 2012.
Having seen both productions in the space of a week, I feel perfectly positioned to directly compare the two productions in various areas before finally choosing a ‘victor’, the production, I feel, is most deserving of your hard-earned. And yes, I am fully aware that the money is all going in the same pot making me, essentially, a freelance unpaid member of the RUG marketing team.
Our historic West End theatres© collectively offer an absolutely atrocious customer experience in every facet of a patron’s visit. I will be writing a more detailed piece detailing my experiences when my review backlog is cleared; but, suffice to say, having worked in a West End theatre in various capacities I continue to find a disproportionately large percentage of the West End’s front of house staff surly, arrogant and unhelpful. The genuinely intimidating security door staff at the matinée performance of Phantom we attended actually clicked his fingers at us and pointed at the door when we reached the front of the queue. Does Her Majesty’s Theatre truly have such a serious issue with rowdy audiences during midweek matinée shows that it needs two burly bouncers being extremely rude to the punters, who have paid a considerable sum to be there? Then there are the drinks prices; in the interest of drawing comparison for this review I noted the price of a 330ml bottle of Coca-Cola was £3.00 and a large (250ml) glass of house white wine was £9.20. I noted the uppity front of house ushers literally screaming “NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY INSIDE THE AUDITORIUM”. Twenty minutes before curtain up. I sat in Row F (£39.00 each, TKTS) which has recently been refurbished and I must say, undoubtedly these are some of the best seats in the house, row F is the start of the rake and the seats are also boosted a clear foot above the row immediately in front.
Manchester Palace Theatre is a very grandiose regional theatre, similar in style to many West End theatres in size and feel. We were welcomed inside the busy foyer and quickly and easily found our seats. I noted a 330ml bottle of Coca-Cola was £2.00 and a large (250ml) house white wine was £5.80. Ample subsidised NCP parking is available five minutes walk from the theatre. I sat in row BB (£53.00 each, box office) which should really be sold as restricted viewing. Whilst it didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the production, it was impossible to see the floor of even the very front of the stage, which impinged on my party’s view of some crucial scenes including the finale.
Winner: Tour (sit in at least row F or beyond)
The production design forms the biggest deviation between the new production and the original. In the West End production, the late, great Maria Björnson oversaw the entire production design encompassing the famous sets and costumes, which are synonymous with the Phantom brand. In my opinion, it is Maria Björnson’s incredible designs which make Phantom what it is. Phantom is to me a feast of delectable imagery with a bit of a plot and some rather decent music woven in. Tim Rice, when accepting his special Olivier Award gong last week said – and I paraphrase; “Andrew Lloyd Webber and I were lucky – we were surrounded by a team of very clever and talented people when we started out”. Whilst Rice did not work on Phantom, this quote certainly rings true of the West End production of the show; everything simply comes together. Hal Prince and Gillian Lynne’s work with Michael Crawford, creating the famous blocking and imagery used in scenes such as ‘The Music of the Night’ is famous in its own right, the image of the Phantom thrust against the portcullis backdrop is one of the most fondly remembered. Andrew Bridge’s wonderful lighting design compliments every nook and cranny of Björnson majestic sets. Lynne’s choreography takes the hum-drum of ‘Masquerade’ and, with Prince, turns the Paris Opera’s staircase into a shifting wall of colour.
The sets and costumes in the original production are still a joy to behold. Björnson’s shimmering ethereal world is heightened to dreamlike levels; magic takes place before our eyes as the chandelier rises poltergeist-like above the audience, the Phantom rows his beloved Christine across a ‘vast, glassy lake’. It is intentionally stylised in a very fitting way.
The new touring production offers a far more literal depiction of the same Phantom universe. The biggest difference being Paul Brown’s new set designs; gone are the lavish backdrops and curtains, instead we have unobtrusive projections (Nina Dunn) and a large revolving multi-purpose drum with doors, which most notably replaces the ‘travelator’ on the journey to the Phantom’s lair. It also rotates to show the swish new manager’s office, complete with embossed red wallpaper and prop-heavy decor. There is no doubting the drum – which made use of the resident revolve – is impressive, most particularly when staging the first journey down to the lair. The drum serves to fill many of the gaps left (intentionally?) by Björnson and on this level succeeds, however, I would argue that in filling these gaps, much of the imagery that the audience creates for themselves is destroyed. Given the choice between the two stagings, the minuses outweigh the plusses in the tour. The original staging the lake scene, in particular, I don’t believe can be bettered; we gain a drum and we lose our ‘vast, glassy lake’.
It is worth stating now; the chandelier does not fall and yes, it is very disappointing in direct comparison to the West End. It lights up and wobbles a bit and a pyro goes off (with shards of plastic landing on us) but ultimately is tame. I’m sure the production team would rather have done something more spectacular, such as the chandelier falling on the stage (as seen in the Hungarian non-replica production), but with the show being non-resident this is a technical impossibility. The lack of trapdoors is a constant issue in many of the famous scenes such as the lake scene and the finale, with many workarounds in place. The ‘angel’ post-’All I Ask of You’ scene is also notably unimpressive in comparison to the West End; once again the far more literal or ‘realistic’ approach loses lots of the magic.
Some changes have been made for the better; the most notable example is the on-stage murder of supporting character Joseph Buquet 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. When arriving at ‘Il Muto’ in the West End production, I found myself yearning to see the newly imagined scene from the tour. The ballet scene in the original production, was in hindsight, crying out for this improvement and the scene is better for it. However, many of the weaker scenes have been given little or no attention and I can’t help but feel, much like I did with the Vegas production which I reviewed last year, this is an opportunity missed. WHY is there still a player piano in this show?
The costumes, when changed, are done for the sake of it with no visible benefits. The comedy robe and glittery mask that the Phantom wears in the ‘Point of No Return’ scene are just ridiculous. The famous fedora hat is also entirely absent, much to the chagrin of hat fans in the audience. ‘Masquerade’, curiously, being the number with the most opportunity to explore interesting costumes, is almost an exact replica of the West End with a couple of notable exceptions. The Phantom’s appearance as the Red Death at the end of the number was faintly stupid due to his less-than-spectacular exit (he turns around and strolls off the stage at a medium walking pace) – the West End costume, whilst a bit cheesy with the giant rubber head and less-than-subtle use of a double is at least entertaining in an over-the-top kind of way.
Winner: West End
*UPDATED* Directional Changes:
After receiving literally a couple of requests, here are my thoughts on the hotly debated changes made to a few key scenes in the touring production. The one which has divided fans the most is the newly choreographed ‘The Music of the Night’ number. Gone are the classic steps devised (and, allegedly copyrighted) by members of the original cast and creative team; instead, the new ‘Music of the Night’ is an altogether seedier and frankly stranger affair. Possibly with one eye on foreshadowing the events of Love Never Dies, the new direction sees the Phantom first blindfolding the (willing, it must be said) Christine, before eventally laying her still blindfolded sleeping body in his bed as the lights fade. The insinuation is less than subtle, but hardly as ‘offensive’ as being suggested in some – predictably obsessive – quarters; the half-dozen rabid hardcore ‘Deserted Phans’ I have spoken to have their own theories as to the reason for the newly-imagined blocking, including (but not limited to): avoidance of paying royalty fees, alien invasion, attempting to sexualise the show to support Love Never Dies, the double dip recession and weapons of mass destruction. In my opinion, the changes made are done without cynicism to try and make the show fresh and interesting for those tired of seeing 26 year old choreography repeated ad infinitum in what is a ‘new production’. Or it could be crop circles, who knows?
The newly directed ‘first unmasking’ scene is amended; rather than Christine unmasking the Phantom as he composes, she now snatches the mask while the Phantom is dabbing down the oozing massive hole in the side of his head with what appears to be a handkerchief. The Phantom’s reaction is almost exactly the same as the original. I can’t say what the point in that particular change was, but I am all for handkerchiefs in the theatre. And strolling around with parasols with a big hat on – and ‘a bit of tap’, but sadly these changes are yet to be made.
Aside from the vastly improved ‘Il Muto’ scene, I can’t think of many moments which have been changed for the better; a slight change of blocking here, a slightly different expression there. But aside from The Phantom being a bit less magicky and a lot more like a normal, albeit psychopathic, bloke with a massive hole in the side of his head there is little to report. All the same emotions remain, the romantic connection between the characters is neither better or worse – the changes to direction are a lot less damaging to the show’s alluring appeal than the changes to the production design.
Winner: West End
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. The well-built Owen-Jones can lack in a certain finesse required for the role at times, making him look a touch clumsy in comparison to the likes of Crawford, or even his generally inferior predecessor Ramin Karimloo, but such is the sacrifice for casting a particularly good singer in the role. Katie Hall is good enough as a very young Christine and sings nicely; her chemistry with Bailey’s weak-willed Raoul was convincing, though not perhaps as convincing as with Gareth Gates in the UK Tour of Les Misérables. Her standout number, ‘Think of Me’ was warmly received, but she struggled somewhat with her second act ‘Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again’, perhaps trying too hard on the acting side and forgetting her vocal basics. 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 and Greg Castiglioni does particularly well with the expanded part of Monsieur Reyer. The performance was very tight all the way through, the dancing impeccable as you would expect from a new blockbuster production. One particular cause for amusement was the terror of the harnessed actors as they descended the ‘pop out’ staircase on the exterior of the drum; the panic in their eyes as they slowly stepped down was genuine – it must be particularly nervy for Owen-Jones wearing the mask!
A lot of people, including myself, were very excited to see Swedish pop star Peter Jöback in the role. His performance at the 25th Anniversary Concert was spectacular for all the wrong reasons, but he is the first truly different Phantom to don the mask in ages and brings a buzz of excitement back to the West End. Well, he is certainly different! I really do have to commend Jöback; he tries so hard and actually attempts to make the role his own throughout. However, I couldn’t stop thinking about The Producers. Franz Liebkind falls and breaks his leg (“I broke my leg!“) forcing the uncontrollably camp Roger DeBris to step into the title role; what follows is a hilariously camp parody of a role which was written to be quite serious, no matter how melodramatic or over-the-top he may be in reality. I’m sure you follow my drift; Jöback is a laugh-a-minute and thoroughly entertaining in the role. Effeminate yet graceful, he moves like a Goddess; seducing Christine with a barrage
of tightly choreographed dance steps in ‘Music of the Night’. Jöback has worked so hard on perfecting his ‘Phantom’ voice he is almost indistinguishable from the real thing (if you close your eyes), except when trying to sing at the very top or very bottom of his register. He looks simply fabulous in the role; a freak of nature, more make-up than man. The truth is, I actually really enjoyed Jöback’s performance; shamelessly showbiz but entirely effort-driven, he is certainly a curio which is worth a look, just don’t expect miracles. Incidentally, he missed the previous two performances due to a throat infection, I would strongly recommend if you must see him then do so now; I have a feeling he may not last until September.
Understudy Nadim Naaman played Raoul with aplomb, looking confident and assured. He has a powerhouse voice which he was keen to show off when given the chance; keep an eye on this one. Wendy Ferguson and Jeremy Secomb gave their all as Carlotta and Piangi respectively; two actors who looked happy to be there. Elsewhere, I was a little disappointed. There were quite a few actors on autopilot, which I find unforgivable considering the number of actors desperate for work who would give their all every performance. I think the cast could do with a freshening up before it gets truly stale, as several looked tired and bored in the ensemble and supporting roles. The dancing was awful. I think they may have been missing quite a few cast members as I spotted every swing on. Energy levels were below an acceptable standard in some scenes such as ‘Masquerade’, which was a shame as this is purely down to the cast’s efforts on the day. The ‘ballet’, for what it was worth, was completely out of time and needs remedial action.
The tour takes away more than it gives; whilst the new effects are impressive and as technically astounding – if not more so – than the original production, it simply lacks the magic Prince, Björnson et al created at Her Majesty’s Theatre over twenty-five years ago. Much like the Les Mis tour, sometimes filling the gaps can destroy the suspension of disbelief. As with the Las Vegas production and the 25th Anniversary Celebrations, I don’t feel that the production team quite understand what – if anything – is wrong with the show and end up changing the wrong aspects, leaving the dodgy areas intact.
The more abstract, stylised West End production remains a better proposition in terms of production. Just not at the moment. Jöback is enjoyable in the role – not always for the right reasons – but the rest of the cast are generally off-colour and in need of redirection. If I had to pay £40+ to see either of these two shows again in the immediate future, I would undoubtedly choose the tour which is, at the moment, a tighter, better cast and more energetic affair.
Winner: The tour currently offers a better all-round experience as of April 2012.