Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Review: I Dreamed A Dream

The entire world first dismissed her when Susan Boyle appeared on our screens in that gold dress and crazy hair, but now we are all familiar with the name SuBo, but we're not all clued up about the struggles that Boyle faced throughout her life. But now "I Dreamed A Dream" shows us the true Susan Boyle in a jukebox style musical.

Although the dialogue can be extremely cringe worthy at points (imagine a series of GCSE drama monologues scattered between songs) and some of the choreography had me wincing in my seat (a moment of unnecessary contemporary chair movement, it's hard not to be moved by the truthfulness and honesty behind the storyline and talk of achieving dreams. The short, snappy scenes keep the pace going smoothly and are entertaining to watch. The clever use of TV screen scattered against a backdrop allow the scenes to transition quickly and seamlessly.

Elaine C Smith plays the title role and has a pair of lungs on her, performing some of Susan's signature songs and directly telling the audience her 'fairy story' in between flashes of scenes and songs. The script cleverly overlooks Susan's learning difficulties and Smith portrays an honest telling of her life. The rest of the cast play a number of roles ranging from Boyle's parents, to school bullies, to her best friend. The company string well together and have a strong impact in the development of the plot showing the versatility amongst them. The whole company deserved the standing ovation on press night.

Having sat through Boyle's whole life in two and half hours it's not until the final moment when SuBo herself makes an appearance to sing some of her famous songs that the plot really hits home and makes you realise how inspiring this tale is. SuBo still remains the cheeky performer we all fell in love with and the audience revelled in her stage presence.

After being sceptical on so many levels on another jukebox musical, it's clear to see that the rags to riches fairy story is an all round win. It's the new real life, inspiring Blood Brothers, but with a magical ending.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Wonderful Town is Wonderful

Leonard Berstein's New York inspired musical Wonderful Town arrives at the Birmingham Hippodrome this week, giving audiences classic Broadway showtunes and energetic dance numbers. The production stars West End favourites Connie Fisher and Michael Xavier as Ruth Sherwood and Rob Baker as well a strong supporting cast and a tight ensemble.

Lucy Van Gasse stars as Fisher's petite blonde stage sister - Eileen Sheerwood - with the looks and voice to match her natural stage presence. Her comic timing and performance of the love ballad "A Little Bit in Love" is charming, funny and commands attention. Nic Greenshields is funny but loveable as the larger than life Wreck, with hilarious chemistry with his onstage wife Tiffany Graves. The show boasts a strong supporting cast, each one deserving individual praise for their hard work and commitment to the show. Connie Fisher plays a good leading lady and is an instant win with audience's, although Gasse really should have the final bow... The main cast is only made stronger by a talented ensemble, spending the majority of the show performing highly energetic dance routines that keep the production's pace going.

Lucy Van Gasse steals the show as Eileen

Andrew Wright's contemporary musical theatre styled choreography is enough to buy a ticket alone. From dancing inhabitants of New York city opening the show with sustained lifts, charming Sailors doing the Conga to a drunk a passionate ballet in a Jazz Club, Wright's choreographic vision for the show works extremely well. My personal highlight was the number "Conquering New York" where the company creates the hustle and the bustle of the big city using clever movements with props. Although Simon Higlett's design of two huge skyscrapers disappearing into the distance and dirty apartments that fall apart before your eyes are interesting and intelligent, it seems as if the production budget ran dry before the set was able to be finished to make it look truly magnificent.

With so many classic musicals being revived recently theatre goers are more than spoilt for choice, however, the music, talent and choreography of Wonderful Town make this revival a funny and heart warming evening out, perfect for anyone wanting to be whisked away to the good old days of Broadway and the Big Apple.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic musical "The King and I" has landed at the Birmingham Hippodrome this week transporting audiences to Siam with a strong company, tight vocals and even tighter choreography.
From the moment the overture began and projections and shadow puppets filled the stage the audience was captured with the beauty of the piece. Being anxious to begin with I wasn't too sure on what to expect from the Leicester Curve Theatre's revival but I was engrossed from start to end with the captivating love story of an English school teacher and the King of Siam.

David Needham's contemporary Asian inspired choreography is a wonder to watch and is brought to life on stage by a company made up of international dancers. Dare I say this is some of the most interesting choreography I've seen in musical theatre for a long time? Meanwhile, Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic score resonates through the theatre via a live orchestra presented onstage. I had forgotten how lush this score was until I heard some of the most iconic musical theatre songs sung with such passion and control with a wonderful orchestra as the underpinning of the show. Although the set was slightly lacking an "oomph" factor, two giant Buddha's and sliding panels worked well to set the scenes.

Josefina Gabrielle (Anna) and Ramon Tikaram (The King) keep the show churning as they develop the plot with hilarious delivery of dialogue having the audience chuckling along throughout. Their comedic playing is only upstaged by the dramatic ending and their scenes together the last twenty minutes of the musical. Gary Wood as Prince Chululongkorn is captivating to watch as he watches his father dying. A strong company all round, the show's casting director got it perfect.

Originally I wasn't expecting to enjoy this show, a three hour classical musical that I've never been to keen on doesn't seem like the most appealing way to spend an evening, however, my preconceptions were soon diminished when I saw the skill, passion and talent behind this production. It's three hours of what musical theatre should and puts a lot of shows out there to shame... An enjoyable night for anyone.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

International Dance Festival Birmingham - Royal Ballet Flanders Artifact

The International Dance Festival Birmingham has returned for another year showcasing some of the world's most prestigious and exciting dance performances. Bringing dancers from all over the world the DanceXchange and the Birmingham Hippodrome are putting Birmingham on the map in terms of creativity and premieres. At the press launch for the festival (taking place all over the city from 23rd April - 19th May) we were treated to preview performances from "Home", a free outdoor performance exploring the theme of what "home" means to us. An interesting performance of contemporary dance with a heartfelt meaning behind it - this world premiere performance is free and taking place throughout the city centre.

To kick start the festival, Royal Ballet Flanders (the only classical ballet company in Belgium) brought William Forsythe's "Artifact" to the Hippodrome, a modern ballet with Character in Historical Costume and Character with Megaphone telling a large company of dancers to "step inside" as they dance in stern precision. A ballet in four parts, it had just the right pace and structure to not get boring nor aimless. Eva Crossman-Hecht's composition to accompany part of the performance emotes and is listenable to all evening long. With either a live pianist or a live violinist as music, the simplicity works and allows you to focus on both the sound and the dance at the same time while appreciating both crafts.

Highlights of the evening include dialogue between both the Character's, although the majority of the audience found the repetitive dialogue sending them slightly insane, I found the varying intonation captivating portraying different moods for different parts. Intricate lighting plots create illusions and develop the story whilst the lack of scenery does nothing to develop nor halt the production but forces the attention onto the performers. I've seen many a ballet productions but never have I been able to describe the ballerina's as "flying" during the pas deux sections. Although the majority of the audience had no clue as to what they were watching or the story behind it, the ballet worked.

Artifact is my ideal vision of modern ballet, verging on contemporary, but most of all storytelling, giving the audience members a chance to become lost in their imaginations whilst watching one of the world's most precise ballet companies. A solid opening to the International Dance Festival Birmingham, the festival looks set to be a highlight of the season.

Friday, 16 March 2012

"Oliver!" Lands in Birmingham

Cameron Mackintosh's production of "Oliver!" has brought Charles Dickens' London to 21st Century Birmingham leaving last night's audiences asking for more.

With such a strong cast it's hard to figure out who leads the show: Neil Morrissey had the perfect comedic appeal as Fagin making audiences love such a slimy character, Ian Fletcher's Bill Sykes was evil yet enchanting whilst Samantha Barks played a gutsy Nancy that can belt out a tune or two, establishing herself as a true musical theatre leading lady. Max Griesbach and Harry Polden were the press night's Artful Dodger and title character, holding their own on stage and having audiences roaring at the end of their solo performances. The supporting cast and ensemble all deserve a special mention for excellent performances as well, comedic duo Suzie Chard and Jack Edwards were hilarious as Widow Corney and Mr Bumble and the ensemble brought to life the East End of London with uplifting musical numbers.

Totie Driver and Adrian Vaux's design for the show in outstanding, using an array of staircases, bridges and stunning backgrounds to bring to life Bloomsbury London, Fagin's den and a whole host of other locations where the musical takes place - the set alone is worth a ticket. The staging of this classic musical is genius too - one moment I was gaping at the sheer beauty of the stage being filled with dancing milkmaids and rose sellers in the number "Who Will Buy?" while the next moment I was gaping with anticipation watching blood thirsty Londoners running through to streets looking to kill Bill Sykes.

All the classic songs are there, "Food Glorious Food", "Consider Yourself", "Where is Love?" and "As Long As He Needs Me", all performed with commitment, energy and full emotion by the cast and the beautiful orchestra. Matthew Bourne's choreography is a joy to watch. It's hard to pick out many faults with this classic production. Everyone involved was dedicated and helped to craft one of the best pieces of theatre I've seen in a long time. I even found myself welling up as Oliver finds his happy ending (and believe me, I didn't even cry at "Ghost"... Everyone cries at "Ghost"!)

One small annoyance with this production: was it really necessary to throw in a Bob the Builder reference to get a few cheap laughs for Neil Morrissey?