REVIEW: Cabaret, Manchester Opera House

There are certain roles in the land of musicals that are so iconic it is hard to imagine any one else playing that particular character; Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Maria Von Trapp in The Sound Of Music and Sally Bowles in Cabaret.

So admittedly, when I went to see the latest touring production of Cabaret in Manchester, I was dubious as to whether How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?-finalist, Siobhan Dillon , could fill the shoes of Liza Minnelli in the 1966 classic.

Bill Kenwright production of  CABERET directed by Rufus Norris

Sadly, though Siobhan certainly has both the acting talent and the vocals to make a dent in theatre land, her reluctance to throw herself into the role of the underground club singer does her a great disservice, particularly during her renditions of ‘Mein Herr‘ and ‘Maybe This Time‘ which failed to be as rowdy and as heart wrenching as they had the potential to be.

The real star of the show, and perhaps the main reason pre-sales for the tour have been so successful is Pop Idol winner, Will Young.

Over ten years have passed since the original Idol beat Gareth Gates in the final and, time has been kind.

Our first glimpse of Young is one lederhosen-clad thigh, dangling from on high as he welcomes us to the Cabaret as Emcee, and his charmingly-creepy persona leads us through the show with aplomb. His stand out moment just before the interval, as a marionette-wielding, Hitler-esque, character, taking ‘Tomorrow Belongs To Me’ to a whole different level.

Those of a demure disposition may want to shield their eyes for the majority of the show, but this writer revelled in the sheer debauchery of the dancers; particularly the spectacular choreography and various body sizes which made a refreshing change from the body beautiful of ‘Chicago‘ fame.

Will Young as Emcee and the Company in Cabaret 2 Photographer Keith Pattison 2012 PRODUCTION

But interspersed with said debauchery were genuine tender moments from Lyn Paul as Fräulein Schneider and  Linal Haft in the role as Herr Schultz, and though their romance was short-lived, was played out tenderly and with humour, notedly during ‘It Couldn’t Please Me More (The Pineapple Song).

However it is the undercurrent of the show that truly tests the cast’s acting props, as Berlin slowly gives way to the Nazi regime, friendships and romances are tested and, as the final scene plays out, the true atrocity of the time hits home. The scene in the theatre perhaps outdoing the film with its bare (literally) realism.

The tour continues around the country until early December. For dates and tickets visit here

REVIEW: Ghost The Musical

Over 20 years have passed since Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze starred in the heartbreaking film version of ‘Ghost’.

So beloved was that version that when a stage adaptation was suggested, fans of the original big screen version were, understandably, a little sceptical.

Transitions from screen to stage can be tricky. However the ‘tricky’ parts of Ghost: The Musical are what makes it so incredible.

Back in Manchester, where the magic started with a world premier back in 2011, Ghost, is starting it’s UK wide tour with Stewart Clarke and Rebecca Trehearn taking over the roles of Sam Wheat and Molly Jensen.

Though the only iconic musical number from the screen version, ‘Unchained Melody’ makes an appearance, the impressive score from the Eurythmic’s Dave Stewart allows the leads to utilise their soaring vocals – particularly  pitch perfect performances from Trehearn in many of her solos.

But it is the incredible staging, lighting effects and magic tricks from the production team that truly makes this a jaw-dropping experience.

As Sam is killed during a mugging, his transition from one life to the next is seamless and really makes the audience question what they have just seen.

Credit must be given to Stevie Hutchinson as the suitably creepy subway train ghost making up part of an impressive sequence on “his” carriage and the lady clearly born for the part of psychic Oda Mae Brown, Wendy Mae Brown who took on the iconic Whoopi Goldberg role, allowing for some very funny comic relief. This is one musical that has to be seen to be believed.

The tour continues around the country and comes to Liverpool in February 2014.

INTERVIEW: Ghost The Musical: An Interview with writer, Bruce Joel Rubin

As a veteran Hollywood screenwriter once pithily observed “Nobody knows anything” and this aphorism regarding the unpredictability of audience favour could well be applied to the 1990 movie version of Ghost.

A film which wins a couple of Oscars and achieves a worldwide Box Office gross of more than $500,000,000 must have had every Hollywood studio rolling out the red carpet to writer Bruce Joel Rubin when he came to sell the movie. Not a bit of it!

Writer, Bruce Joel Rubin

Writer, Bruce Joel Rubin

“I spent two years pitching the idea to producers and to studio executives and the story got better every time,” Rubin wryly recalls. “They’d sit there with a glazed look in their eyes and I had to find a way of grabbing their attention. So I clapped my hands at the moment I was telling them about Sam being shot and the shock was so great that they jumped up and started listening to me. They were really intrigued by the idea of Sam looking at his own corpse.”

Apart from collecting the Oscar for Ghost, Rubin’s other screenplays include Jacob’s Ladder, Deep Impact and The Time Traveller’s Wife. But perhaps none of these stories would have been written, had Rubin not undergone an extraordinary experience in the 1960s. It was the dawning of the age of psychedelia, when experimentation with drugs as a means of expanding one’s mind was becoming part of the vibrant counter-culture. One day Rubin, almost unknowingly and due to a bizarre combination of circumstances, absorbed a lethal amount of LSD.

“I ended up being taken on an extraordinary journey. In fact, I thought that I had died- I ought to have died. But I believe that I was deliberately spared by whoever- whatever in order to tell stories. I feel as if I have a mission.”

Rubin also went on a physical journey through Central Asia, steeping himself in Eastern philosophies and learning how to use meditation as a means of exploring the mysteries of life.

“I remember spending the night in a roofless hut in Afghanistan, looking up at the stars. I knew I had stories to tell but I didn’t know what those stories were or how I could put those stories into words.”

One of the themes which Rubin has explored in his work is the area, as depicted in Ghost between life and death, between existence and non-existence, about the meaning of life itself. When we die, is that the end? Or is there something after death, shaped by a single all-consuming intelligence?

“Your life is a very big deal but is it a complete blank-out at the end? When you reach that stage of your life, are you held accountable for what you may or may not have done? And if you are held accountable, who or what is judging you? Often people are not so much bad- they simply don’t follow the rule-book. The Ten Commandments I use as my rule-book.

Even after Ghost had been made and was being prepared for its release, Rubin was not optimistic about its chances at the Box Office.

Stewart Clarke & Rebecca Trehearn star as Sam and Molly  in Ghost The Musical - Photo Credit: Sean Ebsworth Barnes

Stewart Clarke & Rebecca Trehearn star as Sam and Molly in Ghost The Musical – Photo Credit: Sean Ebsworth Barnes

“I was in a car with Jerry Zucker, who directed Ghost, and with the President of Paramount, and we were driving towards the movie theatre where the film was due to open. We were amazed to see all those people standing in line, waiting for the late night screening. The worldwide success of Ghost was unexpected in every way. We had no idea how it would be received and I still don’t quite understand the effect it had on people.”

Rubin has always had a weakness for ghost stories with a particular affection for Caspar the Friendly Ghost and for Topper, the hero of a number of films in the 1930s and 40s, with Cary Grant as the charming spectre.

“In a way, I wanted to tell a ghost story from the point of view of a ghost, looking back on his life” he explains. “Hamlet’s father was a key part of my thinking. He orders Hamlet to avenge his murder and I started to wonder how this story would play in New York City in 1990.”

As it turned out, it played extremely well. Given the film’s broad international appeal and spectacular success at the Box Office, it is not surprising that Rubin came under considerable pressure to write a sequel or to give his permission for the story to be turned into a stage musical.

He firmly rebuffed every approach until two producers appeared with whom Rubin felt an immediate rapport.

“They came to my home and we talked for so long that they missed their train back to New York and had to stay over. ”recalls Rubin. “I had a vision of how the emotional moments in the story could be sung and how in that way, it would be more deeply felt. I saw opportunities. It is so seamlessly achieved that even with seventeen songs, the stage show runs for the same length of time as the movie.”

Rubin pays a generous tribute to Ghost director Matthew Warchus and his colleagues.

“Matthew is a genius. “he enthuses. “It’s the first time I’ve worked with such creative flair. I’ve been blessed. I was determined to be at rehearsals every day, although Matthew was against the idea, arguing that the actors would look at me to see if I agreed with what he was saying. I promised that I’d keep my mouth shut and I became a kind of a presence. I’ve found that the more you open your mouth, the less of a presence you become.”

Rubin’s interest in the musical theatre dates back to the early 1950s “The King and I was my first play” and as well as contributing the book and a number of the lyrics, he had a ringside seat as the show took shape.

“I sat in a state of awe, surrounded by an extraordinary level of creativity. I watched as the show developed stage by stage, as it flowered into full bloom. When we opened in Manchester, I didn’t know what to expect. At the end of the first performance, there was a level of response which I’d never experienced- people stamping their feet, whistling and cheering. Matthew warned me that this kind of audience reaction was all very well but we couldn’t be certain about what we had until it happened five nights in a row, and we had it on every night. Something in Ghost The Musical speaks to the audience. They laugh, they cry and in the transfer from screen to stage musical, I think that the story has deepened emotionally.”

Wendy Mae Brown as Oda Mae Brown & the Cast of Ghost The Musical. Photo credit:  Sean Ebsworth Barnes

Wendy Mae Brown as Oda Mae Brown & the Cast of Ghost The Musical. Photo credit: Sean Ebsworth Barnes

Rubin genuinely feels that his life was spared for a purpose “the experience told me to write about the experience”. “I just want to plant seeds in people’s minds,” he continues “and to encourage them to think about death, about not being alive. Most people have only a month, perhaps, or even a couple of seconds to prepare for the next stage and we have a duty to let go. You should use your life to let go of your life. When that plane landed in the Hudson a couple of years ago, one of the men involved went out on to a wing of the plane and apparently said to himself –Am I dead? And is my spirit like the guy in Ghost? You write a movie and you hope to expose people to the mystery of life and death. Perhaps Ghost, the movie and the stage musical, gives people their Sunday School moment of realisation about the mystery of life.”

Ghost, the Musical, is currently on a UK wide tour, coming to Manchester’s Opera House on July 2. For tickets visit the website here

 

**This is a syndicated interview

Rocky Horror 40th Birthday After Show Party

As the curtain fell on the 40th Anniversary performance of the Rocky Horror Show at Manchester’s Palace Theatre, the chosen ones with the golden tickets of the evening were hot footing over to Brown’s on York Street.

Rocky Horror at the Manchester Palace

Rocky Horror at the Manchester Palace

Incidentally, the bar brasserie in the converted Athenaeum, formerly one of Manchester’s most famous pubs, was celebrating their 40th too!

Originally Parrs Bank, one of the city’s former opulent banking halls, the building was designed by Charles Heathcote in 1902 and the Edwardian baroque and art nouveau detailing was the perfect setting for an electrifying shindig.

My party partner in crime

My party partner in crime

As I mentioned in the previous post, Wednesdays aren’t particularly memorable but this was a different story. Having driven from home some 25 miles away with my party partner in crime (and cousin), I was somewhat put out that the vast cocktail menu was a free for all – Dammit Janet!

The AMAZEBALLS cake

The AMAZEBALLS cake

But…my luck was in. A quick text to the Mothership telling her how free the cocktails were and she and my Pops were to the rescue. Yes, I’m 27, but when the Parental taxi offers a lift you do.not.decline. Win!

The rest of the evening was spent schmoozing with the cast and VIPs (including Reg Holdsworth – remember him Corrie fans), trying out every cocktail on the menu and trying to eat canapes in a ladylike fashion (note: not easy).

Now, inside of this little shell of a reporter lies a tortured thesp. I spent ten years at a drama school and had lofty ambitions of one day being a West End star. However, the lack of a singing voice soon put paid to that. Ha. So being at the shindig didn’t half indulge my inner Showstopper.

Reg!

Reg!

I cosied up to the B.E.A.UTIFUL Kara Lane (she played Janet for two years and toured Australia with the company) and the GORGEOUS Henry Davis, who, incidentally, looks just as delicious clothed as he does larking about as Rocky in gold hotpants – ladies, you need to see him!

The gorgeous Kara Lane and I

The gorgeous Kara Lane and I

But alas, all good things must come to an end an my pumpkin soon arrived. Nattering away in the back seat of the car I came to the conclusion that only amateurs go out on a Saturday night – Wednesday’s are back!

 

REVIEW: Rocky Horror’s 40th Anniversary, Manchester

Wednesday nights aren’t usually that special. Sure, Corrie’s on and it’s the hump of the week so the weekend seems a little bit closer, but Wednesdays, overall, aren’t that interesting.

Except last Wednesday…………which was spectacular.

40 years ago, a little show opened in front of a 63-seat theatre, upstairs at the Royal Court Theatre on London’s King’s Road.

The Rocky Horror Show would go on to become a cult classic and, last night, Manchester played host to the 40th Anniversary gala performance.

Prior to any action appearing on stage, paparazzi gathered outside the Palace Theatre to catch a glimpse of any celebrity taking the opportunity to dress up in the show’s trademark stockings and suspenders, and the growing mob of Frank’s, Columbia’s, Riff Raff’s etc were a sight to behold.

Not braving the ‘look’ myself, it was still “astounding” (scuse the pun) to see such a spectacle even before the curtain was raised. And who am I to complain about buff men parading around in rather small gold hotpants? #

Anyway, I digress…back to the show.

I’ve always been a fan of this weird and wonderful spectacular, even when I was younger – I just didn’t really ‘get’ all the innuendo.

Dani Harmer and Sam Attwater in Rocky Horror

Dani Harmer and Sam Attwater in Rocky Horror

The current tour sees CBBC’s Dani Harmer (known to some as Tracy Beaker, to others as the girl who ended up in the final of Strictly last year) in the role of Janet, opposite former Eastender and Dancing on Ice winner, Sam Attwater’s Brad.

While both can keep up with the footwork and there is no denying they’ve got good voices (who knew that about Dani?) the pair seemed a little lost in their respective parts. Dani Harmer made me feel slightly uncomfortable when she sang Janet’s ‘Toucha Touch Me’ , I think needs to shake the innocence of a child star if she’s going to sing about being so provocative. And as for Attwater, while he tried, there was just no spark. Shame.

Other principle cast members fared a little better. Oliver Thornton paraded effortlessly in Frank N Furter’s high heels and touched on much-loved Tim Curry elements just enough to make the character his own but recognisable. Having also been part of the original West End cast of Priscilla, Queen of The Desert Thornton appeared more at home in heels than most women I know on a Saturday night out.

Oliver Thornton as Frank N Furter

Oliver Thornton as Frank N Furter

Special mention must go to veteran actor and RSC member, Philip Franks in the role of the narrator who dealt with audience banter with aplomb; Mancunian references included, and had witty comebacks galore.

After the final Timewarp, a screen descended from on high, displaying well-wishes for the 40th Birthday from touring casts around the world and then, the man himself, creator of Rocky Horror and my favourite Crystal Maze presenter, Richard O’ Brien, sent a heartfelt message from his native New Zealand commenting on how he had created the show while he was a mere babe.

After a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ from the cast it was off to Brown’s on York Street, Manchester – incidentally who were also celebrating their 40th – for a luvvie, lavish after show celebration – more of which after the break!

REVIEW: Hairspray, The Lowry Theatre, Salford

REVIEW: Hairspray, The Lowry Theatre, Salford

“Something inside of me makes me move…..”

And move I did.

As the opening bars of ‘Good Morning Baltimore’ began, as smile spread itself across my face and didn’t leave until the curtain dropped.

Image

Hairspray, started life as a movie back in 1988 starring now talkshow host, Rikki Lake as central character, Tracy Turnblad.
This time, the role goes to 22 year old Freya Sutton from Northwich, Cheshire, on what you might call home turf, for her professional theatre debut.

HAIRSPRAY Freya Sutton plays Tracy Turnblad Photo by Hugo Glendinning

However, the seemingly bubblegum musical has it’s roots in a real life event which prompted huge changes in American history.

Telling the story of the ‘Corny Collins Show’- a show Tracy and her best friend Penny Pingleton (brilliantly played by Lauren Hood – her comic timing was perfection) rush home each night after school to see – that saw only white teens perform on as regular dancers.

But Tracy wants to see change and with the help of her friend, (and later Penny’s love interest) Seaweed, sets about ringing in those changes, much to the dismissal of the show’s producer, Velma Von Tussle.

X Factor veteran, Marcus Collins reminded the audience of his vocal props but also showed off his dancing and utterly charming side.Image

Former Eastender Lucy Benjamin shook off her incarnation as miserable Lisa and made way for Velma Von Tussle in a big way, proving she had the pipes to tackle the tour as well as showing the comic book villain side we all love to hate.
And Waterloo Road’s Mark Benton removed the specs and beard and donned Edna Turnblad’s housecoat in spectacular fashion, pulling off a touching, yet fabulously hilarious turn alongside Paul Rider’s Wilbur.

HAIRSPRAY Mark Benton plays Edna Turnblad Photo by Hugo Glendinning

But it was the lesser heard roles that truly impressed.
Sandra Marvin as Motormouth Maybelle, stunned the audience with her showstopping number ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’ and Gabrielle Brooks as Seaweed’s younger sister, Inez, is clearly a future star in the making.
With wholesome family 60’s entertainment and a side order or cheekiness, Hairspray is a feel-good night out from start to finish.

As the encore of ‘You Can’t Stop The Beat’ kicked in again the audience rose to their feet both in joy and genuine appreciation.

Hairspray The Musical continues around the UK until September

REVIEW: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – Tour – Manchester Opera House

REVIEW: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – Tour – Manchester Opera House

There are fewer things in this life that make me happier than a disco ball.

So when I turned up for the opening night of Priscilla, Queen of The Desert at the Manchester Opera House earlier this week you can imagine my joy when said disco balls were in abundance.

The Company - Priscilla Queen of the Desert - Photo: Paul Coltas

The Company – Priscilla Queen of the Desert – Photo: Paul Coltas

The story behind Priscilla dates back to the 1994 when Australian writer and filmmaker, Stephan Elliott, released the film of the same name, starring Guy Pearce, Hugo Weaving and Terence Stamp as a group of cross-dressing misfits travelling around the Australian outback in a battered bus.

It became a cult classic and in the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympics in 2000, a look-alike bus, flanked by drag queens in gigantic wigs and headgear proved to be one of the most memorable sections of the night.

This week, Jason Donovan returned to his role as Tick, a part he knows well. Having played the same role in the show when it opened in the West End four years ago, Jason looks as comfortable in a dress made from flip-flops and a a bubblegum-pink wig  as he does in a white t shirt and jeans with a guitar slung over his shoulder.

And with fellow ‘Neighbours’ alumni, Richard Grieve, playing ageing transexual drag queen, Bernadette, and BRIT school graduate, Graham Weaver as younger drag queen, Adam/Felicia, by his side, they put on an incredible show of glitter, inch-thick make-up and high heels.

With each show requiring 500 costumes, 200 hats, 100 wigs and 150 pairs of heels, Priscilla is a treat for the eyes as well as the ears with camp-tastic disco classics such as ‘I Will Survive‘, ‘Shake Your Groove Thing‘ and ‘Hot Stuff‘.

And for anyone who has ever felt esprit d’escalier, Priscilla is chock-full of one liners to call upon in times of need. (I’ve remembered a good few!)

Richard Grieve as Bernadette, Jason Donovan as Tick and Graham Weaver as Felicia - Priscilla Queen of the Desert - Photo: Paul Coltas

Richard Grieve as Bernadette, Jason Donovan as Tick and Graham Weaver as Felicia – Priscilla Queen of the Desert – Photo: Paul Coltas

Though Jason Donovan had been feeling under the weather on the night, there was no evidence of it as his vocals were as brilliant as they had ever been and the way he attacked the incredible choreography in the show’s number is testament to  his professionalism.

Special recognition must be given to Frances Mayli McCann  who gave an eye-popping show as Cynthia, a mail-order bride entertaining her outback friends with a rather ‘special’ ping pong performance.

And Emma Kingston, Ellie Leah and Laura Mansell as the ‘Divas’ who provide incredible vocals for our drag queens to lip-sync  to.

Who knew watching two ex-Neighbours stars could be so much fun?! If I told my four-year-old self she would be watching Jason Donovan dressed up as a woman 23 years down the line – and she’d love it – I’m pretty sure she’d tell me to “rack off”.

Priscilla is extravagent, gaudy, exuberant and incredibly naughty – I wouldn’t have it any other way!

The tour continues at Manchester Opera House until February 23 before packing up and setting off around the country.

Visit www.atgtickets.com/venues/opera-house-manchester for tickets