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

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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.

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!