Thursday, 29 October 2015

"The Producers"
Burton Musical Theatre Company.

Directed by Karen Hambleton and musically directed by David Blackwell, this is Mel Brooks's shining moment as far as I'm concerned.

In New York in 1959, Max Bialystock opens "Funny Boy", a musical version of Hamlet. It is terrible, and the show closes after one performance. The next day, Leo Bloom, a mousy accountant, comes to Max's office to audit his books. He tells Max that if he produces a musical which flops, it is financially better for him as he wouldn't have to pay back his investors. After a bit of trepidation Leo decides to help Max with this plan because Leo has always wanted to be a Broadway producer. They find the perfect "flop" and set about getting it staged, but all does not go as planned for the pair....

I've seen a couple of amateur productions of "the Producers" but I can say, hand on heart, that this is the best one so far. The first thing that hits you is the amazing orchestra of sixteen. the venue, de Ferrers Academy in Horninglow, have brilliant acoustics and the power house of sound from the orchestra hits you square in the face. Crisp, clear and powerful, and even with this power, you can hear every word from the actors.

Steven Foster (Max) and O.J. Wright (Leo) are an inspired pairing as our two producers. O.J. is wonderfully nervous in Leo's shoes, dependent on his little blue blanket for comfort, while Steven's Max is the total opposite. Completely confident in every area of his life, doing what he has to do to get to the place he wants to be, sometimes shockingly so!

Max finds the sure-fire flop that would offend people of all races, creeds, and religions: Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden written by Franz Liebkind, which Max describes as "a love letter to Hitler".Franz is played by Andrew Hambleton, completely over the top crazy, which is how Brooks envisaged his idea of this crazy German should be. The three perform a wonderfully wacky "Der Guten Tag Hop Clop" before permission is given for the play to be produced.

And so to getting a director on board and that is the job of the very camp Roger Debris (Mark Hargreaves) and his sidekick Carmen Ghia (Grant Fern).I think you'll get the picture of these two by the song they and Debris' crew sing in "Keep It Gay". They made the Village People look butch!

Now with all this testosterone around, Leo is worried, and by the looks of Debris gang, so he should. But worry not, because in steps the uber sexy Swedish bombshell, Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden Swanson, or Ulla as she is referred to in the show. Ulla is played by Christina Bailey and has a beautiful voice and an equally attractive body as well, which does not go unnoticed by both our red-blooded Producers. Bit difficult not to notice with the stage costumes she has!!

A tight ensemble, and no, that's not a euphemism, although it could be with Lee Smith's little red number, create a wall of sound to complement the orchestra. The sets were cleverly installed and removed while the final parts of the musical numbers were being sung. This made for a smooth transition from scene to scene without hanging around, moving the action along nicely.

With such a large cast, twenty eight in all, Karen Hambleton may have had a job on her hands as the director but the whole show ran like clockwork, a credit also to the stage manager, Derval Lester. Only one stage manager for all that work?

Brilliant choreography for some pretty technical dance and tap routines from Catherine Moore, and some A-MAZ-ING costumes partly sourced from theatrical costumers, but the rest being the hard work of Fiona Wright. There may have been a shortage of some of the material though for a few of the lads, so to find out what I mean, you'll have to go and see what I mean.

Sound is by Andy Onion who creates crystal clarity in the mix and the lighting is the design of Mike Thompson with construction by Mike, Keith Dadley, Simon Tipping, matt Kedracki and O.J. Wright.

The musical is cheeky, saucy, very tongue in cheek and a whole lot of fun. It's big, brassy and very colourful. It also has additional extras included to keep it fresh and updated, plus it even manages to get a plug in for their next show in February 2016 without even trying because it's written in the script. How clever is that?

You can see "The Producers" at de Ferrers Academy in Horninglow, Derbyshire up to Saturday 31 October 2016, but hurry to get those tickets as I went on their third day and this was practically a sell out, so the weekend may now be close to selling out.

I loved it. You'll love it. Now go see it!

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

"Scenes From An Execution"
Nottingham Lace Market Theatre.

Written by Howard Barker.
Directed by Richard Minkley.

The plot revolves around Galactia, a female artist and her struggles against the Venetian city-state in the aftermath of the 15th century Battle of Lepanto. Although the city commissions the painting to celebrate the victory over the Turks, the artist's vision differs dramatically from that of the Doge, Urgentino, and the Catholic Church.

There are several sub messages sent out in the play; one of the main ones being Galactia's promiscuousness, which, if this had been a man, would have been different. As Galactia is a woman, and a strong woman at that, she is scorned and looked down upon for her confidence and her sexual freedom.

There's also a case of society building her up to pedestal level and then knocking her down. When she has been brought to her lowest ebb and placing her in jail, she is then given almost celebrity status and is asked to adorn the tables of the important folk.

A very clever play with some long and complicated passages of script which was handled fluently and naturally by Tamzin Grayson who played Galactia with great feeling and understanding.

Christopher Collins played Galactia's secret lover, bringing the role of Carpeta a double edged value. Not wanting to reveal his love affair with Galactia for fear of his wife finding out, he showed solidarity for Galactia,while his job as an artist to rival his lover coming out on top when he is commissioned over her to create the painting for the city. A passionate performance from Chris.

Richard Minkley stepped into the role of Urgentino after the original actor had to pull out at the last minute, and while reading the script from the page, his performance was very good and convincing. It must be difficult to "perform" a piece if you're sight reading the script. A brave move for the director of the piece, but the show must go on, and it did, so applause due for stepping in to the breach Mr Minkley.

Gemma Barritt, Damian Frendo and David Phillips-Peters all took dual roles and each separate character being distinguishable from their other role, which doesn't always work out when taking more than one part. Solid performances from all involved.

I've always said that the Lace Market is the place to go for the lesser performed plays and this play upholds this statement. A really enjoyable and not too long play, coming in at just under two hours with break. It holds your attention well with the storyline and, with the main character being a strong woman who stands up for what she wants, in all aspects of her life, is refreshing.

The lighting for the piece was excellent and moody at times. Designed by Emma Pegg, programmed by Charlie Bailey and operated by Lucy Wakefield it added atmosphere for the piece.

Appropriate props and wardrobe made up for a lack of scenery, but scenery was not that important due to the strength of the storyline, You didn't need the settings to be spelt out to you and in your face.

A fascinating play with some fruity and clever lines highlighting the power a woman can command over her rivals and men, but not always over society who see her, and her work, as an insult and possibly a threat. it also shows how society can build you up to knock you down when it feels right for them to do so.

"Scenes From An Execution" is on at the Lace Market Theatre until Saturday 31 October 2015.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

"Hairspray" by Nottingham Operatic Society
Nottingham Theatre Royal.

If you could have a show on repeat, this is one show that would be on said function. Nottinghamshire has a deluge of wonderfully talented amateur groups who constantly and consistently provide the theatre-going public with wonderful performances such as witnessed tonight.

"Hairspray" is based on the film by John Waters and the book by Mark O Donnell and Thomas Meehan. The music and lyrics by Marc Shaiman and additional lyrics from Scott Wittman.

Directed and choreographed by the very talented Denise Palin and musically directed by Stephen Williams, this show just gets better every time I have the pleasure to see it. I'm sure, if the old grey memory cells serve me right, that there are a couple of new lines in there which add to the comedy.

It's the story of Tracy Turnblad (Aston Fisher) who is not the conventional sized girl of the 60's, who dreams of being a star and dancing on the Corny Collins TV Show. Her mother, Edna Turnblad (Dan Armstrong) isn't too sure at the start because of Tracy's size, but her dad, Wilbur (Ian Pottage) is right behind her. She auditions and against all odds she wins a place as a dancer on the show and goes on to win the heart of the show's heart-throb, Link Larkin (Jacob Seelochan). In her effort to combat racism on the show she and her mum, among many others, end up in jail. But fret not folks because she is freed by Link, and Tracy wins the popularity contest on the show and breaks down the racist barriers set up by the Corny Collins show producer, Velma Von Tussle (Alison Hope) and her spoilt daughter, Amber (Lizzy Ives), former squeeze of Link's.

I love a show with a happy ending, and this has a wonderfully warm, fuzzy happy ending with a killer of a musical theatre song in "You Can't Stop The Beat" to close on.

Aston was wonderful to watch as the, not that over-sized Tracy. I had to look twice as the costume, make up and wigs made her almost unrecognisable.

Mark C-Bainbridge as the show host, Corny Collins, was suitable cheesy and I loved the jackets. I could see me doing my radio show in one! There seemd to be a bit of a wobbly on Mark's microphone at the start and his voice was slightly drowned out, but I've every confidence in the sound department to get this sorted.

Dan Armstrong, as Edna, again a joy to watch, camping it up. Great comic timing and I absolutely love the duet that he, sorry she, sings with her husband, Wilbur, in part two, "Timeless To Me". You could feel the love between the two, not as much as Dan felt it though!!! Lovely comic role for Dan, as was Wilbur for Ian.

Lauren Gill played Tracy's best friend, Penny Pingleton. Love this character who also gets her man in the unlikely form of cool, soul boy, Seaweed J Stubbs, a role that Aadyl Muller has played in Loughborough and now here for the Nottingham Operatics. Well they say opposites attract! Aadyl brings a bit of soul magic to the show with his dirty dance moves and chocolatey-smooth voice.

Alison and Lizzy are the kind of women you wouldn't want to take home or want to be brought home to. Social climbers and, as inn these cases hilariously funny due to their blinkered view of the world. Both wonderful character led roles for two lovely ladies in real life.

Jacob, as Link, is slightly arrogant; he knows that he has to perform for the camera and brings that sexy sixties heart-throb to life, curling his lip, thrusting his pelvis and looking out from under his eye-lids. he is a pop idol in personification. Away from the Corny Collins show though he is a different man. Softer and confident in what he wants, finally realising that his dream of getting that record deal didn't lie by way of the show itself. Ladies, you'll love him, and there's one stage outfit he wears which looks like it was sprayed on. Yes, the one where he sings to Tracy on the show and the other ghirls all faint, that one! Jacob also has a really good contemporary singing voice as well, which would easily transcend musical theatre.

Motormouth Maybelle,(Janine Nicole Jacques), mother to Seaweed and Little Inez, played by Grace Louise Hodgett-Young, was soulful delight. Her growling blues and gospel vocals ideal for the role. I would just have liked to hear her let it rip a bit more, especially in the song "I Know Where I've Been", What a belter of a song, to which Janine received a rapturous round of applause. It gave me goose-bumps.

A large cast, which made for some great ensemble work, which included several well known faces from the various Nottingham stages. Some wonderful sets, brilliant lighting design by Tom Mowat, as always, Just needs to tighten up the follow spot, which was at times a bit hit and miss.

Stage management could have been a bit sharper but this and the sound and spotlight issues are very minor details and after tonight, and the crew have got on the case, I know that this show will be as close to perfect as it can be. I know I can be picky but I've high expectations from this group and they are always met because they are total professionals and perfectionists.

I can't urge you enough to go and see this lovely warm, comic show with serious overtones presented in such an entertaining way. You'll come out with a mish mash of catchy tunes spinning around your head. Tunes like "Welcome To the 60's", "Good Morning Baltimore". "It Takes Two", "Mama I'm A Big Girl Now", "Timeless To Me" and "You Can't Stop the Beat" among a plethora of others.

"Hairspray" is at the Nottingham theatre Royal until Saturday 31 October 2015. get your tickets fast because if opening night is anything to go by, it could well be a sell out!

Monday, 26 October 2015

"Into the Woods" Beeston Music Theatre Group
Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton.

Directed by Craig Butterworth with musical direction from Morven Harrison, this Sondheim musical has more interwoven tales than a multi-woven weavy thing.

If you've never seen this musical, and if not why not and where have you been? James Lapine, who wrote the book, took several fairy tale characters and gave them all a little story within a bigger story. It's as if there was a land where fairy tale characters live and this was a day in the life of, well three days in the lives of.

The baker and his wife want a baby but the wicked witch who lives next door had put a spell on them and only agrees to lift the spell if they bring her four things belonging to some of the other fairy tale characters, and the baker has to go into the woods to collect these four things. It's the story of this search which ends with the slaying of the giant at the top of the beanstalk's wife. It has a dark edge as some of the much loved characters die in the process.

The music and lyrics are by Stephen Sondheim and he is at his best with this musical as the complexity of his lyrics and key changes may be a singer/actor, and possible musical director's nightmare but when the cast are as good as this one, the results sound so good.

Now, I apologise if I don't mention all of the 29 strong cast. because they were all amazing. the slightly bigger cast gave the ensemble numbers a real wall of sound effect, so powerful.

Rob Charles played the baker. His voice has a deeper timbre for this role and even though there aren't really any featured rolls (sorry roles) in "Woods", Rob's character is one of the main reason for the storyline, making him the ideal leading man.

Cat Tuckey is the baker's wife, and another brilliant piece of casting as she has such a beautiful voice and is lovely as the loyal wife all the way to the end.

Jack, of the beanstalk fame, played by another well known face on the local theatre scene, George Lamb. Jack played with a local dialect which sounds good for a fairy story character. His naivety, Jack's that is, is rather touching but does he come out as our hero? Only one way to find out!! George is another one whose voice seems to have gone a bit deeper as well, again suiting the role, unless it's my ears! Oh. and I love the cow!

I loved the ballsiness of Little Red Riding Hood, played by Zoe Brinklow. Cinderella (Claire Rybicki) did get to the ball several times. The evil witch, which I know took some acting as she is absolutely lovely, bubbly and smiley in real life, played by Andrea Chapman.Loved the common touch of Jack's mum (Mina Machin) and nice to see a twist on the narrator, (Anna McAuley), by having the role as a young school girl and not an older man. This gives rise to the twist at the end, which I won't give away.

The two Princes were a scream, played delightfully over the top by Kevin Chatten and Tim Yearsley. Kev's prince very much along the lines of Hugh Laurie's The Prince Regent in "Blackadder". Their duet of "Agony" was anything but, agony that is, An absolute comic dream team.

I know it seems as if I love every character here, well maybe I do, but you can't beat a good baddie, well you can but that's another fairy tale, and Steph Gray-Blest as Cinderella's evil stepmother was fantastic (loved the costume and wig), Ronja Breitkopf (Florinda) and Keli Wain (Lucinda). I loved the comedy element the two sisters brought to the stage.

The big bad wolf was also a baddie with a seriously comical streak. Alex Grosse strangely looked the part without too much make up as well. The scene in the Grandmother's cottage was just brilliant. It was like panto had arrived early.

Beth Yearsley as Rapunzel got to show off her tonsils rather well also and a lovely pair she has, tonsils that is! The giant also was shown, but I won't give away how that was done.

As I said these are just a few of the standout performers out of a cast where they all worked their socks off to give an amazing consistently good performance, both acting wise and vocally.

Brilliant set spread over four levels of performance area and a backdrop which gave the effect of depth to the wood, designed by Craig Butterworth and Lisa Smith. Wonderfully evocative lighting design by Dave Martin and some fantastic costumes.

A 13 piece orchestra which at times did overpower some of the singers, but not enough for it to become a detractor to the show. A few sound issues which isn't something new for first nights and now they've shown their head, I've every confidence that the sound team will get sorted.

Another wonderful choice of work by a brilliantly hard working team who combine to produce an excellent night of top entertainment.

"Into The Woods" is on at The Duchess Theatre, Long Eaton until Saturday 31 October 2015. A great treat for all the family for Halloween.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

"White Christmas"
Long Eaton Operatic Society.

If you have any doubts about a Christmas themed musical in October, then cast those doubts away because, when you scratch the surface of "White Christmas" it's all about friendship, loyalty and falling in love.

Bob Wallace and Phil Davies are ex army pals who become big stars and when they accidentally on purpose end up at the inn ran by their ex Commanding Officer in the army, whose inn isn't doing so well, they put ona show to help out. throw in a dollop of romance on the way and you've a great little story of friendship and romance.

Martin Mould (Bob) and Jack Draper (Phil) are at first not the most likely of pairings but this does work. Phil has an eye for the ladies and tries to play cupid between singer Betty Haynes and Bob. All goes a bit awry to start but, in the case of true love, this is the way, but ends happily.

Martin has a great crooning voice, which is perfect for the role while, if I'm honest, Jack can carry a tune but isn't the stronger of the two singers.Jack is though the better dancer of the two and looks really comfortable in every bit of choreography he performs.

The Haynes Sisters, Betty and Judy, the girl duo who Wallace and Davies take up to the Inn to help put on the show, are a lovely pairing. Claire Collishaw (Betty) and Siân Scattergood (Judy) look gorgeous throughout and sound so good together, as well as apart.Both excellent dancers as well.

Loved the characterisation of General Henry "Hank" Waverley played by Ross Lowe. looking a bit like John Cleese's character Basil Fawlty made the grumpiness and strictness seem all the more relevant for this role.

I've always had a soft spot for the General's keeper of the Inn, Martha Watson, played by Carrie-Anne Corner, who is a dead ringer for actress Wendi Peters, who I must admit is a guilty pleasure crush of mine. A wonderful character is Martha who also has a belter of a voice.

Susie, or should that be Susan, was a delight to watch as the Grand-daughter of the General, played by Megan Taylor.

Several other minor characters also stood out for me. Ben Woolley as Ezekial, the mono-syllabic worker in charge of the barn, Jack Woolley as the camp producer of the show within the show, and Adam Guest who took on several roles including the snoring man on the train and the slightly tipsy MC of the club.

A really strong cast throughout and some excellent ensemble numbers. Apart from the acting two things made this production the hit it was for me. the choreography was just amazing. Laurie Trott has worked really hard with this large cast and you could tell in the little things like extended lines, fingers and toes pointed as they should be in the ballroom dances. Some fantastic tap routines, in fact every dance style included here was carried out without a hitch. A tribute not only to Laurie but the obvious hard work that has been put in by everyone on stage.

The second was the brilliant orchestra conducted by Sam Griffiths. An amazing tight group of twelve which sounded much bigger than it was provided backing for some great numbers, never once drowning out the singers, complementing their voices perfectly and crystal clear as well.

My only niggle was with the microphones. I felt that the sound there could have been better because I've heard Martin and Jack sing several times before and I don't think the sound on their mics were as good as they could have been and didn't do justice to their voices. That's not something that the actors had a control over. Not a major distraction and not enough to stop me from loving this show to bits either.

Some brilliant songs here like "Sisters", "How Deep Is The Ocean","Happy Holidays". "I Love A Piano", "Let Me Sing And I'm Happy" and the wonderful torch song "Love You Didn't Do Right By Me", and of course the title song.

The closing of the show really brought the Christmas spirit alive with the rousing "White Christmas" and snow. made me want to break open a box of mince pies and pour a glass of mulled wine in front of a roaring fire.

"White Christmas" is on at May Hall, Trent College, Long Eaton until Saturday 24 October 2015.