Review - The Wedding Singer (UK Tour)

Based on the hit 1997 movie, which starred Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, The Wedding Singer is a laugh a minute musical comedy with tons of poppy 80s inspired songs which are guaranteed to leave audiences clamouring for more! Directed and choreographed by Nick Winston, this new UK tour stars Jon Robyns as the eponymous wedding singer Robbie Hart. Robyns is joined by a top notch cast including Cassie Compton, Ray Quinn and Roxanne Pallett. 

Cassie Compton and Jon Robyns in The Wedding Singer
Photo credit - Darren Bell
Set in 1985, The Wedding Singer follows one time aspiring rock star turned wedding singer Robbie Hart, who is deterred from singing after being left at the altar by his fiancee Linda, but subsequently sparks up a friendship with waitress Julia, the girlfriend of a smug wall street banker.

Jon Robyns is the perfect actor to lead such a fun musical. Singing and dancing with relentless energy, he's exceedingly watchable as the down-on-his-luck musician, and shines during the show's comedic moments. Memorably the showstopping number Casualty Of Love sees Robbie lead an eclectic group of wedding guests in a song and dance number so audacious that it totally annihilates a poor couple's wedding reception. The number is gleefully irreverent, and a real high point in the show.

Starring as love interest Julia, Cassie Compton's cutesy portrayal is extremely likable too, and together she and Robyns form a couple which is impossible not to root for. Roxanne Pallett is also impressive as Julia's pink bob sporting friend and fellow waitress Holly, and showcases some high octane vocals during the first act's closing number Saturday Night In The City, meanwhile Ray Quinn is suitably slimy as Julia's fiance.

Nick Winston directs with precision, ensuring a swift pace which emphasises the nonstop madcap fun of the plot. Jokes and 80s pop culture references, knowingly sprinkled throughout Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy's book, are gratefully received, and only help to further enhance the cheesy over the top tone which is maintained at all times. 

To further intensify the fabulously 80s world of The Wedding Singer, Francis O'Connor's costume design accurately emulates the thrift shop chic trend of the time. The whole show exudes a bright, kitschy aesthetic which really helps to amp up the nostalgia, and will no doubt have people wondering why crimped hair ever went out of style? 

It's not going to change the world, but there's absolutely no way audiences will leave The Wedding Singer without mega watt smiles on their faces. A party which no one will want to leave, this show will have fans dancing down in the aisles!  

To find out more information visit theweddingsingermusical.co.uk

Review - The Commitments (UK Tour)

Set in 1986, The Commitments tells the story of a group of restless young Dubliners who come together to bring soul music to the people of Dublin. Based on Roddy Doyle's popular novel, which was adapted into a film in 1991, The Commitments enjoyed a two year long run on the West End despite receiving a mixed critical response, and is now bringing soul to theatres around the UK on it's very first tour.

Brian Gilligan as Deco in The Commitments UK Tour
Photo credit - Johan Persson
Whether or not The Commitments can be considered an enjoyable show is all down to what exactly audiences are hoping to gain from it. If a gritty drama about life in 1980s Dublin, combined with all the bells and whistles of a mega West End musical hit, is what's sought after then unfortunately the show may disappoint. However, if audiences are looking for a jukebox musical packed with a litany of toe-tapping tunes then The Commitments is just what the doctor ordered.

There are, of course, a few technical elements worth admiring. Soutra Gilmour's sets, whilst lacking some of the gears and cogs which made the show's West End predecessor stand out, capture a sort of homespun warmth amid the dour concrete and laminate of 1980s Dublin. The atmosphere is fuelled by Jon Clark's gig-like lighting design, which gives the show's biggest musical numbers a bit of extra impact.

But it is impossible to ignore the fact that what The Commitments lacks is a juicy, compelling plot, and its absence really does affect the show's overall pleasurability. The Commitments' band of pugnacious wannabe musicians are portrayed well by the cast, whose musicianship is equally impactful, but they're given virtually nothing to do and nowhere to go, and as such their seemingly never ending cavalcade of pub brawls and gratuitous effing and blinding gets tired quickly. A lack of character development for supporting characters is also noticeable, which is a shame, as the entire ensemble work tirelessly throughout the show. The lack of plot translates to a slightly lagging pace, but the cast do their best to combat this with their energetic performances. 

Andrew Linnie is convincing as Jimmy, the band's passionate leader, and The Commitmentettes are played with vigour and bite by Amy Penston, Leah Penston and Christina Tedders. However, the show really belongs to Brian Gilligan's Deco, whose transition from slob to manic frontman with an ego problem is perfectly handled. He makes the most of each second he is on stage, bounding around and delivering suitably soulful vocals almost nonstop. The show's song list is full of instantly recognisable classics, and while they often do little to move the story along, they're definitely highlights. 

The best really is saved until last though, with Brian Gilligan stirring the audience to clap along to familiar crowd-pleasers like Mustang Sally and Try A Little Tenderness. There's no doubt that The Commitments goes out on a high. It's just a shame that the high follows a pretty slow couple of hours. Much like several of its scrappy protagonists at various points during the show, the stage adaptation of The Commitments is all mouth and no trousers. 

Interview - Jon Robyns (The Wedding Singer)

Actor Jon Robyns has had a long and multifarious career in theatre. Known to many for originating the dual roles of Princeton and Rod in the West End transfer of Avenue Q, or as Enjolras in the 25th anniversary tour of Les Miserables, more recently Robyns' theatre work includes alternating the role of Huey Calhoun in the West End production of Memphis, and starring as Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.


This year Jon Robyns is starring as Robbie Hart in the UK Tour of The Wedding Singer, a musical adaptation of the 1997 film which starred Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. Like many of the audience members who are flocking to see the new tour, Robyns saw and loved the film when it was first released, also caught the theatrical adaptation when it last toured the UK in 2008. Explaining what drew him to the show he says 'I loved the music, and I thought it was very clever'. The musical features new music and lyrics by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, in addition to several songs from with original film, which were penned by Adam Sandler and Tim Herlihy. With a familiar title, fun and frothy story and excellent tunes, The Wedding Singer is a difficult show to fault in terms of entertainment value, and subsequently, Robyns says, 'when the producers approached me to do it there was no hesitation at all'. 

The Wedding Singer first appeared on stage in 2006 when it debuted on Broadway and was subsequently nominated for a Best New Musical award at the 2006 Tonys. Since then it has toured the US and the UK several times, in addition to a number of other international productions in countries like Australia, Japan and Germany to name but a few. With such an impressive record, it seems obvious that this new production would be received just as well, but, of course, with such a variety of touring theatre on offer, and with audiences tastes constantly changing, nothing is certain. 'The thing is, when you’re rehearsing a show you don’t actually know. You kind of get an inkling for that the people you’re working with are brilliant, or the material is great, or that it looks or sounds great, but until you put it in front of an audience you don’t know.' Robyns explains when discussing whether he got a sense of the show's potential for success during rehearsals. Thankfully though, The Wedding Singer has received a slew of positive reviews, and excellent word of mouth as well. 'We’re very lucky that we’ve had such great creatives, people that knew what was going to work and what wasn’t' Robyns articulated, adding 'I’ve been really lucky to be doing such feel-good shows that people want to see'.

Jon Robyns and the cast of The Wedding Singer
Photo credit - Darren Bell 
The current touring production of The Wedding Singer started life at the Leicester Curve in February of this year, and is due to tour the UK until October 2017, and this isn't the first time Robyns has worked with creatives at the Curve. In April 2016 he starred as Harvard teaching assistant Emmett Forrest in Legally Blonde, and then took on the role of Philadelphia police officer Eddie Souther in Sister Act, alongside pop star Alexandra Burke. He spent the latter half of 2016 touring with Sister Act before leaving to rehearse and subsequently tour The Wedding Singer. 'Every show has its challenges, and getting it into different size theatres with different size auditoriums and sounds systems can be a challenge, but the joy of a new town discovering a show always makes up for it' says the actor of his busy schedule, summarising that the experience of moving on from one tour to another so quickly has been 'difficult and wonderful all at once'.

A fan of Guns and Roses and Michael Jackson, Robyns has found that he's discovered a lot more 80s music since his involvement with The Wedding Singer began, explaining that 'the music in this show pastiches 80s stuff really well, so I wanted to know what it was pastiching. It’s a wonderful era for music and I think the show captures it really well'. But does the actor have a favourite song in the show itself? 'Somebody Kill Me, a song taken from the film, which Adam Sandler wrote, just because he’s a comic genius and it’s a perfect opportunity to just let rip. I really love those moments'. 

Adam Sandler's connection to the role of Robbie Hart is undeniable thanks to his original performance in the film, therefore some audiences may be wondering how the stage adaptation may compare, but Robyns is quick to reassure audiences that as good as the film is, the stage adaptation has its own merits. 'A movie is an interesting entity that I think people sometimes have trouble letting go of, but the stage adaption and the movie are different enough so that everyone can relax into it', he clarifies, adding that 'the writers have done such a great job of coming up with such a 3D character in the script, so as the actor it’s never your job to create what the character is in its first instance. It’s just your job to interpret what the writers have given you, for an audience. As long as you stick to what’s true in the script then you’re fine'. 

Clearly Jon Robyns is having a great time bringing The Wedding Singer to audiences around the UK, and is quick to praise director and choreographer Nick Winston for his trust in the cast. Speaking of one particular scene in which his character ruins a couple's wedding day, Robyns recounts that 'the only direction I was given by our incredible, wonderful, loving director Nick Winston was "just go and show off". I do whatever comes into my head each show, which is very liberating and fun!' 

It's heartening to hear the actor speak with such enthusiasm about a show, especially as his keenness matches that of audiences. In addition to the great reviews, The Wedding Singer's twitter feed is full of retweets from satisfied audience members, singing its praises. Robyns is eager to express just how varied the audience has been so far, and how it's a show for everyone. 'It’s a brilliant date night show, and we’ve also had quite a few hen nights, it’s a really good show for friends to come and watch. It’s a thoroughly feel-good show. It’s not going to challenge you deeply, or make you think, it’s just thoroughly enjoyable', quite rightly adding that ‘there’s no war, there’s no death, it’s not Les Mis. It’s going to make you happy walking out and I think that’s as valid a reason to go to the theatre as any.’ 

It sounds like audiences are lapping up The Wedding Singer. Touring until October 2017 there are plenty of chances to catch it at a number of big venues around the UK. Visit theweddingsingermusical.co.uk for more information and to book tickets. 

Review - Ugly Lies The Bone (National Theatre)


Titusville, Florida, aka 'Space City USA' is such a vital element to Ugly Lies The Bone that it could almost be considered a character itself. The history of the city is integral to Lindsey Ferrentino's new play, and serves as a harsh contrast to the idyllic virtual paradise which protagonist Jess retreats into upon her return from a third tour of Afghanistan, as part of her recovery, after being severely injured by an IED.

Ralf Little and Kate Fleetwood in Ugly Lies The Bone
Photo credit - Mark Douet
For the last 50 or so years the city of Titusville has been inextricably linked to the NASA space programme, booming when NASA had missions on the go, and crashing every time the government cut its funding. Ugly Lies The Bones sees Jess returning to Florida in the summer of 2011, just as NASA is preparing to launch its final shuttle. The shops and restaurants are unfamiliar, unemployment is high, and on the verge of getting even worse, Jess' mom is suffering with Alzheimer's and her ex boyfriend is married to someone else. While Jess, who spent over a year recovering from severe burns in a hospital in Texas, and must walk with a metal walking frame due to the tightness of her scarred and grafted skin, is desperate to cling to the past, everything and everyone around her is moving on. 

Thus Ugly Lies The Bone, an excruciating examination of the ways in which humans deal with pain and trauma, begins. Jess escapes her mundane, unfamiliar Floridian lifestyle by entering a virtual reality based on the very real SnowWorld VR system, a pain reduction technique used to distract burn victims while their bandages are being changed, which has been proven in some tests to be more effective than Morphine. The VR becomes a necessity to Jess and her rehabilitation, and to emphasise its importance designer Es Devlin has moulder the stage into a large, grey quarter sphere, reminiscent of a giant VR visor. When Jess enters her virtual reality, her world is mapped out onto the set, with impressive projections by Luke Halls. The visuals of Ugly Lies The Bone are among the production's most impressive features! 

The play is also impeccably cast, with Kate Fleetwood giving a fierce performance in the role of Jess. She's at her most impressive when she stands alone on stage, exploring her virtual world or getting to grips with her physical one. One particularly devastating scene sees Jess strip off to her underclothes and pull on a dress as she prepares to spend with her ex boyfriend Stevie (Ralf Little is endearingly flappable in the role) watching a shuttle launch. The scene is agonisingly drawn out, and Fleetwood's stiff, restricted movements, combined with her minuscule hums of agony, make it almost unbearable to watch. Meanwhile Kris Marshall is hilarious as Jess' sister Kacie's seemingly classless, yet underestimated boyfriend, and Kacie herself is brought to bubbly life by Olivia Darnley. 

It's a shame in a way that while the play spends a lot of time exploring its characters and their interpersonal relationships, it still feels like there's more probing to be done by the end. The exquisitely complex dynamic between Jess and Stevie is fascinating, but feels unfulfilled. There are too many compelling plotlines crammed into the 90 minute run time, and as such some of the raw and emotional elements teased at end up a little bit tame. Nevertheless though, Ugly Lies The Bone is a remarkable visual affair, and Kate Fleetwood's stunning occupation of Jess deserves much adulation. 

Find out more about Ugly Lies The Bone by visiting www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/ugly-lies-the-bone

Review - Honeymoon In Vegas (London Palladium)

The London Musical Theatre Orchestra have done it again! After the success of their last two musicals in concert, their track record is bolstered further by their most recent offering, Andrew Bergman and Jason Robert Brown's Honeymoon in Vegas. For the first time LMTO's founder and principal conductor Freddie Tapner offers up the baton to a guest maestro, and who better to lead an orchestra in a concert performance of one of Jason Robert Brown's most recent Broadway outing than the main man himself?

Maxwell Caulfield, Samantha Barks and Arthur Darvill 
Honeymoon in Vegas is nothing if not good old fashioned entertainment. Based on the 1992 film starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Nicholas Cage, it follows the exploits of Jack, a man haunted by the ghost of his marriage averse mother, as he tries desperately to pluck up enough courage to propose to his girlfriend Betsy. After an ill-fated game of poker sees Jack down $58,000, he's forced to offer up Betsy's company to smarmy gambler Tommy Korman in lieu of payment, but when Korman whisks Betsy off to spend a weekend in Hawaii Jack must do whatever it takes to win her back. It's a madcap romp featuring ghostly apparitions, shady henchpeople, and more skydiving Elvis impersonators than you can shake a stick at, and of course all of the adventure is tied together by the music! 

The London Musical Orchestra delivers a polished and professional performance in every respect. Made up of a combination of experienced orchestra members as well as passionate musicians in training, it's clear that the entire cohort share a passion for playing, which seeps naturally into the atmosphere. The dazzling orchestra perform with gusto, and are joined onstage by an exciting cast of West End vocalists, who help to bring the concert to life. In the role of Jack, Arthur Darvill proves himself yet again to be a real musical talent. After his high profile run as Guy in Once the Musical both on Broadway and in the West End a few years ago it's great to hear him performing musical theatre material again. Hopefully it won't be long until he's back on stage in a starring role once more. Meanwhile in the role of Betsy Samantha Barks is given ample room to show off her incredibly versatile voice. Shining in songs like Anywhere But Here and I've Been Thinking, she leaves audiences wondering if there is anything she can't do. 

LMTO's Honeymoon in Vegas also boasts a scene stealing supporting cast including Rosemary Ashe, who makes the most of her scenes as Jack's deceased mother Bea, Maisey Bawden as sultry Hawaiian guide Mahi, and Simon Lipkin, who doubles as a corny lounge singer and an overly enthusiastic Elvis impersonator. Lipkin brings down the house twice with the impressively sung When I Say Vegas as well as hilarious Elvis parody song Higher Love, in which he is accompanied by the entire male ensemble, who lip curl and hip thrust like their lives depend on it! 

It's such a treat to hear the music, and dialogue, of such an irresistibly joyful musical coming to life, if only for one night, on a West End stage. The orchestra's passion is contagious, the vocalists are first rate and it's such a thrill to see Jason Robert Brown conducting his own work. For musical theatre lovers there really is nothing else to rival the London Musical Theatre Orchestra, and with two further concerts lined up in the coming months there's plenty for fans to look forward to. Given how quickly they have achieved notoriety it's going to be a real thrill to see what other projects may be on the horizon. 

Don't forget to check out www.lmto.org for more information on upcoming projects

Review - The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (UK Tour)

It's been 5 years since The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time first bounded onto stage at the National Theatre. An adaptation of Mark Haddon's ever popular novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has enjoyed just as much acclaim as its source material, having bagged the Olivier Award for Best New Play in 2013, along with 6 other Olivier Awards including Best Sound Design, Lighting Design and Set Design. With such prestige, it's easy to understand why the show is currently embarking on its second UK tour. 

Scott Reid and the cast of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time UK Tour
Photo credit - Brinkhoff Moegenburg

The play follows Christopher Boone, a fifteen year old boy with Asperger Syndrome, who finds his next door neighbour's dog murdered one evening and decides to try and find out who is responsible, despite his father's objections. Simon Stephens' adaptation does well to maintain many of the elements that made the original text so compelling. Christopher's investigation is intriguing, but it's his relationships with others which drive the play to deep emotional depths. 

The lead role of Christopher Boone is a challenging one, both emotionally and physically, and so the stamina and agility of actor Scott Reid must be acknowledged. Christopher's relationship with his parents is very much at the forefront of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and actors Emma Beattie and David Michaels do a terrific job of portraying two sides of a family torn apart. The play does not shy away from the tests associated with raising a child with Asperger Syndrome, and in fact, some of its deeper emotional weight stems from the audience witnessing Christopher's parents' distress. Nevertheless, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is all the better for its honesty. When Christopher shares his dreams for the future (to complete his A levels and then go to university and finally become a scientist) he asks his mentor whether she thinks he can do anything he wants to do. Her silence is more than enough to wrench the guts of the captivated audience. 

Bunnie Christie's award winning set design is a brilliant addition to an already excellent play. Although it is rather calculated and clinical, reflecting Christopher's passion for maths, when it comes to life it is a marvel. Appearing at first to be rather basic, a brightly lit square box surrounded on 3 sides by black video projection screens, it soon becomes apparent that the stage is much more multifaceted than first imagined, with multiple hidden doors, cupboards, and even a full desk sliding out of one of the back panels. The set is also littered with hundreds of LED lights, which work alongside the aforementioned video projection to create a sort of tech based wonderland, inhabited by scarpering dogs, where prime numbers fall as precipitation. There are several instances where all of the play's technical elements come together and are combined with fluid movement pieces choreographed by Frantic Assembly's Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett, resulting in some eye popping and electrifying sequences.

Pacey and full of surprises, it's hard to imagine a play more polished than The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Simon Stephens' adaptation perfectly balances the light-hearted with the heart-breaking, resulting in a painfully beautiful play which is nigh on impossible to fault. A must see!

Find out more information by visiting www.curiousonstage.com/tour

Review - Fantastic Mr Fox (UK Tour)

In the wake of the Brexit vote, Fantastic Mr Fox's musical adaptation feels particularly apt. The story of a family of foxes (joined, in a deviation from the original text, by a litany of other forest dwelling friends) who steal from a trio of hapless shotgun toting farmers, has been a popular bedtime favourite for over 40 years, but feels as if it could have been written as a direct response to the state of the nation right now. The fox hunt which dominates one half of the plot of Fantastic Mr Fox is masterminded by Farmer Bean who enlists the help of local landowners in an attempt to take their valley back, meanwhile Mr Fox learns that despite his reservations, he and his subterranean pals are stronger together.

Greg Barnett as Mr Fox in Fantastic Mr Fox
Photo credit - Manuel Harlan
A strong ensemble cast bring Dahl's well-loved roster of characters to life, with the charismatic Greg Barnett perfectly pitching Mr Fox's swagger and bravado, and Richard Atwill excellently doubling as both the dead eyed scheming Farmer Bean and the drunken Rat who guards Bean's cellar. 

Roald Dahl's trademark grotesqueness is less prominent in Sam Holcroft's adaptation, but it is there nevertheless, especially embodied in Farmer Bean, whose obsession with foxes is the most entertaining subplot (after shooting off Mr Fox's tail at the beginning of the show he proceeds to sniff it and use it as a polishing cloth for the barrel of his gun before eventually attaching it to a Rambo-esque headband, tearing off his shirt and howling up at the night sky). Of course, there's plenty of broad humour for the younger fans to enjoy, but the often sharp and witty writing provides parents with plenty of laughs too. It's a shame that the farm raids undertaken by Mr Fox and friends feel a bit flat at times, but the finale complete with laser beams, a brilliantly choreographed motion sensor evasion routine, and a terrifying red eyed guard dog, is a high energy success. 

Music by Arthur Darvill is hit and miss; with songs spread rather sparsely throughout it doesn't seem right to label Fantastic Mr Fox as a full blown musical. There are however a couple of undeniably jaunty pop tunes scattered throughout, which capture the energy and vivaciousness of the show overall and are performed with vigor by the onstage band, dressed in cobalt blue bird costumes.

Tom Scutt's vivid design, dominated by clashing oranges and blues, gives the production an ultramodern feel, and yet it maintains a somewhat homespun aesthetic. The set is adorned with bits and bobs from the human world, and the woodland creatures costumes are unmistakably human, and yet perfectly encapsulate their animalistic essence. The fox family are dressed in neon orange sportswear, whilst Badger models a black and white football kit, and Rabbit, dressed in a full body leotard, looks just about ready for her next zumba class.

With laughs, adventure, and a couple of great morals, Fantastic Mr Fox is unmistakably Dahl. A little tame now and then, but a good night out with the family nevertheless. With the likes of Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and now Fantastic Mr Fox, popping up on stage, it's surely only a matter of time before the next Roald Dahl page to stage adaptation. Esio Trot could make a sweet chamber musical, or how about a rock opera based on The Witches? The opportunities are countless! 

Find out more by visiting www.fantasticmrfoxlive.com