Review - Singular Sensations (Jon Robyns)

When Jon Robyns, a performer whom I really admire, announced that he would be appearing as part of the Singular Sensations series, I was very curious and I decided to grab myself a ticket. As well as appearing in several of my favourite shows in the past, most recently he was the alternate for the lead male role in Memphis, a show which I like quite a lot (okay, this is probably the biggest understatement ever! I’ll have seen the show 11 times by the time it closes next week!) And I had also meant to go along to several Singular Sensations concerts in the past, but for one reason or another I never quite made it.
Running for just over an hour and a half, it made for a thoroughly entertaining afternoon. Edward Seckerson hosted brilliantly, asking some interesting questions and sharing some fascinating theatre trivia. Meanwhile Jon Robyns was captivating. He shared some brilliant stories (and some very impressive namedrops!) and performed a great variety of songs throughout the course of the afternoon. At the very beginning it was a treat to hear Jon sing, accompanied by one of his Avenue Q puppet counterparts, Princeton. Later we heard some familiar songs such as ‘Moving Too Fast’ from The Last 5 Years (one of my all-time favourite musicals! For that reason this was probably my favourite song of the afternoon) which were interwoven with some songs which I was less familiar with (i.e. ‘Ink’ from Dessa Rose). He also performed ‘Left Behind’ from Spring Awakening, which features on his album. Incidentally I had intended to buy a physical copy of the album of the day, but they had all sold out, so I’ll have to make do with my digital version for now…definitely worth checking out in my opinion though.

Along with the songs and anecdotes, Jon also shared a lot of invaluable advice for young and aspiring performers, which I found genuinely helpful and motivating (I now know where to look during a singing audition, something I’d always wondered about but, at this point in my life, felt too foolish to ask!).

So all in all, I had an absolutely fabulous afternoon. A while back Mark Shenton wrote an article for The Stage about current West End leading men, and it comes as no surprise that Jon Robyns’ name appeared on the list. As well as having a fantastic voice, he also has a genuinely warm and congenial persona. I’m so glad I attended his show and am looking forward to seeing him in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang over the Christmas period.

I’m sure I’ll also be returning to the charmingly cosy Charing Cross Theatre again soon, to catch another Singular Sensations show. I really enjoyed myself and for that reason I really recommend checking out this season’s other guests too, because I’d say that an afternoon like this is a must-see for any musical theatre fan!

Review - Mad About The Musicals (UK tour)

While it obviously comes as no surprise that I am a big musical theatre fan, I have never really been interested in Musical Theatre concerts before. As much as I love the music, the idea of seeing a night of songs performed out of context never really appealed to me.  However, when the tour of Mad About The Musicals, which featured Gareth Gates as a guest singer, stopped at my local theatre, I decided to give it a go…
As far as the performances were concerned, I cannot fault anyone. Michael Courtney (who directed the show and also starred) was a funny, charismatic host and very talented and versatile performer, pulling off a faultless rendition of the thrilling song ‘Gethsemane’ from Jesus Christ Superstar, followed almost instantly by an impressively sung ‘Bring Him Home’ which garnered a particularly long and well deserved applause. Meanwhile Gareth Gates was charming on stage, and his numbers were some of my favourite of the night. The supporting cast (Rosanne Priest, Kerry O’Dowd, Nichola Lagan) each performed a number of fabulous songs too, some highlights being ‘I Still Believe’ from Miss Saigon, and ‘Think of Me’ from The Phantom of The Opera.

In fact, was impressed by the variety of songs performed. Although there were plenty of classics included in the set list, we were also treated to some songs from musicals which are lesser known to a wider audience. I was overjoyed when Michael Courtney and Gareth Gates dueted ‘You’re Nothing Without Me’ from one of my favourite musicals City of Angels. I also found it interesting that some songs which I personally would consider synonymous with certain musicals were omitted in favour of slightly lesser known ones. For example, Rosanne Priest’s Funny Girl number was ‘I Am The Greatest Star’ rather than the more widely recognisable ‘My Man’ or ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’. I also applauded the decision to include a duet from the new musical Doctor Zhivago, which recently ran on Broadway. Although I didn’t personally love the song itself, it was an unexpected inclusion that really made me sit up and pay attention.

For me though, the highlight of the evening was the Les Mis section at the end of the show, culminating in a rousing rendition of ‘Do You Hear The People Sing?'. I was shocked by how affecting the music was, even with a significantly smaller cast that in the show.

While the song list and the performers themselves were first rate, I did think that some other elements of the show looked a little dated. The costumes which the women wore were lovely but not very modern looking, and looked a little out of place next to the men’s smart and fashionable suits. I also found the lighting a little bit more reminiscent of a disco than a concert, but these minor elements hardly affected my overall enjoyment of the show.  

Overall I found the whole evening very enjoyable. The songs were entertaining, the cast was enthusiastic and the audience appeared to be having a fantastic time. Not only that, but in comparison to the eye watering prices which some similar shows charge today, Mad About The Musicals was a very affordable night out. It is clear why such a great show is now in its 10th year, and given the opportunity I would definitely see it again when it next tours.

Review - In The Heights

Lin-Manuel Miranda really is the man of the moment. His hugely hyped new musical Hamilton is currently making waves on Broadway, while over here in London his Tony Award winning musical In The Heights (music and lyrics by Lin Manual-Miranda, book by Quiara Alegría Hudes), last seen at the Southwalk playhouse in 2014 has just been revived at the Kings Cross Theatre.
Having missed out on the show during its initial run, and subsequently hearing it praised nonstop I was desperate to experience it for myself, and so as soon as tickets went on sale in September I grabbed one, and I've been looking forward to it ever since.

Incredibly, In The Heights not only lived up to, but in my opinion exceed the hype surrounding it. Reminiscent of Rent in several ways but at the same time markedly different, the show is largely an ensemble piece, following the lives of the inhabitants of Washington Heights during a summer heatwave. There are enough ups and downs, loves and losses to keep you engaged throughout the show, and although there are quite a few characters, each one is fleshed out and likable enough that you’ll have no trouble following every story line. Especially thanks to Luke Sheppard's tight direction. 

From the moment the first actor entered the stage I was captivated. The connection between actors and audience was unlike any I’ve experienced before. I felt as if I was a part of the action onstage, and by the end of the show it was as if I knew each of the characters personally. This was, in no small way, due to the mesmerising and endearing performance of Sam Mackay as the show’s main protagonist Usnavi. He had the audience in the palm of his hand from the moment he opened his mouth, and he sang and rapped with a charismatic flair which was a joy to watch.  Similarly, Lily Frazer as Stanford student Nina was sensational, with enviable costumes (by Gabriella Slade) and an even more enviable voice! As her parents Kevin and Camilla, David Badella and Josie Benson were a vocal team to be reckoned with, while Victoria Hamilton-Barritt stole almost every scene she was in as gossipy salon owner Daniela! The energy and talent displayed by every single cast member was just entrancing!

I was also wowed by the set design, and way the space in general was transformed. Having seen The Railway Children which is still running in rep with In The Heights at the moment, the two shows set ups couldn’t be more different. Before I even entered the theatre I was met with the sounds of atmospheric music playing, evoking thoughts of NYC, while graffiti murals and posters helped to set the scene brilliantly. Upon entering the theatre (a significantly smaller seating area than that used on The railway Children) I was impressed with how detailed and vibrant the set design was, and particularly enjoyed the use of two large movable ladders which were used to create height or signify a change in location, and were even incorporated into the shows choreography at several points.

On the subject of choreography, Drew McOnie’s movement and dance pieces were a joy to watch, adding flair to the show's already buzzing atmosphere. But it was the music that I found particularly stunning. Prior to seeing the show I was cautious about how much I’d enjoy the hiphop and rap influences of the music, as normally this kind of music would not appeal to me. However, in the case of the music of In The Heights, I was stunned. It was brilliantly catchy and so clever, the cast’s enthusiasm was infectious, and I was frequently left grinning. In fact, the title song has been stuck in my head ever since! But there were also genuinely haunting, gut wrenching moments will leave you breathless, and perhaps a little teary!

If you missed this show at the Southwalk Playhouse like I did, do not hesitate to get yourself a ticket now. The intelligent lyrics, hummable tunes, heart stopping choreography and energetic cast were faultless, and to miss out on such an exciting production is a definitely no-no! Do yourself a favour and get yourself down to the Kings Cross Theatre as soon as possible, because I have a feeling the infectious buzz surrounding the show will make In The Heights one of THE must-see productions of this autumn! 

Review - Memphis The Musical (with Matt Cardle)

If you follow me on any form of social media, or you've been reading this blog for a little while, you may have noticed that I am a very big fan of Memphis the Musical. When I first saw it during its preview period last October I fell in love, and subsequently used any excuse I could find to return again, And again. And again. I took my parents to see it, brought along my grandma, my sister and I queued for dayseats on several occasions and my theatre loving friends also embraced the obsession. In fact, I have currently seen the show 8 times and have 2 more visits planned. 

Needless to say I am quite fond of it. 

And so a few months ago when Killian Donnelly (the original West End Huey) announced that he'd be leaving the show early in order to join to cast of Kinky Boots, I was quite surprised. Especially when his replacement was announced to be non other that X Factor winner Matt Cardle. I wasn't an X Factor fan and my only knowledge of Matt Cardle was from a Now CD which he featured on, covering the Biffy Clyro song When We Collide. However, I was lucky enough to attend West End Live this summer and was treated to his rendition of Memphis Lives In Me, which frankly blew me away and exceeded all my expectations. Unsurprisingly, when I finally got round to seeing the show again I was not disappointed.

In case you aren't aware of the story, Memphis the Musical is set in 1950s Tennessee and follows a while DJ named Huey Calhoun who falls in love with a black nightclub singer called Felicia Farrell, and tells the story of the pair as they attempt to find fame and bring rock and roll to the mainstream, despite the racial tensions of the time.  

As Huey, Cardle's voice was staggeringly soulful and incredibly powerful... a perfect match for soul queen Beverley Knight whose spine-tingling vocals have won her much critical acclaim in the role of Felicia Farrell. I was very impressed Cardle's overall performance, and struggled to believe that it was his acting debut, as aside from a few accent slips he more than held his own while sharing the stage with the rest of the cast, and nailed all of the weird quirkiness of his character while remaining endearing and likable.

The show itself is just unmissable. With great choreography, fabulous music, gorgeous costumes and one of the most hardworking, enthusiastic, energetic casts on the West End, it's a crime that Memphis will be closing on the 31st October.

If you've already seen the show, please let me know what you think below, or on twitter, and if you've not yet seen it, or had the pleasure to see the cast led by Matt Cardle, then I implore you, get yourself to the Shaftesbury Theatre now. You'll have an absolutely brilliant time!

Memphis the musical closes on 31st October. Beverley Knight is due to leave the show on 17th October and will be replaced by Rachel John (read my review of Rachel in the show here). Find cast holiday information and ticket information on the show's official website. 

Review - Mamma Mia!

Although it opened in 1999, Mamma Mia! had never really been on my radar. I enjoyed the film and was fond of ABBA, but much like many of London's other long running musicals, I think I just expected it to be there forever, and so I could pretty much see it whenever I wanted to. However, at the end of the summer holidays (now a distant memory for the most part) my friend asked if I'd like to go along with her to see the jukebox favourite, and of course I jumped at the chance. 

Sophie Sheridan (Gabriella Williams) is about to wed her boyfriend at the beautiful Greek hotel her mother Donna (Dianne Pilkington) runs, and upon discovering her mothers old diary documenting the year she was pregnant, invites three men to her wedding, hoping that she will finally be able to identify her father. The story itself is a fun, somewhat unpredictable one, full of laughs, cheesiness and even a few tears. The music of ABBA fit the story perfectly, with songs such as Voulez-Vous, Lay All Your Love on Me and the title song Mamma Mia standing out as particular highlights. It was clear that the audience was loving the music, a testament to the timeless appeal of the Swedish pop sensation. 
However, it must be said that some elements appeared a little less age defying. Although I was impressed with the versatility of the set, and how reminiscent of Greece it was, I did think that it looked a little old and dated, and the same went for some of the costumes too unfortunately. I had expected a bright, glitzy, high energy romp, and found the production a little tame. I also found the sound too quiet at several points, and as such several of the big numbers had less feel good wow-factor, while ballads like The Winner Takes It All felt weak, despite the impressive vocals of Dianne Pilkington. 

All in all though, if you're looking for some harmless musical fun, Mamma Mia is a perfect candidate. Catch it on the West End or find out if it's coming to a venue near you when it tours the UK next year. 

Review - Blood Brothers (UK Tour)

Blood Brothers, Willy Russell's iconic tearjerker of a musical, is currently touring the UK, and being the massive musical theatre fan I am, naturally I returned to university a week early to catch it when it visited Canterbury's Marlowe Theatre a few weeks ago. Although I did find some elements a bit dry, there wasn't a dry eye in the house by the finale! 

Set in Liverpool, Blood Brothers tells the story of twins Eddie and Mickey, who are separated at birth, but are somehow bought together again by fate and form a strong bond which spans decades (although neither of them knows that they are actually brothers). Despite the challenges of suspending the audience's belief when adults play children's roles, both Sean Jones and Joel Benedict played their character's younger counterparts charmingly. Their boundless energy and wide eyed expressions meant that it was easy to forget the parts were being played by grown men. It was by their brilliant on stage chemistry that the audience becomes emotionally invested in the story. 

While I did find that the first act felt a little bit too long, and a little static, it helped to show the audience in detail just how great the twins bond was . The second act was definitely worth the wait though!  It was jarring, and more than a little bit heartbreaking to watch the carefree, fun loving children of act 1 grow up into the stern faced adults of act 2. In this section in particular Sean Jones shone. His portrayal of older Mickey was heart wrenching and very memorable! 

For me though, it was the music that stopped me from enjoying Blood Brothers to the fullest. The show has been so popular for so many years that I feel that this is definitely just personal preference, but I found all of the music to be quite similar, and no song really stood out for me. 

Overall I really enjoyed Blood Brothers, and I'm glad I finally saw it. While usually for me it's the music that really makes a musical special, and the songs of Blood Brothers were sadly not my cup of tea, the emotional pay off at the end though was definitely worth the wait, and the characters journeys were so enthralling that I would absolutely recommend this tour to anyone who hasn't yet seen it! 

Verdict - 3 Stars

Review - King Charles III (UK Tour)

Hi guys! 

The award for worst blogger ever goes toooooooo... me! (*applause* *screams from the audience* *my mom faints!*) 

Eugh! It seems every one of my posts starts with an apology recently, but at last (!) all of that is about to change! I've moved into my new house, bought a new computer and actually organised my life. Now all there is left to do is get the wifi up and running and normal service should return! In the meantime, I've got a huuuuge backlog of shows to write up about, starting with King Charles III, which started it's UK tour a few weeks ago...

What will happen when our Queen dies? It's a question that I'd not really considered until I saw King Charles III. This is probably because for all my life, Queen Elizabeth has been a constant, unvarying element of my national identity, and one which I never really paid that much attention to. However, Mike Bartlett's award winning play deals with a what if situation unlike any that I'd ever considered. What if Prince Charles became King? Would he be just a new face on our currency, or would he defy conventions and try to take a more active role in the running of the country? Bartlett's play asks these questions and many more, in a surprising satirical play which had me gripped from start to finish.

What immediately stuck me about this play was how eery the atmosphere created onstage was. You could almost feel the unease in the air, hear the yells of the angry and disorientated public just outside, see the sweat on the brow of our new monarch (played authoritatively by Robert Powell). This was created by a clever use of lighting, sound and semiotics. Very often the lights remained dim, and only two large, archaic candles lit the area. 

I also enjoyed the range of characters encountered. Although Mike Bartlett's use of almost Shakespearean language, characters and tropes seemed unusual at first, a few clever moments of masterful writing meant that everything clicked into place. The way modern day slang and colloquialisms were interspersed seamlessly was nothing short of masterful! 

Although at times some of the characters and situations tended to go a little bit over-the-top and became unrealistic, for the most part the play sustained a tension which build into a shocking conclusion! 

Verdict - 4 Stars