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Thursday, 21 February 2019

In Conversation With... Shaun McCourt | West End Live Lounge | Interview

West End Live Lounge is back at The Other Palace on March 10th for a celebration of WOMEN. The stellar line up of performers will sings songs from powerful ladies, all whilst raising money for Samaritans. I spoke to founder, Shaun McCourt about all things West End Live Lounge...



Can you tell us a bit about the creation of West End Live Lounge?
West End Live Lounge started in 2017 as an idea for a series of concerts to raise money for charity and has since grown to where it is today. I wanted to create an event which would allow West End performers the platform to sing material which was not from the world of musical theatre with a live band. There was a gap in the gig/concert circuit for such an event and I simply decided to go for it-and what an exciting journey it has been.


You’ve gone from the Union Theatre to the Other Palace Studio to the main house and each concert is getting bigger and better. What’s the next thing you’d like to achieve with your concerts?
I am always overwhelmed by the support that West End Live Lounge receives. It is great to see so many people enjoying the concerts. Without this support, its reputation would not be where it is now. The show continues to grow and there are certainly exciting plans in place for its future. However, I am going to keep the secrets for now I am afraid. Watch this space!

In terms of what I would like to achieve, my aim is to continue to produce concerts that not only entertain our audiences, but also raise as much money for charity as possible.


What’s your favourite part of putting the Live Lounge concerts together?
Though I may look slightly stressed on the day of a Live Lounge concert, I have to say that I enjoy the whole process of putting it together- from picking the theme, to casting the line-up, liaising with The Other Palace, to the day of the concert itself. However, if I had to pick a favourite moment, it would be the rehearsals and soundcheck on the day of each event. The Live Lounge band are all incredible musicians and our musical director, Sam Coates, is a genius. That moment when we are all set up and I hear the band play for the first time is really special. It is always a reminder of just how much hard work people put into making these events a success. 

West End Live Lounge has become a bit of a family. The central team is made up of Sam Coates (musical director), Will Miney (technical manager) and myself. However, all performers and musicians that have been involved become part of this family. Getting to work alongside so many talented individuals always makes this such a rewarding process.


What can people expect when they come and experience a West End Live Lounge?
People can expect a great night at the theatre. If this doesn't happen, then I am doing something wrong! A West End Live Lounge event promises a fantastic line up of incredible singers and musicians. Each concert has an exciting theme and gives the audience the chance to see their favourite West End performers step out of the world of musical theatre. 


Each concert you raise money for a different charity, how do you choose the charities to support and what do they mean to you?
Choosing the charity for each concert is always a tricky job. There are so many important charities, so rather than continue to raise money for just one, I decided that it was really important to me that each concert raised money for a different cause. For some concerts, the theme and charity often go hand in hand. There have also been times where a major event has happened in the world around the time of the concert and it makes total sense to donate the proceeds to this cause. 


If you could have any performer dead or alive to perform at a Live Lounge, who would you choose and why?
This is a tricky question! I am incredibly grateful to every single performer who has given up their time to be part of a West End Live Lounge event. They each bring an amazing talent and such a great energy to the stage. It is important to me that I continue to introduce new faces to the Live Lounge stage and that each concert offers a diverse and exciting line up.

But if I had to pick one person... 

Well...If I could get Jennifer Hudson along to sing a number, would I be excited? Absolutely!


Can you sum up in 5 words why people should come to the next West End Live Lounge?
Belting for a good cause.


West End Live Lounge tickets go on sale March 25th.

Full cast (subject to availability): Adam Bailey, Christina Bennington, Louise Dearman, Lauren Drew, Simon Gordon, Jennifer Harding, Matthew Harvey, Emma Hatton, Lisa Marie Holmes, Claudia Kariuki, Sejal Keshwala, Emma Lindars, Shekinah Mcfarlane, Kayleigh McKnight, Christina Modestou, Brady Isaacs Pearce, Lauren James Ray, Danielle Steers, Laura Tebbutt, Jennifer Tierney, Rodney Vubya.

Interview by Editor, Olivia Mitchell

Friday, 14 September 2018

Heathers, Theatre Royal Haymarket | Review


Heathers
Theatre Royal Haymarket
Reviewed on Monday 10th September 2018 by Olivia Mitchell
★★★★

Every so often a show comes around which receives an exceptional amount of hype and has the West End buzzing. Heathers is currently that show and the good news is that it truly lives up to it. Based on the 1989 film starring Winona Ryder, this musical adaptation is full of energy and humour as it balances the line between political correctness and incorrectness. We find ourselves drawn towards the darkness but also cringing at the atrocities that go on.

Laurence O'Keefe had huge success with his adaptation of Legally Blonde and has applied his winning formula once again to bring this show to life with a camp, sassy and at times melancholic score. The plot follows Veronica Sawyer, a girl who is 'different' to the others at her school and longs for unity between all cliques and social standings. However, in order to make it through High School, she befriends the rulers of the school, the "lipstick gustapo" made up of three girls named Heather. Our protagonist then meets a brooding new boy, Jason J.D Dean who turns out to be a kill happy psychopath. From there on there are deaths, parties, funerals and a whole lot of destruction.

When the movie came out in 1989 it became an instant hit and then received a cultish following when it opened off-Broadway in 2014. The show's transition to the West End has been no different as teens and young adults flood to the theatre with scrunchies in hair and  pleated skirts on to see this wildly fun but disturbing musical brought to life.



The entire cast bring this show to life with vivacious passion and immense talent. Leading the gang, Carrie Hope Fletcher is a powerhouse as she battles between what's right and wrong and what she wants to do to boost her social standing/love life. Carrie steps  on stage to well deserved cheers and blows the roof of with her entire performance, especially her new song 'I Say No' which gives her a backbone and the rough 'Dead Girl Walking Reprise'. Veronica's moments of strength are certainly where Carrie shines but she is also humourous and likeable as she swoons over JD.

Under Andy Fickman's direction, Jamie Muscato plays the mysteriously murderous JD with an intensity that you can't help but be drawn to. Whilst it's not wise to partner up with a murderer, we all love a bad boy and the combination of JD's smooth talking and Jamie's perfectly rough voice make us feel for him a little bit, even though he becomes a monster before our eyes. Muscato's frenetic energy in 'Meant To Be Yours' is certainly a theatrical highlight of the year.

The three Heathers waltz around the stage as one but have quirky personality traits which are owned and embodied by each. As leader of the pack, Heather Chandler who "floats above it all", Jodie Steele is brilliant. Her permanent scowl, sharp movements, sublime vocals and stellar comedic timing make her perfect for the role. Sophie Isaacs brings an innocence to Heather McNamara which is interesting to play out. Whilst she is part of the mean girl group, it's clear from the outset that she is merely following the pack and wishes to break away. Isaacs' rendition of Lifeboat is a pin-drop silence moment which stands out in the show. As the final Heather, Duke, T'Shan Williams is feisty and aggressive, with her solo Never Shut Up Again earning her laughs and cheers from the audience. 



Stand outs of the cast also include Jenny O'Leary who gives a moving performance of Kindergarten Boyfriend, Rebecca Lock who brings the entire theatre to life with her fiery, belt-tastic Shine a Light and Christopher Chung and Dominic Andersen who are humour embodied as the jocks who combine to create Kram. Ensemble members Lauren Drew and Olivia Moore also catch the eye throughout.

Gary Lloyd's choreography is especially effective with the Heathers, namely during the iconic Candy Store which sees them sashaying round the stage but in true Heathers style, being in complete control the entire time and never stepping out of sync with one another.

Mention must go to Ben Cracknell's lighting, which like the music, intensifies every emotion on stage. Particularly effective are the varying tones of light between the characters. The Heathers are of course lit in their iconic colours (brought to life vibrantly through David Shields' costumes) but whats most striking are the moments when Veronica is lit in warm spotlights whilst JD is basked in stark, almost grey tones. This highlights the contrast between the true evil and the kind-of-forced-into-evil in a clever way.



Most of the subject matter of this show is uncomfortable but sadly ever present: bullying, suicide, murder, depression. Heathers does a good job of satirising the sensationalism of them and shines a light (pun intended) on the fact that unity and kindness are always the way forward.

Whilst this isn't a light hearted show in content, the songs are crazily catchy, the talent level is ridiculously high and it's just a really good night out. For Big Fun, get down to the Theatre Royal Haymarket!

Heathers runs at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 24th November

photo credit: Pamela Raith

Thursday, 17 March 2022

Regent's Park Open Air Theatre Announces Principle Cast for Legally Blonde


Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre have today announced principal casting for their forthcoming production of Legally Blonde (13 May-2 July), along with the full creative team.

Courtney Bowman takes the central role of Elle Woods. Courtney previously appeared in SIX (Arts Theatre/Lyric), Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (Apollo/Sheffield Crucible), Blondel (Union) and The Wind in the Willows (UK Tour). Courtney can currently be seen as Small in the hit children’s CBeebies show Big Cook Little Cook.

Directed by Lucy Moss, co-director and co-writer of SIXLegally Blonde is written by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin (music and lyrics), Heather Hach (book) and is based on the novel by Amanda Brown and the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer motion picture.

Also joining the cast are Michael Ahomka-Lindsay (Emmett), Lauren Drew (Brooke), Vanessa Fisher (Vivienne), Isaac Hesketh (Margot), Nadine Higgin (Paulette), Alžbeta Matyšáková (Enid), Eugene McCoy (Callahan), Grace Mouat (Pilar), Alistair Toovey (Warner), and Hannah Yun Chamberlain (Serena).

Full casting will be announced in due course.

Legally Blonde is created by Cassiopeia Berkeley-Agyepong (dramaturg), Cat Beveridge (musical supervisor), Jean Chan (costume designer), Shanaé Chisholm (casting assistant), Natalie Gallacher CDG for Pippa Ailion Casting (casting director), Tony Gayle (sound designer), Phillip Gladwell (lighting designer), Ainsley Hall Ricketts (assistant choreographer), Laura Hopkins (set designer), Barbara Houseman (voice & text and season associate director), Majella Hurley (dialect coach), Ellen Kane (choreographer), Ingrid Mackinnon (season associate: intimacy support), Lucy Moss (director), Priya Patel Appleby (associate director), Chris Poon (assistant musical director), Alexzandra Sarmiento (assistant choreographer), Amber Sinclair-Case (associate director) and Katharine Woolley (musical director).

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s 90th Anniversary season also includes 101 Dalmatians (12 Jul – 28 Aug), a newly commissioned musical written by Douglas Hodge (music and lyrics) and Johnny McKnight (book), from a stage adaptation by Zinnie Harris, based on the book by Dodie SmithAntigone (3 – 24 September) by Barber Shop Chronicles writer Inua Ellams after Sophocles, is the second commission from the theatre in 2022, directed by Max Webster and co-directed by Jo Tyabji.
 

Friday, 23 November 2018

West End Live Lounge, The Other Palace | Review


West End Live Lounge
The Other Palace 
Reviewed on Sunday 18th November 2018 by Olivia Mitchell 
★★★★★

We all know by now that West End Live Lounge concerts are in my top ways to spend a Sunday, and last weeks 90s extravaganza was no different! A host of the West End and theatre in generals finest, took to the stage at The Other Palace to perform some remixed and refreshed versions of 90s classic hits as well as some less remembered tunes.

Ever humourous and energetic, Vikki Stone and Paul Taylor Mills presented the night, which raises funds for a different charity each month, with banter and bounce. Opening the show, Matthew Harvey treated us to a laid back version of the secondary school music class classic, Wonderwall which perfectly set the tone for the night of nostalgia. 


A string of vocally flawless performances followed with Sam Coates' arrangements doing justice to the performers, venue, musicians and audience. As always he breathes fresh life into music and manages to balance warmth and energy in everything he touches. Particular stand outs included Lauren Drew's spine tingling rendition of I'm Your Baby Tonight, Sharon Sexton's All About Soul which had the entire audience bopping along, and Brady Isaacs Pearce's Hallelujah which brought Carrie Manolakos vibes and a whole lot of heart and power. 

The buzz was clear during the interval, from the beaming faces, to bopping heads and general chipper vibes, the anticipation for act two grew and we all knew we were in for another series of musical treats.


Vocal powerhouse and sultry queen Danielle Steers gave ballad realness with Don't Speak whilst Divalution brought their usual sass with their epic 90s mash up. All the ladies have not only voices for days, but for months. Some icy vibes were given to the evening by Jordan Luke Gage's dark and vocally incredible performance of You Oughta Know. 

Sophie Isaacs also performed a lovely mash up, whilst, accompanied by gasps from the audience, Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton joined forces to perform the well loved song which was cut from Bat Out of Hell: It Just Won't Quit. Every single performance of the night had something special and it's really magical to experience such diversity come together to celebrate music and talent.

As always, if you weren't at this West End Live Lounge, you missed a whole lot of brilliance but don't fret because there will be future concerts and it's clear from the Union Theatre to now, that the only way is up for Shaun McCourt and West End Live Lounge!

Keep up to date with West End Live Lounge on twitter

photo credit: Leigh Lothian