Showing posts sorted by relevance for query opera. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query opera. Sort by date Show all posts

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Romeo and Juliet, Royal Opera House | Review


Romeo and Juliet
Royal Opera House 
Reviewed on Tuesday 26th March 2019 by Olivia Mitchell 
★★★★

Romeo and Juliet is arguably Shakespeare's most well known play and a regular feature in the Royal Opera House programming, having been performed by The Royal Ballet more than 400 times since its Covent Garden premiere in 1965. This season beautifully revives Kenneth MacMillan's dramatic monument in a smooth and moving way, with a number of Company debuts making it feel fresh even after all these years. 

In the title roles, Matthew Ball and Lauren Cuthbertson are a match made in heaven as they bounce off of one another, in their sweetly romantic choreography which showcases young love (and obsession) especially well. The tension as they build to their first kiss is palpable. Romeo lifts his Juliet onto pointe as they kiss and creates a very calm and heartwarming moment before the fast paced drama of the next two acts. Ball and Cuthbertson are masters of their craft and give performances which completely justify their successes. 

Act One drags a little but the pageantry from the offset is marvellous. The sword fights are choreographed memorably and sharply and stand out against Nicholas Georgiadis' set as they fill the vast stage. The contrast between the intimate pas de duex and large scale ensemble numbers does well to bring variety and allows moments of extreme action as opposed to storytelling alone. A particular stand out is certainly  Marcelino Sambe who leads the mandolin dance perfectly and creates a buzz as the audience are drawn in by his fantastic technique and performance skills. Itziar Mendizabal also shines as she brings brief moments of humour and light to the three harlots who appear throughout. 


The melodrama is prevalent, with Mercutio's death (Valentino Zucchetti) and Lady Capulet's break down providing emotionally impactful moments. Mime is used perfectly by the pair as well as by Cuthbertson who acts beautifully throughout. 

Brief moments where dancers fell out of time are noticeable but do little to detract from the story and flow. Whilst MacMillan's choreography does everything it should, there are times when it feels too much is being done in too little time, and there isn't a second to really appreciate the intricacies of the basics. The musicality of movements feels undervalued in comparison with storytelling.  

MacMillan's telling really puts Juliet at the heart of the story which brings a fragility and power that makes it so special. A wonderfully danced and highly luxurious production, Romeo and Juliet is sure to delight audiences.

Romeo and Juliet runs at the Royal Opera House until 11th June 2019 and will also be screened at cinemas on the 11th.

photo credit: Helen Maybanks

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Don Giovanni (Welsh National Opera Tour), Mayflower Theatre | Review


Don Giovanni (Welsh National Opera Tour)
Mayflower Theatre 
Reviewed on Friday 22nd March 2018 by Lucy Jardine 
★★★★

This performance of Don Giovanni was part of a short Welsh National Opera (WNO) season at the handsome, art deco Mayflower Theatre in Southampton. WNO are touring England and Wales until mid-April performing Don Giovanni, Tosca and La Forza del Destino and based on this performance I would recommend seeing any of the three productions if you can.

Don Giovanni is one of Mozart’s best known operas, first performed in Prague in 1787. The events take place in 18th century Seville and this production is true to the original setting, with elaborate costumes to match. The production is sung in Italian, but surtitled in English on a discreet display high above the stage, so you can easily follow the words and see where the story is heading.

Our hero – or anti-hero – is the amoral libertine Don Giovanni (played by Gavan Ring), whose only purpose in life is to seduce as many women as he can, using whatever mixture of money, deception & physical violence is necessary to complete the task.  


Somewhat reluctantly aided and abetted by his servant, Leporello (David Stout), Giovanni attempts to seduce the newly-married peasant girl Zerlina (Katie Bray), while avoiding her husband Masetto (Gareth Bynmor John) and trying to elude his former lover, Donna Elvira (Elizabeth Watts), who cannot make up her mind whether the man who betrayed her deserves forgiving or murdering.

Meanwhile, Donna Anna (Emily Birsan), attended by her steadfast lover Don Ottavio (Benjamin Hullett), is bent on avenging the killing of her father, the Commendatore (Miklos Sebestyen), at the hands of a masked assailant who's eventually revealed to have been the Don himself.

As you might expect from the full title of the opera, “Il dissoluto punito, ossia il Don Giovanni” or “The Rake Punished, or, Don Giovanni”, things do not end well for our main character when he finally has to face something that he can’t bribe, beat up or outwit.

Overall this was an enjoyable performance with a strong cast, but Emily Birsan as Donna Anna and Katie Bray as Zerlina stood out for the combination of great singing and good acting they brought to their roles. David Stout as Leporello also outshone his master on a number of occasions.

photo credit: Richard Hubert Smith



Friday, 3 August 2018

Evita (UK Tour), Grand Opera House, Belfast | Review


Evita (UK Tour)
Grand Opera House, Belfast 
Reviewed on Wednesday 1st August 2018 by Damien Murray 
★★★★

When the idea of a musical based on the life of Eva Peron was first suggested back in the 1970s, many people were dubious about its chances of success… fast forward to today and it has become a modern classic with major theatres like Belfast’s Grand Opera House playing host to an extended run of Bill Kenwright’s 40th Anniversary Touring production of the show. 

As last week marked the 66th anniversary of her untimely death from cancer at the age of 33, the show has not only been a success, but has already outlived the real Evita by quite a few years. 

A sung-through musical story of her short life, the show takes us from her humble beginnings through to a life of wealth and power, dubbed as the ‘spiritual chief of the nation’ by the Argentine people. 

From its dramatic opening with Eva’s funeral juxtaposed with Che’s angry and cynically mocking song, Oh What A Circus, and going full circle through her eventful life back to her lying in state, this must be one of Bill Kenwright’s best ever productions. 


Jointly directed by Kenwright and Bob Tomson, this excellent touring revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice’s relatively early musical about the former Argentine dictator’s wife – which, like Jesus Christ Superstar, originated as a concept album – may be slightly scaled down from the original… but, you would never realise it. 

For this was a classy staging boasting basic, practical, but opulent, settings in a well-dressed and extremely well-lit production, which also included some child performers for added realism. 

Strong tango rhythms encouraged fiery and passionate performances, especially in choreographed ensemble pieces like Buenos Aires as the hard-working ensemble brought the ideas of Choreographer, Bill Deamer – ranging from passion-filled tango to militaristic movement – to life. 

Thanks to Musical Director, Tim Whiting, and his 10-piece orchestra, Webber’s sung-through format threw up many memorable musical highlights, including: great vocal clarity from young Cristina Hoey as the teenage Mistress in Another Suitcase In Another Hall; and from Oscar Balmaseda as the nightclub tango singer, Magaldi, during On This Night Of A Thousand Stars, while the rousing chorus of A New Argentina also stood out, as did the young girl’s beautiful singing of Santa Evita; Che’s expressive interpretation of High Flying Adored and the ailing Eva’s heartfelt and moving rendition of You Must Love Me. 


Mike Sterling provided a commanding Peron, while Glenn Carter really impressed in the demanding role of the ever-present Che, the self-styled narrator of the story. 

Carter’s diction, clarity and, at times, almost patter-style of delivery were vital to this show, as – being sung-through – those new to the story or with any hearing difficulty needed such clarity to put everything in context, especially during songs like Oh What A Circus and High Flying Adored. 

In addition to her beautiful singing voice (particularly in the show-stopper, Don’t Cry For Me Argentina), The Voice finalist and musical theatre songstress, Lucy O’Byrne, turned in a very confident performance as the ambitious backstreet actress whose ascendancy was unstoppable, because she was so loved and adored by so many that she almost rose to the dizzy heights of sainthood. 

My only small criticism was that, as Eva Peron was enigmatic, manipulative and charismatic; I would have liked to have seen a little more charisma throughout, as it did take a little longer than usual to warm to the character of Eva. 


This may have been because O’Byrne was more operatic in style than some others I have come across in this role, although her display of humanity during You Must Love Me at a time of critical physical weakness was heart-breaking and probably the best and most moving ever, as was the touching death scene. 

All dressed and decorated in a rich tapestry of sumptuous sets, authentic costumes and wigs, and attractive, mood-inspiring lighting, this production was a visual treat with some beautiful theatrical pictures at the end of most songs. 

Forty years after its West-End premiere, this fast-moving production is a high standard revival of a passionate and powerful piece of musical theatre. 

Evita runs at the Grand Opera House, Belfast until 11th August before continuing it's tour.

photo credit: Keith Pattison

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Jane Eyre (Tour), Grand Opera House | Review


Jane Eyre (Tour)
Grand Opera House, Belfast 
Reviewed by Damien Murray on Tuesday 22 August 2017 
★★

The National Theatre and Bristol Old Vic’s joint production of Jane Eyre is astonishingly good … and it is far from being what one would expect! 

It may be based on Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel, but this work – devised by the original company – is modern in its approach, in its styling and in its staging and manages to retain Jane Eyre’s core characterisation of being a free spirit and a strong-willed individual who strives for equality and for the right to be herself. 

I am not a Brontë fan, yet I was blown away by this riveting production and gladly sat through over three hours of it without any loss of interest. Everything about this visually-stunning production is praise worthy, from its innovative direction and inventive staging to its exceptional and intense ensemble playing (complete with strong elements of physical theatre), and from its faultless lighting and sound plots to its magnificent movement, which ranged from the delicate and the balletic to the furious and the frenzied throughout. 

The trio of on-stage actor/musicians brought a lot to the table, with music that varied from appropriately ‘English’ style folk to gospel to what could best be described as atmospheric soundscapes, when required.  Musically, I loved Melanie Marshall’s apt interpretation and arrangement of the Gnarls Barkley (CeeLo Green) hit, 'Crazy' – so unexpected, yet totally fitting. 

Although performances were all faultless, I must congratulate Paul Mundell in particular for bringing the dog, Pilot, to life so well and with so much humour. 

Years ago, the Belfast Festival at Queen’s used to bring some spectacular pieces of world theatre to Belfast and these were ‘special’… This production is of such a high calibre that it seems a shame that it is just another touring production, for it, too, is very ‘special’ and provides a fantastic night of theatre – Don’t miss it! 

Jane Eyre continues at Belfast’s Grand Opera House until Sat 26 Aug, 2017

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Rigoletto, New Victoria Theatre (Glyndebourne Tour 2019) | Review


Rigoletto
New Victoria Theatre
Reviewed on Wednesday 27th November 2019 by Olivia Mitchell 
★★★★

Surprisingly this is the first time Rigoletto has been part of Glyndebourne's rep but Christiane Lutz's radical rewrite definitely proves a welcome addition. Verdi's dramatic revenge tragedy based on Victor Hugo's play is full of emotion and provides great opportunities for stand out performances.

Rigoletto, the hunchbacked jester, seeks revenge on his employer, the Duke of Mantua for generally being a bit of a jerk, but mainly for kidnapping and seducing his daughter, whom he has protected and kept hidden for most of her life. There are disguises, storms and in the end it's Rigoletto who loses the most. 

In Lutz's production, the plot has been transferred from 16th-century Mantua to 1930s Hollywood, where a hunchback-less Rigoletto has become Charlie Chaplin and his vicious employer the Duke, is a movie director. In this version the opening scene features courtier Monterone's daughter committing suicide seemingly due to the way the Duke (encouraged by Rigoletto) took advantage of her and then tossed her aside. She leaves behind a baby daughter Gilda whom Rigoletto adopts, but not before both he and the Duke are cursed by the distraught courtier. What follows in a 17 year gap and an incestuous relationship (neither the Duke or Gilda ever find out they are in fact father and daughter), envisaged by neither Hugo or Verdi. 


Overall the changes are mostly effective but the plots feels much more complicated than necessary and it's hard to follow the various relationships, with the end of act one leaving many audience members scratching their heads. The whole added dynamic of Gilda and the Duke proves less compelling and more confusing. That's not to say this production doesn't work and the modernised setting is very effective, but some of the changes feel too dramatic to have not been resolved by the end of the opera.

However, the singers are top notch and this is an opera worth visiting purely for the drama and intensity of the score. At this performance, Nikoloz Lagvilava was unwell so the role of Rigoletto was sung by Michael Druiett and walked on stage by Jofre Carabén van der Meer. Duiett gave an outstanding vocal performance which resonated beautifully and conveyed every emotion exceptionally. Having the role acted separately was actually extremely effective, with Jofre almost taking on the role of a silent movie star against the film set background from Christian Tabakoff. This added a new element to the opera and in a way, let Gilda shine throughout. 

As Gilda, Vuvu Mpofu achieves great success in her vulnerable performance and her top register soars elegantly. Matteo Lippi's resilient Duke is surprisingly charismatic despite his flawed personality and is entertaining throughout.

Despite being somewhat hard to follow, this is a strong production with great theatrical elements, that are entertaining and superbly performed.

Friday, 5 November 2021

Mrs Doubtfire Musical to Receive UK Premiere


Producers Kevin McCollum and Jamie Wilson are thrilled to today announce the UK premiere of Mrs. Doubtfire, the new comedy musical based on the iconic movie.

Mrs. Doubtfire will begin performances at the Manchester Opera House on Friday 2 September 2022, with a strictly limited season through until Saturday 1 October.

Tickets for the Manchester season of Mrs. Doubtfire go on priority sale on Monday 8 November and on general sale on Thursday 11 November at www.mrsdoubtfiremusical.co.uk

Out-of-work actor Daniel will do anything for his kids. After losing custody in a messy divorce, he creates the ​alter ego of Scottish nanny Euphegenia Doubtfire in a desperate attempt to stay in their lives. As his new character takes on a life of its own, Mrs. Doubtfire teaches Daniel more than he bargained for about how to be a father.

A hilarious and heartfelt story about holding onto your loved ones against all odds, Mrs. Doubtfire is the musical comedy we need right now.

Kevin McCollum and Jamie Wilson said: “We are thrilled to announce that Mrs Doubtfire will make its UK premiere next year. Manchester is one of the great cities of theatre, and we can’t wait to bring Mrs Doubtfire to the Opera House. We hope audiences will take this hilarious and touching show to their hearts, and promise a great evening for everyone!”

Sarah Bleasdale, General Manager, Palace and Opera House Theatres, said: 

“We’re incredibly excited to have another production launching in the UK from Manchester, and this time – direct from Broadway. We continue to proudly showcase the very best in new musical theatre under our Manchester gets it first banner and know that our audiences have a real treat on the way with the iconic Mrs Doubtfire. A big moment for our theatres and the city, and a production we cannot wait to open our doors to”.

Mrs. Doubtfire has been created by a transatlantic team of award-winning artists, with a book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell, original music and lyrics by Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick, (the Tony Award-nominated team behind Something Rotten!, along with O’Farrell), direction by 4-time Tony winner Jerry Zaks (Hello, Dolly!), scenic design by David Korins (Hamilton), choreography by Lorin Latarro (Waitress), and music supervision by Ethan Popp (Tina: The Tina Turner Musical).

Mrs. Doubtfire is performing at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre on Broadway, having started at with a spectacular run at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre in 2019. Extended by popular demand, the Seattle engagement shattered the record for the bestselling new musical in the history of The 5th Avenue Theatre, selling over $4.7M worth of tickets and playing to more than 75,000 people in just 42 performances. 

Mrs. Doubtfire is produced by Kevin McCollum and Jamie Wilson and is presented by special arrangement with Buena Vista Theatrical.


Friday, 2 July 2021

Wonderful Town, Opera Holland Park | Review


Wonderful Town
Opera Holland Park 
Reviewed on Thursday 1st July 2021 by Olivia Mitchell 
★★★★

As the world returns to a new normal, there aren't many better ways to spend a Thursday evening than enjoying a glorious musical in the beautiful setting of Opera Holland Park. Quick Fantastic have returned to the space to present Wonderful Town, the half-forgotten 30s  musical which brims with exhilarating jazz and witty comedy.

Under Alex Parker's musical direction, Bernstein's score soars around the auditorium and reminds us just how brilliant the older Broadway musicals can be. The comedy on stage is matched perfectly with the music and the whole affair feels as rich and jubilant as can be. The musical  diversity is also a treat to hearr, with an Irish jig, a beatnik scat and some moving ballads, there's really something for everyone.

The book by Jerome Chodorov and Joseph Fields is basically the story who two sisters from Ohio who arrive in the New York with dreams of taking the town by storm. The source material for the show was taken from autobiographical short stories by Ruth, the sister who longed for a writing career and chronicled her and her sisters' lives in The New Yorker. There are a number of little adventures the duo go on whilst finding their careers (and romances) which make for a highly entertaining and all round wholesome story.

Ruth is played with grit and wit by West End superstar, Louise Dearman, who seems almost made for the role of the sassy, vulnerable, bookish author. Of course Louise is vocally effortless and provides some real highlights, but she also shines in the humourous moments which help make the whole production feel so jubilant.



Balancing Dearman out is the equally brilliant Siubhan Harrison as Eileen, the sister who knows how to get what she wants but in the end is unwaveringly committed to her sister. The double act are a dream to watch and have the audience wrapped around their little fingers, especially during their smooth as butter rendition of Ohio.

The male love interests are performed by Ako Mitchell who is vocally divine and very authentic as magazine editor Bob; Roger Dipper who is utterly wonderful and so humourous as the bumbling Walgreens worker Frank Lippencott; and Alex Lodge who is suitably sleazy as newspaper hack Chick Clark.

Billy Nevers is the washed up football player The Wreck, and Emma Harrold is his secret fiancé, Helen. Both do a great job of padding out their characters as well as providing super strong vocals and some light-hearted comedic moments.

The rest of the cast made up of: Jade Albertsen, Robson Broad, Ashley Daniels, Tamsin Dowsett, Gregory Haney, Jas[er Kajd and Natasha Leaver are super sleek throughout whilst bringing the vibes of 30s New York to life. Carrie-Anne Ingrouille's choreography is superb and a joy to watch.

From a conga to an incarceration there's a lot to enjoy and laugh at, and the cast do an outstanding job of making a semi-staged production feel full. Overall it's a wonderful night at Wonderful Town.

Photos by Danny Kaan

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Kiss Me, Kate, London Coliseum | Review


Kiss Me, Kate
London Coliseum
Reviewed on Wednesday 20th June 2018 by Olivia Mitchell 
★★★

Kiss Me Kate is Cole Porter's 1949 musical play in two acts which interweaves a production of The Taming of the Shrew with a number of dramatic backstage battles. After touring for a while, Opera North's production has slipped into the London Coliseum for a short run which showcases it's glorious score and stellar cast.

The book is certainly at the core of this show. We see the actors putting on a revised musical version of the Taming of the Shrew in addition to focussing on the battle between actors and ex-partners, Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi who can't seem to budge one another. At times, especially in Act 2, the show does drag; at three hours long you certainly need to grab a coffee beforehand but there's also enough variation to keep you somewhat on your toes.


The plot is helped along by the smooth set transitions that come from Colin Richmond's minimalistic backdrop featuring painted drops and revolving slides. These cleverly transport us from on stage, to backstage, but the whole production does feel a bit small for the vast space of the Coliseum. Much of the front stage is not used which makes the show feel distanced and somewhat unwelcoming as things get lost whilst being performed at the rear of the stage. Richmond's costumes are beautiful and bring an almost modern twist to the show whilst maintaining it's traditional  Shakespearean roots.

The classic orchestrations are played in all their original glory which is truly magnificent to hear. From the jazzy Too Darn Hot to Olde English melodies, the orchestra of Opera North, led by David Greed do an outstanding job of making everything buoyant and virtuosic.

You couldn't ask for a better cast to perform this monstrous show; drawn from both the opera world and the musical theatre world, they combine to create some magical moments. Baritone Quirijn De Lang and soprano Stephanie Corley are musically outstanding as Fred and Lilli. Two fiery characters, they give boisterous performances which bite and claw, with a loving undertone throughout. Corley's I Hate Men is a true powerhouse moment.


Zoë Rainey sings as if her life depends on it and completely steals the show in act two with her vast rendition of Always True To You In My Fashion. The multiple repetitions in this song and others do become somewhat draining but Rainey's performance is worth the ticket price alone as she performs with energy and vocal brilliance.

Act two provides spellbinding moment after spellbinding moment with Alan Burkitt's tap number completely dancing everyone off the stage. He gives a magnetic, faultless performance which could be watched over and over.

A the two gunmen, John Savournin and Joseph Shovelton steal the scenes they're a part of and give humourous performances throughout.


The ensemble do a wonderful job of bulking out the show but at times do feel underdeveloped, especially in terms of choreography. There could have been some really powerful group choreographic moments but unfortunately these were left out.

Kiss Me Kate has comedy, innuendos, a beautiful score and a stellar cast. It's a long show that could definitely be chopped here and there but there's no denying that it's a marvellous piece of theatre. Despite some issues, the gems of performances that are spotted around do make it a Wunderbar production.

Kiss Me Kate runs until June 30th at the London Coliseum

For tickets and information about the show, visit https://www.londonboxoffice.co.uk

photo credit: Tristram Kenton

Friday, 6 March 2020

Swan Lake, Royal Opera House | Review


Swan Lake
Royal Opera House
Reviewed on Thursday 5th March 2020 by Olivia Mitchell 
★★★★

Liam Scarlett's Swan Lake is impressively grand, impeccably danced and a joy to experience. From a dark, misty lakeside to a glittering palace, this is a ballet that balances storytelling and spectacle perfectly. The entire company dance exquisitely, with Marianela Nuñez and Vadim Muntagirov completely shining in the lead roles.

With John Macfarlane's lush designs, this is a highly confident production which keeps pace throughout and allows the dancing to shine. Based in the 1890s the sets and costumes are sumptuous and evocative. Even the park outside the palace gates feels magical. The more abstract lake is ragged and bleak but provides a perfect, (almost) blank canvas to showcase the many swans. The palace is astounding, with a sweeping staircase, marble walls, golden decoration and a crimson curtain. It's a gasp worthy set that really does stun. Macfarlane's costumes are structured but wonderfully airy. The white tutu's of the swans are delicate and almost snow-like as they pepper the stage. Alongside them, David Finn's lighting keeps everything gleaming and makes sure not a step is missed by the enraptured audience.

Scarlett has kept Petipa and Ivanov's original choreography as well as seamlessly adding his own sequences. The new Act One Waltz is divine, with Marcelino Sambé's Benno bringing excellent lighthearted and sprightly moments. Act Three features a series of national dances, with Itziar Mendizabal's sultry Spanish princess really shining. The newly updated Neapolitan Dance feels modern and uplifting thanks to the addition of tambourines which are deftly used.


The Act Four pas de deux is one of the most magical ballet moments I have ever witnessed. The gentleness with which Siegfried and Odette interact is mesmirising and crushing to watch; and the almost broken choreography from Odette is immensely effective and makes the lack of reunion at the end even more devastating.

Nuñez's dancing is as floaty and measured as you could dream of. The control with which every step is taken is a testament to the hours of work which have clearly been put into perfecting her craft. Extremely evident in the seemingly endless series of fouettés which really astound. Even in the seductive Black Swan moments, there is a delicacy to her dancing which draws you in and manages to make the vast Opera House feel intimate. Muntagirov is the prince of dreams as he combines romance and aristocratic grace. His elevations and soft as anything landings are magnificent to watch and his entire performance is a treat.

This is a hugely moving production which must be the definitive version of Swan Lake. The stellar cast and orchestra under the baton of Koen Kessels provide treats for all the senses and a truly magical night out. Everything really is beautiful at the ballet.

Thursday, 26 May 2022

Carrie Hope Fletcher, Danielle Steers & Laura Pitt-Pulford to star in The Witches of Eastwick in Concert


Producer Jack Maple, by arrangement with Cameron Mackintosh Ltd, is delighted to announce that West End stars Carrie Hope Fletcher, Danielle Steers and Laura Pitt-Pulford will star as Sukie, Alexandra and Jane respectively in a special one-off concert of THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK at the Sondheim Theatre on Monday 20 June 2022, directed by Olivier Award-winning Maria Friedman. They join the previously announced Olivier Award-winning actor Giles Terera as Darryl Van Horne.
 
THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK has a book and lyrics by John Dempsey and music by Dana P. Rowe, based on the novel by John Updike and the Warner Brothers motion picture. This will be the first time the musical has been seen in London since it originally played at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 2000, transferring to the Prince of Wales Theatre in 2001.
 
Further casting is to be announced.
 
Carrie Hope Fletcher is currently starring as Cinderella in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella until 12 June 2022. She has played both Eponine and Fantine in Les Miserables at the Queen’s/Sondheim Theatre and Gielgud Theatre in London’s West End and the Opera House in Dubai. In the UK, she originated the roles of Wednesday Addams in the UK tour of The Addams Family and Veronica Sawyer in Heathers at the Theatre Royal Haymarket which transferred from The Other Palace. Her other credits include Beth in the arena tour of The War of the Worlds, Emily in A Christmas Carol and Brenda Payne in The Christmasaurus Live at the Eventim Apollo. Carrie is also a Sunday Times Best Selling author.
 
Danielle Steers is currently starring as Cher in the UK and Ireland tour of The Cher Show. Her previous credits include Catherine Parr in Six The Musical (London), Zahara in the original cast of Bat out of Hell: The Musical (Manchester Opera House, London Coliseum, Ed Mirvish Theatre Toronto, Dominion Theatre, New York City Centre), Carmen in Sweet Charity (Donmar Warehouse), Lead Shirelle in the original London cast of Beautiful - The Carole King Musical (Aldwych Theatre), swing and cover Nikki Marron in The Bodyguard (Adelphi Theatre) and cover Killer Queen in We Will Rock You (International Arena Tour). Her debut album, The Future Ain't What It Used To Be, was released in 2021.
 
Laura Pitt-Pulford’s theatre credits include Louise in Gypsy in concert (Alexandra Palace), Marlene Dietrich in Piaf (Nottingham Playhouse/Leeds Playhouse), Falsettos (The Other Palace), Little Miss Sunshine (Arcola Theatre), Charity Hope Valentine in Sweet Charity (Pimlico Opera), Flowers for Mrs Harris (Chichester Festival Theatre & Sheffield Crucible), Nancy in Oliver (Curve), Milly Bradon in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre), for which she received an Olivier Award nomination, and Maria in The Sound of Music (Curve).
 
The Witches of Eastwick tells the tale of the people of the little town of Eastwick. It is a town where everyone knows everything about everyone else, and it is presided over by the indomitable Felicia Gabriel. Bored with their small town lives, three women - Alexandra (Alex), Sukie, and Jane--share a desire for “all manner of man in one man” to provide excitement and variety. That man arrives, literally in a flash, in the devil-like form of Darryl Van Horne. Darryl seduces the women and teaches them powers, which they never knew they had. 
 
THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK has musical staging by Chrissie Cartwright, lighting design by Simon Sherriff, sound design by Adam Fisher and associate direction by Jack McCann.
 

Saturday, 9 February 2019

The Bodyguard (UK & Ireland Tour), Grand Opera House, Belfast | Review


The Bodyguard (UK & Ireland Tour)
Grand Opera House
Reviewed on Wednesday 6th February 2019 by Damien Murray
★★★★

Literally starting with a bang… before Karen Bruce’s super-charged choreography ensured that its fiery opening number set the quality bar high for the remainder of the show, this latest touring production of the ever popular musical is another winner.

This romantic thriller, peppered with some of the best of Whitney Houston’s hits, is back in town for its third sell-out run in recent years … and it is easy to see why.

Offering the right balance of romance, suspense, dance, humour and music, this award-winning musical based on Lawrence Kasdan’s blockbuster film, which starred Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston, gives audiences everything they want wrapped up in a quality-filled ‘night out’ to keep them coming back for more.

For those who are unfamiliar with the successful film, the story centres around singing superstar and budding film star, Rachel Marron, and her changing relationship with personal bodyguard, Frank Farmer, who has been hired by her manager to protect her after a series of threatening notes have been found.

Many people go to this show only to hear the music as the plot has been criticised for being too far-fetched, but, sadly, stars with stalkers of some degree or another are more common than one might think.


As someone who was once involved in protecting a performer from a stalker, I could really identify with the storyline here (although my experience was without the romantic elements of this piece!).

Played out on Tim Hatley’s clever and ever-changing sliding-door set, which not only aided the seamless flow of the show but also reinforced the ever-changing situation of the gripping story-line, this was a well-paced production, which made effective use of projections.

Yet again, the star of this show was former X-Factor winner, Alexandra Burke, in the role of the controlling diva-style star, Rachel Marron, and – having recently performed in such musicals as Sister Act, Chess and Chicago and having been so successful in television’s Strictly Come Dancing – it was an even more confident and experienced performer this time that filled both Marron’s shoes and the auditorium with great vocals in Houston’s many hits. 

Playing opposite Burke as her equally controlling, bodyguard, Frank Farmer, Benoit Marechal was a much calmer and more controlled character who took his job very seriously. So, the karaoke scene was nice in that it showed a different side of his character while providing a degree of humour to lighten the mood of the piece. 

Although I didn’t get any sense of fear from Phil Atkinson’s chilling character in his early appearances (maybe due to his direction), the sinister stares of the stalker became appropriately more threatening and unsettling as the show progressed and Atkinson developed into a truly menacing stalker, especially when he rose from the orchestra pit in his final scene.

Resentful of her life playing second-fiddle in the shadow of her successful sister, Micha Richardson was impressive as the talented, but jealous, sister, Nicki; her vocal talent getting a solo chance to shine in Saving All My Love For You.


Musical director, Michael Riley, and his eight-piece orchestra did wonders in supplying such a big and full sound for the varied score of power ballads and up-tempo dance numbers, while Mark Henderson’s versatile lighting designs complemented all aspects of the production, and both combined – especially Riley’s perfect incidental music and Henderson’s wonderful use of white light effects – to heighten tension and suspense at appropriate moments of the show.

Thea Sharrock’s direction was also spot-on throughout, but particularly in emphasising these elements of what is, after all, a thriller. A good example of this was the use of slow motion and freeze action in the club scene and at the awards ceremony. 

What surprises me is that, despite being one of the few who do not even like the music of Whitney Houston (really!), this is my third time seeing this show … and, thanks to high production values and talented performances, my third time enjoying the productions.

Musical highlights included: I’m Every Woman and How Will I Know?, while the defining moment in the story was captured during One Moment In Time and Burke’s perfectly staged finale song, the emotionally-charged rendition of I Will Always Love You, proved to be the undoubted show-stopper ahead of the full company mega mix encore. 

Overall, power ballads combined with powerhouse performances and strong choreography to make this a truly powerful production. 

The Bodyguard runs at the Grand Opera house until 16th February 2019

photo credit: Paul Coltas

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Jack and the Beanstalk, Grand Opera House, Belfast | Review


Jack And The Beanstalk
Qdos Entertainment 
Grand Opera House, Belfast 
Reviewed on Tuesday 4th December 2018 by Damien Murray 
★★★★

Jack’s back!… and so is pantomime in all its traditional glory in this truly spectacular show that remains as magical as Jack’s famous beans … for, it really is the BeansTALK OF THE TOWN! 

The key to the success of any Panto is not only having all of the required elements, but achieving the right balance of its ingredients -staging, spectacle, performance, humour, music, choreography, magic, special effects, sound and lighting etc.,- to make it equally appealing and entertaining to all of its cross-generational audience… and this production has it all with balance finely tuned in all departments. 

However, the most challenging thing about this super slick production was how to give this annual treat a new direction in terms of returning to more traditional values without diminishing the hi-tech appeal and special effects that modern audiences have come to expect and appreciate. 

So, while the humour is more traditionally corny and the re-introduction of both a speciality act and some visual magic adds the degree of old time ‘variety’ lacking in so many current pantomimes, the visual impact of the show-stealing effects embraces more than ‘smoke and mirrors’ to keep the theatrical tricks as hi-tech as possible to impress even the most critical of today’s demanding audience. 

The simple trick of having the ever-present twinkling of lights incorporated into the star curtain on the surrounding set proscenium is most effective in ensuring that the magical feel of panto is always there. 

While the stunningly beautiful sets, lighting and costumes all play a big part in the overall success of this great team effort, the story, which is re-imagined and relocated to Belfast in true panto style with lots of popular local references and jibes, throws up great characters for all, especially the show’s four main principals. 


Now in her 29th year as the pantomime dame at this prestigious venue, May McFettridge (aka John Linehan) remains as popular as ever (in the role of Jack’s Mummy, Dame May Trot) as she effortlessly targets fellow cast members and audience alike with her quick-fire put-downs and, with the addition this year of a video camera, is in her element as she embarrasses her audience victims even more by projecting them onto an on-stage screen during her relentless banter. 

Although this idea brings audience participation to a new level, I must admit that the one type of participation I miss this year is May’s excellent encounters with very young children as she ‘interviews’ them on stage with hilarious, if unpredictable, results. 

As usual, her partner in crime is local actor and pantomime regular, Paddy Jenkins (as her long-suffering husband, Farmer Paddy Trot), who has become an expert at comedy timing and delivery over the years. 

Also big in the comedy stakes is former cruise comic, Rikki Jay (as their son and brother of the more ‘clued in’ Jack), who -with his simplistic one-liners and likeable character- proves a big hit with the children in the audience. 

However, following his outstanding performance in last year’s panto, the quick return of the multi award-winning, David Bedella (as the Giant’s villainous and evil henchman, Fleshcreep) is a masterstroke for the venue as there are few actors as good at being bad as Bedella when it comes to being the ultimate ‘baddie’… without being too scary for the little ones. 


This quartet is ably supported throughout by Joanna O’Hare’s Mother Nature, Georgia Lennon’s Princess Apricot, Michael Pickering’s Jack, an adult ensemble and talented young performers from the McMaster Stage School, while an added attraction is the speciality roller-skating act -Italian duo, Armando Ferriandino and Giovanna Manuela Mar- who bring skill and daring to the show as The Belfast Roller Rollers. 

Under Mark Dougherty’s musical direction, the small 5-piece orchestra work hard on the varied score to offer many musical highlights, including Justin Timberlake’s ever-popular Can’t Stop The Feeling, Talk To The Animals from Dr. Dolittle, an almost obligatory offering from The Greatest Showman, Michael Jackson’s Bad and Frank Sinatra’s My Way. 

With a tight hold on both direction and choreography, Andrew Wright ensures a memorable panto experience for all and while other highlights include the choreographed cow and other farmyard animals (with most realistic costuming), the novelty scene when the squashed Simon sings and dances, the tongue twister tales and the slapstick principal line routine, the show stealers are the appearance of the mighty Giant and that of May’s transportation to the top of the beanstalk, which, as the Act 1 finale, even puts Miss Saigon to shame in terms of theatrical special effects. 

Yes, traditional panto is back in Belfast with a bang (and I don’t just mean the pyrotechnics) and I am so glad that, on her first ever visit to a panto, one of my grandchildren could experience a gigantic spectacular of such quality as this really is Northern Ireland’s biggest and best panto. 

Jack and the Beanstalk runs at the Grand Opera House until Sun 13th January, 2019