Friday 23 February 2024

Just For One Day at the Old Vic REVIEW: Pitch Perfect Peformances


Just For One Day: The Live Aid Musical
The Old Vic

Written by John O'Farrell, Just For One Day transports audiences back to 1985, to the historic Live Aid concert held simultaneously at Wembley Stadium and JFK Stadium. Through the eyes of various characters, including musicians, organisers, and fans, the musical captures the spirit of unity and hope that defined this iconic event. Against the backdrop of global issues and personal struggles, the show celebrates the power of music to inspire change and bring people together.

With direction by Luke Sheppard, the musical is a poignant homage to the legendary Live Aid concert, offering a nostalgic journey through one of music's most iconic moments. While the musical may not reach the heights of the original event, it nonetheless succeeds in capturing its essence and paying tribute to the artists and activists who made it possible. It's definitely a musical that can appeal to and appease a wide range of audiences; as someone who wasn't alive during the original concert, I completely felt the importance and excitement that surrounded it, whilst my mum who regaled her story of watching the concert on a tiny screen in Cyprus during her honeymoon, wholly felt the nostalgia and related in a different way.

The strength of Just For One Day lies in its stellar cast, who deliver powerful performances that breathe life into the characters they portray. Craig Els leads the show as Bob Geldof and does a stellar job, bringing a brilliant amount of humour but also a sense of gravitas when discussing the atrocities of the Ethiopian famine which put the whole thing in motion.

Danielle Steers shines every moment, bringing her usual astoundingly soulful vocals, whilst Jack Shalloo is a complete standout as Midge and Abiona Omonua is charming as Amara. At this performance Margaret Thatcher was played by Kerry Enright who is absolutely fantastic, providing some of the most hilarious and well characterised moments of the show. Vocally this is a cacophony of powerhouses, with everyone providing killer moments but special mention goes to Olly Dobson and Collette Guitart who really shine, I wish they got more solo moments! Rhys Wilkinson also brings fantastic characterisation to all of the roles he plays.

Unsurprisingly, the musical's soundtrack is another highlight, featuring an array of classic hits from the 1980s that have audiences tapping their feet and singing along. Accompanied by a talented live band, the music transports viewers back in time, evoking the same sense of excitement and camaraderie that defined the original Live Aid concert.

Where the show doesn't quite work is with it's book. The production takes a deliberate approach to steer clear of hero worship towards Geldof, opting instead to spotlight the unsung heroes who contributed behind the scenes. However, while the inclusion of fictionalised narratives aims to showcase the efforts of everyday individuals, these characters often come across as shallow and their dialogue occasionally falls into clichéd one-liners. The sentiment is lovely, but it's not hugely impactful. However, the way music is woven into these stories is really admirable; songs aren't just shoehorned in, they're used to develop the stories being told and even seem to take on new meaning in the context of the show.

Another aspect which falls flat is the actual trauma which prompted the concert. There are some attempts at highlighting the pain and horrors of the famine but it feels a bit sanitised and brushed over, so as not to detract from the feel-good feeling the show pushes. Of course no one wants to fetishise the suffering of others, but in omitting a lot of the horrors, it doesn't allow the show to have quite as strong of an emotional impact.

Visually, this show is a feast for the eyes, with dynamic staging (Soutra Gilmour) and vibrant costumes (Fay Fullerton) that capture the spirit of the 1980s. Creative use of multimedia elements (Andrzej Goulding) and striking lighting (Howard Hudson) further enhances the experience, immersing audiences in the sights and sounds of the era. This is a show that really lends itself to touring and could certainly thrive and develop in that capacity, it will be interesting to follow where it goes after this initial run.

Just For One Day may not be without its flaws, but it's a heartfelt tribute to Live Aid and its message of hope and solidarity make it a worthy addition to the stage. For fans of 1980s music and those who fondly remember the original concert, this musical is sure to strike a chord.

★★★
Reviewed on Thursday 22nd February 2024 by Olivia
Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

{AD PR Invite- tickets gifted in exchange for honest review}

Thursday 22 February 2024

Hadestown at the Lyric Theatre REVIEW: A Soul-Stirring Journey to the Depths of Hell


Hadestown
Lyric Theatre

There are musicals that touch your soul and for me that’s Hadestown. I first saw the show in 2018, where I went in completely blind and came out gob smacked and awed. Tonight after the official West End opening night, I feel equally awed as well as inspired, moved, astounded, heartbroken and overjoyed. There really aren’t adjectives to describe how heartfelt and special this show is. Not only is it a piece of fantastic quality theatre but it’s also a poem, a concert, a celebration of life and humanity, an ode to music and above all, a love story.

Hadestown tells the tale of young Orpheus and Eurydice as their tales intertwine. It's a musical retelling of the ancient Greek myth of the duo and follows the journey of Orpheus as he descends into the underworld, determined to rescue his beloved Eurydice from the clutches of the charismatic but menacing Hades. Despite the various iterations and productions this musical has gone through, one constant is how scarily relevant the themes it explores feel in our modern world. Hades, ruler of the underworld and the mines, ostensibly grants "freedom" through employment while simultaneously confining his subjects behind a barrier. Why We Build The Wall is certainly one of the most pertinent songs of the production, its relevance hits all too close to home in the current world.

The musical borders the line between acting as "the world we live in, and the one we dream about", in thanks part to Rachel Hauck's set. Scaled down slightly from the National Theatre production, it still evokes Depression-era vibes and cleverly frames the story. Bradley King's lighting literally highlights some of the most astounding moments of the show, especially during Hades' peak moments, as well as casting shadows to create an almost cinematic feel; overall it's just an incredibly cohesive show that has a vibe and aesthetic that matches it so well.

This undefined world is perhaps best showcased by Anaïs Mitchell's incredible score which combines so many styles a creates such special storytelling. The intricate lyrics allow layers upon layers of emotions to form as Anaïs weaves a musical tapestry that is charming and delightful at times, but gritty and painful at others. Mitchell has truly crafted a musical masterpiece that transcends time and genre and creates a theatrical experience like no other.

Director Rachel Chavkin has meticulously pored over each performer, set element, musician, and lighting effect to craft a production that leaves us suspended between despair and hope. This version of the show also feels perfectly tweaked for the West End, with the use of the performer’s natural accents making the whole thing feel very real and grounded, an inspired change! David Neumann's precise choreography fits seamlessly with the revolving stage, continually moving between frenetic energy and poignant stillness that works so well. This is a piece which is so reliant on balance, the balance between good and bad, love and hate, light and dark, loud and quiet, beauty and pain, among others, and the entire cast and creative team have perfectly understood and managed this balance to form a musical that leaves you not quite sure what emotion you're experiencing, but 100% sure you experienced something special.

At it's core this is a story about people, and the people who lead it are wonderful. As the headstrong Eurydice, Grace Hodgett Young is everything you could ask for in a leading lady, her calm is as strong as her passion and she fills every moment with charisma. There’s often mention of “stage presence” but it’s rare you see the phrase as outwardly displayed as with Grace who commands even the smallest of moments. Of course she’s also vocally dreamy, showcasing all layers of her voice and perfectly bringing the vocal grit that’s so necessary for the role. Her easy swagger and playfulness is a perfect balance to Orepheus' more nervous persona. Taking on the role of this heartstrong counterpart, Donal Finn is delightfully whimsical and charming. Donal's Orpheus truly comes into his own during act two when his passion for his partner and also his music are on full display and his voice becomes a beacon of hope cutting through the darkness of despair. It's utterly heartbreaking when we reach the expected conclusion, a testament to the emotion the cast pour out to get us to that point.

As the enigmatic Hermes, Melanie La Barrie is all parts wonderful, her presence commanding the stage with every word and gesture and bringing humour and gravitas in equal measure. Her performance weaves together the threads of myth and legend with an all knowing wisdom that seems to transcend time, she truly gives everything on stage and is a marvel to behold.

Hadestown is more than a musical—it's an experience, a testament to the enduring power of art to touch the very depths of our souls. It's a rare gem that shines brightly in the landscape of contemporary theatre, a reminder that sometimes, even in the darkest of times, there is still beauty to be found.

In the hallowed halls of the Lyric Theatre, you can bear witness to something truly extraordinary. Hadestown is a triumph in every sense of the word and it needs to be seen.

★★★★★
Reviewed on Wednesday 21st February 2024 by Olivia Mitchell
Photo Credit: Marc Brenner

{AD PR Invite- tickets gifted in exchange for honest review}

Saturday 17 February 2024

The Addams Family Concert at the London Palladium REVIEW | A Kooky Show with a Killer Cast


The Addams Family in Concert
London Palladium 

Since premiering in the UK in 2017, The Addams Family has been somewhat of a regular feature on our theatre scene with a number of tours that garnered great reviews and a fanbase who couldn't help but be charmed by the kooky family. This week, the London Palladium housed the latest iteration with three concert versions of the show that told the wacky, romantic tale so many have grown to adore.

Witnessing their daughter Wednesday fall in love with a "normal" boy, the Addams family finds themselves grappling with the challenge of acceptance. In an effort to bridge the gap, Wednesday takes it upon herself to arrange a dinner party, inviting both families to come together. What unfolds is a delightful blend of hidden secrets, eccentricity, and a whirlwind of kooky chaos, showcasing the unique charm and humour of the Addams family universe.

As is the case with many "concert" versions, this was really an almost fully staged production, complete with costumes, sets,  choreography and more. These sort of shows are always a real testament to the hard work of the entire team both onstage and backstage, to put together such sleek, well-rounded performances, with extremely limited rehearsal time.

This was a wonderfully sleek production, framed by Ben Cracknell's fantastically striking lighting and Diego Pitarch's suitably outlandish set and colour matched costumes. Taking most of the elements from the touring production, the whole concert embodied the vibes of the unconventional Addams family, highlighting the important parts of the storyline and making the whole thing feel much more elevated than a traditional concert. Having not had a permanent home, the show has had to create a design that fits within the confines of moving around the country every week so I do think if it were to find a permanent home in the West End, it could really lean into the lavish grandeur of the Addams Family, and perhaps bring Central Park to life a bit more, to really step things up and give it the wow factor.

In terms of casting this was a star studded affair. Ramin Karimloo took on the role of Gomez Addams, the suave protective father who just wants to do right by his family; giving a performance that was nothing short of wonderful. With hilarious line delivery and of course those smooth, powerful vocals we all know and love, Ramin showcased a hilarious side that I'd love to see more of. We must also mention the collective audience gasp when he took his blazer off, if you know, you know! As his partner in crime, Michelle Visage made Morticia Addams her own. Whilst her performance wasn't always the most exciting, with the dialogue being a little one note (even for Morticia), her look and the way she carried herself was perfect for the role. Just Around the Corner was a really brilliant theatrical moment and I think given time, Michelle could really develop and refine her Morticia. 

As the love struck teens, Wednesday and Lucas, Chumisa Dornford-May and Ryan Kopel were wonderfully paired. Having only recently graduated Chumisa already has an impressive resume and it's certainly set to expand, given her absolutely out of this world vocals. She not only hit every note perfectly but her tone and diction were noticeably brilliant and everything sounded so healthy, I can't wait to see her succeed and shine! The role of Lucas isn't particularly developed but Ryan did a wonderful job of bringing him to life and created some lovely moments. Another stand out was Kara Lane who astounded as mother Alice Beineke, giving vocals that pretty much blew the roof off of the London Palladium. Sam Buttery was charming as Uncle Fester, Nicholas McLean a great addition as Pugsley and Dickon Gough a wonderful dose of comedy. The rest of the ensemble brought the other characters and ancestors to life really well and helped form the world of Addams.

Book wise I do think this is a show with flaws and the pacing isn't always perfect but it has heart, charm and a number of earworms that make it a really easy watch that you go back to again and again. 

It's not the most sophisticated piece of theatre but, The Addams Family in Concert was a ghoulishly delightful experience. With outstanding performances, this concert truly captured the essence of the Addams Family legacy. Whether you were a die-hard fan or new to the Addams universe, this concert provided a spooky, kooky night of fun and paved the way for the show to continue enrapturing audiences.

★★★
Reviewed on Tuesday 13th February by Olivia
Photo Credit: Pamela Raith

{AD PR Invite- tickets gifted in exchange for honest review}

Monday 12 February 2024

Initial Casting Announced for Spring Awakening Reunion Concert


Producers Jack Maple and Evelyn Hoskins are thrilled to unveil the initial cast for the 15th Anniversary concert of the groundbreaking West End production of Spring Awakening, the acclaimed musical by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik, based on Frank Wedekind’s iconic play.

This special event, marking the 15th year since the original London production, will reunite many of the beloved original cast members for a one-night-only celebration on Sunday, June 2, 2024, at the Victoria Palace Theatre. Tickets are available for purchase now.

Returning to the stage from the original West End production are Lucy May Barker as Ilse, Natasha Barnes as Anna, Harry McEntire as Ernst, Hayley Gallivan as Martha, Evelyn Hoskins as Thea, Edward Judge as Otto, Jamie Muscato as Melchior, Jos Slovick as Georg, and Charlotte Wakefield as Wendla. Additionally, Chris Barton, Natalie Garner, Mona Goodwin, Gemma O’Duffy, and Richard Southgate will reprise their roles.

The original London band, including Huw Davies, Don Richardson, Matthew Senior, Vicky Matthews, Charlie Brown, and Rachel Robson under the musical direction of Nigel Lilley, will accompany the cast.

Spring Awakening chronicles the tale of adolescent rebellion against societal constraints, set to a captivating score that has enthralled audiences worldwide.

Originally premiering on Broadway in 2006 and subsequently transferring to London in 2009, Spring Awakening has garnered critical acclaim and numerous awards, including Tony and Olivier accolades.

Duncan Sheik expressed his excitement about the anniversary concert, reminiscing about the joyous memories of the original London production. Steven Sater shared his gratitude for the opportunity to bring back the beloved show for this special occasion.

In addition to celebrating the musical's legacy, this concert will serve as a fundraiser for Imogen Kinchin, a pivotal figure in the original production, who is battling Stage IV Bowel Cancer. The company of Spring Awakening has generously decided to donate the proceeds from the concert to Imogen's Fund.

Directed by Jamie Armitage and featuring musical direction by Nigel Lilley, Spring Awakening promises to be a poignant and unforgettable event, honouring both the musical's impact and the resilience of its community.

Thursday 8 February 2024

Kathy and Stella Solve A Murder! transfers to the West End



Francesca Moody Productions, Kater Gordon, Wessex Grove and Fiery Angel are delighted to announce that award-winning smash-hit murder mystery musical Kathy and Stella Solve A Murder! will transfer to the Ambassadors Theatre in the West End for a strictly limited season from 25 May - 14 September after thrilling audiences in Edinburgh, Bristol and Manchester. Tickets are now on-sale at www.kathyandstella.com with 5000 under £25 and a ticket lottery to be announced. 

Bronté Barbé and Rebekah Hinds will reprise their roles as Kathy and Stella alongside Imelda Warren-Green who will once again play Erica. Further casting is to be announced.

Originally brought to the stage by Francesca Moody Productions and Kater Gordon Kathy and Stella Solve A Murder! won Musical Theatre Review’s Best Musical Award at the Edinburgh Festival 2022. The production reunites the writing and musical talents of Jon Brittain - Book and Lyrics / Co-Director and Matthew Floyd Jones - Music and Lyrics who previously collaborated on the critically acclaimed, Fringe First award-winning A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad). Fabian Aloise Co-Directs and Choreographs.

BFFs Kathy and Stella host Hull's least successful true crime podcast. When their favourite author is killed they are thrust into a thrilling whodunnit of their own!

This big-hearted, laugh out loud musical follows the unlikely crime-fighting duo as they put their friendship on the line to become part of the story. Can they crack the case, (and become global podcast superstars) before the killer strikes again…?

Todrick Hall to play Sean and Michael Mather will play Jackson in Burlesque The Musical


Todrick and Michael join the already announced Jess Folley as Ali Rose, Olivier Award-winning George Maguire as Vince, Billie-Kay as Sophia,  B Terry as Georgie, West End favourite and TikTok and social media sensation Jess Qualter as Daphne, Yasmin Harrison as Brenda/Dance Captain, Lily Wang as Fifi, Hollie-Ann Lowe as Summer and Alessia McDermott in the Ensemble.  
 
Other cast members announced today are: Ope Sowande as Trey, Lewis Easter in the Ensemble, with Callum AylottLucy Campbell and Amber Pierson as Swings.

Steven Antin said: 

"Todrick Hall’s kinda genius is singular. The kind you rarely see. His work is prolific and masterfully entertaining.  The songs he wrote for the show are in a word…iconic.  The role of Sean is an anchor/entertainer who has poetry and is wickedly funny. So it was abundantly clear we had to get Todrick to play Sean. And sometimes I dunno if I wanna kiss him or slap him. ❤️  But I DO know I’m a very lucky guy to have him in our show. Very."
 
Todrick Hall, who has also written brand new songs for this new production of Burlesque the Musical added:  

“The movie of Burlesque was so iconic to so many of us — to now be working with both Steven Antin and Christina Aguilera who are reuniting for this new musical is a dream come true.
 
I am beyond excited to be returning to my first love, musical theatre, in such a special way. My first original role and my theatrical composing debut. To be able to bring music that I wrote to life, to share the stage and the writing credit with the star that is Jess Folley is a dream come true! I'm blessed, honoured, flattered and ready to dust off the old heels and let the kids have it 8 shows a week!”