Les Misérables – Queens Theatre, London

Les Misérables has to be one of the most recognised musicals the West End has and for a show that has been playing for more than 30 years, I was pleased to see a full audience on a Tuesday evening. The production itself shows no signs of slowing down and looks to continue for many more years with a huge fanbase following!

With the hugely successful film adaptation making the story familiar to many of us, I am not at all surprised the show continues to draw in big crowds and continues to play in many countries across the globe.

Much of the energy for this show comes from the delivery by the current cast. Killian Donnelly plays John Valjean who brings a powerful yet touching character. ‘Bring Him Home’ resulted in a number of audience members crying from Killians perfect vocals for this song.

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I had wanted to see this production for a number of years and it is clear to see why it continues to attract a large audience. However I felt that the production felt rushed during the majority of Act 1, this heightened even more so by the revolve continually being used.  At times I found it difficult to focus on a particular cast member as the set and cast were continually moving. Having watching the filmed I had a good understanding of the show already, however if it hadn’t been for me seeing the film I believe I would have struggled to follow the storyline.

The set itself is simplistic yet I was pleasantly surprised with the clever use of set for the barricade. I particularly enjoyed the slow motion sequences which whilst simple, it was extremely effective and touching to the store,  getting across to the audience the emotion of the production.

The continued success of this shows comes from its famous score and a number of songs which are known, even by those whom may have not seen much musical theatre or have knowledge of Les Miserables. The live orchestra for this production complemented the score perfectly although I found the drums to sound out of place with the rest of the music.

The show comes across as a well run production however because I felt the performance was compromised because of the rushed pace, speed and over use of the revolve and this made me enjoyment of the performance decrease as I didn’t feel the audience could connect emotionally with the story.

3-stars

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Follies, National Theatre – London

It’s been quite some time since I last visited the theatre, so it was an absolute treat for me to watch Follies last Friday, which currently plays at The National Theatre on London’s Southbank.

Being the theatrical type, it is hard not to have already heard of follies over the years as it features some extremely stagey musical numbers which even those who don’t enjoy or get to watch much musical theatre would have heard before.

For those who are unfamiliar with Follies, let’s get ourselves acquainted…

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It shares the story of showgirls from Weismann’s Follies (based on Ziegfield’s), who attend a reunion held in the crumbling theatre where they once danced in front of the spotlights to packed out audiences. Two unhappy couples Buddy (Peter Forbes) and Sally (Imelda Staunton) and Ben (Philip Quast) and Phyllis (Jane Dee) all reconnect that night. We find out Sally was in love with Ben then and still is. As they recall and share their memories from years gone by, the past may just come back to haunt them.

They perform their old numbers and with epic performances from Di Botcher’s Broadway Baby, Tracie Bennett’s I’m Still Here and saving the best until last, Imelda Staunton’s Losing My Mind – its a production to remember with a very worthy stand in ovation at the curtain call.

Often shows consider not having an interval as they may feel it will break the atmosphere and tension that has built throughout the production. Follies is precisely one of the shows that doesn’t have an interval! It had myself and my husband discussing why they had chosen this and whether this would have resulted in a lot of people heading for the loos half way through. However, I barely noticed anyone leaving their seats as the audience were so focussed on the show.

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The Follies set has been well thought out and depicts a crumbling theatre perfectly and with atmospheric lighting it gives the perfect ‘worn’ effect. The performance is staged upon a revolve that quite literally doesn’t stop revolving for the first 20 – 30 minutes of the show, which at first I found a little off putting. However once I managed to focus on who was singing or going through their dialogue, I was able to keep up.  If anything, the revolve could have been slowed down or to refrain from it continually spinning round!

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With a cast of 37 and and an orchestra of 21 – this production gives everything – and more which is why I have given a 5 star rating. It was once of the most spectacular musical theatre experiences I have had and worthy of the stand in ovation at the curtain call! There will soon be a live broadcast to cinemas, which I hope to get to see!

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Thoroughly Modern Mille – Churchill Theatre, Bromley

Thoroughly Modern Millie hit The Churchill Theatre stage this week with a talented cast including Strictly Come Dancing star, Joanne Clifton playing the star of the show, Millie Dilmount. With an energetic buzz throughout and a heartwarming storyline, it delighted audience members but at times lacked the oomph this show needed.

Throughly Modern Millie tells the story of Mille, a country girl that makes her way to New York in pursuit of a husband. Whilst there much happens to her and as she finds herself getting to grips in the city that never sleeps, she unfortunately finds herself becoming entwined with an interesting and oddly humorous white slavery storyline.

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I was intrigued to hear Joanne Clifton was playing the lead as Millie, as it can often be a disappointment when TV stars don’t live up to your expectations of musical theatre professionals. However Joanne was perfect for this role with a superb voice that showcased her vast vocal range and her stage presence, which was felt right throughout the theatre. The casting of this show is great, with Luca Rush playing a side splitting performance as Mrs Meers, and others performances played by Sam Barrett as Jimmy and Graham MacDuff delivering a lively and lifelike drunk as Trevor Graydon. It appeared he had obviously ad-libbed a little further than he should on the press night as it resulted in Joanne trying to refrain from laughing as he got more and more drunk. However it failed and she burst into laughter and a huge applause and cheer from the audience was felt!

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This production had the glitz and glamour this storyline needed, with a case made up of talented musical theatre actors/actresses and plenty of foot tapping action throughout. During some scenes it did feel slightly stagnant and I personally felt it needed more pace to keep the momentum of the show going. I enjoyed the setting of this production and whilst it was rather basic, it didn’t overshadow the performances as shows often rely on the grandness of a set rather than the natural abilities of those involved. However for scenes where the dialogue was translated by a small projection, it became hard to read and understand what was being said in the subtitles, which also meant the audience focus wasn’t on the performance and it took something away from this.

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It did appear a tap click track was used for some of the dance scenes which did let down the freshness of the performance, especially during some tap numbers. You cant beat the real thing – especially when you have a dancer as the lead!

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I enjoyed this show, it had everything it needed to delight the audience and we all left with a feel good atmosphere at the end of the performance. The performances from all involved were a pleasure to watch and review!

The show continues its performances at The Churchill until Saturday 10th June 2017 and continues its tour – further details and tickets can be found here.

3-stars

The Wild Party – The Other Palace, London

With an astoundingly talented cast made up some of the West End’s finest artists, The Wild Party is lavish homage to the jazz age of the 1920’s. From the sparkle in the costumes to a finely choreographed show, it is a spectacular production that tells the story of vaudeville showgirl Queen (Frances Ruffle) and her violent husband Burrs (John Owen-Jones). They decide to bury their marital issues by throwing a lavish wild party – and it is this very party that fills this show.

The majority of the first act is where the audience are introduced to each character, who take turns to sing, relating their story, detailing their current situation and profiling their partners. “My Eddie is a hero, just like Lindberg. Except Lindberg was white and flew planes, and Eddie’s black and beats people up.” This production explores many areas including gay relationships, infidelity, cross-dressing, racism and domestic violence.

We are introduced to Queenie who is desperately trying to re-live her time as a socialite, but with Vaudeville clown Burrs attempting to control her. With guests starting to arrive, including Phil and Oscar D’Armano (Gloria Obiango & Genesis Lynea), with every move in sync, lesbian couple Madelaine True (Tiffany Graves) and Sally (Melanie Bright), boxer Eddie (Ako Mitchell) and his wife Mae (Lizzy Connolly), her little sister Nadine (Bronte Barbe), producers Gold and Goldberg (Sebastien Torkia), vaudeville veteran Dolores (Donna McKechnie) and then finally Kate (Victoria Hamilton-Barritt) and her gigolo, Black (Simon Thomas). You may think this is a lot to pack into a performance that lasts over 2 hours, however this production makes you want to see more as the story progresses and as the party gets wilder!

The end of Act 1 saw my jaw hit the floor – it can often take a lot for this to be my reaction however this was a perfect ending for this act as it left me wanted to see what happened next!

The Other Palace which was recently renamed from St James Theatre is a fantastic venue for this intimate and in your face performance. With a clear and undisturbed view of the entire set, even from the back row, the audience are very much part of the performance. The set design is outstanding and allows us to see not only the cast appearing on the stage, but all around the set and gallery mixing closely with the musicians. With a stair case set on three levels, this also gives another dimension to the production, however on a few occasions it did make it slightly harder to see who was singing. Key pieces of furniture are brought on stage including a large bed, a chaise lounge and an old record player. These are all used well within Drew McOnies direction and choreography.

The music for The Wild Party is punchy and there is barely a moment where the band aren’t playing. With this being a sung-through show, there is a lot for us to hear but with catchy rhythms and often madness ensuing on stage – it was easy to be wrapped up in everything about this show. From my seat in the third row and with direct eye contact with the cast throughout – it is a show that encourages the audience to absorb everything it has to offer.

There are a number of moments in the show where this show stands out. The manic and thrilling scene at the end of the first act and then again during the last 10 minutes of the show, which deals with the morning after. It had me on the edge of my seat and a great way to end this production.

The Wild Party has set the bar high for the many shows that The Other Palace will see in the coming years. The show finishes its run on Saturday 1st April – if you can get yourself a ticket, please do – further details can be found on The Other Palace website.

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Dreamgirls – Savoy Theatre, London

As a wedding present from friends, we were treated to a delightful evening to see the evening performance of Dreamgirls on Saturday 25th March 2017. The musical originated on Broadway back in 1981 and following it being made into a film, winning numerous awards, it finally arrived in the West End in late 2016. It has already been rumoured to be making a revival on Broadway soon and with a soundtrack being released in April 2017 – there is no better time and reason to go and see this mighty show!

Dreamgirls tells the story of three girls, The Dreamettes with lead singer, Effie White, Deena Jones and Lorrell Robinson with Effie’s brother C.C writing their songs. They get their first break when Curtis persuades James ‘Thunder’ Early to let the Dreamettes sing their backing vocals. Effie soon beings to date Curtis and Lorrell starts an affair with Jimmy. However upon Deena being moved to lead vocals replacing Effie, the story starts to sour. Effie is forced out of the group and the girls then continue on the road to stardom and success.

One aspect of the show that becomes apparent is the use of a simple yet effective set design. The production mainly focusses around various lighting rigs which were continually moved to provide the transitions for each scene. However it isn’t until Act two that the audience see more glamour and sparkle from the set. The costumes speak for themselves – they are glitzy, colourful and many of the stunning gowns on display show how hard and talented those behind the scenes are at work in making this production stand out from the opening numbers. This production also showcases a fantastic array of wigs – for most costume changes there are new wigs for the majority of the female roles. This show isn’t just about the performance, but for those who work tirelessly backstage making this show happen.

Having seen the Dreamgirls film in 2006, I was familiar with the story and how strong the performances needed to be to make the story come to life. Amber Riley who plays Effie has a voice unlike anybody else. Despite my own experience of seeing the film and hearing the original Dreamgirls soundtrack, Amber’s voice is simply jaw dropping. Her vocal range, depth and emotion had my hair on end throughout the entire performance. I knew Amber had a great voice but I didn’t expect to be blown away by every one of her songs. The audience were on their feet at the end of ‘And I Am Telling You’ and seeing her give everything to this performance was an emotional experience. I may have even let out a cheer and WOW as she hit every single note!

The two other female leads, Liisi Lafontaine (Deena) and Asmeret Ghebremichael (Lorrell) had phenomenal vocals and with Asmeret recently joining the cast following Ibionabo Jacks withdrawal from the cast due to health reasons – I absolutely loved her performance from start to finish – a great new addition to the Dreamgirls London cast.

Liisi’s ‘Listen’ duet with Amber was another highlight of the evening and I cannot wait for the soundtrack next month to listen to this particular song – it had the audience cheering throughout the song, which was thoroughly well deserved.

I have rated Dreamgirls with four stars as I did enjoy the show with many astounding performances, however at times I felt the show could have given more in places. Whilst the set was simple, it often felt underwhelming with the same set piece being used for the majority of the show. With a show as grand as this – I personally felt the set could have been more impressive. The ‘Dreamgirls’ song sounded extremely thin – I’m not sure if a click-track was missing but I expected this number to be far more impressive than it came across – especially as this is their first major song.

I must also comment about the impressive Front of House team at The Savoy Theatre. I have seen a lot of live theatre and I was extremely impressed with how quick they identified anyone using their mobile phones and were instantly dealing with this, as well as remaining in the theatre throughout the performance. Well Done All!

Dreamgirls is the perfect night out and a great way to see the talent that plays in the West End. This is a show I can see being around for a long while as it continues to delight audiences who keep going back for more. With standing ovations at both the interval and finale it is clear that this show is one to see. It is currently booking up to October 2017, due to it’s recent opening there aren’t many cheaper tickets on offer at the moment. However you may wish to download the TodayTix app and enter the lottery (on the day) for your chance to win front row tickets for £15! Further details about the show can be found on The Dreamgirls website.

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