Monthly Archives: September 2011

The RSC: A Musical 50 Years

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Last night (Sunday 25th September) I found myself in Stratford upon Avon to help the Royal Shakespeare Company celebrate their 50th birthday.  It was a fantastic evening outside the theatre with a rather late sudden appearance of summer making it possible to even enjoy a (soft) drink over looking the river Avon just outside the theatre before the concert celebrating the RSC’s musical successes over the years.

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As you may have gathered, when it comes to the theatre I’m unashamedly more musical than serious play.  I have nothing against a play – infact some have made me have huge emotive journeys while sat in a not very comfortable seat in a theatre – but give me the option I’d choose a musical over a play to see 9 times out of 10.  You may have also gathered that a new musical about to open in London (Matilda) is a bit of an obsession with mine, and the fact that it was being mentioned in the blurb for the concert convinced me that I wanted to go.  Add to that the fact that as I walked towards the steps of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre last night, the Matilda that I first saw (Adrianna Bertola) was sat on the steps.  Me being me got a little bit starstruck and it’s probably a good idea I didn’t have my copy of the CD with me!

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I seriously digressed there and I apologise.  Now, it wasn’t until I saw the Les Miserables 25th anniversary tour last year that I found out that the original production was an RSC production at the Barbican and not really until last night how many musicals the RSC have produced.  Last night we had songs and music from 12 productions from the last 50 years performed by some brilliant performers and supported by the Royal Shakespeare Company’s orchestra.

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What struck me the most about the concert was it’s diversity.  There were a mumber of songs from musicals aimed at families such as Matilda, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Secret Garden as well as more serious ‘grown up’ musicals such as Piaf (a number from which was perfromed by one of the hosts for the evening, Annette McLaughlin).  The audience was also very diverse – with the younger generation being evenly distributed amongst the older.  In my own personal opinion (and this goes for me to an extent too), the RSC struck gold with Matilda and brought the company to a whole new audience.  No longer is it seen as a company that supports GCSE texts, but a company that produces a vast range of theatre and works with all kinds of people.  It’s not lost it’s stuffy image, but has softened greatly.  And now with the Royal Shakespeare Thatre reopening it’s door after a huge renovation (and in parts rebuild) it appears to be becoming even greater.

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It was fantastic for me to see Adrianna Bertola reprise her role as Matilda for a couple of songs from Matilda (Naughty, Pathetic [Rosalie Craig ‘playing’ Miss Honey] and When I Grow Up).  Between the two Matilda’s I saw she was the stronger of the two and it’s a shame she isn’t taking the role to London.  She really kicked the show off, even though she didn’t appear for a few songs, taking command of the space and making the audience fall in love with her.  Ian Hughes gave a number of fantastic and at times comedic performances as did Rebecca Brewer and Rosalie Craig.  We witnessed an absolutely stunning performanc of ‘Stars’ from Les Miserables by Earl Carpenter as well as Desmond Barrit leading the Act 1 finale of ‘Master of the House’.  All the excellent soloists (Clare Foster, Chris Jarman, David McGranagham, Helena Raeburn andMichael Xavier complete the list of soloists) were supported by the great Capital Voices choir.

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As well as the music we heard an exhange between the current producers of the latest version of Carrie the Musical and the RSC.  The RSC produced a version of the show and wanted the permission to perform the title song, but due to it’s chequered past the current producers in America are very precious of the source materail… to say the exchange became heated is a slighlty understatement.  As you can guess we weren’t lucky enough to see the title song being performed (but anyone aware of the show’s history may see that as a good thing!).

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It was a fantastic evening and I had a great time.  The new theatre is a fantastic space with lots of hidden gems (which I took a few photos of!) Next time I go I want to have a meal at the roof top restaurant and go up the tower (hope the weather’s as good as it was yesteday!)

So, thank you for letting me in on your birthday celebrations and here’s for the next 50!

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Glee – You Can’t Stop The Beat

New series of Glee means a whole load of new Glee covers.  The first episode of the new series ended with, quite possibly, the best cover Glee have ever done.  The opening is just a fantastic take on it.  As well as a jazzy ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead’ from Wizard of Oz and a show stopping ‘Anything You Can Do’ Glee started with a musical extravaganza.

Here’s You Can’t Stop The Beat from Hairspray.

 

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From the Archive of sorts…. Matilda The Musical

As many of you are aware, the RSC is bringing Matilda the Musical to the West End in the next few weeks with it opening on the 18th October.  I was lucky enough to see it a couple of times when it was at Stratford last Christmas.  The first time I saw it prompted me to write this mammoth blog about it.  It’s not really a review and might be a bit spoilery at times.  

So I thought, to continue the theme of Matilda posts I seem to be going through at the moment I’d share this with you! 

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So, last night I trundled along to Stratford-upon-Avon to visit the RSC’s Courtyard Theatre for the third performance of their Christmas show, Matilda, The Musical.

Boasting music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, a book by Dennis Kelly and based on one of Roald Dahl’s most loved stories the show is promising from the outset.  And to be honest, by the time 10:05pm came along and the show ended, I still wanted more!!

As the show is still in the preview stage there may well be a few changes before it officially opens, but as it stands the show is almost flawless.  The performance I saw had Adrianna Bertola in the title role of Matilda.  At only 11 years old she carries the whole show on her shoulders and has a huge amount of responsibility to ensure that the audience are involved in the story at all times.  She also has the almighty role of telling a heart wrenching story to the librarian, Mrs Phelps (played be Melanie La Berrie) about a…. well that will give it away, but the story forms the main sub plot of the show.  Talking about Mrs Phelps, she is like the grandmother Matilda yearns for and is the warm Caribbean older lady we all know.

 

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Those familiar with the book will be aware that Matilda’s family don’t really care about Matilda.  In the show Mr Wormwood, her dad played fantastically by Paul Kaye (better known to some as Dennis Pennis) is the victim to the pranks set up by Matilda and uses his comedic background to full advantage throughout the whole production – including the interval…. (don’t take too long getting your merchandise in the interval.) Mrs Wormwood (Josie Walker) is now a wannabe champion dancer and her dancing partner Rudolpho (Matthew Malthouse) is an addition to the story.  Rudolpho is an interesting addition.  He has a welcome purpose to occupy Mrs Wormwood and make her more of a character, but he does seem to outstay his welcome a little bit towards the end.  However Mrs Wormwood and Rudolpho do perform a song called ‘Loud’ which is, as you can imagine, loud and is very different to the tone of the rest of the show.  A slight disappointment to the Wormwood family is Michael.  It’s been a while since I read the book but I remember him as, though not very clever, very eager to follow in his dad’s footsteps. In the show though he becomes very Kevin the Teenager-esque but with tourettes… 

One thing that never disappoints however is Bertie Carvel as Miss Trunchbull.  From Miss Trunchbull’s first appearance to the character’s (I don’t want to call Miss Trunchbull her or him!) downfall, Carvel is a domineering force to be reckoned with.  Miss Honey, however, is the complete opposite.  Played by (the sometimes spitting image of Meryl Streep) Lauren Ward she is sweet (as her cottage says), caring, and completely innocent.  Ward has an amazing voice and she portrays any emotion that Minchin’s songs convey and is so utterly believable.  Having done a lot of character work between the two teachers in many job interviews (for those that don’t know I’m a primary teacher) I could identify every trait that the characters have.  

 

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The children in the show are all amazing! Considering it was the third preview, and there are three sets of children it is quite possible that the performance I saw was the first time they had performed.  The role of Bruce, the chocolate cake eating lad was played by Kuan Frye.  Bruce has a much bigger role in the musical and this is a very good thing!! One of the funniest moments comes from Bruce just moments before the famous chocolate cake eating moment…. all I shall say is watch the purple spot…. Also Lavender, Matilda’s best friend is unbelievably cute! I think I saw Ruby Bridle as Lavender (I’m not too sure though – would be good if the RSC could number the children’s casts as 1 2 and 3 and say which is performing and make it known in the program which group which child is in but that’s just me being picky).  Think Tiffany Butcher in EastEnders and that was Lavender. 

Reading the bios of the child cast there are some very seasoned young people.  There is one who was in the best film of last year, Nativity! There’s Jake Pratt, a regular on the Paul O Grady show and lots of former Mary Poppins, Oliver and Chitty children.  The whole cast are fantastic and the older members work alongside the younger seamlessly.

 

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Tim Minchin has written some fantastic songs for the show.  The opening number showcases the children from the outset, Miss Honey’s songs show the character at her best and the big ensemble numbers really help carry the story along.  He also challenges the young actors.  The second number of the show, and Matilda’s first song is called ‘Naughty’.  It’s a lengthy song and Matilda is literally the only person on the stage for the whole song.  It’s a fantastic song and channels Matilda’s thoughts and reasons behind doing her pranks on her father.  The staging of the songs also help to stress how good Michin’s work is.  For example ‘The Smell of Rebellion’ which involves lots of gym mats and other equipment is then suddenly frozen for the amazingly, lyrically complicated for anyone yet alone an 11 year old, ‘Quiet’.  However, the song that has stuck in my head (maybe more so as its the song on the preview video I posted yesterday) is the song ‘When I Grow Up’ which opens Act 2. It’s good when sung by Minchin but so much better when sung by the cast.

 

One of the challenges that the story brings to those bringing it to the stage is the magic and the Trunchbull punishments.  You’ll be glad to hear that Lavender is still thrown, the cake still eaten and that the glass of water still tips.  However, although the chalk still moves… (and I can’t write anymore about that – I still want to be able to go to the theatre!)  The design is fantastic.  Quentin Blake’s illustrations have been a key feature to the design.  Miss Trunchbull IS Miss Trunchbull from the book.  Mr Wormwood has the ugly suit and the hair from the book and Blake even designed the school badges that adorn he school gates and blazers of the uniforms.  The set is covered in scrabble pieces with those around the orchestra having musical notes.  The sets are very ‘square’ like scrabble tiles, and words play a large part in the design.  The lighting works fantastically – especially during Matilda’s story to Miss Phelps which, when it reaches it’s conclusion has a fantastic piece of… (once again I’m not going to say!).

 

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Kelly has written a fantastic adaptation that suits Minchin’s music and lyrics perfectly.  The design fits right in and the choreography is challenging (sometimes very Spring Awakening) but perfect.  There are a couple of minor issues – the last song takes a while to work and is sung by a brand new character which is kind of nodded to throughout so it doesn’t seem so important, which is a pain as it *is* the last song (they should sing When I Grow Up after they bow to remind us how good it is!) And I felt a tiny bit let down by the chalk… However it is a brilliant show.  I had goosebumps throughout, a smile across my face for pretty much all of it apart from the sad bits, and thinking about it today it is still fairly fresh in my mind (and I have a bad memory!)

It’s not quite a 10 out of 10, but too good to be a 9 out of 10 so I guess its about 9.8 out of 10.  If you can get to the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford then make a date to go see Matilda, The Musical.   However, if you have a phobia of swings don’t sit in the first couple of rows.

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Matilda the Musical Soundtrack – Track by Track

I have been waiting since the cold winter evening in January when my clutch broke driving back from Stratford to Birmingham for this soundtrack!! It was the second time I’d seen Matilda the Musical and had hoped it wouldn’t be the last.  Sadly it was to be the last time I saw it in it’s original home of Stratford but gossips of there being a soundtrack CD were already being shouted.  After the announcement of the soundtrack being released earlier this year and the news it would open in London, it caused much excitement in the fans of the musical and hopefully many more people will become fans of such a great show.

The CD listing suggests there’s been some changes – most notably the absense of Segai’s song ‘Perhaps a Child’ at the end, which when I saw it the second time saw the ending of the show changed quite a bit from the first.  Also missing is the ‘Chokey Chant’ but that was only a short number amd what with the creatives claiming Hortensia has been cut recently maybe the whole song will have made an exit.

Anyway, those questions can’t be answered until it’s opened but in the meantime I bring to you an AfterThe Curtain Comes Down Track by Track Soundtrack Review.

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First of all, can I just say now that I prefer the original production artwork as seen below.  The poster for the London production also contains Matilda on a swing and is a little bit better than the CD cover but I still prefer the Quinten Blake Matilda.  It also appears to have had a name change from Matilda A Musical to Matilda THE Musical.

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Anyway – to the music! Unlike the Ghost Musical track by track, I know the songs from Matilda.  It may have been a while since I last heard them but a lot of the tracks are unforgettable. 

TRACK 1: Miracle

If you know the story of Matilda, an opening number called Miracle may make you consider there’s a non linear story line here – but there isn’t.  Instead we see a group of children singing how they are praised by their parents and how they are the diamond in their families.  Inbetween we meet Mr & Mrs Wormwood (who is now a ballroom dancer and competitor) who are in the hospital as Mrs Wormwood thinks she’s fat…. of course she’s preganant and we also find out their reactions to having Matilda…

A fantastic opening that introduces the family in an exciting way.  The children get a chance to shine from the start.  The staging in Stratford was awesome with so many things happening and hope it continues into London. 5/5

TRACK 2: Naughty

Seeing a show where the main character is a young girl makes you wonder how she is going to cope carrying a show on her shoulders.  You’d expect them to go easy on her…. but no! This is the first big solo from Matilda who also has to deliver a number of monologues and will hardly leave the stage and it’s a stonker of a song.  

Minchin manages to cram so much into this song without making it cluttered.  For thos familiar with the books it covers Matilda’s antics before she goes to school such as putting super glue into her Dad’s hat.  ‘Sometimes, you’ve got to be a little bit naughty’ will be on everyone’s minds after listening! 5/5

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TRACK 3: School Song

So, Matilda starts school and meets lots of children her own age who then meet the older children who send a stark warning to them.  This school isn’t the fun place that the parents have said but in fact it’s a scary, daunting prison… 

Not so obvious listening to it but there’s a great use of the alphabet in this song which when performed in Stratford was made a lot more prominant. The tone changes instantly with the song and the threat of mennace that the school has is brought across well.   4/5

TRACK 4: Pathetic

Miss Honey, so brilliantly played by Lauren Ward (who reminds me of a young Meryl Streep) shows how it’s not just the children who are scared in this school thanks to the formidable head, Miss Trunchbull.  A short, yet effective song and brilliantly performed. 5/5

TRACK 5: The Hammer

So Miss Trunchbull…. AMAZINGLY played by Bertie Carvel, gives us her back story as an Olympic and trophy winning hammer throwing and how she applies what she’s learnt from this in her ‘teaching’ and running of the school.  There is some brilliant juxtapositioning in this song from the boistrous to the choral and it helps to fill the character of Trunchbull. 5/5

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TRACK 6: Loud

I’ll be honest.  The first time I saw the musical this was the song I liked the least.  Mainly because it was the only thing that didn’t sit right with me with what was added to the story.  The sub plot of Mrs Wormwood being a dancer and her dancing partner Rudolpho’s involvement just didn’t agree with me.  Not as much as how the film of the book set it in America and ruined the story but I’m getting distracted.  

Anyway, Miss Honey visits the Wormwoods to tell them how amazing their daughter is, but Miss Wormwood is busy practising her dancing and Miss Honey gets dragged into it.  The song isn’t my favourite, but it’s very different to the rest and it stands out.  The second time I saw the show I’m convinced it had been changed slightly as I enjoyed it more and I have to say that listening to it does make me like it a bit more.  It’s a very hyper number with samba rythms defining it.  3/5

TRACK 7: This Little Girl

Another Miss Honey solo – one that shows us what sets her apart from any other teacher, recognising just how special and modest Matilda is and how she needs to react to it and act upon it.  It also sets up a theme for the rest of the show when it comes to Miss Honey and she finds herself being able to recognise herself in the situation.  It is a stunning and beautiful song. 5/5

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TRACK 8: Bruce

Ask people what their favourite part of Matilda is and I bet a large number will mention Bruce having to eat all of Miss Trunchbull’s chocolate cake.  Luckily it wasn’t forgotten in the musical and a whole song is dedicated to Bruce and his task of eating a whole, massive, gooey, chocolate cake…

Showing a force of child solidarity which get’s stronger as the show goes on the children perform a cheerful, supportive song of encouragement using very child like language and terms to poor Bruce.  There is no excuse, Bruce, to not like this song!  5/5

TRACK 9: Telly

In Stratford, many people would have missed this song.  It was hidden away in the interval allowing Paul Kaye (better known as TV’s Dennis Pennis) to showcase his comic skills and interact with the audience.  Whether it will have the same fate in London is yet to be known (likely as it has no real place in the flow of the plot) but don’t spend too long getting drinks/ice creams/going to the loo.

Mr Wormwood spreads the word that Telly is more useful then books and that you can learn more from sitting on your bum watching telly than reading a book. 4/5

TRACK 10: Entr’acte

Nice bit of instrumental. 3/5

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TRACK 11: When I Grow Up

From the get go – this is my favourite track and the staging is awesome.  I love this song.  That is pretty much all you need to know.  Also there’s a brilliant video which has a version with Minchin singing it (probably a demo of the song) and the RSC and Minchin really need to release that version too.  

This is just a great song.  Touching, funny and a great memorable way to open the second act.  You know how many I’m going to give it out of 5 yeah? Well you’re wrong – it’s going to get an extra mark.  Think of it like a star or a bonus point or something. 6/5 (yep 6 out of 5 – crazy!)

TRACK 12: I’m Here

So, this track seems a bit strange listening to it on the soundtrack – but in the show it makes a lot of sense.  I have also just realised that Melanie La Berrie criminally doesn’t get to sing on this soundtrack – I’m shocked.  The librarian, Mrs Phelps played by La Berrie is an amazing character and I didn’t notice that she doesn’t get to sing.  

Anyway, this is a haunting, dramatic number.  It drives a sub plot that isn’t in the book yet works so well with the musical as a whole.  It’s beautifully dark with a synister score. 4/5

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TRACK 13: The Smell of Rebellion

Trunchbull teaching a PE lesson… on stage hilarious on CD slightly not that interesting.  Not the greatest song to listen to as it relies on the performance but that’s what you get with soundtracks.  Many times I’ve heard a song that I didn’t really like then seen it performed and fallen in love!  It has a bit of a catchy chorus line but that’s all it has going for it. 3/5

TRACK 14: Quiet

A Matilda solo – and a stunning one at that.  Quiet tells of Matilda coming to terms with her new found powers and has such complicated lyrics for anyone yet alone a young girl to sing infront of an audience.   An example of the lyrics:

“I say, say ‘red’, for example, there’s no way of knowing if ‘red’ means the same thing in your head as ‘red’ means in my head when soemone says ‘red’?”

This is yet another beauty from Minchin.  I remember the audience being captivated by a young girl raised on a pedastool, singing this with noone making a noise in the theatre.  Hairs on backs of neck going up on end, goosebumps spreading across the balconies and general awe that such a young girl could give us such a great performance.  Some of thos feelings come back when listening to the soundtrack. 5/5

TRACK 15:  My House

Matilda shocked that Miss Honey lives in nothing more than a shack gets this wonderful response from Miss Honey.  With ‘It isn’t much, but it is enough for me‘ striking the thoughts of many of those listening/watching this song touches people in different ways to any of the other songs on the soundtrack of the show.  

The song effortlessly blends into a twist that those familiar with the story will know and into the other plots of the show.  This song is just beautiful and Lauren Ward gives a heart wrenching performance as Miss Honey. 5/5

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TRACK 16: Revolting Children

Road Dahl loved revolting things and it feels right that the word ‘revolting’ gets a strong place in this show.  Not only are the children revolting in the mind of the Wormwoods and Trunchbull but they are revolting against Trunchbull.

A fast paced, exciting, thrilling song that chronicles the downfall of Trunchbull.  Listening to it without the cut song ‘Perhaps a Child’ shows that this is the climax the show needed all along. 5/5

TRACK 17: When I Grow Up (Reprise)

Need I say more?! 5/5

 

This video has the Minchin version of When I Grow Up on it – it’s brillian!

Tomorrow I’ll post something from my past – a blog on the show which will help reinforce my love for this musical.  But the CD is a brilliant way to help me remember what a fantastic show this is.

Blurb Time….

The CD is avaliable from The RSC which can be found by going the the Matilda The Musical website.  The musical opens for previews on the 18th October in London at the Cambridge Theatre.  More information on the website (see link).

Music & Lyrics by Tim Minchin
Orchestrations by Chris Nightingale
Dialogue by Dennis Kelly

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How Matilda the Musical became a success : Telegraph Theatre

Today being Roald Dahl day I wanted to point you all in the direciton of this interview from the Telegraph.  The interview with the director Matthew Warchus, playwright Dennis Kelly, and the composer Tim Minchin is a fantastic insight into how it evolved from an idea to a sell out RSC Stratford success and now heading to the bright lights of London town.  

How we turned Matilda into a musical triumph

Over the coming days I hope to share with you the review of the preview I went to last December and also a review of the soundtrack which I hope will land on my door mat tomorrow morning!

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Review: EVITA @ Birmingham Hippodrome

I’ve just come back from the current touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s 1978’s biopic musical based on the life of Eva Peron, EVITA.

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From the outset the production shows that no expense has been spared (a rarity in touring shows) with a huge cast – half of which are made out of a voiceless local ensemble and a chorus of children, stunning pieces of set and a stunning orchestration.  Abigail Jaye and Mark Powell lead the cast as Eva and Che with aplomp and confidence with Jaye’s faultless vocals throughout the show with (unsurprisingly) Don’t Cry For Me Argentina being a stand out point with the audience providing the applause and cheers that the sound effects guys play over the end!  At times Powell’s Che doesn’t have the power that we would expect from him, but he too is faultless throughout his omnipresent state in the show.

Mark Heenehan plays Peron with authority and Sasha Rans almost steals the show with her portrayal of the Mistress and her absolutly stunning rendition of Another Suitcase in Another Hall.  The cast and ensemble all play their parts with seemingly no effort though the local ensemble sometimes lack what the others give (though to give them their due it was their first time doing it with an audience tonight – same with the children – and I’m sure as the run continues they’ll improve).

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The plot is complex (if you don’t know the story of Eva Peron before hand), and the direction though mostly clear has a few moments when things seem a bit confused.  Luckily the strength of the cast though kept me engaged and so I failed to drift off.  There are also a number of spectacular dance numbers and millions (maybe an exagaration) of costume changes – some in such unbelievably short amounts of time.  The set is very effective with balconies and archways forming many different locations.  Huge well dones to the lighting designer for the small, yet effective lights in the columns that transform the arches quickly and make them feel like whole new pieces of set!

Overall this is a fantastic show.  The staging is brilliant and the cast is faultless.  Only criticisms would be that following the plot without prior knowledge can cause you to get a bit lost, but such is the story of Eva Peron.  This is the show’s final stop on it’s tour so worth going to see it if you have the chance.

4 Argentinian Flags out of 5

Evita is on at Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday 24th September 2011.

Tickets can be booked online.

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Cooo-eeee

Hey everybody!

Had a bit of a summer break, but now that the wind and rain is battering at the windows I thought I’d better make a return.  Sadly my summer wasn’t filled with theatrical delights, apart from the one stunning evening in which I got to see Singin’ In The Rain at Chichester’s Chichester Festival Theatre.  If you follow my twitter you’ll have seen a very brief review which simply stated that it was fantastic – but I will explain why in a future blog.

So after spending my summer away from the red velvet curtains and the plush purple seats of the theatre, I’m preparing myself for several delights over the coming month or two.  I’m hoping to make it to an amateur production of Just So at the Arena Theatre in Wolverhampton (cast your mind back to my underrated blog a while back), seeing the touring production of Evita when it visits the Birmingham Hippodrome, and seeing the Judy Garland biopic End Of The Rainbow.  I will also be venturing down to London to attend a very special concert at the Royal Albert Hall by Idina Menzel and while visiting London will probably go see Ghost The Musical to get over my obsession.  I’ll also be venturing down to Chichester again in October to see Micheal Ball’s Sweeney Tood.  I’m also hoping to make it to the tour of Legally Blonde, the opening of The Crescent Theatre’s new season with Talking Heads, and if I’m able to find the time, the world premiere produciton of Top Hat at the Hippodrome.  

As long as I don’t forget the password (again) and don’t break my computer (my laptop went to PC Heaven over the summer) I hope to keep this blog updated regularly and with continuation of the features I started way back when… If you have any suggestions feel free to send my way (and that includes if you can get my hands on any nice, free, tickets!!)

 

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