Posts Tagged With: Review

I Dreamed a Dream….

First of all, let’s go back to April 11th 2009 when families gathered around their TVs to watch the first episode of a new series of Britain’s Got Talent.  During the episode, there was this audition…

It turned out that that lone audition would capture the entire world thanks to the power of YouTube and the Internet.  Now in 2012, a whole musical based around the life of Susan Boyle is touring the UK and last night I went to see the opening night of the show’s Birmingham run at the Birmingham Hippodrome.

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I have decided that this blog is going to be the most honest ‘review’ I’ll have given so far – as I cannot decide exactly what I thought of this show but that’ isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  As I waited outside the theatre for the other half to arrive I noticed the demographic of the audience was an older crowd mainly middle aged ladies and their mothers (or husbands).  People walking past the theatre who weren’t attending scoffed at the idea of a Susan Boyle (affectively known as SuBo) musical and for a while I was in that camp too.  I couldn’t fathom how a musical based on SuBo would work and wondered if we’d have some actors hamming it up as Cowell and co for the audition.  However – the production surprised me and although there were moments when I did actually cringe, I left the theatre glad I had taken an evening to go see the show.

I didn’t always feel like that however.  In fact for the first 20 minutes I couldn’t wait for the interval and was considering whether to even bother sticking around for the second half, but once (and this sounds horrible) SuBo was being bullied it stated to turn a corner.  At times the imposing set of television screens and black glossy doors made too much of an impression, but on the whole it worked well, even if I did spend a lot of time trying to find the cameras filming reactions of actors for some of the screens.

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All the cast were fantastic.  Obviously Elaine C Smith in the role of Susan Boyle has to be mentioned.  Her singing was great with her performances of ‘Wild Horses’ and ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’ sending tingles across the audience.  Her renactment of the famous audition was performed with precision and her portrayal of Susan losing her parents and her breakdown were with great emotion.  She told the story – in form of SuBo looking back at her life and narrating with clarity – although the constant clicking of fingers to freeze or switch action soon got tedious.  Other stand out performances include James Paterson as Mr Boyle, Karen Mann as Mrs Boyle and Ashleigh Gray as the ever dependable friend Lorraine.  

As for the music, it was a collection of songs from musicals, pop songs and hymns used to try link the story together.  On the whole it worked well with a haunting arrangement of ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ to open the two acts and ‘This Will Be Our Year’ sang between SuBo and her mother to show her mother’s support.  However some of the arrangements weren’t too great and these were the moments I actually cringed such as the Blood Brothers’ inspired version of ‘Perfect Day’, the raggae ‘Mad World’ performed by the ensemble wearing Simon Cowell, Amanda Holden and Piers Morgan masks whilst holding newspapers to show the press attacks on SuBo and the chorus of Crowded House’s ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ to show SuBo in rehab.  Another thing that bugged me about the music was that we never heard a whole song.  Yes, there are 31 songs listed in the programme – 23 of them in Act 1 alone – but it wouldn’t have hurt to have had a full version of ‘Wild Horses’ rather than cutting it after one verse and chorus when the audience are entrapped.

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One of the highlights for me was the scene prior to the audition with SuBo in the queue waiting to audition with a range of characters from musicians to a clown, to a trumpet player to a tapdancing group of ladies. As they wait they burst into ‘Stuck in the Middle With You’ – one the more inspired song choices.

As I mentioned earlier the play was full of finger clicking to freeze or gather thoughts.  I felt this was the weakest aspect of the script which wasn’t the strongest to start off with.  Personally this let it down as it felt a bit school-play like with the freezing for a thought idea.  However, the script did tell the story well and I guess the thoughts were valuable to the story.  I just wish they’d come up with a more original idea to do this.  It would have been good too if they could have used Britain’s Got Talent branding – but guessing it would have been a mammoth task and very expensive to have done so.

I started this post saying I didn’t know what I thought of this show – and I still don’t.  However, I did send these tweets last night and this morning:

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And I think that’s my conclusion. It really is intriguing and at times surreal – especially the final 10 minutes when SuBo makes an appearance to perform a couple of songs.  I wanted to see this because I was curious.  I went in with no expectations and no idea what it was going to be like.  That was the best decision.  Yes, there were moments I didn’t like, but on the whole it was one of those shows that will stick with you for a long time – and for the right reasons.

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Oh yeah, and if you do see this show at the Birmingham Hippodrome this week do not attempt to take photos of SuBo at the end – the staff will pounce on you!!

I’m not going to rate this show – but it comes recommended.

‘The Susan Boyle Musical I Dreamed a Dream’ is on at Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday.

The tour continues to Inverness and Manchester until June 23rd.  Information at the show’s website

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A Wonderful Show for a Wonderful Town

Apologies for my silence.  Things need to change and change they will.

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Anyway last night I was lucky enough to go see Bernstein’s Wonderful Town‘ at Birmingham Hippodrome.  The show, currently touring across the UK starring the ‘nation’s Maria’ Connie Fisher, isn’t one that I was attracted to in any way, and if it wasn’t for an invite on a day I wasn’t busy I probably wouldn’t have gone to see.  However, I quickly realised that my feelings towards this show were wonderfully wrong.

Wonderful Town is a traditional American musical – based in the 1950s we follow two sisters, Ruth (Fisher) and Eileen (Lucy van Gasse) who decide to come to New York from Ohio to seek their fortunes.  It’s a clichéd plot where two people move to a bigger city and their innocence is battled but all comes good in the end – but clichéd or not, it works well in this show.  There aren’t any complicated side plots, and the main plot you see coming a mile away, but it’s all good fun and the cast appear to be having a whale of a time on the stage.

Just thought of another title for this post – Wonderful by name, Wonderful by nature.  The show just gives itself awesome names for positive blogs and reviews!!

The design (by Simon Higlett) of the show is classic 1950s America.  Costumes are of the period, and the buildings depicted are classic skyscrapers from the era.  The colour purple is the main colour for the throngs of people – from purple suits to shiny purple trousers of writers to a purple desk with purple paper and purple side way sky scrapers showing the depth of the stage.  There is an early set piece in which the ensemble in their purple suits and orange gloves mould the first days in the city with tight cheography (by Andrew Wright) and direction which uses the set to its full potential.

The cast are brilliant – they all support each other and there isn’t one member letting the others down.  Connie Fisher is brilliant as Ruth, the sensible sister to Lucy van Gasse’s care free Eileen.  The two together have such a large range from Fisher’s lower tones to Gasse’s higher pitched singing and they work so well together, complimenting each other’s styles perfectly.  The main male character Bob Baker is played by Michael Xavier who’s lowest tones almost cause the theatre to vibrate!! There are such wonderful voices in this show – possibly the best cast in terms of singers I’ve seen in a very long time.  Other stand out performances include Nic Greenshields who plays the giant of a laundry expert Wreck Loomis and the artist landlord Mr Appopolous played by Sevan Stephan.  The ensemble are fantastic – with the opening of Act 2 to go down in comedy legend with their portrayal of the New York police department…. (won’t spoil it for you – but the accents are all brilliant!)  The only downside to the show is that the few slower songs/ballads don’t necessary suit the show and slow the action down, but it’s only a small point and with this cast they make those songs great!

Wonderful Town is a great show – and should be amongst the American classics but is overshadowed by the likes of Bernstein’s other musical hit West Side Story.  It’s definitely worth a trip to the theatre – even if the weather is getting better outside!!

4.5 Big Apples out of 5

Tour stays in Birmingham until Saturday 26th May – Ticket information can be found at the Birmingham Hippodrome website.  Then moves onto Southampton, Norwich, Newcastle, Woking, Plymouth and Cardiff ending on 7th July 2012.  More tour information at the Wonderful Town website.

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Review: END OF THE RAINBOW @ Birmingham Hippodrome (on tour)

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End of the Rainbow, currently on at the Birmingham Hippodrome, tells the story of the the final tragic months of Judy Garland.  Far from her days as Dorothy, the Garland, played by (Olivier award nominee for best actress for this part) Tracie Bennett, shows us the Garland who couldn’t get through shows without the support of drugs and alchol and who allowed everyone around her to dictate what she should and could do while trying to repay her debts.  The tragic story is performed with immense drama but also contaibs hilarious (yet hearbreaking) comedy as Garland tries to make light of moments – such as when it turns out she’s downed a bottle of pills for a dog.

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Bennett is supported by Norman Bowman playing her fiance Mickey Deans and Hilton McRae as Anthony her trusted pianist.  Bowman shows how difficult Garland was to deal with as Deans deals with managing the global star as both her manager and lover, while McRae shows how Anthony tried to help Garland get out of the stressful situations.  A moving scene towards the end shows Anthony trying to get Garland to leave Deans and move with him to Brighton where they could lead a platonic but loving life by the sea.  When Deans enters and demands to know what’s happening, Garland simply says they were saying goodbye, leaving Anthony heartbroken knowing that she was sealing her fate.  Each actor brings life to these real characters and pull at the appropriate heart strings to make the audience believe they are seeing it actually happening infront of them. 

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I would love to go on and on about this show – but on this occassion I can’t.  I can’t fault it and I can’t sing it’s praises highly enough and I don’t want to ruin anything for you by adding spoilers! I know that’s rare of me, but on this occassion I can’t do it.  It is a stunning show.  It was nothing like I expected it to be, and although I had heard great things before I had no real expectations – but I was blown away.  Bennett really steals the show and her Garland is near perfect.  There is a lot of pain but also some genuine laughs.  

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So yeah, a short, brief review but this show is awesome and if you can see it before it goes to Broadway (of course with Bennett) then do so.  It’s got a few more dates on it’s tour so if it comes near you then get some tickets.

End of the Rainbow gets 5 stars out of 5

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End of the Rainbow is at Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday 22nd October 2011.  

It then travels to Aberdeen, Cheltenham, Bath, Sheffield and then Richmond until 26th November.

Information can be found at http://www.endoftherainbowtour.com/tour/

 

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Review: LEGALLY BLONDE @ The New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham (on tour)

First things first, this is a review – but you know me – I ramble.  Maybe skip to the end if you want a quick look at a score!

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I feel as though I’ve been on quite a journey with Legally Blonde – having been in New York around the latter days of it’s run on Broadway I avoided seeing it.  I thought it’d be a bit too cheesey and as I hadn’t seen the film at that point only knew the name and how pink it was.  

Fast forward a year and it was announced that it would be coming to London with Sheridan Smith in the lead role of Elle.  Sheridan Smith is an amazing actress.  Having seen her in a variety of roles (mainly comedy) on TV I had grown to become, not exactly a fan, but interested in her work.  I liked the facebook page for the show and there was a competition to go along to the press launch at Cafe de Paris.  I entered… and I won!  I found myself in London with a friend of mine on a cold autumnal day queueing up along the outside of KFC next to Cafe de Paris wondering what the hell we were actually going to witness.  As it turned out we had an introduction from producer Sonia Friedman then had the newly assembled cast perform a few songs for us, including Sheridan Smith singing ‘So Much Better’ just a few feet away from us.  As well as mini handburgers and other snacks and drinks and a free goody bag, that was my Legally Blonde experience over for a while.

Skip forward 10months or so and I end up outside the Savoy Theatre ready to finally see the show which I will admit – I loved!! Any doubts I had about it went out of the window and I fell head over heels for Sheridan Smith.  So much so it’s the only show I’ve ever been to where I’ve been to the stage door after to get an autograph and photo (and she told me she loved my jacket – win!)

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SO when I heard the show was touring, I knew I wanted to go see it – but due to ticket prices, ridiculously high booking fees and an impending trip to London it wasn’t looking great.  Luckily (and I seem to be a lucky bugger accoriding to this post – I’m not by the way) I won a pair of tickets to the opening night on Twitter.

So you know that I love the show – and that hasn’t changed.  I’ve seen tour productions of productions I’ve seen the full London show for before and know that there will be changes to the set and possibly the show itself and so I was fully aware that there’d be changes.  Big changes include no Delta Nu house, but just a door way; Elle’s original entrance; Paulette’s smaller shop; and a lack of a caravan.  These changes don’t change the show and if you haven’t seen the original you wouldn’t know.  Talking of the set though (and we did have a few techincal difficulties the night we saw it – but it didn’t affect the show) I had one huge bug bear about it.  The flats which tradtionally would be black were red.  It didn’t look right, and at times stuck out when I guess they should have just blended in with the set.

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(L-R: Claire Sweeney (Paulette), Neil Toon (Warner), Faye Brookes (Elle), Iwan Lewis (Emmett), and Dave Willetts (Professor Callahan))

The cast were fantastic.  My heart willalways be with Sheridan for the role of Elle, but Faye Brookes was brilliant.  She was more Reese Witherspoon than Sheridan’s portrayal and she conveyed Elle’s innocence and belief that she could get where she wanted by citing love as the reason for her to get by.  Neil Toon and Iwan Lewis (Warner Huntington the Third and Emmett Forrest respectively) also did stirling jobs as the two central male roles and love interests with Dave Willetts impressing the audience as Professor Callahan.   Claire Sweeney was awesome as Paulette and provided some brilliant moments of comedy.   The rest of the ensemble were fantastic and noone lost any energy throughout the show.

The show was fantastic – though sadly the experience during the first act wasn’t.  Through no fault of the theatre, a couple were sat a couple of rows infront one of which was a drunk French man.  They spent much of the first half talking loudly and passing a wine bottle in a loud Sainsbury’s bag between each other.  After allerting the staff we then had a fantastic steward standing guard ready to shine her torch at them whenever they got noisy again.  She then offered to move us to another section of the theatre and was hugely apologetic.  Luckily the couple didn’t return for the second half, but I just wanted to make sure I included this into this post.  If this blog get’s hugely successful may even consider something to congratulate the great and mighty theatre staff of the land…

ANYWAYS, I love the show.  I would recommend anyone who can’t make it to London to make sure they see the tour.  If you can make it to London, bypass the tour and go straight to London.

4.5 *clicks* out of 5

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Legally Blonde: On Tour is at The New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham until October 15th.

It then travels to Manchester, Torquay, Nottingham and Sunderland until the end of the year, beginning again in 2012 in Southend.  The tour continues through to June 2012.

More information can be found at http://www.legallyblondethemusical.co.uk/tour/

*Snaps!*

 

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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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Ghost the Musical Soundtrack – Track by Track

As blogged about yesterday, Ghost the Musical has previewed their soundtrack on their Facebook page.  It’s only online for a limited time and already had thousands of listens.  Go have a listen yourself, link on our facebook page and let us know what you think of it… which just so happens to be what I’m going to do now!  I haven’t seen the show, I’ve not even seen the movie so I’m basing my judgements from what I’m hearing.

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Track 1 – Overture:

This might actually become one of my favourite Overtures ever. I’m not a huge fan of the Overture, but this one is haunting and mystical with the familiar themes of Unchained Melody interwined with other themes from the show.  Builds up gradually, building a sense of anticipation. 5/5

Track 2 – Here Right Now:

This track shows off the vocal talents of Caissie Levy & Richard Fleeshman very quickly.  Their voices suit each other in this poppy number.  The lyrics may be a bit basic but with a huge jump of contrast from the haunting Overture this track, I imagine,  sets the emotional bonds between the audience and the characters.  It’s a good track.  Not my favourite, but it’s very catchy. 4/5

Track 3 – Unchained Melody:

The song everyone knows.  Being performed with a guitar gives it a new lease of life with a bit of Elvis thrown in.  Fleeshman’s vocal talents are shown off to great effect in this track.  With a beautiful orchestral instrumental completing the track it feels like a completly differerent song to all the versions that have been released in the past.  4/5

Track 4 – More:

Oh! There’s more than two people in this musical as this track makes clear with a chorus of ‘more and more and more and more’.  Feels as though this one builds the story a bit more.  Like ‘Here Right Now’ it’s a very poppy number with some lyrics that seem a bit basic.  There are times when it feels like a spoof musical number with the lyrics being along the lines of ‘I’m in New York and there are lots of people here’ etc. 3/5

Track 5 – Three Little Words:

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Back to Levy & Fleeshman! Now we find out that Sam (Fleeshman) doesn’t say ‘I love you’ but ‘ditto’ – the git! Even though he protests that he does it with his eyes, he doesn’t get that sometimesMolly (Levy) might have her eyes closed or they might be on the phone so how does she know so why can’t he say those three little words – cue title of the song!  It’s a cute song. Again, building the connection between the two characters and the audience ready for the big event in the next track… 5/5

Track 6 – Sam’s Murder:

A bit of a talky track here.  It’s the big turning even that makes this musical into one about a ghost.  It isn’t exactly spoiling the plot of the show here to tell you that Sam get’s killed in this track.  I assume Fleeshman’s echoey tones make more sense on stage and a bit more outer-body so giving this track benefit of the doubt.  Also assume the sequence on stage is more exciting than it sounds on the sountrack (imagine the robbery in Blood Brothers).  The music’s good though! 3/5

Track 7 – Ball of Wax:

We’re in the middle of a musical this track shall be known of from hence forth.  It’s probably the most musical theatre this show gets to be honest.  With brass at the start and an older male who talk-sings just jazz hands itself into a musical.  It possibly even involved tap dancing…. so heaven is a Broadway musical? 2/5

Track 8 – I Can’t Breathe:

Imagine the scene in Rent when Angel dies where it’s pulsing beats and lights and a dance beat – now imagine that with a rock-music-esque tone and here you go! 3/5

Track 9 – Are You a Believer?:

The wonderful Sharon D Clarke finally appears as Oda Mae Brown.  This gospel laden track is a welcome relief from the darkness of the death and is a great introduction to Clarke’s character.  Clarke can do no wrong! 5/5

Track 10 – With You:

Molly’s lost her lover.  Sad times.  Now we need a song that reminds us that she is sad and this is it.  That may sound cynical that this is a bog standard soppy ballad about a dead loved one.  It’s not.  It’s just stating the obvious theatrical ploy used here.  It is a fantastic song.  Beautifully performed by Levy.  I’m certain that the middle aged Swayze fans in the audience will be sobbing at this song (maybe some others as well).  Like I said, it’s a beauty, at times it follows the book of musical song writing by the rules but it works.  5/5

Track 11 – Suspend My Disbeleif / I Had A Life:

Still in mourning Molly encounters Oda.  Molly has told Carl (Andrew Langtree) the things that Oda has told Molly from Sam.  Molly believes it, Carl is (on the outside) dismissive about it…. maybe he knows more? Sam acts as a guardian angel overseeing what’s happening…. leading to a big reveal…. *won’t spoil it* It’s an effective way to reveal this twist (though it gives it away if you’re listening to the soundtrack before seeing the show/film like myself).  I really like how things overlap in the music and the songs throughout the soundtrack but especially in this track.  This track is the last in act one and from listening it would appear to be great way to end the first act with big plot developments to look forward to.  5/5

Track 12 – Rain / Hold On:

Back to the poppy tracks we lost half way through act one.  I would say Molly appears more optimistic about things now with this shift in tone… Some background info on Oda, some closure of emotions from Molly, some attempted words of wisdom from Sam doth a track make.  Bit of a typical act 2 opener if ever there was one.  It’s good but not the best (I skipped bits of it after a while). 3/5 

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Track 13 – Life Turns on a Dime:

Oh no. Molly is led to beleive that Oda is a fake – well her Police records show she is, but maybe this time she isn’t…. what will happen if Carl get’s her to beleive that she is a complete fake? Plot crisis is what will happen.  It’s a strange song.  Not sure whether it’s the song or whether it’s the fact that Carl sounds more like Barny the dinosaur that get’s me about this one.  Once again though it overlaps a lot with Molly singing a song with the same tune as Unchained and Sam butting in with his own song. 3/5 (due to the purple dinosaur taking over) however for the last 30 seconds, 5/5

Track 14 – Focus:

A loud, brash track.  The Subway Ghost (Adebayo Bolaji) is trying to teach Sam how to do something.  Probably works on stage, not on a soundtrack album though. 1/5

Track 15 – Talkin’ Bout A Miracle:

Back to the funk! Don’t know what miracle they’re talking about.  Guessing it’s a good one as it’s a good song! 5/5

Track 16 – Nothing Stops Another Day:

Yet another beautiful song for Molly.  When Levy leaves there’ll be a queue for this part! Not sure what the song’s about.  Think it’s about letting go, such as letting go of Sam…. sad times. Anyway, it’s a great song and again, might make the hormonal in the audience shed a tear or two.  5/5

Track 17 – I’m Outta Here:

It’s the funk machine…. therefore it must be an Oda track! She may well be saying farewell but this woman doesnt go queitly – even managing a tiny bit of Unchained Melody’s melody in the midst of the funk. 4/5

Track 18 – Unchained Melody (Dance) / The Love Inside:

The final track, takes us back to the Overture’s haunting tone.  With Unchained Melody having such a large inspiration in the soundtrack it’s great to hear so many variations.  This is undoubtley my favourite with the orchestral tones and sweeping strings leading to a final perfromance from Sam and a final touching yet heartbreaking moment between Sam and Molly where Sam reprises how he says ‘I love you’ to Molly with him actually saying it for once.  I am certain, that if I was sat in that theatre, by now I would have goosebumps and even tears in my eyes (possibly running down my cheeks too) and by the time Molly says ‘bye’ possibly a curled up wreck. 5/5

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So there we go, my first track by track review of a soundtrack.  I have to say that this soundtrack is awesome.  I’ve enjoyed listening to it and if I were to have it on my ipod there’s only one or two tracks that I’d skip over.  Fleeshman and Levy do an amazing job with their vocals as does Clarke and the rest of the supporting cast and ensemble.  I love how the producers of the musical have used the soundtrack as a marketing tool and hope that not only does the soundtrack sell well but ticket sales go up as a result.  I’m hoping to see it when I’m in London next and with enough money for a ticket and hope that I can write a review as favourable as this soundtrack review.  There is a great mix of styles but they all compliment each other and characters have their own distinct style and themes to go with them which are vital in a musical.

 

Music and lyrics are by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard.  The show’s book and lyrics are by Bruce Joel Rubin.  The show is currenlty in previews at the Picadilly Theatre London and officially opens very soon.  Tickets are avaliable from the show’s website.  The ablum is avaliable to preorder on itunes, amazon and on Dress Circle (support these guys if possible) and comes out on the 18th July.  In the meantime you can listen to it on their facebook page until this Friday (I think).  You can get there via our Facebook page.

Production photos, as far as aware, are by Sean Ebsworth Barnes and therefore copyright of him too.  Images used have been taken from the public domain and no offence caused if being used in a way in which Barnes or the producers wish them not to be.

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THE WIZ @ The New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham – A Birmingham REP Production

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Birmingham REP is currently producing a season of shows around Birmingham due to it’s theatre becoming a building site thanks to the new library of Birmingham which is why I ended up going along to the New Alexandra Theatre to see the REP’s production of ‘The Wiz’.  The REP’s ‘Change of Scenery‘ season hasn’t excited me much, but it’s production of ‘The Wiz’ appeared to be the highlight of the season.  However I left the theatre full of disappointment that a show that appeared to promise a night of funky Motown songs embracing the story of the Wizard of Oz ended up being a trip to the theatre where I left coming up with poor sound bites for this blog.

The show opens with a fantastic projection of one of the witches (no idea which one) running towards the audience.  This projection really is brilliant.  It makes me sad that it is so brilliant as if the rest of the show was this good it’d have been a good show, but sadly the gauzes go up and it all starts to go a bit downhill.  What appears to be a New York city apartment is, we later learn, Birmingham (it has never looked like that and the fact she needs to go back to Birmingham just screams ‘I want to be a panto’) and for a musical which was first produced in the late 70s with music from that era, a flat screen telly and a mobile phone look very out of place.  Despite the confusion, when Aunt Em (Melanie La Barrie) sings the first of many songs, the negative thoughts change for a few minutes – but then Dorothy (Treyc Cohen) starts to take centre stage.

Treyc Cohen – a finalist in 2010’s ‘The X Factor’.  She is a fantastic singer and I can’t fault her singing at all.  But she is not an actor and cannot be expected to play a part where she is on stage for 99% of the show.  A couple of years ago the REP did an amazing production of ‘Once on This Island’ with, like ‘The Wiz’ has a majority black cast.  I can’t understand why the producers didn’t attempt to, or try harder to get one of the younger actresses from that production to play Dorothy instead.  Cohen is, at times, more wooden than the scarecrow.  There is a moment of pure woodenness when the characters are in the poppy field and she stands there just watching the rest of the characters fight clearly waiting for her cue to join in.  She is, however, an amazing singer and I am glad I didn’t leave at the interval (which was considered) as otherwise I would have missed the closing number ‘Home’ in which she performs on an empty stage – if only she was this good throughout the whole show.

It would be unfair for me to blame everything that is wrong with the show on Cohen and I won’t.  There are several other things that affect the whole show.  The main one being the set.  Designed by Rosa Maggiora the set and also the costumes aren’t great.  The stage has a large exterior of what appears to be a block of flats which occur both in ‘Birmingham’ and Oz so at no time do we think we’ve travelled to another world.  On top of that it takes up so much space that the cast are squashed on the front half of the stage restricting what could be awesome dance numbers.  What’s worse is at times the centre of this comes forward thus even more restricting the space.  At no point do Oz and the Emerald City feel special and unique.  It feels as though all this is happening outside of Aunt Em’s and is highly disheartening.

For all it’s flaws there are some sparkles of greatness.  As mentioned before, Melanie La Barrie (last seen in the RSC’s amazing musical version of Matilda) is brilliant as Aunt Em and uses what she’s been given as well as she can as Addaperie the witch of the somewhere.  Clive Rowe (better known as Duke from Tracy Beaker) is fantastic as The Lion and manages a Lion King joke without it appearing forced and out of place (unlike the flat screen telly killing the bad witch).  Wayne Robinson and Horace Oliver as the Scarecrow and the Tinman respectively also help to bring some rays of sunshine to this sometimes horrendous show.  The REP have also used members of the community for the ensemble and although at times some of them look confused or trying to overdo some of the performing, on the whole work well and show what Birmingham can do.

You won’t be surprised that I found this production not meeting it’s potential.  I went on press night and had a few mic fails, a big yellow brick that appeared to not want to light up, some lines forgotten and Dorothy even forgetting what the Lion wanted.  These things aren’t great on any other night let alone press night but the cast didn’t appear to be trying to make the performance special in any way.  At times it felt like a glorified dress rehearsal and there was no connection between the stage and the audience.  The set needs changing, a competent Dorothy needs to be cast and the direction needs improving, then the potential could be met. 

I don’t like leaving things on a bad note and like I’ve said before, Cohen deserves praise for her singing performances.  So here is a video produced by the REP of Cohen rehearsing the closing number ‘Home’

Overall I would give this production: 2 Silver Slippers out of 5

The Wiz @ The New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham.  On till Saturday 18th June.  Tickets £12 – £28.50 

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