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BEAUTIFUL THE CAROL KING MUSICAL at the Birmingham Hippodrome

Carol King is a musical phenomena and BEAUTIFUL THE CAROL KING MUSICAL at the Birmingham Hippodrome captures this wonderfully. What an incredible woman she is.This musical has just the right balance of story and song with the emphasis on the songs. So many incredible songs. This show looks good and it feels great. Every show is only as strong as the weakest link and there simply isn’t one in this ensemble.

Bronte Barbe has exceptional empathy and could hold a concert audience for an entire evening. I was also impressed with Kane Oliver Parry who plays her husband. Amy Ellen Richardson and Mathew Gonsalves complete the foursome

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THE LADY FROM THE SEA at the Donmar

I had not seen a Henrik Ibsen play that I have not completely loved, so naturally I was really looking forward to THE LADY FROM THE SEA at the Donmar. This was a new version by Elinor Cook and therein probably lies the explanation, as to why this was not only the worst Ibsen play that I have ever seen, but possibly the worst production I have had to endure in London ever!

I have never held back so many yawns and tears in the space of a few hours. The boredom of watching these┬ácharacters and what seemed like almost nonchalant performances made the minutes tick painfully slow. What made matters worst was the stark blinding lighting, which not only washed the stage, but was shining painfully most of the time directly into the audiences eyes. I was in the middle of a bench row – there was no way out.

The thrust stage and the bright white lights meant the play was never separated from the audience, and the wishy washy action on stage was not distinct from the fidgeting of audience members. There were two particularly annoying blokes, who were lolling about with their legs projecting on to the stage. I could see all of the disgusted audience faces at this uncouth behaviour, unless they were simply transfixed in horror by the boredom.

Not worth mentioning any names as I don’t want to blame anybody for this atrocious experience, other than perhaps Elinor Cook, who somehow must have completely lost at sea, all of the deep psychological complexity of this Ibsen play.

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN at the Garrick Theatre

Mel Brooks’ YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN at the Garrick Theatre is going to be a hit in London. It is a well crafted Broadway musical comedy in the vaudeville tradition that has transferred really well from screen to Broadway and now to the West End. Great sets which bring this monochrome movie into glorious technicolor on the stage.There are great musical theatre performances and I was chuckling from start to finish particularly at Frau Blucher. If you know the movie you know what I mean.

A good Broadway show always showcases talent and this show is full of talent. For starters the ensemble who provide the chorus and numerous characters are superb and Andrew Gordon-Watkins stands out as exceptional.

Hadley Fraser playing the lead Frederick Frankenstein is simply breathtaking. He manages to inject so much professionalism and enthusiasm into this role that it just permeates into the auditorium. Lesley Joseph as Frau Blucher is just so funny. She really is incredible and plays this iconic character so well, that it feels as if she has just popped out of the black and white movie into full technicolor on to the stage. These are such iconic characters if you know the movie and Ross Noble is perfect as Igor. Summer Strallen goes one step further and with her musical theatre talent makes her character, the iconic Inga something very special on stage.

Great fun.

ALBION at the Almeida Theatre

Mike Bartlett’s new play ALBION at the Almeida Theatre was really interesting. The thrust stage is an English country garden where all of the play takes place. The garden is one of the characters in the story. Victoria Hamilton as Audrey Walters is on a mission to transform the garden and the garden transforms her. It is a beautiful story and she is wonderful. All of the other characters are a part of her story and they are a perfect ensemble. They were all wonderful and I particularly liked Helen Schlesinger who played the antithesis to Audrey. Lots of surprises in a convoluted and rewarding tale.

EVERYBODY’S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue

New writers Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom Macrae have crafted a fresh and exiting new musical from a true story, EVERYBODY’S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. John Macrea has created the stage version of this young man and his performance is real. He creates a truthful connection with the audience and takes us on his heartfelt journey. Anyone who has experience of any kind of personal transformation will be able to identify with his character. John Macrae deserves an award for his West End debut.

Jamie is surrounded in school by a young cast who all play their roles excellently again with such truth. The high energy choreography is original and executed to perfection well supported by the band. At home Mina Anwar’s character Ray brings in comic relief whilst keeping it real. Josie Walker is warm and conflicted as Jamie’s Mom in one of the most wonderful on stage relationships I have ever seen. It is through her performance that we feel the drama and her musical numbers are showstoppers. Phil Nichol gives a torch song performance as Jamie’s inspiration and mentor.

This show is authentic and I hope it finds its audience because this cast deserve to be seen.

CABARET at Arts Educational School

CABARET by this years Graduating class at Arts Educational School in London was a West End quality show, performed with exactly the young energy that this show was written for. I have seen “Cabaret” on Broadway and in the West End but this is the first time that I had goose bumps in the opening number “Wilkommen”. Wow! Three years of training together has created an ensemble performance of perfection. They do it again in “Don’t Tell Mama”, “Telephone Song”, “The Money song”. Great songs complimented with great choreography performed with such incredible control and enthusiasm brings this show alive. The ensemble of young men and women were all exceptional however there was one young man Ben Tyler who just popped with his charisma and winning smile. I look forward to seeing them all in the West End next year.

However the ensemble is only half of the story. Arts Ed Graduates have been training to be triple threats and a big part of Cabaret is the underlying drama. Eleanor Walsh is at exactly the right age for the perfect casting for Sally Bowles. Best I have ever seen because she is just so believable in the part. Shane O’Riordan plays Clifford and he nails this young American writer with a disarming charm. Simon Oskarsson brings an idiosyncratic originality to the role of Emcee and he has the gravitas in performance to hold all of these characters together. He is not a star yet but he will be in no time.

Kristian Jacobs charmed me then gave me chills as Ernst Ludwig the Nazi. The stretch was always going to be the love story between Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz. I had Tom Bosley and Blair Brown from Broadway in my mind. However Jordan Wheatstone suspended my disbelief and Charlotte Jaconelli created a such a believable character that when I met her after the show I simply could not believe she was the same person. Oh and did I mention she can stop the show with her singing!

Arts Educational is known by many as the best school for musical theatre training in the UK. This production of CABARET certainly confirms that.

OBSESSION at the Barbican Theatre

Ivo van Hove’s play based on Luchino Visconti’s iconic movie OBSESSION starring Jude Law at the Barbican was epic in production. The stage was stripped bare and through a spartan set, a suspended diesel truck motor and awesome lighting an incredible cinematic presentation was created. Jude Law is magnetic on stage and is perfectly cast in this role as Gino.

Not my favourite story and the nature of this script means slow long gaps with an absence of action. I think what made this more noticeable was the sheer size of the set. It actually took a long time just to move from one side to the other. However I was never really comfortable watching this production because the actors were miked and their voices were amplified. This just destroyed my suspension of disbelief as I was constantly reminded that I was in a theatre rather than in a story.