Sunday, 23 August 2015

Shrek The Musical

This review originally featured on the 'About Milton Keynes' website.

Milton Keynes Theatre

Once upon a time there was a princess called Jasmine Storm and she wished with all her heart that Shrek, the musical, would meet her expectations.  And her dreams came true and she lived happily ever after.

If you could look at the seven year old inside of you, they would want to see this show.  Every child and if they are honest, every adult will enjoy this show as it has something for everyone.  But it works best if you remember that seven year old – then it is magical.  The show is set around the story of the first Shrek film and starts with a ‘once upon a time’ from a book and the characters step out of the book.  The seven year old inside me gasped. This really is magical!
Dean Chisnall plays Shrek and this is a tough part. Shrek is in almost every scene and to speak and sing with a Scottish accent cannot be easy (unless you are from Scotland of course).  He performs this role perfectly as if he just stepped out from the film.

Princess Fiona is a sassy princess played by Bronte Barbe and she gives a great balance about being a modern day princess – day to day boredom of being locked in a tower against the romantic backdrop of being rescued.  Everyone knows that a princess waits for a prince to rescue her – but during the song ‘I know it’s today’ you can see she is getting a bit frustrated with the waiting.  This is a fabulous song and features Princess Fiona at three different ages.  There is a scene in the second act where she helps the pied piper and does a tap dance with rats.  Is there no limit to her talents? It is a great all round performance by Barbe.
Every fairy-tale needs a baddie and Lord Farquaad fits the bill in Shrek.  He is also very very funny. Played by Gerard Carey, he gives such a funny performance that the whole audience was in stitches. His performance was in places reminiscent of Frank n’ Further from The Rocky Horror Show but whatever F he is playing, it works.  There are lots of jokes about his height and the chorography has been tailored to make this even funnier.  A brilliant performance.

Donkey is known for being a funny character and gets some great one-liners such as ‘I’m a GPS with fur’ when telling Shrek about directions to Duloc.  His first scene with the Dragon is another moment where the seven year old inside me gasped.  The dragon is played with puppets but is so big it is breath-taking as was the dragon’s voice when she sang. It was stunning.
The cast does not hold any household names that are instantly recognisable, but actually that is a benefit as it means the cast have been chosen for their talents alone and that is what is evident throughout this show.  Each character is perfectly defined and obvious as to whom they are supposed to be.  Pinocchio has the perfect voice to match his personality and his nose actually does get bigger!  There is also the Ugly Duckling, Peter Pan, The Big Bad Wolf and the three little (or not so little cause they are fat) pigs.  And of course The Gingerbread Man, well he knows the muffin man…yes the muffin man! It’s all your childhood fairy-tales in one.  And if you know them it is even more fun…The Three Bears (from Goldilocks) are told to stand near Pinocchio.  Too close.  Too far.  Just right.  It’s these touches that give the show its magic.

The songs are all original and written especially for the show.  A favourite is ‘Let your freak flag fly’ which gives all the fairy-tale characters a chance to perform individually.  It’s also a song with a moral and that moral is - be proud of who you are and don’t let others pull you down.  Every fairy tale needs a moral at the heart of its story.  And it’s the small details that made this show extra special.  It’s the nod to The Lion King, the Les Mis flag, ‘The Donkees’ on the drum kit (as a reference to The Monkees who originally sang I’m a believer).  It’s like someone has sprinkled magic fairy dust on the show.

This show has feel good all over it and it’s one of those rare opportunities to get the whole family together to share something away from online gaming and daily stresses.  Just to be sure it’s is suitable for all ages – I took the harshest critic I could find – my 18 year old.  And yes he loved it proving it is truly suitable for all ages – even that difficult teenager age.
Shrek is currently playing at Milton Keynes Theatre until 6 September so there is still plenty of time to stand up and say ‘I’m a believer’.   

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Jersey Boys. Forget 'Oh, what a night' - Oh, what a show!!!

London 18.08.15 Matinee
My dad and I do not often get the chance to spend some quality time together but today we spent the day together. What did we do? Well we had a nice lunch and chatted about life…and then went to see the Jersey Boys.

The Jersey Boys is a show based on the life of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. The woman sitting behind me thought the name of the group was the Jersey Boys and kept asking who these Four Seasons were! Of course the Jersey Boys refer to where in the USA they came from.
The show started with a French rap version of ‘Oh, What a night’. To be honest, although it had lots of energy, it was a bit lost on the audience and could easily be cut from the show. The average age of the audience was over 50 and no one knew about this rap version – plus it was a French hit not a UK hit.

However we soon get into the show and it starts with a very early Frankie being pulled onto stage. Michael Watson who plays Frankie not only sounds so much like Frankie Valli that if you closed your eyes you would think it was him, but is also the correct height (there are references in the show to how short Frankie was) – I personally thought that Michael looked a bit like a young Tom Cruise. He also had a great ‘Jerrrsaay’ accent. But hold on…this is a show about four guys who formed a group – which had several names before settling on the Four Seasons. Frankie didn’t want to be a front man. It was a group effort. Bob Gaudio was played by Edd Post (Bob wrote a lot of the songs). Nick Massi was played by Gary Watson and the fourth member of the band was Tommy Devito who was played by Jon Boydon. All four are key in telling the story and work so well together they seem like they are best friends off stage too!
The show takes us through the various incarnations of the band and how they got to be famous. It tries to give us an idea of how rough it was in New Jersey but unless you lived there that would be quite hard to really grasp. It covers the highs and lows of the band members…this show is an emotional rollercoaster!

The show is full of energy and it’s almost every two minutes that there is a song or a set change – chairs and tables are constantly being put on and off the stage. There are clever changes of clothes – and you really get to know the characters and love them.
This show is not just a huge feel good show – it’s educational. After the first half I had already heard all the Frankie Valli songs I thought I knew so didn’t know what the second half would offer. How wrong I was! Bye Bye Baby was a Frankie Valli song. (Yes I knew it by the Bay City Rollers!) And the biggest shocker was ‘Can’t take my eyes off of you’ which was my wedding song. I knew Andy Williams had recorded it and my husband and I knew it better by Boystown gang, but here it was being so beautifully sung by Michael to the point it actually made me cry.

The audience for this matinee performance was one of the best I have ever been in. They were receptive and cheered and clapped so much that at times I thought it might affect the running time of the show. Every cheer and clap was well deserved. And it was not lost on the cast, who waited ‘til it died down before continuing. And the looks on their faces could see they appreciated it. This also helped make this experience one of the best shows I have ever seen.
This show has feel good factor with a big F. It is absolutely Fantastic. Fabulous. Fun. …okay running out of ‘F’s but you get my drift.

I think being in my 40’s I am below the average age of the audience but this show is suitable for all ages – and trust me you will have a great time!



Thursday, 6 August 2015

Reviews for other websites

I have been lucky enough to be asked to write for other websites. Among those, I write local theatre reviews

Here is my latest review, the Elvis musical, Love Me Tender at Milton Keynes Theatre.

This review originally featured on the 'About Milton Keynes' website.

Love Me Tender

Elvis gave us more than 102 singles and 70 albums in his lifetime.  How do you narrow that down to 25 well known Elvis songs for a show?  Well they have as Love Me Tender is a new musical that has given Elvis songs the same treatment as Mamma Mia for Abba and We Will Rock You for Queen.
Set in the 1950’s, it tells the story of a small town in mid-west America that is about to be hit with a huge dose of rock ‘n’ roll.  A stranger comes to town and Natalie, the tomboy mechanic falls for him.  A simple story of love.  And love is the star attraction as almost everyone in the town starts falling in love with each other.  A perfect set to deliver some Elvis magic.

The show stars award-winning singer Mica Paris as local bar owner and there is no doubt that she is the star of the show.  She really does sing Elvis beautifully.  It is a shame she does not get more songs to herself as she really makes Elvis work for her and the audience definitely wanted more.  The show also stars Shaun Williamson, best known for his part as Barry in EastEnders.  He plays Jim, Natalie’s dad and although he might be considered the comedy element in the show, actually Shaun does Elvis proud.  He must secretly be an Elvis fan as he delivers his songs with compassion and affection.
‘Natalie’ is played by Laura Tebbutt and she really gives an excellent all-round performance and has a lovely voice.  Her love interest is the roustabout ‘Chad’, played by Ben Lewis.  He has the tightest jeans I have ever seen and can wiggle his hips in them too.  Not easy when singing and dancing.  All that is missing is a big quiff.  That would have completed the ‘look’ and made it more authentic.

The show opens to Jailhouse Rock and it is a well- choreographed scene.  Be ready for the start of the show as the lights don’t get dimmed straight away so some audience members were still talking with the performers on stage.  In this scene there is also a man on the toilet, which I am sure some members of the audience will find funny but devoted Elvis fans might find this in poor taste considering how The King passed away.

It is described as a musical comedy and there is a lot of humour in the show.  One of the best lines was when Lorraine and Dean are falling in love and she quotes Romeo & Juliet. Another humorous moment is the use of ‘It’s now or never’ each time someone falls in love.
Heartbreak Hotel gives you a good insight into how well all the cast can sing as many individuals get a line to themselves.  It’s a great scene in the bar and really uses the song well.

There are a lot of familiar Elvis songs and quite a few that are not so familiar, but with ‘blue suede shoes, ‘can’t help falling in love with you’, ‘If I can dream’ and ‘burning love’ there is something for everyone.
The show left me feeling I need more Elvis in my life.