Thoroughly Modern Millie UK tour at The Churchill Theatre, Bromley

The forward-thinking, thirties classic Thoroughly Modern Millie graces the Churchill stage this week, led by Strictly Come Dancing favourite Joanne Clifton. With catchy tunes and glitzy costumes this show is full of talent, but sadly needs a bit more gusto to make it a hit.

Meet Millie Dilmount; the country girl longing for the bright lights of the city and a husband that suits her financial needs over her romantic ones. Determined to be the modern girl in the magazines she moves to NEW YORK and starts hunting for a job (husband) but as herself and her new friends get caught up in a white slavery plot, will they all find true love or be shipped off to the orient!

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In a theatrical climate where star casting is often put under scrutiny the choice of Strictly pro Joanne Clifton could be a controversial one, but I was pleasantly surprised at the Millie she presents on stage. Quirky, confident and gutsy – this girl can sing as well as dance and it was nice to see her play with the character in a way I haven’t seen before.

Millie’s fiery, positive character is spectacularly contrasted by the cynical, conniving Mrs Meers, brilliantly portrayed by Luca Rush, whose sharp wit and comical timing shines through. Other great performances come from Sam Barrett as Jimmy and Katherine Glover as Dorothy. Jenny Fitzpatrick’s soulful smooth voice is perfect for the part of Muzzy, and Graham MacDuff is hilarious as the drunk Trevor Graydon, although maybe plays on the act a little too much.

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Despite a good leading cast I can’t help but feel this production has something missing. It’s crying out for more pace. The set, sad to say, just strikes you as being a bit cheap, which is put into stark contrast when the cast wear such beautiful thirties dresses and suits. These gorgeous clothes are then undermined by the addition of cheap, plastic, green golf visors to the men’s work outfits. The comedy moments with Bun Foo and Ching Ho (who were regularly noticeable among the ensemble) are sometimes lost as the English translations are just too high above their heads and too small for many to read.

Some decisions are questionable, such as the choice to dress men as women during Forget About the Boy – sometimes less is more in this case. There’s often a feeling that a few more bodies on stage wouldn’t be a bad thing. It’s also sad to see Joanne tap without tap shoes at multiple points in the show. This may be down to practicality but I would forgive the odd walking tap click and onstage shoe change to see her tap properly!

Despite all this, it is a good effort at bringing this sometimes out of date show to a modern audience. Sadly the X factor is missing, but with a few tweaks, this could be a fantastic show, and the principal cast are at the heart of it, entertaining the audience to the very end. It’s worth a visit for Joanne Clifton alone, who goes from Strictly pro to musical pro in just one number. It’s the production values that need to keep up with her dancing feet!

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Thoroughly Modern Millie is playing at The Churchill Theatre until Saturday 10th June before continuing its UK tour. Tickets available online here.

Photo credit:

Miranda Hart stars in Annie in the West End

They say don’t work with children or animals. Well, they certainly aren’t the issue in the London’s new production of Annie. The classic hit about the adorable, hard-done-by orphans of New York has a great attempt in becoming the next West End family hit, but misses the mark when led by comedy favourite Miranda Hart.

The poor girls of the orphanage are worked to the bone and hammered down by the wicked Miss Hannigan. Billionaire Mr Warbucks decides to take in an orphan over Christmas, with the positive-minded Annie being the lucky chosen one. He soon decides to help her find her parents, but when a $50,000 reward attracts every crook in the neighbourhood claiming Annie to be theirs, the pair soon discover the truth.

In a show like this the children often shine, and sure enough the group of young girls are full of energy from the first moment. Annie herself, played by Ruby Stokes, is truly confident and as cute as a button, belting out the big songs and carrying the show with ease. Quirky, fun and permanently spirited, the kids are a real asset to the production, although could use some work on diction at points. The youngest shows her true professionality after a mishap with a present leaves her miming holding a box for half a number – what a trooper! Even the dog follows his leads perfectly and plays up to the crowd during Tomorrow.

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The adult ensemble can’t really compete but ably dress the show with some nice moments and appropriate choreography. Unfortunately the West End’s latest star casting doesn’t hit the mark. Miranda Hart, best known for her gawky comedy show character, just isn’t convincing as the nasty, child-hating villain Miss Hannigan, but not for lack of ability or lack of trying. Hart’s attempt at singing and dancing is admirable for someone with no musical theatre experience, although starkly and foolishly brought to attention when put next to professionals in certain numbers. She tries too hard to fall back to her comedy comfort zone and a lot of jokes just grind.

Overall the show is nice enough. The set is great and works really well with this particular show. Sadly you don’t feel yourself getting caught up in the rousing and upbeat message of positivity that Annie champions and a lot of time struggle to know where to look with some scenes being a bit too busy on an already busy stage. An enjoyable evening and some lovely moments but regrettably not the showstopper it could be.

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Annie is showing at the Piccadilly Theatre, London, until 6th January 2018. Tickets available here.

Photo credit: Paul Coltas

On the Town at the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park

Bernstein’s glorious score coupled with Jerome Robbins dance concept is a recipe for success with London’s newest opening, On the Town. Award-winning choreographer Drew McOnie is at the helm of this first offering from the Open Air Theatre’s 2017 season, providing a masterclass in how to breathe fresh life into a classic musical ballet.

The show follows three sailors enjoying 24 hours of shore leave in the big city, New York New York. The trio declare Manhattan girls are the prettiest in the world and start the hunt for dates for the evening. As the sailors pick up their girls, chaos ensues, making their day in the city one not to forget.

On the Town 4The production is wonderfully fluid, with an inspired set that really grasps the space as well as the concept of the musical. Scene changes are easy and slot in relatively unobserved allowing full focus on the all-important dancing. McOnie once again proves why he is a leader in his field, with visually stunning choreography. It’s fresh but brilliantly in touch with the original piece, a personal highlight being a gorgeous male duet.

Leading man Danny Mac may be known for his dancing following his stint on Strictly, but in this show he proves there’s more to the man than his moves. Vocally he shines as Gabey along with Jacob Maynard as Chip and Samuel Edwards as Ozzie. The trio confidently hold the show, their performances only enhanced by the girls they seek to date. Lizzy Connolly gives us a perky, hilarious Hildy and Mirian-Teak Lee stuns with her vocal ability in the role of Claire. Siena Kelly (Ivy) looks beautifully at home with the strong dance ensemble yet shines in her individual scenes.

If the strong leading cast wasn’t enough, the show has witty character pieces from the likes of Naoko Mori (Lucy Schmeeler) and Mark Heenehan (as The Judge). It’s a shame their characters didn’t allow them to be used more.

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With simple yet bright costumes, creative lighting and a sublime soundtrack, effortlessly led by Tom Deering, this really is an all-round hit. The production values really make up for what the plot may lack and the show boasts one of the strongest casts in London right now, from the leading man through to the last member of the ensemble. On the Town offers an infectious sense of fun punctuated by flawlessly aesthetic dance sequences.

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On the Town is booking until 1st July at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park. Tickets are available here.

Production photography: Johan Persson and Jane Hobson

42nd Street at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

Broadway’s biggest show is taking over the West End in tap-tastic style this year. 42nd Street, the classic dance production, boasts the biggest ensemble on London’s biggest stage, but is it big enough to charm West End audiences?

The show follows young, fresh-faced performer, Peggy Sawyer. Following her dreams, she becomes one of the many faces in the chorus line, but when the leading lady is injured she might just have a shot at stardom.

To me there are many things that could go wrong with this particular show: the tap can become monotonous; the cost of such a large chorus can detract from the production value; the ‘show within a show’ format might not appeal to the masses. Within five minutes of the curtain rising, you know you have nothing to worry about.

The shining light of this show is by far the cast, all 50 of them! The ensemble is as slick as you can imagine, with strong leads woven in too. Because that’s the way this show goes – ensemble first, and it takes something special to create that feel in a theatre full of talented principals.

It can be hugely challenging to make that much tap dancing interesting to a modern audience but Randy Skinner achieves it. The imaginative use of staging, lighting and costumes makes the longer dance sections engaging and wildly impressive, but when the dancing is that good it merely enhances its impact. Even the stripped back dance routines, where it’s just the ensemble and the music, are mind-blowing. It reminds you of the pure simplistic brilliance of a clean dance troupe.

London’s Peggy Sawyer, Clare Halse, is an absolute dream. Not only is she the West End’s most credible triple threat since Charlie Stemp, she really becomes the character and you live her character’s journey in confidence right through to the Pretty Lady finale. Her tapping is sensational and she paints a picture of a truly likeable character who you want champion from the off.

Sound performances are given from the other leading characters, explicably commanded by Tom Lister as Julian Marsh. Unfortunately with such a strong show all round, the average-to-weak link does stick out, and on this occasion it is Sheena Easton as Dorothy Brock, who is regrettably shaky. The character is good enough but her vocal ability is sadly not what it was and I feel she is just a beat behind everyone at times.

The plot can be irritating too. Some aspects of the story really aren’t explored enough and you wonder why they are even included. The ‘trouble’ surrounding Sheena’s character is very quickly brushed over. There are times you think Pat’s involvement in the story is going to develop but doesn’t and hints of various love interests for Peggy never seem to follow through. It is difficult enough to make a ‘show within a show’ with a gripping plot so I expected it to grab these opportunities at further drama or just discount them completely, rather than toy with them before moving on.

But it’s not a deal-breaker in this stellar production. You sit down at the start thinking ‘something’s got to give’ – a cast of 50 is a big expense, but there’s no corners cut here. The costumes, sets, and outstanding orchestra all match up to the immense cast and dance mastery. 42nd Street really is an all-round great of this theatrical era, lovingly nurtured for current tastes and executed with magnificent finesse. One thing’s for certain – you really must meet these dancing feet!

42nd Street is playing at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, until 22nd July. Tickets available now online.

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Photo credit:

With thanks to Dewynters.

Lizzie UK premiere at the Greenwich Theatre

Thought you knew the story of Lizzie Borden? Think again. This refreshing new production of rock musical Lizzie is the finest masterclass in how to portray a murder story. Forget the six merry murderesses of Chicago – the four powerfully talented leading ladies of Lizzie are the new powerhouse of musical theatre feminism.

Lizzie Borden, renowned for being tried and acquitted for the axe murders of her father and stepmother in 1892, tells her tale in raging new fashion, bringing the many theories surrounding the true story to light through a mighty soundtrack of rock ballads. Deception, suppression, incest and homosexuality are explored in bloody and frank narrative of the killings and trial.

The production is largely minimalist, choosing to place focus on the classic rock elements – the sound and the visual. Heavy music, blazing lighting and sparingly-used graphics are put to great effect. You are immediately hit with a wall of light and sound and the energy doesn’t let up until the last. The cast sublimely weave in the theatrical element with Victoria Bussert’s direction but the clever use of microphones reminds you that this is, put simply, the ultimate alternative gig.

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Steven Cheslik-Demeyer’s and Alan Stevens Hewitt’s music is the shining beacon of this show, fantastically amplified by solid band and four outstanding performers. Bjorg Gamst, who originated the title role at the Frederica Theatre, commands the almost schizophrenic Lizzie Borden, seamlessly showcasing her vulnerability while similarly allowing herself to become the unhinged murderer. Bleu Woodward, playing her love interest Alice Russell, handles the suspecting change in her character with ease and grasps the love songs with Bjorg by the horns producing some great moments.

Playing Emma Borden, the canniving older sister of Lizzie, Eden Espinosa is a truly expert vocalist, and it was unfortunate that her character didn’t allow for more stage time. Each time she lifted her microphone she commanded the theatre with her voice. It’s hard to separate when the standards are this high but Jodie Jacobs as the Borden’s maid Bridget Sullivan might just have tipped it. Stunningly awesome vocals paired with a quick-witted, comical character, Jodie drew the eye and ear throughout, seemingly crafting the twisted plot.

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Simplistic staging is a hidden hero of this show, however when it comes to the actual murders you find it all a tad underwhelming. The tone has been set and you expect a little more theatrical vulgarity after an hour of intense, brazen, in-your-face performance. When the front row are given plastic ponchos you expect a little more than what you actually get. They could get away with completely unleashing the ‘blood’ and going a little crazy – it would work here.

Although that’s a minor issue and barely detracts from what is a class production. It has to be seen live. It is truly wonderful to see four intensely powerful and talented women rock a stage with unapologetic tenacity. We need more productions that showcase women like this on UK stages.

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The UK premiere of Lizzie plays at the Greenwich Theatre for just 20 performances until Sunday 12th March. Tickets are available here.

Gratefully written thanks to Theatre Bloggers and the #LDNTheatreBloggers.

Photo credits: Soren Malmose