The Wedding Singer UK Tour

Dan Looney and Adam Paulden’s touring production of The Wedding Singer took to the floor for its first dance at the Churchill Theatre on Tuesday night, and trust me when I say this eighties pop hit is the matrimonial event that you don’t want to miss.

Based on the film starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, The Wedding Singer tells the story of performer Robbie Hart who hits rock bottom when left at the altar by his fiancée. He goes from wedding champion to love casualty but is saved from his downward spiral by waitress Julia. Engaged to notorious city trader, and cheater, Glen Gulia, will she realise what true love is before it’s too late?

With weddings at its heart, this show is always going to be a tad cheesy, but this production rises above that, balancing the light-hearted fun with emotional pull. Jon Robyns, as Robbie, leads with this spirit, with strong vocals and an effortless capability to win the audience over and bring them on his character’s journey.

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The bubbly eighties soundtrack is perfect for the show and is brilliantly punctuated by a strong book; witty and funny when it needs to be without taxing an audience who want an easy night at the theatre. Choreographically this production is more ambitious than I anticipated and it really works with this energetic ensemble who truly bring the show to life.

Ray Quinn, as Glen, once again proves he’s no forgotten X Factor star trying his hand at the touring scene. He is a confident musical performer, vocally and physically who really relishes this role. Our leading lady, Cassie Compton (as Julia), is cute and nicely portrays the girl with the white wedding dream, however seems to separate and force some notes which can be a little distracting. You’re spoilt with talent among the other supporting roles but special mentions must go to George (Samuel Holmes) and rapping Nan Rosie (Ruth Madoc).

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Technically, despite a few minor hiccups, the show is strong. The lighting is particularly clever and compliments the set and staging. The varying scene locations were handed well and the bar where the guys sing ‘Single’ is an understated stroke of genius, especially when coupled with Nick Winston’s ‘bottom half’ choreography.

It’s rare you find a touring production that so capably offers light entertainment with such sentimental heart. The Wedding Singer is charming, lively and above all uplifting. This is definitely a show to fall in love with!

You can catch The Wedding Singer at The Churchill Theatre, Bromley until Saturday 5th August before it continues its UK tour. Full touring details here with Bromley tickets on sale here.

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Footloose UK tour at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley

The Churchill Theatre celebrated it’s 40th Birthday this week as the Footloose tour headed to Bromley. Led by pop favourite Gareth Gates and Blood Brothers actress Maureen Nolan, the production is fun and lively, although unfortunately flawed by its re-imagined concept.

After his dad runs out, dance-mad teenager Ren McCormack moves to the upright American town of Bomont with his mum. Instead of finding a fresh start, Ren discovers that the tragic loss of five partying teenagers has resulted in dance (and the evils that come with it) being completely banned. He alienates himself as he attempts to fight the system, not helped by falling for the daughter of the town’s strict vicar, but he soon encourages his classmates to stand up for what is right and bring life back to the conservative community.

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This new touring production of Footloose takes the show in a new direction with the introduction of actor musicians. Sadly someone’s missed a trick here and having an on-stage band really dampens the effect of some scenes and distracts from the intimacy of others. When two characters are arguing and one storms towards a piano instead of storming offstage, it goes from serious to almost farcical.

For a show so centred around dance and its influence, why detract in any way from the brilliant choreography? The cast are good, and obviously quadruple threats in many cases, but why have ‘good’ dancers with instruments when you can have incredible ones without? It seems a shame that maybe cost-cutting and slightly too radical artistic direction have clashed here to lose what could have been an amazing musical production.

Gareth Gates as Willard in Footloose. Photo Credit Matt Martin (3)

The good news is that this is not a wasted night at theatre despite noted flaws. Footloose has a truly strong 80s soundtrack that slots seamlessly into the plot and an energetic performance from Joshua Dowen as Ren is a welcome charming consistency. Gareth Gates as Willard certainly proved popular and the audience warmed to his likeable character, and probably his body too!

It’s a shame that the show is hampered by the actor-muso angle, an idea that may seem revolutionary but in practice strips the production of some of its iconic qualities. Saying that, it still has heart, it still showcases talent and people still get up for a dance at the end, which is in reality all that some people want from a night out!

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Footloose plays at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley, until Saturday 22nd July before continuing its tour of the UK. Tickets available here.

Photo credit: Matt Martin

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.

Bjørg Gamst(Lizzie Borden) and Eden Espinosa (Emma Borden)_Foto_Søren Malmose

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

RENT 20th Anniversary Tour, Churchill Theatre Bromley

Fresh from a sell-out London run at the St. James, Rent has launched into its 20th anniversary tour with passion, grit and standing ovations. The Churchill Theatre, Bromley was the next to experience the power and emotion of this musical classic in a first performance that left few dry eyes in the house.

Inspired by Puccini’s opera La bohème, Rent tells the moving story of a group of young artists struggling to survive in New York City’s East Village in the thriving days of Bohemian excess. Their relationships are tested by the struggles of HIV/AIDS, sexuality, poverty and loss.

LtoR Philippa Stefani as Mimi and Ross Hunter as Roger in RENT. Credit Matt Crockett

The production, directed by Bruce Guthrie, certainly does the late Jonathan Larson proud, bringing this hard-hitting tale to the stage with determined intensity yet responsible modesty, a balance never easy to find.

Casting to perfection, Rent has a wealth of talent in it’s midsts. Lucie Jones, recently crowned as the UK’s Eurovision entry, gives a masterclass in musical theatre, delivering Maureen’s protest with ridiculous wit and hilarity. Philippa Stefani is truly immersed in Mimi’s character, beautifully and tragically illustrating the extremity of her highs and lows, oozing character right until the end, not even indulging herself in a beaming bow.

Lucie Jones as Maureen in RENT. Credit Matt Crockett

Billy Cullum (Mark) and Ross Hunter (Roger) both charm the audience with believable purpose. Ross’ rendition of One Song Glory is stunning and Billy brilliantly holds the show throughout. Ryan O’Gorman’s portrayal of Tom, the joy at finding love and tragic heartbreak of losing it, is particularly moving. The relationship between him and Angel (played by Harrison Clark due to Layton William’s injury) is endearing until the last moment and Harrison steps into the role superbly.

Despite highlighting the specific triumphs, the cast as a group boast maybe the best collective vocals of any show around right now, despite some weaker voicemail sections. Seasons of Love leaves many speechless, although Shanay Holmes’ (Joanne) and Lucie’s rendition of Take Me or Leave Me is a personal highlight.

This production seamlessly fuses the elements at hand to great effect. Staging, lighting and set design reflects the edgy, uncertain times the characters face, while musically the rock elements flourish behind the vocals. My only gripe would be the occasional audio blip and the seemingly unnecessary turning of part of the set, which to me adds little but distracts greatly.

I’ve never been entirely convinced by the film, and by watching it on stage I was reminded of the true power of live performance. Everything about this show makes you invest and involve yourself not only in the individual stories but the overarching themes, a thing the film never quite succeeded in doing in my eyes. The theatre forces you to listen; forces you to give a damn about these people’s plights in a way that the media or TV just can’t match. Couple that with the stunning sound and you’ll soon find yourself stifling sobs within a silent, positively gripped audience. The 20th anniversary tour of Rent is a knockout sensation.

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Rent runs at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley until Saturday 11th February before continuing its tour of the UK. Tickets available online.

Bumblescratch Gala Night at the Adelphi Theatre

The eagerly awaited addition to the Sherman dynasty scurried into the West End on Sunday 4th September with a star-studded charity gala performance of Bumblescratch, a new musical about a filthy rat during the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London. On the surface Robert Sherman’s show has all the makings of a great musical – a renowned composer, a talented cast, artistic costumes and intriguing subject matter surrounding two of Elizabethan Britain’s most shocking events. Unfortunately it just doesn’t come together as one would hope.

Bumblescratch is a musical that doesn’t quite know where it’s going. Lascivious rat Melbourne Bumblescratch tells gruesome tales of London town in the 1600s after adopting a young rodent Perry as his sidekick. We learn he has stolen a precious jewel from King Rat Socrates and regularly dreams of a phantom friend, pirate rat Hookbeard, after eating dodgy cheese. For almost an hour you think it’s rivalling Cats with a seemingly lacking plot.

Bumblescratch; by Robert J Sherman; Directed and choreographed by Stewart Nicholls; with Darren Day; Ilan Galkoff; at The Adelphi Theatre; London,UK; on 4 September 2016; Photos by Francis Loney; T: 0207 254 1199; francisloney@talktalk.net; Unit One Quebec Wharf; 315 Kingsland Road, London, E8 4DJ.

Darren Day (Melbourne) and Ilan Galkoff (Perry) in Bumblescratch Photo by Francis Loney

Just as you settle into the concept of ‘Rats’ you hurtle into a storyline as Perry falls in love with a human girl, forcing Melbourne to watch over her before being brutally clubbed to death by her baker father. All within the last ten minutes of the first act! For a show billed as a ‘family musical-comedy’ it seems to have some identity issues. I don’t know many children who enjoy tales of whores being eaten, and I certainly didn’t hear many of them laughing in the theatre that night.

The score is obviously sophisticated with hints of beauty, particularly before the interval with Music of the Spheres and My Place in the Sun. There’s no stand-out hit – the one that you leave the theatre humming – but there could be. I felt these songs weren’t always explored to their full potential before moving on.

Michael Xavier as Hookbeard Photo by Francis Loney

Michael Xavier as Hookbeard
Photo by Francis Loney

Saying that the cast performances were outstanding throughout the ensemble making the gala enjoyable despite the musical’s issues. Darren Day does his best to navigate you through a difficult plot, instantly establishing a likeable narrator in Melbourne Bumblescratch. His witty and funny performance is to be commended alongside young star Ilan Galkoff as Perry, who handles a particularly mature and vocally-heavy role with ease. Michael Xavier is simply stunning as Hookbeard, although not nearly used enough during the show. Mention must go to Cathy Read as Thamesa whose gorgeous vocals will be heard from another West End stage soon I’m sure.

It’s almost a shame to criticise something that has so much potential but it does need work. A plot outline in the programme is something I usually think redundant but in this case it was a necessity! You shouldn’t have to study the show afterwards just to find out what happened, especially when it’s described as a family show. However I’d like to see the show again after some work, and definitely with a similarly talented cast.

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