Monday, 30 June 2014

Nottingham Theatre Royal

Now if you're of a certain age and can remember the original US TV show with Henry Winkler as the super cool leather jacketed The Fonz, the King of Cool, you may, like myself, have high expectations of Ben Freeman's performance. And he has some cool shoes to fill, and guess what, when you get into the musical, he does actually grow on you, and the nice thing is that Ben brings out the softer side of the Fonz.

In the TV series The Fonz would never dance, unless it was a slow smooch, and he would never sing, but Heyyyyy this is a musical! Ben actually pleasantly surprised me and I really enjoyed his version of The Fonz. One slight aside though,

In true musical style, there is a catastrophe afoot when Arnold's, the diner where all the cool cats and the wannabe cool cats hang out for their soda pops and to catch up with the latest gossip and hep tunes, as well as meet girls...and boys of course, when Arnold breaks the bad news. Arnold's is due to be bulldozed so that they can erect, of all things, a shopping mall and a McDonaid' would never catch on!

So Arnold, Mr Cunningham and the leopards, Mrs Cunningham, Richie, Potsy, Ralph "Malph", Chatchi and co need a plan to save Arnold's. But can The Fonz save the day, and of course the future of Arnold's?

The set is brilliant and so reminiscent of the TV set, complete with Wurlitzer jukebox, a real trip down TV memory lane, Although there are no memorable songs to take away from the theatre, apart from the title track, you will enjoy some catchy (in the moment) songs like the opener "Welcome To Wisconsin", "Message In The Music", "Run" and a beautiful ballad sung by Pinky called "Legend In Leather". All of the songs have been written for the musical by Paul Williams who was responsible for songs like "Rainy Days and Mondays" as well as the "Bugsy Malone" soundtrack. The story was written by Garry Marshall who also wrote the original "Happy days" script.

I've mentioned Ben Freeman as The Fonz but all the actors perform really well, and so much like the original characters. Cheryl Baker manages to capture the very essence of Mrs Cunningham and she can still sing and dance as well as ever, a joy to watch. Oh and there's also a polite nod to her previous work in there as well!

The Sugababes Heidi Range is an absolute darling as The Fonz's ex squeeze, Pinky Tuscadero, and she really suits the style of the era, looks wise and fashion wise, and as an actress, you find it comfortable watching her act, something that can't be said of some singers turned actor I've seen in the past.

James Paterson was the spit of Howard Cunningham, and also a delight to watch. One actor making his professional debut in "Happy Days"as Richie Cunningham was Scott Waugh, whose confidence shone through. A great start to his professional career, me thinks.

A very confident cast, but as this is the final week for the touring musical, you'd expect nothing less than a finely tuned, tight ensemble, and that is exactly what you'll get. Great fun show which will have you on your feet at the end of the evening and make you leave the theatre with nostalgic thoughts and a nice warm fuzzy feeling in the bottom of your belly.

"Happy Days" is at the Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 5 July 2014.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Nottingham Arts Theatre

This may not be a theatrical production but it was a production with lots of theatricality as well as nostalgia. Lily Taylor-Ward, Julie Keightley and Johnny Victory presented a very entertaining evening of music from the theatre, movies and the War years. Some of the cast from the People's Theatre production of "Oh What A Lovely War" also performed a medley from the musical that will be performed at the Arts Theatre from Tuesday 1 July to Saturday 5 July.

The show opened with a selection of songs from, the musicals sung by Lily Taylor-Ward. If you've never heard Lily sing, well, you're missing a real talent. A voice that will set the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end, and what musicality she has as well; just hear her emote while singing "As Long As He Needs Me" from "Oliver". Lily also gets to show off her wonderful soprano voice in the duet "The Prayer" with Julie Keightley.

Julie is one of those classy singers who really knows how to hold an audience in the palm of her hand when she sings and is at ease when chatting to the audience in between her songs. She was advised by the late Notts County boss, Jimmy Sirrell to have a go at some Shirley Bassey songs and on the night Julie performed one of Bassey's most powerful, "La Vita (This Is My Life)".

Johnny Victory is another class act with his Fred Astaire attire, complete with top hat, white tie and tails, giving us songs made famous by Liza Minnelli, Fred Astaire, Al Jolson and.... Morecambe and Wise!!

In the second part we were treated to songs from the war period by all three artists, including a medley of Vera Lynn songs, The Andrews Sisters, Gracie Fields and an excellent medley of War time classics from all three and the "Oh What A Lovely War" cast. The enthusiastic audience were on their feet with flags being waved for "Land Of Hope And Glory", "We;ll Meet Again" and "The National Anthem".

A very entertaining evening with bags of nostalgia, emotion and fun with the money raised going to the Royal British Legion.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Lace Market Theatre

The play that was a 1912 west End smash hit would today be classed as one of those classic kitchen sink dramas, a kind of cross between Coronation Street and Downton Abbey.

Rutherford, has built up a glassmaking business which he has always intended to pass onto his son, John. To his father's disgust, John married a working class girl, Mary. John has invented a "new metal" which he feels could save the industry a lot of money but Rutherford wants it all for himself but John wants to sell the metal to him. It's this, along with his discovery that his daughter, Janet, is also seeing one of Rutherford's workers, Martin that pushes him over the edge and he bans Janet from the home and sacks Martin.

Rutherford manages to drive all three of his children from the family home, but someone has a deal for Rutherford that he can't refuse!.

Set in Yorkshire, the accents were spot on and with all north of Watford dramas, reality was the key here. A very enjoyable play and with this being one of those little known gems that the Lace Market seem to pride themselves on finding and presenting, I had no knowledge or expectation of what was to come, and I was pleasantly surprised.

All of the cast were excellent, but I did have a soft spot for the lovely Carol Parkinson, who played Mrs Henderson, the mother of one of Rutherford's workers suspected of stealing from him, who came to plead for his re instatement of his labour; a wonderful character piece.

it takes a good actor to make you start to hate a character but Geoff Longbottom succeeded to do this as Rutherford,and frustration with John, played by Sam Allison. It was good to see George Page-Bailey play a non comic role, as the last time I saw him on stage was in "Black Comedy", but you can also catch him in the upcoming "Private Peaceful".

Classy and thought provoking work, you can see "Rutherford and Son" at the Lace Market Theatre until Saturday 21 June.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Nottingham Theatre Royal

Written by Ben Elton in the same style as he wrote "We Will Rock You", the musical using the songs of Queen. Some great songs with some very clever arrangements but a weak storyline to hang the songs on. By the time you were ten minutes into the story, you knew how it would pan out and how it would all end, so there were no surprises or twists to keep you hanging on.

I also feel that coming the week after the brilliant "Rock Of Ages", another musical using rock songs, this one just didn't stand much of a chance, which may have been just bad luck and a little unfair on this cast. "Rock Of Ages" were big boots to fill and "Tonight's The Night" were wearing flip flops.

That said, there were some really good performances.Ben Heathcote played Stuart, the nerdy grease monkey who had fallen for Mary (Jenna Lee-James) and as he couldn't express his feelings for her, in the heat of the moment, traded his soul for the soul of his idol, Rod Stewart. The Devil, played by Tiffany Graves, transforms the nerdy Stuart to sexy rock God Stuart, who then proceeds to use Rod Stewart's soul to it's full extent for the sake of rock n roll, and everything that went with that lifestyle.

But all is not as it should be and bits of Stuart's nerdy soul remains in his body, and he soon longs for the love of Mary, and his old lifestyle. The Devil decides to change the souls back and Stuart reverts back to his old self and wins the girl of his dreams back by just being himself.

Along the way Stuart encounters Stoner, (Ricky Rojas), who was really comical as Ben Elton's equivalent of Mick Jagger, and Maggie May, who was re christened as Baby Jane by Rod Stewart (but not the real Rod Stewart), again played by Tiffany Graves.

The arrangements, as with "We Will Rock You", are very clever and it's nice to hear the songs we know and love interpreted in a different way, exposing what great lyrics they hold when stripped back to just guitar and vocals. It's also nice to hear a song written for a man, sung by a woman.

And what a really good group of vocalists there were. Ben, as Stuart, at times sounded close to Rod Stewart without trying to copy his raspy vocals. Mary (Jenna) and Dee Dee, Mary's best friend (Rosie Heath) had some really powerful stripped down and emotional songs to perform, and it's they who stood out and made the hairs tingle in this production. Saying that Andy Rees, who played Rocky, the man who also loved Mary but lost out to Stuart, and finally found out that love was just under his nose with Dee Dee, gave an emotion packed version of "I Don't Want To Talk About It", when rejected by Mary.

Act 2 won me over a little more and although the cast managed to get the audience clapping along, there was no standing ovation, Tonight Was (Not) the Night for that I'm afraid. If you love the songs of Rod Stewart, then go along and see this show but don't expect any deep and meaningful plot with a twist, because you won't get one.

There are some great Stewart classics like "Young Turks", "You're In My Heart", "Sailing", "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy", "Hotlegs". "Stay With Me" and "Maggie May" and all here along with many other of your favourites you'd expect.

"Tonight's The Night" is on at the Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 21 June.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

THE BUGLE BOY by Den Stevenson
Nottingham Playhouse

This is the story of a man who created a very special sound throughout the second World War, a sound that is instantly recognisable, a man whose life was cut tragically short when the plane he was travelling in went missing when he was just 40 years old.

Den Stevenson created this mini masterpiece and the only musical world wide about the icon that is Glen Miller. It traces his rise from college to his heyday via radio interviews with his wife, Helen and Glen, played out on stage. The music is performed by a live eight piece who create the mood of the era well.

It's a piece of musical history that was attended not just by people who can remember this music first hand, but by teenagers and children who have been brought up with this music by their parents, and a history lesson that ended far too early.

There's a lot of information that I was unaware of here and featuring many of his biggest and well known tracks, "In The Mood", "Kalamazoo","String Of Pearls", "Elmer's Tune", "Moonlight Serenade", "Pennsylvania 65000" and many more big band classics as well as some very talented vocalists, all of which creating a very special atmosphere.

"Bugle Boy" is on at the Nottingham Playhouse until Thursday 12 June 2014

Monday, 9 June 2014

Nottingham Theatre Royal

It'll come as no surprise to find out that this is one of the best musicals featuring classic rock songs, possibly ever. It will also not be a surprise that this is one very entertaining piece of theatre that will have you on your feet at the end. What may come as a surprise is the power and strength of Noel Sullivan's voice!

Noel Sullivan, I hear you scream in a rock God kind of way? Why yes! once known as part of ITV's Pop Stars manufactured band, Hearsay, who had that number 1 hit "Pure & Simple" years ago with Kym Marsh, Suzanne Shaw, Myleene Klass and Danny (the one that looked like Shrek).

Well Noel has carved out a very successful career in musical theatre and, boy can he belt out those rock tunes, and hold a note, probably longer than Bill Wither's in "Lovely Day". I, for one was very pleasantly surprised with his role as Drew, the wannabe rock singer.

Anyway, it's a love story about girl who moves to a new city (Sherrie), girl falls in love with boy (Drew), boy loses girl to sexy rock star (Stacee Jaxx) in a toilet fumble, boy rejects girl, girl turns to the dark side and becomes a stripper (aka an exotic dancer), boy rock star turns turn the dark side (well joins a boyband), boy and girl meet again by accident and then fall in love all over again! Aaaah. Oh there is another plot as well about The Bourbon Club being shut down to make way for redevelopment and the owners (Lonny and Dennis) put on a last ditch attempt to make revenue by holding the last ever performance by Stacee Jaxx, which is where we came in.

Ben Richards (Strictly Come Dancing, The Bill, Footballer's Wives, Holby City) plays rock God, Stacee, most of then time with not many clothes on, ladies, but can also expose a good pair of lungs and tonsils as well. Then again he has been doing musical theatre since he was about seven years old!

Cordelia Farnworth plays Sherrie and when she and Noel get together for the duets and mash ups, they truly melt together vocally.

Keeping the story flowing as narrator as well as working the audience is club co owner Lonny, played with some excellent comic tones by Stephen Rahman-Hughes, who, we discover has a secret crush on someone, but you'll have to see the show to find out who he reveals his love for in song! Lonny that is not Stephen.

Another brilliant stroke of excellence in the comedic casting field is Cameron Sharp, who plays Franz, the German son of the renovating boss, Hertz Klineman. Again there is one part which has the audience in stitches with Franz's revealing storyline, but I couldn't possible tell you what it is!

This is one very entertaining show with stacks of comedy, some brilliant rock songs, a live rock band on stage, brilliant lighting and an excellent sound system. Great vocals from every actor and just a wonderful feel good show, maybe not for all the family though as there are parts that may shock little eyes and ears.

"Rock Of Ages" is at the Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 14 June 2014

Monday, 2 June 2014

Nottingham Theatre Royal

Featuring Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace from Strictly Come Dancing and the follow up to last year's "Midnight Tango". Last year was brilliant but this year was just amazingly good.

There is comedy, characterization, drama, song, dance and a storyline as well. Set in 1940's Hollywood glamour Flavia plays Hollywood starlet Sadie Strauss. Sadie is one half of a golden couple with the fictional Barry Burns, who just happens to get bumped off early on, when photos of him in a compromising position with Lana Clemenza, the blonde bombshell bimbo, played by the luscious Abbie Osmon.

Private Eye Tommy Dubrowski (Teddy Kempner) tells the story in the style of the old American gangster movies and provides most of the comedy moments, along with Lana. With Barry out of the picture, quite literally, there's an opening for a new leading man, and who better to take his place than budding actor, Tony Deluca, played by Vincent Simone, but first he has to prove that he didn't kill Barry Burns.

The dancing by everyone, not just Vincent and Flavia, was absolutely amazing, including many different styles, but we had to wait for their trademark Argentine Tango until near the end. Style, class and energy is stamped all over this show and boy does the time fly as quick as those dancing feet.

Music wise the songs ranged from "Big Noise From Winnetka" through "Moon River", "Stand By Me" to Bruno Mars' "Runaway Baby" and Caro Emerald's "That Man". Vocal wise Abbie Osman belts out Peggy Lee's "I Am Woman" with gusto and the male vocals are from Oliver Darley who has an amazing voice. And what a fantastic orchestra as well under the management of Andy Barnwell and Pete Harrison.

This really is Top Notch class from a charismatic pair of dancers at the top of their league, and energetic as most of the dances are, the pair never seem to break into a sweat or look the slightest bit out of breath.

You can catch "Dance Til Dawn" all this week until Saturday 7 June 2014