Category: musical

We’ve Got Each Other – Vault Festival, London

IMAGINE the most life affirming modern jukebox
musical the West End has even seen; opulent sets and decadent costumes;
extravagant dance routines; dramatic key changes… IMAGINE 12 Olivier Awards and
a 5-star Guardian review… IMAGINE 2019’s Hamilton!!!

It’s good that you brought your imagination because
this is the “West End of the East End of London” and you’re just going to have
to pretend…

As solo performer and creator Paul (O’Donnell) puts
away his carefully folded “marketing copy” you realise that this is no ordinary
musical. This is in fact the almost entirely imagined Bon Jovi Musical!!

Let’s be clear, this is a work of pure theatrical genius. A
clever deconstruction of everything that makes a West End musical a hit but presented
on a virtually empty stage by just one man with a red folder and an IKEA spot
lamp. Sat on a wooden chair, O’Donnell energetically narrates the imagined
musical, delivering scene by scene, character by character and every detail of
the imagined choreography from world famous Bruno Tonioli with near perfect
coming timing. Then just when you think it can’t get any camper… Confetti
Canons (imagined of course)!!

O’Donnell describes himself as “what we call in the
industry, a trip threat” and isn’t he just that. An exceptionally talented
performer that has the entire Vault Festival audience rolling around with
contagious laughter. This is a must-see, joyous performance for all musical
theatre fans and those who happen to just love to be entertained. A complete
master class in how to bring an audience to its feet. This is one not to be

We’ve Got Each Other is presented as part of the
Vault Festival 2019 and runs until 10th February 2019.

Reviewer: Alan Stuart Malin

Reviewed: 6th February 2019    

This review was originally written for North West End. North West End Rating: ★★★★★

Your favourite festive film is now a major n…

Your favourite festive film is now a major new musical adapted for the stage by Debbie Isitt, the creator of the much-loved films.

Every child in every school has one Christmas wish, to star in a Nativity, and at St Bernadette’s School they’re attempting to mount a musical version! Only trouble is teacher Mr Maddens has promised that a Hollywood producer is coming to see the show to turn it into a film. Join him, his teaching assistant the crazy Mr Poppy, hilarious children and a whole lot of sparkle and shine as they struggle to make everyone’s Christmas wish come true.

Feel –good, funny and full of yuletide joy, Nativity! The Musical features all of the favourite sing-a-long hits from the films including Sparkle and Shine, Nazareth, One Night One Moment, She’s the Brightest Star and a whole host of new songs filled with the spirit of Christmas!

With the cast including West End favourites Daniel Boys (Avenue Q), Sarah Earnshaw (Wicked, Spamalot) and Simon Lipkin (Rock of Ages, Guys and Dolls), Nativity! The Musical is the perfect feel-good comedy for all the family.

So join us this Christmas for some MAYHEM in Bethlehem!

Tickets available here:

Son of a Preacher Man – Stoke-on-Trent

Three broken hearts, one Soho hang-out, and the only man who could ever help them…  

Son of a Preacher Man follows a trio of characters: Kat (Diana Vickers), Alison (Michelle Long) and Paul (Michael Howe) all at a crossroads in life and all looking for love. They take their search to London to find The Preacher Man, proprietor of a legendary 60s music shop, home of all things groovy and from where guidance and advice were sought from the legend himself. Of course, the shop is now a run of the mill coffee house managed by Simon (Gary Mitchinson), the Preacher Man’s Son and a trio of musical (and colourful) waitresses called the Cappuccino Sisters (Cassiopeia Berkely-Agyepong; Rachel McAllister and Jess Barker). Simon is convinced to help these characters sort out their relationships and in doing so we are taken on a modern journey through the music of Dusty Springfield with digital technology references; dating apps and different kinds of love.  

Overall, the book by Warner Brown isn’t very strong, there are some odd cringe worthy, forced one liners and dialogue that doesn’t seem to lead anywhere. However unusual storyline to once side, the creative vision for this production is simply awesome.  

Led by Craig Revel Horwood (Director/Choreographer) the cast of 14 actor/musicians bring the numbers to life with such skill that it is impossible not to smile. It is hard to believe that all 14 multi-talented performers act, dance, sing and play multiple instruments, but they do so with ease.  

There are many standout performers including: Vickers in her role as Kat from Rotherham, who shows off her belting vocals to numbers that are absolutely suited to her style. EllieJane Goddard as multiple characters who showed us she has a real talent for multiple instruments, and Howe in his role as Paul, with a strong voice and energy.  

‘I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself’ was the number that pulled at my heart strings. Performed in perfect three-part harmony by McAllister; Goddard and Liam Vincent-Kilbride as ‘The Singles’ and a total picture of just how lonely the world can be in this modern age of dating.  

However, for me the standout performances of the night came from the two Swings who understudied for the absent Debra Stephenson and Ian Reddington. Long gave a powerhouse performance as Alison, a teacher who has fallen in love with one of her students. She demonstrated complete control vocally and a faultless performance. You would never believe that she was an understudy.  

Similarly, Micthinson in the title role of Simon (Son of a Preacher Man) was strong, controlled and totally believable as a Principal character.  

Morgan Large (Set and Costume Designer) excelled in this production with a skilful creation that perfectly complimented the story line in every sense. A fully moving and set that worked seamlessly between different scenes and locations, complimented by lighting by Richard G Jones (Lighting Designer), the stage was a visual treat for the eyes.  

Clever sets and lighting; well-choreographed dancing and brilliant music, Son of a Preacher Man is everything you want from a musical. Yes, the quality of the story line is questionably weak, but that can be forgiven because everything else about this is just superb.

The UK tour of Our House continues around venues until the end of the year:  

Reviewer: Alan Stuart Malin

Reviewed: 10th October 2017  

This review was originally written for North West End. North West End Rating: ★★★★

Our House – Blackpool

Our House is a fast paced, Olivier Award winning jukebox musical that first hit the UK in 2002 and showcases the music of the band ‘Madness’ with a coming-of-age, romantic comedy story line. This is the fourth countrywide tour of this show since leaving the West End, this time brought to us by an Immersion Theatre Company and Damien Tracey Productions partnership and featuring some well-known celebrity faces.  

The story of ‘Our House’ takes its influences from many different well know sources including ‘Blood Brothers’ and the movie ‘Sliding Doors’. Essentially the relationship between the good and bad choices we make in life and what might happen if we travel down a different life path, presented in a quirky split narrative format. Ironically this production of the popular musical also raises some questions about the good/bad choices of the production team.  

Without doubt the best choice was to bring Fabian Aloise on board as Choreographer. The big ensemble numbers: ‘Our House’, ‘Baggy Trousers’ and ‘Wings of a Dove’ were lively, energetic and completely carried the show. Some really complex choreography, expertly executed by a talented ensemble cast. The Fosse inspired ‘Embarrassment (Reprise)’ also known as ‘Encouragement’ was to a standard usually reserved for bigger West End productions and was quite mesmerising.  

It’s always a risk to cast an inexperienced, celebrity performer such as George Sampson (Reecey) into a big musical production. Unfortunately, on this occasion it wasn’t a risk worth taking. Sampson is the wrong performer for this role. Whilst he is clearly a skilled street dancer (although street dance is randomly out of place within Our House story line), Sampson lacks the vocal and acting abilities to create a stage presence worthy of bad boy Reecey. With whispery dialogue, and a Northern accent he completely missed the character profile and got lost on the stage amongst his colleagues.  

One such colleague is Callum Mcardle in the role of Dad. Mcardle is seasoned musical theatre professional and delivered note, clear perfect vocals throughout and brought the role of Dad to life. 

Frances Dee (Swing), Lottie Henshall (Ensemble) and Michael Nelson (Swing) also gave brilliant performances throughout and consistently drew attention away from some of the weaker Principals with their energy and commitment to their broad range of characters.

The true star of any Our House production is the performer tasked with playing the role of main character, Joe Cassey. This is a high demand, athletic role that requires the triple threat and an ability to change costumes quickly and within sometimes confirmed spaces. Jason Kajdi (Cassey) did not let us down and held the show with ease in the palm of his hand. He is a sturdy, powerhouse performer and played Joe Cassey with great comic timing that won the audience over. 

Deena Payne, the other headline name, unfortunately looked uncomfortable and miscast as Kath Cassey, the shows matriarch character. A generally underwhelming portrayal.  

Lighting (Tim Deiling), Set (David Shields) and Sound (Chris Whybrow) presented significant issues throughout. Performers were poorly lit and often stood in partial shadows or complete darkness. Sound quality was variable with missed cues and unequal microphone volumes. However, the biggest issue of the night was the Set with several clunky/noisy scene changes and a disastrous back stage view for at least half of the Blackpool audience during ‘Tomorrows Just Another Day’ that completely ruined the Good Joe / Bad Joe illusion as we watched performers change into their prison costumes overseen by a lady with a torch in her mouth. This is totally unacceptable for professional theatre and needs to be addressed quickly by the creative team.  

It’s a real shame that Kajdi wasn’t placed at the headline of this show in favour of better known (celebrity) performers who quite frankly failed to hold their own and let the overall production down. That said the overall enthusiasm of the cast makes this production a success and if a few early technical teething problems (and possibly some recasting) can be resolved it may grow into a hit show.  

The UK tour of Our House continues around venues until the end of the year:

Reviewer: Alan Stuart Malin

Reviewed: 09th October 2017    

This review was originally written for North West End. North West End Rating: ★★★

Cilla, The Musical – Liverpool

In 2014 multi award-winning writer Jeff Pope treated UK television audiences to a breath-taking biopic of Cilla Black, starring actress Sheridan Smith. The audience reach for the first episode made it ITV’s highest rated drama debut of that year and it of course went on to be nominated for (and then win) multiple awards.

Fast forward 3 years, and Bill Kenwright (Producer/Director) brings ‘Cilla – The Musical’, an adaptation of the critically acclaimed TV series to Cilla’s home town of Liverpool for its first performances before embarking on a lengthy UK and Ireland tour.  

Pope’s musical, just like the TV show is an entertaining account of the early life of a national treasure. It celebrates the thriving culture of Liverpool in the Sixties, when hundreds of artists were playing venues across the City and developing their unique Merseybeat sound. It also celebrates the late Cilla Black who got her big break at the Cavern Club where she worked and where she met The Beatles and their manager Brian Epstein who ultimately launched her iconic career.

There was certainly a lot of hype about this musical before it opened. Following weeks of highly publicised open auditions at venues up and down the country the producers of ‘Cilla – The Musical’ announced they had identified their Cilla. Kara Lily Hayworth was named as the actress who was to play the musical and TV legend after multiple auditions including a live performance at the Cavern Club.

Executive Producer and Son of Cilla Black, Robert Willis is quoted as saying: “We wanted somebody who wasn’t going to impersonate my mum but someone who could capture her spirit… when I saw the response of the audience at the Cavern, I knew she was the one my mum would have wanted!”

Hayworth is undoubtedly a talented performer who is likely to go far in her career. Trained at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, she is no stranger to the stage and musical theatre and performed her socks off throughout singing Cilla Black’s cherished hits including: ‘You’re My World’, ‘Alfie’ and ‘Something Tells Me’.

In my opinion, the first few numbers performed by Haworth: ‘Zip-a-dee Doo Dah’ and ‘Chime Bells’ didn’t quite land well and cast some initial doubts on the rest of the production. Set in a busy Cavern Club and supported by on-stage Big Three band, Hayworth seemed to get swallowed up Kenwright’s stage direction. It all seemed a little too busy and the ensemble dancing with their backs to the audience distracted from Hayworth’s vocals.

However, once the scenes moved out of the club setting and into the studio, Hayworth seemed to relax into her role and the crescendo of the Act One finale ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’ was simply breath-taking and a real breakthrough moment for the production bringing the audience to their feet even before the song had finished.

Hayworth is joined on stage by several principal colleagues and a large supporting multi-role ensemble cast that brought to the production enthusiasm and energy, and supported the principle cast excellently. Cilla’s parents are skilfully brought to life with lots of humour by Pauline Fleming and Paul Broughton, and The Beatles are portrayed well vocally by Bill Caple, Joshua Gannon, Michael Hawkins and Alex Harford.

Carl Au gave a very confident and skilled performance as Bobby Willis, Cilla’s boyfriend (and future husband) with a perfect mix of humour; stage presence and vocal talent. His duet with Hayworth ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’ was haunting and his solo, ‘A Taste of Honey’ was brilliant.

Another highlight performance is credited to the Actor who played The Mammas and the Pappas Denny Doherty for ‘California Dreamin’. Unfortunately, this Actor isn’t credited in the programme for this number but should absolutely take a bow for one of the stand out; epic vocal performances of the night.

Technically, this is an epic production with lots of scene; costume and instrument changes. Unfortunately, sound (designed by Dan Samson) was a big issue for this performance, particularly sound cues throughout dialogue and songs. From the start, it seemed like there were missed cues and many lines of script were unfortunately clipped by poor microphone coverage.

Gary McCann’s set design was spectacular with huge scale recreations of the Cavern Club, the London Palladium and Sixties era TV studios that transported the audience back in time. Supporting McCann’s set was a visually pleasing lighting design by Nick Richings with huge lighting arches and what seemed like hundreds of rigged lights to compliment the on-stage action.

So final verdict, did ‘Cilla – The Musical’ do Liverpool proud?

The adapted musical version of Cilla doesn’t quite pack the same gritty punch as it’s TV inspiration. Pope’s multi-layered TV script showed audiences the truth of working class life in Liverpool, spattered with religious tensions and lots of drama. ‘Cilla – The Musical’ whilst certainly entertaining, approaches the same content in a lighter, glitzier and more humorous manner which unfortunately, in my opinion loses some of the texture of the true story.  

Hayworth certainly has a real strength and maturity to her singing voice that shone through clearly in her portrayal of the title role, but if I’m honest, I’m not certain that she truly captured the spirit of Cilla. She played the role a little meeker than you would expect, never really showing the raw grit and drive that we all know the legend possessed. However, I suspect that Hayworth will quickly grow into this role and make it her own in no time at all, a potential star of the future and therefore definitely a production that is recommended so you can say that you were “there at the birth of a star”.

The UK tour continues around venues throughout 2017/18:

Reviewer: Alan Stuart Malin
Reviewed: 08th September 2017  

This review was originally written for North West End. North West End Rating: ★★★★

Thoroughly Modern Millie – Manchester

The story of Millie Dillmount, the small-town Kansas girl who moves to New York in search of a wealthy businessman to marry was originally a cinematic musical hit for Oscar Award-winning Julie Andrews in 1967. Based on a 1956 London stage musical, the 2002 Broadway production with book by Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan and music from Jeanine Tesori went on to win six Tony Awards and critical acclaim.

Things don’t go to plan for Millie (Joanne Clifton) as on her first day in the new city, she has her money, handbag and shoe stolen. She ends up living in a “hotel for actresses” run by a white slave trader Mrs, Meers (Lucas Rush) and falls for the penniless Jimmy (Sam Barrett) instead of hooking the attentions of her rich boss (Graham MacDuff).

The star of this production is without doubt MacDuff in his performance as Mr. Trevor Graydon. MacDuff steals the show at regular intervals, his talent and comedic timing overshadowing that of everyone else in the cast. He had the audience rolling around with laughter in Act Two in ‘I’m Falling in Love with Someone (reprise)’ during which is acting skills were genius. Add to this, brilliant vocals and some nifty footwork and you have the definition of “triple threat performer”.  

Some clever comedy moments were also stolen by Rush as Mrs. Meers, the kimono-clad owner of the Priscilla Hotel who speaks Pidgin English and turns out to be a white male slave trader. Although it is very difficult to accept the questionable casting choices of Director, Racky Plews and Casting Director, Sue Talbert. Rush is a seasoned Musical Theatre performer and it feels like he was set up to fail with a role that feels very uncomfortable when played by a non-oriental performer. A lot of Mrs. Meer’s lines failed to land with the Manchester audience, and at one point a “tough audience” comment from Rush seemed to sum up the lack of laughter in the auditorium.

Clifton carries a strong and spirited vocal as Millie. She is obviously confident with dance, but her acting ability is lacking and not as strong as her on stage peers, which is a shame. She didn’t seem to connect with Millie and at times over performed to the point of becoming pantomime in her styling with wide gesticulation and unusually over the top facial expressions.

Some of the ensemble pulled the audience’s attention away from Millie with their competent and confident multi-role performances. David Muscat and Bobby Windebank particularly stood out, both providing impressive comic timing and exceptional dance abilities.

Plew’s direction is at its best when she is able to showcase her choreography including the Argentine Tango and Charleston. The best number of the production however is ‘The Speed Test’ where principals and ensemble get to show off their impressive tap dancing abilities. Moving around on stenography work stations on casters whilst tapping can’t have been easy but they pulled it off and it worked extremely well.

There were some obvious technical difficulties tonight with the set designed by Morgan Large and Lighting Design by Paul Smith and Sean Quinn. The set was quite impressive with a stage framed by an Art Deco archway that clearly took inspiration from the crown of the Statue of Liberty, with diamond-shaped teardrops that light up and some clever moving pieces including upstairs bedroom corridor at the Priscilla Hotel. However other elements felt weak and disjointed and detracted from everything else going on: the tech crew who struggled to change the Priscilla Hotel sign above the door at the beginning of ‘Not for the Life of Me’ or the hand that repeatedly attempted to move the doorway to Mrs. Mear’s office into place causing the entire flat to wobble uncontrollably for several minutes. Also, the smoke machines to stage left appeared to pump uncontrollably throughout the entire performance and there were some lighting effects that clearly didn’t work. All of this made it feel very amateur.

Whilst lots of fun, Thoroughly Modern Millie simply didn’t sit right with all the contrasts. A distinct lack of consistency and mixed cast abilities meant that it didn’t keep me as engaged as I would have liked. Early on in the production the song ‘How The Other Half Lives’ ironically sums up that Thoroughly Modern Millie is a production of complete contrasts with its references to ups and downs. Put simply there are moments of world class musical theatre in this production, but there are also other moments that are better suited to a local community theatre environment.

The UK tour continues around UK venues:

Reviewer: Alan Stuart Malin
Reviewed: 23rd May 2017  

This review was originally written for North West End. North West End Rating: ★★★

Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story – Liverpool

Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story is without doubt the original ‘Jukebox Musical’. Written by Alan James and debuted in 1989, the show is a retelling on the life of Rock and Roll Legend Buddy Holly.

This is a show of massive contrasts: on one hand we have a multi-talented cast of musician/singers that bring the Rock and Roll back to life with relative ease. Glen Joseph is a veteran as Buddy Holly. He doesn’t resemble him physically but having played the role for many years it is fair to say that he is a true showman who brings his own personality, style and vibe to the Holly’s back catalogue including: ‘Everyday’, ‘Raining in My Heart’ and ‘Peggy Sue’.

On the other hand, whilst the vocals and musicianship is outstanding from everyone, the tired and dated script distracts massively from what could actually be a great ‘tribute-type’ show. 1950s America was a time of change; of great divides in society; segregation and challenge but this show does nothing more than a gentle nod to this within the writing which is a great shame. I feel this potentially contributes to the one dimensional nature of the text which does no more than document Holly’s timeline. Weak dialogue is common within a jukebox musical but James script particularly left me wondering if I should go home during the interval.

I did persevere however and am glad that I did as Act Two is certainly where the action is as we are immersed in what is predominately musical numbers, and treated to exceptional performances from The Big Bopper (Thomas Mitchells) and Ritchie Valens (Jordan Cunningham who totally stole the whole show. Supported by the full Band and high energy backing singers, Cunningham was an absolute delight to watch with an exciting and physical rendition of ‘La Bamba’ that knocked the other performances out of the game. Mitchells’ ‘Chantilly Lace’ was very impressive. He is a talented performer who manged to multi-role throughout the show with skill.  

Adrian Rees’ set design is very different across each Act: in Act One it is very basic and dated, with furniture pieces on casters pushed on by hand with lots of long transitions. I couldn’t help think this was technically weak in an age of magical set design. Act Two shows us simple silk curtains and very effective lighting from Darren ‘Daz’ Coopland that transports the audience back to the 1950s and which was much more pleasing to the eye. There were also some sound issues in tonight’s performance with radio microphones fading in and out frequently, and at one-point Joseph completely lost his microphone resulting in a very well managed full voice performance.

Overall, this is a likeable Jukebox Musical that is in desperate need of an overhaul to bring it in line with modern theatre standards. The quality of the music naturally keeps the show likeable but it won’t stand the test of time for much longer unless someone redesigns; rejuvenates and restages it.

Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story continues to tour around UK venues up until November 2017:

Reviewer: Alan Stuart Malin
Reviewed: 28th April 2017  

This review was originally written for North West End. North West End Rating: ★★★