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Feb 21st

Sister Act at The Alhambra, Bradford

By Cameron Lowe

 Review by Graham Clark

The last time that Alexandra Burke was in Bradford was to open the Broadway Shopping Centre,the X Factor winner is now back in the city playing the disco diva, Deloris Van Cartier, whose life takes a surprising turn when she witnesses a murder. So, under protective custody she is hidden in a place that she will not be discovered - a convent!

 

It was always going to be a test playing such a commanding role (played by Whoopi Goldberg in the original film version) but Burke pulls it off with ease. Her facial mannerisms are are a treat.

 

It is a feel good show set in Philadelphia in the mid 70's when disco was king and Deloris was more into Donna Summer than the church.

 

Deloris finds solace in the convent choir.  Mother Superior (Karen Mann) is a complete contrast to Deloris. The smooth talking man about town who turns into the murderer, Curtis, is played by Aaron Lee Lambert who also doubles up dressed up as a percussionist playing nun in the shows band.

 

Police officer Eddie played by Joe Vetch strikes up a relationship with Deloris who has a new identity as Sister Mary Clarence. The choir go on to be so successful that they gain media attention that advertises the whereabouts of Deloris so that Curtis and his sidekicks  know where to find Deloris (the disco diva turned Nun)!

 

The dance routines are infectious, the songs seem to be pastiches of disco classics but holding it all together is Alexandra Burke who is always the star of the show.

 

Sarah Goggin as Sister Mary Roberts comes to the fore during the evening, her singing voice perhaps a little too shrill at times. The underdog of the choir, she provides the comical role of the night.

 

There are influences of other 70's shows too like Saturday Night Fever with Police officer Eddie doing a good John Travolta impression at some points in the show.

 

With her new identity blown, Deloris decides to stay with the nuns and sing for a performance in front of the Pope.

 

As the title of one of the songs says, "Look At Me I'm Fabulous Baby", this is a fabulous show.  A standing ovation from the audience was rightly deserved.   Fabulous.

 

 

Runs until Saturday 25 February 2017

 

www.bradford-theatres.co.uk

 

Telephone: 01274 432000

 

Dec 27th

Peter Pan, The Alhambra, Bradford

By GRAHAM CLARK


The Bradford pantomime is always the jewel in the crown of pantos and this year is no exception.    With a huge crocodile on stage, a talking parrot and enough jokes to last you into the New Year it can only be pantomime time again.

Appearing in the Bradford panto for the 18th time, Yorkshire comedian Billy Pearce is becoming part of the fixture and fittings of the Alhambra. He makes his arrival on stage via a bike that descends from the sky then goes into his regular routine. "I'm Smee this year" he jokes to the audience.  Just when you think that he is going to do a re run of his past jokes and it will all be a case of déjà vu things take a huge turn for the better when he meets Captain Hook played by Darren Day.

I wasn't expecting Day to be this good but he played Captain Hook with a menacing charm, with a cockney accent and a devilish smile he and Pearce made a great double act with their lines bouncing off each other. It is said that off the stage they are good friends and you could see that in this spectacular show as the chemistry between the two was very natural. Together they had some of the best scenes and the best lines of the night.

Ex S Club 7 member Jon Lee played Peter Pan although for me he could have been in the show a lot more than he was, also I've never seen Peter Pan with tattoos on his arms, it might have been a better idea to have his arms fully covered up, mind you, if you are 6 years old and enjoying the show, it does not matter.

Charlie Hardwick best remembered for her role as Val Pollard in Emmerdale was all sweetness as Mimi, the Magical Mermaid.  She sang a rousing version of the Jess Glynne hit, Hold My Hand which also featured the legendary Bradford Sunbeams. The young dancers are a tradition of the Bradford panto that goes back over 50 years.

Lucy Evans was all innocence and magic as Tinker Bell whilst Marina Lawrence Mahrra was making her professional debut as Tiger Lily. Her version of the Clean Bandit hit, Rather Be was an unexpected surprise. It was not all new songs, He Had It Coming from the musical Chicago was cleverly slotted into the show.

The special effects had everyone at the edge of their seats with a brilliant 3D scene where you had to wear special glasses. "Return them when you leave the theatre, we lost 500 last week, there's probably a bloke selling them on Heckmondwike market" jokes Pearce.

The 12 Days of Christmas scene was a scream, each time they perform it I'm sure it will be different but you can imagine the fun they had doing it in rehearsals. 

It was refreshing to see all the actors interacting with each other: all were equal too, sometimes you get a big name in the show and it all revolves around them and they just slot their regular act into the panto but the Bradford one is a joint effort from all involved.

It might be set in Neverland but this was a night spent in Wonderland. It will be hard to top this next year but I am sure that they will. Superb.

Runs until Sunday 29 January 2017

Telephone: 01274 432000

www.bradford-theatres.co.uk

Dec 11th

Strictly Ballroom - The Musical

By GRAHAM CLARK



In what is quite a coup for the West Yorkshire Playhouse the award winning Baz Luhrmann film Strictly Ballroom - The Musical has received its premier in the UK at the venue.  I usually associate the venue with plays and not musicals. The playhouse has a sunken stage with seating all around which makes it ideal for watching the dancing.

If you want to cast your winter blues away the show is the perfect antidote: colourful, glitzy, funny  and as you would expect, brilliant dancing. Within the first 5 minutes of the curtain going up there was more glam, hairspray and glitz than you would be hard to find in 2 hours in some shows. The larger than life characters have personalities as bold as the dancers costumes.

The story revolves around Scott Hastings (Sam Hastings) who sets out to win the Pan Pacific Grand Prix Dancing Championship contest in Australia where the musical is set. His parents have entered the contest when they were younger but alas did not win. 

In true Cinderella style the young Fran (Gemma Sutton) who is the overlooked cleaner at the dance school takes off her glasses and shows her dance moves by teaching Scott how to dance from the heart. Of course there is competition for Sam to dance instead with the glamorous Tina Sparkle (Charlotte Gooch).

There are the pushy parents too, Sam's mother, Shirley Hastings is played brilliantly by Tasmin Carroll, always pushy and at times forceful she had some of the best lines of the night. The downtrodden husband Doug Hastings (Stephen Matthews) is at times feeble letting his wife take centre stage.

Richard Dempsey as the host of the show played JJ Silvers with an over the top charm, sometimes like a younger version of Shane Richie with his comic mannerisms.  One of the best sequences of the first half is when Fran's Spanish father, Rico (Fernando Mira) shows Scot how to really dance the Paso Doble. His dancing had the whole audience spellbound.

There are the songs too, Scott and Fran duet well on the Cyndi Lauper track, Time After Time, the John Paul Young hit, Love Is in the Air is sung twice, in the first half they slow it down and you think it was a missed opportunity to sing the song at its original pace until you find that the song is sung in the correct style in the superb finale. It was of the songs had been written fir the musical as their lyrical content fitted in well with the storyline.

The night ends as spectacular as it started with the dancers in the show even walking up the aisles during the finale.

As Scott's mother, Shirley is fond  of saying throughout the evening "I'm wearing my happy face today", you will be wearing your happy face too when you have seen this colourful and spectacular show with, as you would expect, awesome dancing. A triumph for everyone involved.

Runs until Saturday 21 January 2017

www.wyp.org.uk

Telephone: 0113 213 7700

Nov 8th

Million Dollar Quartet, Leeds Grand Theatre

By GRAHAM CLARK

On December 4 1955 one man brought together Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Pressley to play together for the first and only time.

The man who did this was Sam Phollips, the place was Sun Records, that night they made rock n roll history.

This energetic and polished production focuses on that night. Sam Phillips is played by Jason Donovan, he slips into the role easily and over the years he has become an accomplished actor from starring in Priscilla to Joseph he is versatile and believable. He took on the role with a dignified manner.

Thr actors who play the 4 singers are all talented musicians: Ross William Wild as Elvis had the moves just right with a voice that could have been Elvis when you closed your eyes. Matthew Wycliffe as Carl Perkins was spot on, whilst Robbie Durham as Johnny Cash took on the role easily but the star of the show was Martin Kaye as Jerry Lee Lewis.

His piano playing was suberb, I thought he was American but he is actually from Manchester. Apparently he performs with his trio in Las Vegas which comes as no surprise.

Katie Ray as Diane, Elvis' girlfriend was all charm and very cute but she can sing a mean version of Fever too.

Of course we learn of the competition between the performers and the egos involved and how they eventually leave Sun Fecords to join RCA or Columbia records.

Thr audience are rightly on their feet for the encore of See You Later Alligator. On leaving the theatre all the smiling faces you could see showed that this is an uplifting and entertaining show.

Runs until Saturday 12th November. 2016

www.leedsgrandtheatre.com

 

 

 

Nov 6th

Mary Poppins

By GRAHAM CLARK



MARY POPPINS, THE ALHAMBRA, BRADFORD

If like me you thought that the Mary Poppins musical was just for children, then think again. This extravagant and feel good show will appeal to all ages. It felt just like walking out of seeng a top West End production after leaving the theatre. From the orchestra to the actors to the special effects everything is top class in this spellbinding production.

It would be easy to compare this production to the film version but although the story is still the same and set back in the 19th century, this version with its high quality special effects is definitely of the 21st century.

Zizi Strallen as Mary Poppins reminded me a little of Bonny Langford with her facial expressions, it we only later that I discovered that she is in fact, Langford's niece. She plays the role with a youthful charm.

Matt Lee as Bert was cheeky and charming, he even walks completely around the side of the stage, across it and down the other side at one point! He is a good dancer too bad the tap dance sequence was one of the many highlights for me,


The two children are magnificently played by Violet Tucker as Jane Banks and Finley Milleras Michael Banks would put many an older actor to shame.  Neil Roberts as George Banks might be slimmer than the version played in the film but his performance was so powerful that it did not detract from it. Rebecca Lock as Winifred Lock played the past with the understanding of that of a long suffering mother. It's a name she did not get to wear another costume in this colourful production.

The songs such as A Spoonful of Sugar, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and Chim Chim Cher-ee are just as part of the show as the actors. As some of the songs are repeated throughout the night you find yourself singing them well after you have left the theatre!

Many of the sequences are so extravagant  they seem like a finale such is their breathtaking spectacle. Colourful and cheerful it defiantly is an antidote for any winter blues.

Behind all the magic that Mary Poppins produces as the likeable nanny there is a deeper meaning in the story with that of rejection: George Banks rejects his children by letting a nanny look after them, whilst he himself gets rejected as one of his banking deals goes wrong and he is suspended form his job. Of course there is a happy ending as he gets his job back and the family become a happy unit again.

I won't spoil it by telling you how Mary Poppins leaves when her services are no longer required but let's just say, whether you sit in the stalls or the dress circle you will enjoy it.

A brilliant version of this popular musical that will appeal to all ages. To quote one of the songs sung during the night: the show is Practically Perfect!

Runs until Saturday 10 December 2016

Tickets from: www.bradford-theatres.co.uk

Jul 28th

Wicked - The Alhambra, Bradford

By GRAHAM CLARK

The Alhambra in Bradford has been proud to host some of the biggest musicals in the UK this year. The Alhambra is the only place outside of London where you can see this spectacular show this year.

Billed as the prequel to The Wizard of Oz, the story actually takes place before, simultaneously and after the well known film.

For me the show was part big blockbuster musical and part pantomime in that there was the good looking blonde, Glinda who meets the good looking Fiyero. There are huge props too such as a dragon that sits over the top of the stage. With his red eyes the dragon was a menacing threat, though I did expect him to perhaps be more lifelike rather than remain quite static. 

The story involves jealousy, rivalry and peer pressure between the two sorcery students, the blonde Glinda and the green painted Elphaba. Carly Anderson plays Glinda with a twee charm, always sweet and frothy whilst the student who has the power, Elphaba is played by Jacqueline Hughes who portrays a convincing and at times confused student. Both were excellent and were on stage for most of the 2 and a half hour show.

When the two students were learning together in college there were times when some of the storyline seemed to have come from another successful musical, Legally Blonde. There are hints too of other musicals such as Chicago and Cats.

The songs might not be well known but with superb performances of Defying Gravity and I'm Not That Girl you will be remembering these long after you have left the theatre.

The costumes are as over the top as you might expect in this award winning West End and Broadway show. The show really is a major coup for Bradford.

We learn how the Tin Man lost his heart and how the Scarecrow became the straw man. There are plenty of comical lines too which will have you laughing in your seat.

Both actresses are able to project the power of the strong songs throughout the evening.

Bradley Jaden as the charming Fiyero was brilliantly cast whilst Kim Ismay as Madame Morrible was all high and mighty.

It is a show for young and old alike and the standing ovation received at the end of the night was justified.

 The happy and smiling faces leaving the Alhambra confirmed I was not the only one who had enjoyed this superb show. Go see it and make your friends green with envy!

Running until 21 August 2016

www.bradford-theatres.co.uk

Jun 10th

Into The Woods at West Yorkshire Playhouse

By Cameron Lowe

Review by James McShane

Billed as the first major artistic collaboration between Opera North and West Yorkshire Playhouse, director James Brining delivers an accomplished production of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods, with solid performances across the board from Opera North's talented cast.

The first act of Into the Woods sees Sondheim cleverly interweave the events of classic fairy tales (Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel) with the original tale of the Baker and his wife seeking to break his family's curse. Inevitably much of the action happens off stage, and the narrative gets a little jerky at times as a result - still it is on the whole effectively done, and comes to a satisfying "happily ever after" style conclusion for all the heroes.

Happily, that is, until act 2, when the perfect fairy tale ending is shattered when the consequences of their actions catch up with them, and the characters get a dose of reality, death and betrayal. It is an interesting idea, but it lacks the coherence of the first half, and the show ends a little weaker than it begins.

To Brining's credit, he handles the transition much better than the recent film version (starring Meryl Streep). The stage direction in particular is strong - we begin in a school classroom where fairytales are told by the narrator (brilliantly played by Nicholas Butterfield) and are gradually drawn in to the woods as the mood and the setting grow darker and more realistic.

It's not all darkness of course - there is laughter, too, in the Woods. David Llewellyn delivers a memorable turn as the sleazy Big Bad Wolf, before being skinned by Rachel J. Mosley's hilariously violent Granny. Gordon D. Shaw's comic delivery as the angry Scottish Steward was excellent. Cinderella's step-family (Garrick Forbes, Miranda Bevin, Cordelia Fish, Anna Barry) are laughably tacky and dysfunctional. And of course, the ridiculously macho and melodramatic "Agony" by the two princes (Dean Robinson and Warren Gilespie) is one of the musical highlights.

In fact, the entire cast are to be commended on their performances. Claire Pascoe does justice to the challenging role of the Witch. Gillene Butterfield is a charming Cinderella. The Baker and his wife (Dean Robinson and Louise Collett) provide polished vocals. The "children" of Helen Évora (Red Riding Hood) and Nicholas Watts (Jack) are comfortable in their roles. Rapunzel's innocence and misfortune is captured admirably by Amy Freston. Even the minor roles of the Mysterious Man (Jeremy Peaker) and Jack's mother (Hazel Croft) are notably well played.

For all the show's flaws, it is still thoughtful and engaging. If you want to see it done right, skip the film and see Opera North's production at West Yorkshire theatre.

Book Tickets

Into The Woods

West Yorkshire Playhoue (Quarry Theatre)

Until 25 June

Jun 4th

Guys and Dolls, Leeds Grand Theatre

By GRAHAM CLARK

In the age of newer musicals such as Mama Mia and The Bodyguard it is refreshing to see that musicals such as Guys and Dolls that is set in the 1940's is still packing out theatres on it's current UK tour.

The costumes and dancing are magical and you leave the theatre with a smile on your face as there is a great deal of comedy throughout the evening.

Set in New York the story is about Sister Sarah Brown of a New York Mission group who tries to save the souls of sinners and gamblers. One such gambler is Nathan Detroit (played with charm by Maxwell Caulfield) who cannot resist a card game; this cool character reminded me of Top Cat! His long standing girlfriend of 14 years is Miss Adelaide (Lucy Jane Adcock) who gets frustrated by the length of their romance without any wedding plans on the horizon.

Master gambler, Sky Masterson (Richard Fleeshman), takes up the offer of a bet from Nathan Detroit that he cannot get Sister Sarah Brown on a plane for a day trip to Havana.

Of course Masterson uses his charm to seduce Sister Sarah Brown and get her to Cuba. She thinks it is all romance and is unaware that she is part of a betting scheme. The chemistry between the two actors was superb; her innocence matched with the suave yet shady Masterson was a highlight of the show. Richard Fleeshman has a good voice, too, and he can certainly hold a tune.

With the threat of the Mission being closed down, all the other gamblers along with Sky Masterson and Nathan Detroit go along as sinners to boost the numbers to save the Mission (ironically).

The costumes are spectacular; never more so when we are whisked off to Cuba! The songs such as Havana and Luck Be A Lady will have you singing along long after you have left the theatre.

Special mention should go to sidekicks Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Jack Edwards) and Benny Southstreet (Mark Sangster) who complemented each other much like Laurel and Hardy.

This is is a feel good musical that is timeless and one that young and not so young will appreciate, there is so much in it for everyone. 

 

www.guysanddollsthemusical.co.uk

Appearing at The Kings Theatre, Glasgow from Tuesday 7 June 2016

May 15th

Billy Elliott, Alhambra Theatre, Bradford

By GRAHAM CLARK

The Alhambra Theatre in Bradford continues to pull in the big shows, the 5 week run of Billy Elliott is a major coup for the theatre.

A young boy walks down the side of the stalls and places a radio on the stage as the T Rex song, Ride A White Swan plays. It is an unusual start to this unmissable show.

For me the musical has many parrells with The Full Monty: both are set against the backdrop of the miners strike of the mid 80's, both are set in the north of England and both show how the underdog can come through at a time of struggle and apathy.

Billy goes to boxing classes but does not seem too interested until he stumbles across the dance class that follows in the same room. Here his natural gift for dancing is allowed to shine and he goes on to have an audition with the Royal Ballet School where he succeeds in gaining a place.

Billy played by local Leeds lad, Matthew Lyons is a joy and a future star in the making, he did not seem to be acting at all so believable was his role. Martin Walsh as Billy's dad was engaging, he is about to loose his job possibly and also loose his son to ballet.

Annette Wilson as dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson play one of the central charters of the musical, this chain smoking, ankle socks wearing teacher takes on the role of Billy's dead mother. Her dialogue at times is not politically correct in today's climate but it was par for the course 31 years ago.

The politics of the story is dealt with brilliantly as it explores the miners strike and its effects on the community and Billy's family. There are jokes aplenty at the expense of Margaret Thatcher and Wayne Sleep.

Daniel Page as Mr Braithwaite was funny and typical of the chain smoking, beer drinking hard man of the time.

The songs written by Elton John for the musical  may not be well known but by the end of the night you will be remembering them for months to come.

 As Billy gets a place at the Royal Ballet School and the miners strike ends both son and father move on to the next chapter in their life.

At times innocent, at other times funny and sad this is an story we can all relate too.If you have yet to see the show you are in for a real treat. Superb.

 

Runs until Saturday 11 June, 2016

www.bradford-theatres.co.uk

Telephone 01274 437788

 

 

 

Feb 17th

The Sound of Music, The Alhambra, Bradford

By GRAHAM CLARK

There seems to be a lot of the 1960's musical films being transferred to the theatre, I recently saw Mary Poppins and was transfixed in how well the show took to the stage. Now The Sound of Music is returning to the stage in a national tour and this too is a superb show.

Lucy O'Byrne who was the runner up of the TV programme The Voice plays Maria. It was always going to be an hard act to follow in the foot steps of Julie Andrews but O'Byrne fits into the role perfectly: she has the same mannerisms and pronunciation as Julie Andrews and brings to the character a youthful yet innocent charm not forgetting her powerful, rich vocals.

Within the first 5 minutes of the curtain going up The Sound of Music has been performed. It is like a greatest hits album as the melodic songs still sound as good as you remember them. My Favourite Things, Do-Re-Me and Sixteen Going on Seventeen are sung and reprised many times during the evening.

Gary O'Brien plays Captain Von Trapp, the father of the 7 children Maria comes to look after. I found that O'Brien portrayed a suave yet smooth character who when he let down his barriers found true love with Maria.

Jan Hartley as Mother Abbess brought some wisdom to the role and her version of Climb Every Mountain sent shivers down my spine. 

There was a pathos and comedy too with the likeable Max Detweiler played by Duncan Smith, I enjoyed every scene he was in.

Isla Carter played the cool Elsa Schraeder who had her eye on Captain Von Trapp but of course Von Trapp has his eye on Maria. Her aloof character was totally at odds with the warm and caring Maria and of course Maria gets always with the Captain's 7 children who were also a huge part of this spectacular show.

One thing that flew over my young head when I originally saw the film version was that the musical is set in 1938 in pre war Austria and the German invasion is about to take place, although there is no direct mention of Adolf Hitler, there are plenty of references which effect how the show ends with the family having to flee Austria.

The audience at The Alhambra loved it and gave the performers a standing ovation which was justly earned. A joyful evening on a cold miserable February night. Brilliant.

 

 Runs until Saturday 20 February 2016.

 

Tickets from: www.bradford-theatres.co.uk