REVIEW: Come From Away ★★★★★ – Phoenix Theatre

“…an unexpectedly uplifting, inspiring joy.”

★★★★★

West End Theatre Guide

Come From Away is a musical by Irene Sankoff and David Hein which opened on Broadway in March 2017 and in the West End in January 2019. Based on true events, the show follows the story of how thirty-eight planes were ordered to land in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland, Canada following the 9/11 attacks.

We follow the scared and confused passengers on these grounded planes as they scramble for nuggets of information and then deal with being stranded in a remote town with hundreds of strangers. On the other side, we see the town’s locals in a panic trying to accommodate and cater for these stranded passengers while coping with their own fears over the tragedy which has struck.

The 9/11 attacks left people doubting themselves, searching for reassurance, and afraid for themselves and their loved ones. People react in vastly different ways as they process a crisis, and Come From Away captured this beautifully with the sensitivity and delicacy that is required. Also thrown into the mix was a hint of the paranoia and suspicion created by the acts of terrorism when an Egyptian man was pulled aside to be given a thorough full-body search, which shocked with its poignancy.

The entire cast were an outstanding, tight-knit group with standout performances from Rachel Tucker (The Lost Ship, Communicating Doors, Wicked), Emma Salvo (The Toxic Avenger, Page to Stage, Grease), and Jenna Boyd (Love on The Links, My Fair Lady, Wind in the Willows).

Come From Away is an unexpectedly uplifting, inspiring joy. In a time of turmoil and crisis, which so often divide people, the stranded passengers and townspeople band together and find common ground.

Come From Away is showing at the Phoenix Theatre and is currently booking until 30th January 2019 (to book tickets, click here). For more information on your visit to the Phoenix, read our guide.

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REVIEW: 9 to 5 ★★★ – Savoy Theatre

“…is a simple story which offers some entertainment, but it lacks depth of plot and character”

★★★

West End Theatre Guide

9 to 5 is a musical by Patricia Resnick based on the 1980 movie which starred Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. Following successful runs in Los Angeles and on Broadway, the musical has made its UK premiere at the Savoy Theatre.

The musical follows the story of three working women, Doralee, Judy and Violet, played by Natalie McQueen (Kinky Boots, Murder Ballad, Wicked), Amber Davies (Bring It On, My Favourite Year, Memphis), and Louise Rednapp (Eternal (music), The Hot Potato (TV), Cabaret), and their plot against their sexist boss, Franklin Hart, who was played by Brian Conley (The Brian Conley Show (TV) Me and My Girl, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang).

Covering themes of sexism, the grindstone, and fighting the boss, this musical offers nothing new. Conley delivers a series of jokes which, though in poor taste in today’s society, are very funny. McQueen, Davies and Rednapp exhibit good vocals throughout, but the highlight number of the show is undoubtedly ‘9 to 5’ which bookends the show. The standout performance in this production is Bonnie Langford (42nd Street, Cats, Eastenders (TV)) as Roz Keith who struts her stuff in a wonderfully inappropriate office tango with Conley.

9 to 5 is a simple story which offers some entertainment, but it lacks depth of plot and character. The blunt and undisguised sexism of Franklin Hart is a snapshot of the ’80s working landscape, but it feels dated and far removed from modern society. The excellent cast do their best with a lacklustre script.

9 to 5 is showing at the Savoy Theatre and is currently booking until 4th April 2020 (to book tickets, click here). For more information on your visit to the Savoy, read our guide.

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REVIEW: Ghost Stories ★★★★★ – Lyric Hammersmith

“…deeply terrifying…a masterclass in live horror

★★★★★

West End Theatre Guide

Ghost Stories is a play by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman. It follows the story of Professor Goodman, a man who has dedicated his life to debunking supernatural experiences people claim to have had, telling the audience that there is a natural, logical explanation for everything. Yet, he admits to being unable to explain three cases.

The narrative flips between Professor Goodman discussing his beliefs and the re-enactments of these three cases, switching between the safety of a lecture hall and the heart-pounding terror of the ghost stories. But is the lecture hall really as safe as it seems?

The plot twists and turns as the terror unfolds and the drama mounts. What drives Professor Goodman in his work? What happened in his past which motivates him to seek the truth? What’s his own personal ghost story? The ending of the play is truly chilling – but you’ll just have to go and see this one to see for yourself…if you dare!

The cast comprises: Simon Lipkin (All In A Row, Nativity, The Wind In The Willows) as Professor Goodman, Garry Cooper (The White Devil, The Gentlemen of Verona, Henry VI trilogy) as Tony Matthews, Preston Nyman (Catch 22, Silent Witness, Doctors (TV)) as Simon Rifkind, and Richard Sutton (The Cow Play, Transmissions, Tall Phoenix) as Mike Priddle. All four give outstanding performances.

Thrilling, chilling, shocking and deeply terrifying, Ghost Stories is a masterclass in live horror – this decade’s The Woman In Black.

Ghost Stories is showing at the Lyric Hammersmith, extended due to popular demand, until 18th May (to book tickets, click here).

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REVIEW: Waitress ★★★★ – Adelphi Theatre

“…a heart-warming tale of love, hope, and dreams

★★★★

West End Theatre Guide

Waitress is a musical by Jessie Nelson, with music by Sara Bareilles, based on the 2007 film written and directed by Adrienne Shelley which was her last screen appearance before her murder. The show debuted in Cambridge, Massachusetts in August 2015 and, during this run, it was announced the production would transfer to Broadway from March 2016.

The musical follows the story of waitress and master pie-maker, Jenna Hunterson, and her bid to escape the rut she’s trapped in whereby she’s forced to hand over her pay to an abusive husband. When she discovers she’s pregnant, she begins an affair with her doctor, and this secret relationship sparks her desire for freedom, which is only realised when, upon holding her daughter for the first time, Jenna summons the courage to leave her husband, end the affair with her married doctor, and begin to build a better life for herself and her child.

This old-fashioned “little woman with bad marriage bakes pies as a distraction” story is simple and, coupled with the main character’s endlessly good heart, sweet disposition and the unwanted pregnancy, the elements are very familiar from many other books and movies. What elevates this story though and gives the musical its zest are Jenna’s fellow waitresses, the sassy, sarcastic Becky, and the awkward, mousy Dawn. These supporting characters add flavour and comedy to an otherwise rather stereotypical and predictable story.

Katharine McPhee (American Idol (TV)) starred as Jenna and gave a heart-warming, beautiful rendition of the musical’s standout number, ‘She Used To Be Mine’. Marisha Wallace (Dreamgirls, Something Rotten, Aladdin) gave a powerhouse performance as Becky, and Lauren Baldwin (Eugenius, Big Fish, The Little Beasts) impressed as Dawn.

Waitress is a heart-warming tale of love, hope, and dreams which comes to a predictable, yet satisfying ending where dreams triumph, chains are broken and love wins out.

Waitress is currently showing at the Adelphi Theatre until 19th October (to book tickets, click here). For more information on your visit to the Adelphi, read our guide.

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REVIEW: Heathers ★★★★★ – Theatre Royal Haymarket

“…a thought-provoking, brave, humorous delight.”

★★★★★

West End Theatre Guide

 

 

Heathers is a musical by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy based on the 1989 film by Daniel Waters. The movie was one of the last in a string of movies set in American high schools providing insight into the environment where teens are forced to forge their identities, although Heathers was different from many others because it saw a female character as the leading protagonist.

The story revolves around Veronica Sawyer, an isolated girl who’s beaten down daily by the high school social hierarchy. The musical features archetype characters: the supreme beauty queens, the dumb jocks, the misunderstood and mocked; but Veronica spans the chasm between unpopular and popular. She joins ranks with “the Heathers”, the school’s most popular and pretty trio of girls who are above and governing the chaos beneath them, taking part in their games, turning against her childhood friend, and abandoning her principles and beliefs. Along her misguided path, she encounters JD, the new kid in school, and she is swept off her feet when he refuses to bow down to the social hierarchy and floors two bullies in a fight who no one else has the guts to stand up to.

What follows is the death of three high-schoolers by the puppet-master hand of the psychopathic JD, who’s left damaged and dysfunctional by his mother’s suicide and his father’s abuse, and seeks to unleash his wrath on those he deems corrupt. Caught in this whirlwind of uncertainty, Veronica pulls through and learns the lesson to believe in love and doing what’s right, not allowing hate, anger and resentment to control her actions.

Carrie Hope Fletcher (The Addams Family, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Les Miserables) triumphed in the role of Veronica. Jamie Muscato (Big Fish, Lazarus, Stay Awake Jake) chilled and enthralled as JD. Jodie Steele (Myth, Wicked, The Great American Trailer Park Musical) was phenomenal as queen-bitch, Heather Chandler. The entire cast excelled with Murphy and O’Keefe’s catchy score, including multiple fantastic numbers such as, ‘Beautiful’, ‘Freeze Your Brain’, ‘Dead Girl Walking’ and ‘Dead Gay Son’.

Touching on issues of bullying, popularity contests, teenage suicide, and exploitation of tragedy, Heathers is a thought-provoking, brave, humorous delight. This production transferred after a workshop run in the studio and then an Off-West End premiere at the Other Palace, and we are hopeful to see more of Heathers in the future.

Heathers is showing at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 24th November 2019 (to book tickets, click here). For more information on your visit to the Theatre Royal Haymarket, read our guide.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

REVIEW: The Phantom of the Opera ★★★★★ – Her Majesty’s Theatre

…tragic, beautiful love story with a twist of ghostly chill”

★★★★★

West End Theatre Guide

 

 

The Phantom of the Opera is a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Charles Hart, with additional input from Richard Stilgoe, based on the novel by Gaston Leroux. The musical premiered in the West End in 1986, and it opened on Broadway in 1988 where it went on to become the longest- running musical in Broadway’s history.

It follows the story of young, budding opera singer Christine Daae, and her tutorage by a dark, mysterious man who calls himself the Angel of Music and haunts the Paris Opera House causing several “accidents” when his demands go unmet and warnings unheeded. Naïve and eager to excel in her career, Daae initially welcomes the Phantom’s attentions, but soon grows frightened by his darkness and obsessive passions. She turns to childhood friend and prospective suitor, Raoul, for comfort, which enrages the jealous Phantom. This love triangle leads to heartbreak and triumph as both men fight for Christine’s love.

The musical captures the chaos of theatre production, the gruelling rehearsals young dancers go through to perfect their craft, the splendour of the opera, and the sinister atmosphere surrounding the alleged haunting of the theatre. The bright, vivid costumes and elaborate, intricate set brings to life the experience and immerses the audience in the world of the Paris Opera House.

The whirling romance, grandeur of the art and sinister atmosphere is built in Webber and Hart’s masterpiece score, including countless iconic musical theatre ballads, including, ‘Music of the Night’, ‘All I Ask of You’, ‘Angel of Music’, ‘Masquerade’, and ‘The Phantom of the Opera’.

The Phantom was played by Tim Howar (Chess, Rock of Ages, Mike and the Mechanics (music)), whose unorthodox, but powerful, voice suits the role and brings a new flavour to the long-established operatic role. Kelly Mathieson (Le Nozze de Figaro, Carmen) and Jeremy Taylor (Wicked, We Will Rock You, Evita) charm as Christine Daae and Raoul.

The Phantom of the Opera is a tragic, beautiful love story with a twist of ghostly chill. This musical has been running non-stop for over thirty years and still retains its magical, enticing, seductive qualities, and continues to live up to its reputation as one of the all-time great theatre classics.

The Phantom of the Opera is showing at Her Majesty’s Theatre and is currently booking until 2nd March 2019 (to book tickets, click here). For more information on your visit to Her Majesty’s, read our guide.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

REVIEW: Unexpected Joy ★★★★ – Southwark Playhouse

“…witty, sassy, warm-hearted, relatable, and, as the title promises, joyful.”

★★★★

West End Theatre Guide

 

Unexpected Joy is a musical created by Bill Russell and Janet Hood, a piece which they began writing before gay marriage was made legal in the USA, and it remains relevant today as battles for rights still continue to rage.

The story is centred around three generations of strong women: the eponymous Joy, a singer-songwriter hippie with a fun-loving, love-all approach to life; her daughter, the conflicted and confused Rachel, whose reaction to her upbringing has led her to a strong Christian faith, but yet her fundamental beliefs are at war with her desire for peace in her family; and Tamara, Rachel’s daughter, a sassy, freedom-seeking adolescent. The family reunion rapidly descends into chaos when Joy reveals she is going to get married again – to Lou, a female musician with views vastly different from Rachel’s, and this adds more feistiness and spice to the already heated situation.

Each of the four characters have undeniable flaws and difficulty in expressing their emotions, and they find security and certainty in passionately standing up for what they believe in, no matter how contrary it is to the beliefs of those around them. The four are each very different people, but they are brought together by love and their passion for music, and, in the end, acceptance of their diversity.

The cast of four comprises: Janet Fullerlove (Oxy and the Morons, Fiddler on the Roof, Shakespeare in Love) as Joy, Jodie Jacobs (Myth, Bananaman, Lizzie) as Rachel, Kelly Sweeney (professional debut) as Tamara, and Melanie Marshall (Jane Eyre, Guys and Dolls, The Infidel) as Lou. The four have fantastic, powerhouse voices and maintain an obvious chemistry while their very different characters go off in their separate directions.

Unexpected Joy is witty, sassy, warm-hearted, relatable, and, as the title promises, joyful. It’s wonderful to see a show with such strong female leads, and the uplifting story is accompanied by a delightful score, including, ‘Like A Good Girl’, ‘What A Woman Can Do’, ‘You Are My Worst Nightmare’ and ‘Unexpected Joy’.

Unexpected Joy is showing at the Southwark Playhouse until 29th September (to book tickets, click here). For more information on your visit to the Southwark Playhouse, read our guide.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

REVIEW: Little Shop of Horrors ★★★★ – Open Air Theatre

“…a colourful, camp riot of a show – bizarre, tongue-in-cheek, and a black comedic enigma”

★★★★

West End Theatre Guide

 

Little Shop of Horrors is a spoof musical by Howard Ashman, with music by Alan Menken, based on the 1960 black comedy b-movie of the same name. The musical debuted on Off-Broadway in 1982, where it ran for five years and became the third longest running musical and highest grossing Off-Broadway show in history. This production is the show’s second revival in London, following the original West End run at the now Harold Pinter Theatre (then Comedy Theatre) in 1983, and the first revival at the Menier Chocolate Factory in 2006 starring Sheridan Smith as Audrey.

The story revolves around a man-eating plant named Audrey II, which came to Earth following a “total eclipse of the sun” and is nurtured by the meek and mild, hapless Seymour, who works at Mushnik’s Skid Row Florist, and who names the plant after Audrey, his co-worker and secret crush. Audrey II is played by drag queen, Vicky Vox, who has magnetic stage presence and both amuses and horrifies with the continual delivery of the plant’s catchphrase, “Feed me!”. The plant takes on a life of its own, blackmailing Seymour into feeding it more people after devouring Audrey’s sadistic, unhinged, dentist boyfriend, Orin (played by Matt Willis (Busted (band), Footloose, Wicked), in return for making Seymour and Mr Mushnik’s (played by Forbes Masson (Summer and Smoke, Big Fish, Boudica)) failing florist shop, famous and successful. Mushnik later adopts orphan Seymour as his son to ensure his loyalty to the business in the disguise of kindness and affection with musical number ‘Mushnik and Son’.

In addition, there is a cutesy, yet foreseeably ill-fated, romance between Seymour and Audrey, for which Marc Antolin (The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, Into the Woods, Romantics Anonymous) and Jemima Rooper’s (The Norman Conquest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, A Respectable Wedding) overblown, animated caricature performances suit perfectly.

The setting for the story is Skid Row, a grungy, run-down part of New York, and Tom Scutt’s set design paints the scene of urban decay, city crowding and claustrophobia surprisingly well in the open-to-the-elements venue.

The trio of street girls, Christina Modestou (Six, Rent, Shrek) as Ronnette, Renee Lamb (Six) as Chiffon, and Seyi Omooba (Ragtime, Junkyard, Boxed) as Crystal, serve as the narrators of the show with their powerhouse vocal performances which shine through, never better than in the opening number of the show, ‘Little Shop of Horrors’. The score includes many other songs including, ‘Grow For Me’, ‘Suddenly, Seymour’, ‘Somewhere That’s Green’ and ‘Skid Row’.

Little Shop of Horrors combines themes of horror, romance, sci-fi, and urban decay. Satirising each element, this production is a colourful, camp riot of a show – bizarre, tongue-in-cheek, and a black comedic enigma.

Little Shop of Horrors is showing at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre until 22nd September (to book tickets, click here).Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

REVIEW: Knights of the Rose ★★★★ – Arts Theatre

“…a thrilling tale of chivalry, bravery, tragedy and romance”

★★★★

West End Theatre Guide

 

 

Knights of the Rose is a musical created by Jennifer Marsden following the story of a band of brave knights. The simple tale of chivalry and knightly honour is perhaps unoriginal in itself, but it is brought to life by the epic score of rock hits, which include Bon Jovi’s ‘Blaze of Glory’, Meatloaf’s ‘Is Nothing Sacred’, ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ by Bonnie Tyler, and many more, all of which capture the emotion and passion of the show. The musical is making its world premiere at the West End’s Arts Theatre.

The show begins with the knights’ triumphant return home from battle, and it soon becomes clear that two of the most eligible ladies in the kingdom, Princess Hannah and Lady Isabel, have more than one noble admirer, giving an early indication of forthcoming heartbreak. However, the joy of their return is short-lived, as the knights are soon summoned to arms once more when a threat is issued against their king. Henceforth, the plot twists and turns with acts fuelled by love, honour, betrayal and jealousy.

The cast of this production features many strong voices, including, Chris Cowley (Saturday Night Fever, Wicked, The Last Five Years) as Sir Palamon, Matt Thorpe (American Idiot, Jersey Boys, We Will Rock You) as Horatio, Oliver Saville (I Wish My Life Were Like A Musical, Wicked, The Navigator) as Hugo, Rebekah Lowings (Dick Whittington, Moby Dick, Jesus Christ Superstar) as Lady Isabel, and understudy Kelly Hampson (Legally Blonde, Ghost) as Princess Hannah (this role is normally played by Katie Birtill).

Knights of the Rose is a thrilling tale of chivalry, bravery, tragedy and romance, enlivened by its musical score and made sophisticated by its literary references to Shakespeare, Chaucer, Keats, Marlowe and Wordsworth.

Knights of the Rose is showing at the Arts Theatre until 26th August (to book tickets, click here). For more information on your visit to the Arts Theatre, read our guide.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblr

REVIEW: Tina the Musical ★★★★★ – Aldwych Theatre

“…a true testament to the power-house legend that is Tina Turner and an embodiment of her spirit, endurance and perseverance.”

★★★★★

West End Theatre Guide

 

 

Tina is a musical by Katori Hall, Frank Ketelaar, and Kees Prins, following the story of the rock and roll legend, Tina Turner, which is making its world premiere at the West End’s Aldwych Theatre. The show opens with the silhouette of Tina as she prepares to go on stage and chants her ancestral music. Instead of then kicking off the show by launching straight into the glories of Tina Turner as the world-renowned solo singer, we cut back to Tina as a child in Nutbush, Tennessee, where she was born as Anna-Mae Bullock, and even then, we can glimpse the future strength of the woman and the makings of the star.

Over the course of the story, Tina endures many hardships, beginning in her childhood when her mother fled from her abusive father. Whilst the abuse in Tina’s later life is well-known, this moment in the musical comes as a shock to the audience because we see just how early domestic violence entered Tina’s life, and this then continued into her marriage to Ike Turner, who spotted her talents, gave her the name Tina Turner, and put her at the forefront of his band which became the Ike and Tina Turner Revue.

After splitting from the abusive Ike, the hardships continued as Tina struggled to re-establish herself as a solo act, with ongoing disputes over performance rights with her ex-husband and ex-professional partner, and the perception she was a “has been”. With help from record producer Roger Davies, she established herself as not just a solo act, but a rock and roll singer, and Tina of course went on to be crowned the “Queen of Rock and Roll”.

The show has themes of domestic violence and racism, but also ones of great endurance and, above all, spirit. It is a story of extreme highs and lows, but the spirited fighter, Tina, comes out victorious and, through the hardships, the audience is really rooting for her and is uplifted by her eventual success as an artist and freedom as a woman.

Adrienne Warren (Shuffle Along, Bring It On, Dreamgirls) gave a knockout performance as Tina, having mastered the mannerisms and stage presence of the star, not to mention the range of vocals, from highs to gravelly lows, and she delivers a classy, soulful performance. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, The Low Road) played the unlikeable Ike Turner, showing his menacing, domineering presence in Tina’s life, but also allowing the audience to see his talented musicianship.

Tina is a sensational musical, a true testament to the power-house legend that is Tina Turner and an embodiment of her spirit, endurance and perseverance. The epic score consists of over twenty classic songs, including ‘Nutbush City Limits’, ‘Proud Mary’, ‘River Deep Mountain High’, and ‘Simply the Best’.

Tina is showing at the Aldwych Theatre and is currently booking until 16th February 2018 (to book tickets, click here). For more information on your visit to the Aldwych, read our guide.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblr