Reviewed by Emily March
15th October 2019

Reviewer rating: ★★★★

Grease bounced into the Wales Millennium Centre last night with a lot of energy, sass and a reimagining of the much loved classic. I was really pleased by Arlene Phillips’ exciting, fast paced choreography throughout the show that was demonstrated incredibly by the talent cast of dancers. I particularly enjoyed the dynamic dance moves of the male cast during audience-favourite Greased Lightening. The choreography was different to your average production of Grease, which kept it fresh. I was constantly excited by the choreography and was left excited for the next number to begin.

Martha Kirby makes a strong professional debut as the leading lady, bringing a little more sass and confidence than we normally expect from Sandy. Perhaps this acting choice represents a more modern portrayal of the character, standing up for herself and being empowered. It changed the meaning of the ending for me, which normally frustrates me due to Sandy changing herself to please a man, however lyrics from You’re The One That I Want such as “you better shape up, because I need a man” stood out to me, as I never really recognised it as a moment where Sandy takes charge and tells Danny that he need to be better to suit her, rather than her being better to suit him. I did feel as through Kirby over-sung a lot of her songs, and even though her voice was impressive, some more tenderness and reflective moments would’ve enhanced the storytelling.

Rhianne-Louise McClausky shines as the sassy Rizzo, with her strong stage presence from the moment we meet her on stage. Her moving rendition of There Are Worst Things I Could Do was a shining moment.

Some more stand out moments during the show was Mooning, which demonstrated the sweet chemistry, impressive vocals and comedic timing of Ryan Anderson (Roger) and Natalie Woods (Jan). Beauty School Dropout is a favourite of mine, and this rendition did not disappoint. Darren Bennett brought charisma as Teen Angel, and the memorable dream sequence was highly amusing.

Natalie Woods, Jessica Croll and Eloise Davies who played Jan, Patty Simcox and Frenchie respectively each brought their own spark to the stage, bringing both funny and tender moments throughout the show. They were able to stay true to the original characters that we know, but bring something unique too.

The male cast however, only had one stand out for me which was Damian Buhagiar as Sonny. His stereotypical New York Italian portrayal added a lot of humour and energy to the longer, more tedious scenes which left us begging for a musical interlude.

As ever with Grease, it is hard not to compare performances to the original portrayals that we know and love. Even with the modern spin, Grease feels a little tired and over done, but the cast should be praised for their energy and modern interpretation, as well as the stand out choreography. If you’re looking for a fun night at the theatre with a spot of nostalgia, then absolutely go to see Grease. The cast’s passion was infectious and I left itching to return to performing.

Lea Salonga returns to London!
Date: 21/07/2019
Rating: ★★★★

The International musical theatre star: Lea Salonga, concluded her sold out tour at the world famous London Palladium yesterday. for not just one but two shows. Wowing with an impressive 17 song setlist, filled with much loved classics and some wonderful surprises, it was a concert that we’re glad we didn’t miss. As the crowds flooded into the auditorium, the excitement was undeniable as her die-hard fans awaited the moment for the house lights to drop. Greeted on stage with an ongoing round of applause I haven’t done anything to deserve that yet“, she says as the first notes of ‘Feeling Good’ start to play.

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Luke Hughes (luke.views)

Salonga has had an incredible steady career spanning over forty years in the business. She’s most known for the singing voice of both Jasmine (Aladdin) and Fa Mulan (Mulan) as well has her Broadway and West End credits for both originating the role of Kim in Miss Saigon, whilst also being the first asian descent to play both Fantine and Éponine in Les Misérables. Although no stranger to performing, she didn’t hide the fact that she was “freaking out to play the Palladium“, easily one of the most iconic venues in the UK. Salonga was originally scheduled to perform back in June but due to an injury had to post-pone, joking that she was happy to be visiting the UK during the summer months instead and that she was “thrilled to have London as the end date for the tour“.

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Luke Hughes (luke.views)

What was so special about the show was how relaxed she felt with the audience making it feel as though she was in a room with her closest friends. Her charm, wit and warming personality shone through and there wasn’t a moment where you felt she was disconnected. Her setlist was the perfect combination of what you’d expect her to sing vs some real surprises, in the form of One Directions “Story of my Life”, which her Brother had suggested was perfect for her voice.

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Sophie Ross (TheTheatreHub)

During act 2, Salonga asked for a member of the audience to join her on stage for a duet of “A Whole New World” and luckily for her, her chosen duet partner was a great singer. “Thank you for keeping up the reputation that all people from the Philippines can sing“, she said.

Throughout the entirety of the show, Salonga displayed a real genuine strength and power in her vocals, a voice that truly hasn’t changed since she began her professional career at 17. It’s a real joy to see that after all the time in the biz, she can still sell out venues such as the Palladium, as this show, was one that deserved to be seen.

P.s West End producers: It’s time to get Lea back into a West End show.

I have to admit, despite knowing who Nigel Slater is – I’m not massively familiar with his career or his books, includingToast. So going into the play adaptation of the book of his childhood, I wasn’t sure what to expect at all. What followed was one of the most heartwarming experiences I’ve had in theatre for a long time.

Toast recounts the coming of age story of well-known chef, Nigel Slater. It follows his life from 9 years old to 17, with everything being recounted through the memories of food, which is shared with the audience through treats being shared throughout the theatre for everyone.

The performances of all five cast members were faultless. Each gave nuanced and touching perspectives to the well-developed characters which gave the piece so much depth and really allowed the audience to connect with all the characters in some way. The relationship between Nigel (Giles Cooper) and his Mother (Lizzie Muncey) was especially powerful. Their chemistry was electric and it clearly showed how much Nigel’s relationship with his mother impacted his experiences with food.

The story (written by Henry Filloux-Bennett) is well-paced and brilliantly progresses from hilarity to heartbreak seamlessly. Within spoiling anything, the end of the first act made me feel as though I had been punched in the gut from how hard it hit me. I felt like I had to take a minute to recover as the house lights came up as it really affected me personally!

The use of set design (Libby Watson) was really intelligent. Lots of movable pieces of set allowed various kitchen and dining settings to be created from props being stored in every cupboard and draw onstage. It also clearly set the piece contextually – from the floral brown and yellow tiles to the various shades of brown throughout the set.

It would have been nice to have the cupboards be lined up a little neater along the back wall of the set – simply because as a perfectionist, this was a little annoying visually, but I was able to look over this and focus on the incredible performances instead.

Of course, what makes this play so unique is the use of food. Throughout the entire play, food is either being prepared, cooked, eaten or discussed in some capacity – even including a scene in which Nigel creates an entire dish on stage! For anyone who enjoys food, this play is simply a must! Especially when so many sweet treats are being passed throughout the performance.

It should be noted, that I loved how the inclusion of the audience eating completely changed the theatre etiquette during the performance. It allowed for appropriate small giggles and comments whilst food was being passed around but the focus was still paramount as soon as scenes progressed afterwards. It was like everyone was hypnotised by the performance – it was a fantastic atmosphere!

Overall, Nigel Slater’s Toast is an incredible piece of theatre. I left with both my heart and tummy full and I hope this is the beginning of a long and prosperous journey for this beautiful story of family and food.

Reviewed by Emily Schofield
4th July 2018
Reviewer rating: ★★★★★

The King and I will leave you fulfilled and comforted as it transports you to Siam.

As a fan of the classic 1956 film starring Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner, I thought that I knew what to expect from this latest London production. But however high my expectations, this show has exceeded that tenfold and still managed to throw in a few extra surprises.

The story revolves around Anna, a welsh schoolteacher who comes to Siam to be a teacher for the King’s children. The show touches on the main issues of two completely different cultures meeting and expresses the desire for understanding between people, as Anna and the King learn to tolerate their differences.

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Photo: Matthew Murphy

Reviving her Tony Award winning role, Kelli O’Hara is the perfect Anna, with an incredible performance and stunning vocals. Despite the pressure of performing a role that’s so iconic, O’Hara made it look effortless, bringing her own take on the beloved character with ease.

She commanded the stage and led the rest of the cast with complete confidence and grace. Combined with her excellent chemistry with Ken Watanabe as the King of Siam, the duo did a fantastic job of showing the progression of their relationship and brought real honesty to their performances. The iconic “Shall We Dance” moment, is a real showstopper and one that the pair do with such ease and perfection. It’s infectious to watch them bounce off each others energy and the West End is lucky to have them.

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Photo: Matthew Murphy

The music, as expected, was spectacular. As a fan of the original film, I was already in love with the infamous Rodgers and Hammerstein score itself. However the vocals from the entire cast were so remarkable, that the music felt fresh and new, despite being classic songs that I’ve known for years. Especially the voice of Na-Young Jeon as Tuptim, which was beautifully powerful and gave me a new love for the character.

The entire cast gave their absolute all with their performances and delivered a wonderful experience combined. The energy was relentless and was such a pleasure to watch as an audience member.

One moment which really stood out to me was The Small House of Uncle Thomas, which was the ballet section of the second act. It was beautifully executed, with elaborate costumes (Catherine Zuber) and incredible choreography (Greg Zane/Emma Woods) which brought a tear to my eye! It was so refreshing and created a completely different dynamic which really helped to make this show as wonderful as it is.

The set design (Michael Yeargan) is one of the most visually impressive parts of this production. The detailed walls of the palace instantly transformed the theatre into the Palace of Siam, and the beautiful scenery for Lun Tha and Tuptim’s meeting in the garden was breathtaking and incredibly romantic. The atmosphere each change of set created fitted perfectly for each scene and really helped to bring the performances to life, contextually.

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Photo: Matthew Murphy

However, the children are what really make this show what it is. Their energy and joy throughout was infectious and made the show feel so much more truthful and heartfelt. They stole my heart from the beginning and lifted the spirits of the entire audience.

My only criticism would be that this show could potentially be difficult to experience depending on where you are sat. I think if you were sitting at the back of the theatre with a more restricted view, it would be difficult to capture the emotion and power that makes this production so special. For me, it’s worth experiencing up close in order to fully be impacted by the show. I think from a distance, it would be difficult for the show to affect you as personally as it impacted me.

With that being said, The King and I is a true spectacle. With polished performances from the entire cast and a story that will leave you in tears. It’s a real treat and definitely worth a watch whilst it’s here in the West End!

 

You can catch The King and I at the London Palladium until September 29th. http://thelondonpalladium.co.uk/event/the-king-and-i/

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Reviewed by Emily Schofield
20th June 2018
Reviewer rating: ★★★★

Kiss Me Kate is an incredibly energetic and entertaining show in which the art of Shakespeare imitates the lives of the actors performing it. With a large cast and operatic score, this production welcomes you to the chaotic life of backstage theatre in which drama is as prevalent onstage as it is off. 

The show tells the story of Fred Graham (Quirijn De Lang), an actor and director working opposite his ex-wife Lilli Vanessi (Stephanie Corley). As their rekindled love sparks drama offstage, the complications of romance begin to influence the production’s performance, with hilarious consequences.

The cast were brilliant, with committed performances from everyone and an incredibly energy that was tiring just to watch throughout. However, Aiesha Pease (Hattie), Zoë Rainey (Lois Lane), Joseph Shovelton (First Gunman), John Savournin (Second Gunman) really stood out with their performances. I found myself watching them whenever they appeared onstage and was captivated by them during the whole show.

The set design and costumes (Colin Richmond) in this show were phenomenal. The use of colour and period pieces made it very easy for the audience to distinguish the action onstage from the backstage scenes. The Shrew’s onstage set cleverly transformed throughout scenes to transition between dance breaks which allowed the show to flow steadily in between songs and scenes with ease. The lavish designs were also just a pleasure to watch and really allowed all the actors to stand out individually, especially in very busy and populated scenes.

Cole Porter’s score is integrally woven into the entirety of this production, creating a clear and energetic atmosphere til the very end. Especially in the opening number, “Another Op’nin, Another Show”, which was one of my favourite moments of the entire performance, as it perfectly captures the anxiety and excitement of a show’s opening night. I did find that the music began to get a bit repetitive at times, with the 3 repeat gag of reprises being a bit overused. However if these slight hiccups are overlooked, the music is thoroughly enjoyable and gives the piece, and equally the performers, a huge amount of character.

The only element of the show that really bothered me was the story. I found it quite slow-paced to start off with and a little difficult to initially grasp. There was also a lot of sexist undertones throughout the piece, which, whilst understandable in a period piece, felt outdated and a little uncomfortable for a modern audience to watch. However I respect that this was in keeping with the original material.

The dance breaks in the show were where this show really shone, especially the tap routine planted in the middle of the second act which was a delight to watch, All the choreography (Will Tuckett) had so much life and energy, and felt very natural in its’ progression and place within the show.

Overall I enjoyed the experience of watching Kiss Me Kate, and would recommend it to any fans of classic musicals as it is an entertaining night out.

 

Reviewed by Emily Schofield
25th May 2018
Reviewer rating: ★ ★ ★

The Biograph Girl made its UK debut in 1980, and after only two productions that year, hasn’t had another UK production up until this current run – nearly forty years later. Linking back to classical musical theatre whilst also taking you on a journey through cinema of the early 1900s, this show is certainly a unique experience.

Playing at the Finborough Theatre, in which the space may appear to be too small of a space for companies larger than three or four, however the nine actors of the Biograph Girl did a fantastic job of using their small staging to their advantage, creating an intimate atmosphere between the performers and the audience as this story unfolded.

Back row - Lauren Chinery. Nova Skipp. Emily Langham. Joshua C Jackson. Front row - Matthew Cavendish. Charlie Ryall. Jason Morell. credit Lidia Crisafulli
© Lidia Crisafulli

The music, written by David Heneker with lyrics by David Heneker and Warner Brown, was by far the best aspect of this show. The beautifully complicated harmonies of the actors filled the small space wonderfully and were a complete joy to listen to. I especially liked the song Every Lady, in which multiple characters sang different lyrics to the same melody line which was really lovely to listen to. The music envoked the majority of the emotive power of the show, something that I think the actual story missed a beat on.

Describing the story of this show is a little complicated, unless you simply say it is the biography of pioneering director D. W. Griffith, which is very broad and doesn’t encapsulate the full experience. It felt like a lot of small separate stories being told together through the connection of film, however it frequently felt like the challenges the characters were facing were being dismissed and moved on from very quickly, which made it difficult to latch onto anything or have any sympathy for the characters. A prime example of this would be Rivers of Blood, which is sang by a Man of the South (played by Joshua C. Jackson). This song discussed the tensions that Griffith’s film, The Birth of a Nation, caused as well as the racial tensions it invited. This plot point could have been expanded much more and had more of an impact on the rest of the story, but instead it involved one solo song and then the aforementioned tensions were never mentioned again. It made the story feel unfinished and unsatisfying, and left many loose ends by the end of the show. Maybe if the book had focused more on one of the many story lines that it used, the story could have been developed more and we as an audience could have felt more attached to the characters in their weaker moments.

Joshua C Jackson. credit Lidia Crisafulli
© Lidia Crisafulli

Despite the issues with story, the cast still delivered a wonderful performance that I enjoyed quite a lot. The comedic timing of Matthew Cavendish in particular was brilliant throughout. However Harry Haden-Brown, the show’s musical director, was also very impressive in the show and he played piano for the entire show and was the only musical backing given to the cast whilst singing. He played the entire score himself as well as playing the small role of Spec towards the end of the second act, which was amazing!

Overall The Biograph Girl was a very interesting experience. I don’t think it’s the kind of show that large audiences would enjoy, hence being performed in such a small space, however it is a good night out and the music is well worth a listen.

The Biograph Girl plays at the Finborough Theatre until Saturday June 9th.
https://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/productions/2018/the-biograph-girl.php

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Reviewed by Emily March
6th May 2018
Reviewer rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ 

There was certainly magic in the room at Sunday night’s West End Does: The Magic of Animation concert at Cadogan Hall. Featuring a star-studded line up of the West End’s brightest leading ladies and gents. Filled with a set-list of old and new songs from our favourite animated movies, from Mulan to Moana, it certainly did not disappoint.

After a stunning Disney overture by the choir and orchestra, led by the charismatic Alex Parker, who seemed to be enjoying the marvellous array of music throughout the night, the wonderful Celinde Schoenmaker(Les Miserables), Eva Noblezada(Miss Saigon) and Danielle Hope(The Wizard of Oz) entered the stage in gorgeous gowns to sing an earth-shattering and perfectly harmonised mash-up of Just Around the Riverbend and Colours of the Wind from Disney’s Pocahontas.

British favourite Christopher Biggins took to the stage as our host for the evening, equip with funny one-liners, he got the room laughing and in good spirit for the concert ahead. Celinde Schoenmaker returned to the stage for a couple of Tangled tunes; a fun performance of When Will My Life Begin, which picked up the tempo in a room which was followed by a beautiful cover of Tangled favourite, I See the Light, where she was joined on stage by Fra Fee(The Ferryman). Celinde looked and sounded beautiful on stage and made the audience question if she actually was the real Rapunzel.

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© Danny Kaan

Eva Noblezada was the highlight of the night for me. Her moving cover of Reflection was incredible, showing off her rich tones and sensational vocal technique, and seemed apt after Noblezada followed in Lea Salonga’s footsteps as Kim in Miss Saigon. She also sang How Far I’ll Go during the concert’s Moana section, with some slick riffs, it definitely impressed the audience and proved that she has a very special talent. Moana on Broadway perhaps?

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© Danny Kaan

Other highlights include Marisha Wallace’s (Dreamgirls) upbeat performance of Zero to Hero from Hercules, which blew the roof of Cadogan Hall and received the biggest applause of the night. The gospel number got everyone dancing and clapping in their seats. What a voice! Although an overdone concert duet, Wicked alumni, Rachel Tucker and current Fiyero, Bradley Jaden’s version of The Prayer from the not so well-known animated movie Quest for Camelot was dramatic and beautiful, and showed off Bradley’s more classical tone. Personally I feel that was a lot stronger than his contemporary performance of Moana’s You’re Welcome, which at times I felt he struggled to keep up with, however still entertaining the crowd with the modern Disney bop.

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© Danny Kaan

Les Miserables star and Creator of West End Does, Rob Houchen, showed off his vocal versatility with an emotional version of Proud of Your Boy from Aladdin and an impressive duet of When You Believe from Prince of Egypt, with vocal powerhouse Marisha Wallace. My favourite performance of the night.

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© Danny Kaan

It was evident that a large portion of the audience was made up of ‘Hopefuls’ – fans of YouTube sensation and teen idol, Carrie Hope Fletcher(Les Miserables). Her renditions of Journey to The Past from Anastasia and Elton John’s Lion King classic, Can You Feel the Love Tonight, were both vocally strong and engaging. As well as her smashing solos, Carrie’s Beauty and The Beast duet with her Les Miserables co-star Rob Houchen, was definitely a magical moment to remember; they even waltzed during the instrumental!

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Overall West End Does was an evening t of pure magic and a true delight to watch, and the only negative is that there wasn’t much interaction between the artists and the audience. I look forward to West End Does: different themed nights in the future.

Photo Credit: Danny Kaan http://dannykaan.nl/portfolio-item/west-end-does-6/