Reviewed by Emily March
19th November 2019
Reviewer Rating: ★★★★★

Les Misérables has raised the bar for touring musicals this evening at Wales Millennium Centre. Les Mis is a sung-through musical, adapted from French poet Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel of the same name. This new version of the production gives the musical a new burst of energy with its stirring visuals and stunning performances. Lasting almost 3 hours in length, the show had me holding my breath for the duration, in awe of its beauty, emotion, powerful melodies and poetic lyrics. 

The cast was lead by the sensational Dean Chisnall as Jean Valjean. His voice soured through the huge venue, filled with some much emotion and tenderness. He carried the heavy weight of this giant production on his shoulders, which must really test his stamina 8 shows a week. He shined opposite his enemy Javert, played by Nic Greenshields, who’s strong stage presence cast a darker shadow over the piece. 

Not one member of the cast was weak or unnecessary. As such an ensemble piece of theatre, their energy and commitment was just as important as that of the leads. I was particularly moved by Katie Hall’s compelling performance as the broken Fantine. Her rendition of I Dreamed A Dream stopped the world for a few minutes and brought me to tears. Her final scene in the first act, accompanied by my favourite song Come To Me, was shocking and devastating, even for someone like me who already knew of her unfortunate destiny. 

The scenery, which was apparently inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo, was evident. Every scene was like a painting had come to life, which was unique from anything I had seen before on stage. The lighting was dim for the majority of the show. At first it took a while for my eyes to adjust, but it was necessary to create the dark atmosphere of the setting. The special effects were also impressive and really brought the audience into the show, with moments even feeling like a 4D cinema moment, with large moving projections on the backdrop. This was an exciting development for the show, and I have to say, it felt integral to the big impact that the show had. It was very well done as it didn’t make the show feel too modern or withdrawn from its original context. 

This production reminded me how much I adore the incredible score of Les Miserables (by Claude-Michel Schonberg). Although the songs continuously run into each other, they also stand alone as separate moments of the show, each with their own character and narrative that is essential to moving the show along. The rousing One Day More did not disappoint with its powerful vocals and visuals, and the Finale for me closed the show with both power and heartbreak. 

It was thrilling to see the musical for the first time as an adult. I have only just realised how relevant this story is, both literally, with its war scenes, violence and politics, but also with its universal themes of love, family, grief, obsession and guilt. Everyone can see themselves in the show and hopefully feel somewhat lighter leaving the theatre, I know I did. 

Les Miserables plays at the Wales Millennium Centre over the holiday season until January 4th. Run to get the remaining tickets:  https://www.wmc.org.uk/en/whats-on/2019/les-miserables/

Reviewed by Emily March
19th November 2019
Reviewer Rating: ★★★★

Nativity the Musical definitely brought sparkle and shine to a dull Cardiff Bay on Tuesday evening, almost 10 years to the day of the film release. Having been a fan of the film franchise since it first premiered, and the memorable songs have been a soundtrack to every Christmas since then; I was excited to see how the stage show would come to life.

The story follows an uptight school teacher’s white lie about Hollywood coming to see his class’ Nativity. Firstly we have to talk about the kids. Collectively they were amazing and I always looked forward to the next time they’d be on stage. What was great was the fact they weren’t weren’t slick stagey kids and were very natural throughout. This gave the same authentic humour and heart that the movie also has. Shoutout to little Teddy Saberton, a small but mighty talent, Evie Mallen for her gorgeous standout vocals, and dynamic duo Ana and Ela Morgan for their shining stage presence and humour. To see how confident the children were was inspiring and their performance and passion for the piece brought me to tears.

Scott Garnham made for a fantastic Mr Maddens. Again, very natural and very funny, with a great voice to match. He was very true to the original portrayal in the film, which really worked for the show too. Former Elphaba, Ashleigh Gray, who played Jennifer Lore had an equally amazing voice and made the role her own.

Both Charles Brunton and Penelope Woodman’s performances as Gordon Shakespeare and Mrs Bevan respectively, I particularly enjoyed. They were true to the characters in the film but definitely brought a uniqueness and freshness to the roles. Brilliant comic timing and stage presence.

I was underwhelmed by Dani Dyer’s contribution to the show. She didn’t blow me away, and some moments felt very awkward. Perhaps not her fault as her character, Polly Parker, didn’t pack much of a punch.

My biggest shoutout goes to the incredible Scott Paige who’s version of Mr Poppy was fresh, sassy and simply hilarious. He was laugh out loud funny throughout the whole performance.  He owned the stage and carried the show, with a great relationship with the children on stage. He was also able to deliver the more tender moments and keep us in the palm of his hand. He may even be better than the film original. I’m still giggling! Bravo!

The best songs in the show were the ones taken from the film, and I felt that they would’ve been enough without the added extras to make it more of a ‘musical’. At times some of the songs felt a little unnecessary and slightly boring, even though the impressive voices of the cast shone through.  The set was impressive and very festive which added to the mood of the show.  The book is so joyful and hilarious, with a lot of slap stick comedy and innuendos to keep both kids and adults happy.

Overall, the show was pure festive fun, and I highly recommend it for a fun family night out. It stayed true to the film that we all know and love, and it was so exciting to see the real Nativity performance come to life on stage in front of me. It has something for everything and is the perfect watch this Christmas.

Nativity! is at Wales Millennium Centre until Saturday 23rd November. Limited tickets remain:  https://www.wmc.org.uk/en/whats-on/2019/nativity/performances

Reviewed by Emily March
29th October 2019
Reviewer Rating: ★★★★

9to5 the Musical, based on the 80’s movie starring Dolly Parton burst into the Wales Millennium Centre last night. With it’s colourful set, shocking storyline and larger than life characters, I was intrigued to see how the show was transfer to the stage.

The cast was lead by three talented women; Caroline Sheen, Amber Davies and Georgina Castle, who played Violet, Judy and Doralee respectively. Each actress brought so much heart and humour to their character and it was great to see three female leads. Their onstage chemistry was genuine and believable which made their performance a joy to watch. Their voices, all strong, blended together beautifully to make for a perfect trio of leading ladies.

Amber Davies particularly stood out to me. Her acting was superb and she really portrayed that naive character with a flare of Glee’s Rachel Berry very well. She eventually found her feet in the eleven o’clock number, Get Out and Stay Out with impressive vocals and totally moving performance. She was truly  fantastic throughout.

The bright set was impressive with a giant 9to5 logo taking centre stage and being reintroduced at various moments of the show. The clock faced doubled as a video screen which featured narration from Dolly Parton herself.

This was a nice touch to the show and helped explain certain moments in more detail. I also loved the use of rolling desks in the show and the computer screens that made up the proscenium arch.

The music in this show is brilliant, reflecting Dolly’s bold brightness in its catchy tunes. However, the newer addition of Hey Boss, which replaced a whole series of fantastic songs from the original Broadway production, felt pointless and slightly weak. I struggled to understand the lyrics of the song, which wasn’t helped by the poor sound levels. I’d be interested to know why this decision was made for the West End/Tour version.

Similarly, Franklin Hart’s second song, Always A Woman, was boring and time consuming, and was unnecessary to the plot. This was no reflection on the actors who were great but more so on the show’s writers. The choreography was innovative but I didn’t feel the ensemble utilised it enough as it sometimes felt a little weak, but their acting really shone.

This review is not complete without a shoutout to the outstanding portrayal of Roz Keith by the hilarious Lucinda Lawrence. BRAVO.

Overall, this is a fantastic production that had me laughing out loud with its tongue-in-cheek humour and relevant storyline. A fantastic night out at the theatre, but definitely for adults only!

Reviewed by Emily March
21st October 2019
Reviewer Rating:★★★★

On Your Feet is currently sweeping the nation on its UK tour and this week, it’s Cardiffs turn. After seeing the show in London over the summer, I knew I would have to make a return visit to see this fierce, high-energy show. Although I went in knowing that is it is not a theatrical masterpiece by any means, I was excited once again for the incredible music, superb dancing and inspirational storyline. This touring production did not disappoint and once again, the rhythm got me good.

Philippa Stefani shines as Gloria. Her effortless vocals soar, her acting is captivating and natural and quite honestly, a true star is born in this role. What stood out to me most was her rendition of the emotional ‘Coming Out Of The Dark’, showing the soul and versatility in her voice. Stefani’s performance was one to remember.

Madalena Alberto was another stand out with her portrayal of Gloria’s bitter mother. Her shining moment ‘Mi Tierra’ was filled with passion and proved that Alberto is a seasoned professional with a stunning voice and moves to match.

ON YOUR FEET. Philippa Stefani 'Gloria Estefan' and Company. Photo Johan Persson (3).jpg

At Monday’s performance, Consuelo was understudied by Laura Friedrich Tejero who acted well beyond her years and made the audience fall in love with her in seconds. She brought both heart and humour to the role. George Ioannides is a fantastic Emilio, with both his sexy confidence and natural talent. He was supported by a fantastic ensemble of passionate performers who danced the authentic choreography with so much strength and energy.

The production was exactly how I remember it from London, however one key component that was lack of child actors that the previous production was lucky to have. Understandably touring with children has it’s restrictions/difficulties but they bring another dimension to the piece, and add the cute factor that the audiences love.

Some classic musical theatre moments where the characters burst into song felt a little awkward at times, even provoking some giggles from the audience because of how cheesy they were. Although these songs were sung beautifully, they broke the realism and weren’t a necessary part of the story telling. Despite that, the majority of the evening felt like a real Gloria Estefan concert.

My favourite moment was, of course, Conga, which got the audience up dancing in the aisles at the end of Act 1. I didn’t stop smiling. I also loved how the talented band were showcased on the stage. The loud music and bright lights set the scene and brought us right into the story. We were treated to a spellbinding mega-mix at the end of the show that got everyone quite literally on their feet and all round it was a super fun night.

The story of Gloria and Emilio is truly inspiring and their fierce approach to the music industry is incredible, and many elements of their story are totally relevant today. I would highly recommend seeing this show if you get the chance.

ON YOUR FEET. Philippa Stefani 'Gloria Estefan' and Company. Photo Johan Persson.jpg

On Your Feet plays at the Wales Millennium Centre until Saturday 26th October.
TICKETS:  https://www.wmc.org.uk/en/whats-on/2019/on-your-feet/

Reviewed by Emily March
14th 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.

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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.