Review: Audra McDonald – In Concert (Leicester Square Theatre)

Reviewed by Sophie Ross
April 12th 2017
Reviewer rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

Last night, Six-time Tony award winning Audra McDonald opened her four night residency at the Leicester Square Theatre. Although she may not be a big name in the UK, she is certainly a Broadway sensation and it’s wonderful to have her back in London. Hosted by pianist and long-term friend Seth Rudetsky and featuring special guest Will Swenson, it was an evening that fulfilled all of our stagey needs.

After performing at last weekends Oliver Awards, McDonald also had a show at the Donmar Warehouse back in 2000. We’d call these shows warm-ups for her West End acting debut as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, opening at the Wyndham’s in June. It’s great to be able to see her as her charming self before she jumps into the role of such an iconic singer this summer.

The show had a rather intimate feel and was a mix of show tunes lead by chatter as Rudetsky hosted a Q&A in between each song. It was evident that the pair had been friends for quite some time as they bounced off each others energy whilst reminiscing on their past. They told the story of her final exam at Juilliard in which he accompanied her on the piano, a moment in which she thought she was going to epically fail. It was wonderful to see the ease of their conversation that was filled with fun, lighthearted humour and sassiness. Whilst continuing to include the audience it felt like you were in a room filled with your closest friends.

McDonald told stories of her journey to stardom through her college experiences, her first job working in Dinner Theatre’s and her celebrity encounters along the way, including what it was like to work with Puff Daddy and the time Liza Minnelli made her late for the Tony’s. She also told of the time she passed out at a concert to which Julie Andrews came to visit her in hospital to make sure she was okay. It was all very showbiz and we loved it!

Her setlist included songs such as “Maybe This Time”, “I Could Have Danced All Night” and a duet with husband Will, “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers”. Showcasing her trained operatic voice, McDonald filled the room with her incredible vocals, her warmness and over-powering charm. It’s understandable that the crowd were eating out of the palm of her hand and were fixated on her performance.

Audra, is not only a wonderful leading lady, she’s a parent and it’s clear to see that she balances show-business with her personal life very well. She’s a star and after last night, we can absolutely see why.

You can catch Audra at the Leicester Square Theatre until Saturday 15th April:
https://leicestersquaretheatre.ticketsolve.com/shows/873569219

Ticket’s for Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill are also on sale now
(Wyndhams Theatre from 27th June -9th September)
http://www.delfontmackintosh.co.uk/tickets/lady-day/

 

Review: The Winters Tale (Barbican)

Reviewed by Ksenya Grey
April 6th 2017
Reviewer rating:

‘Jealousy is a disease, love is a healthy condition’

Cheek by Jowl’s internationally renowned touring production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale has landed at the Barbican, and it is a work of brilliance.

The plays of William Shakespeare are so embodied into our theatre culture that the reinventions of his classics are always meet with intrigue. The five act play seamlessly changes tone throughout the evening – with the first three acts are more of a psychological drama, a Greek tragedy if you will, and the last two a drama with comedic interludes by Autolycus (Ryan Donaldson).

Orlando James is the true stand out of the evening as Leontes, King of Sicilia, whose delight in his family is destroyed when he is gripped by a sudden paranoia that his wife has been having an affair, and that his brother Polixenes, the visiting King of Bohemia, is the true father of her unborn child.

James is equally matched by Natalie Radmall-Quirke, who plays Leontes’ Queen, Hermione. Her performance is powerful and her death breaks the heart of every audience member in that theatre.

What makes this production stand out is the stage is used as a blank canvas with very minimal allowing the words tell the story.

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Review: Lizzie The Musical (Greenwich Theatre)

Reviewed by Sophie Ross
24th February 2016
Reviewer rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

It’s fair to say that a trip to see Lizzie The Musical, won’t be your average night out to the theatre. Making it’s UK debut at the Greenwich Theatre, it tells the story of a suspected murderess in the victorian era. The book, written by Tim Maner takes a real life case and tells it through the use of song explaining the many theories of this morbid tale.

In the house of Borden, not everything is well. The show follows Lizzie and her sister Emma who live with their father and stepmother, an arrangement that they are not comfortable with. Abused by her father and finding out that his will has changed much to their stepmothers favour, it’s breaking point for Lizzie. Her sister leaves town and therefore she takes charge leaving her with blood on her hands (but not on her dress). Suspicions arise from Maid Bridget (also known as Maggie) and Alice, the Borden’s neighbour/admirer of Lizzie and comes down to who will keep the bloody secret?.

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Credit: Soren Lizzie Maltose

The show feels like you’ve stepped into a rock concert with minimal staging, therefore relying solely on the music to tell the story. At stage’s during the show you feel as if you should be standing in a mosh pit at the front of the stage rather than sitting in a theatre style situation. With a live band at the side of the stage at all times, the cast make the use of handheld microphones for the majority of the show which gave it a real rocky edge.

Act one had a slight feel of confusion and took us a while to get into the swing of what was happening. If you’re not solely giving your full attention into what the dialogue is trying to convey, it’s easy to feel a little lost. Act two felt more relaxed/natural as the girls undergo a transformation which allows their characters to develop. At times, the lighting was a little overwhelming and somewhat blinding but it’s used to create a perfect rock arena feel which fits with the theme of the show.

You can’t fault the talent from this powerhouse foursome. Danish actress Bjorg Gamst (Lizzie) makes a wonderful leading lady. Her character development from a shy, abused young girl transforms into a strong and confident woman. She carries the show well and has an amazing vocal to go with it.  Eden Espinosa shines bright with incredible stage presence, stand out vocals and a powerful performance. She is charismatic and puts her all into her character. Jodie Jacobs (Maggie) brings lightheartedness and humour to her role and is a big audience pleaser. Beau Woodward (Alice) shows the side of innocence and is a real contrast to the other three.

It’s refreshing to see something different and it’s guarranted to be a theatre experience that you won’t expect. The show is loud, in your face and pretty outragious but it’s something that you won’t have seen before.

Lizzie plays at the Greenwich Theatre until 12 March

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Review: The Girls (Phoenix Theatre)

Reviewed by Sophie Ross
Wednesday 22nd February
Reviewer rating: ★ ★★ ★

It’s the return of the well-known Calendar Girls with Gary Barlow and Tim Fifth’s new musical The Girls. Opening at the Phoenix Theatre this week, the show follows a Yorkshire WI group as they pose for a nude calendar to raise money after the passing of Annie’s husband who sadly dies of cancer. The show has the ability to make you cry, laugh and smile and will leave appreciating how special friendships can be. The show also raises funds for Bloodwise, a cancer charity.

 

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Previously on the West End as a play, this version gives the show more life. With a pleasing score that’s not entirely perfect but fits in well with the storytelling, it will leave you feeling somewhat joyous and no doubt will make you laugh. The structure of the show is a little off balanced in which they don’t actually introduce the idea of the calendar until some time after the interval. The first half is focused more on building of the relationships between them, especially a mother/son conflict in which he becomes rebellious after not agreeing with his mothers antics.

The show is everything you could expect from a typical British musical. Like Billy Elliot, it stays very true to where the show is set and the culture of the village. You’ll see fetes, baking competitions, tea drinking and getting the famous chip dinner on your way home. Creating a valley scene by using a tower of cupboards to create England’s “green land”, it stays true to what you’d expect Yorkshire to look like.

Although the first half is pretty slow moving, the pace does pick up and the second half is filled with humour. The calendar shoot is the highlight of the show and gives you a real warm feeling to see everyone coming together. The cast drive this show wonderfully and it’s very refreshing to see a show led mostly by women but also an older ensemble. Friendship is the universal message that runs throughout and the 40-year friendship between Annie and Chris (played by Joanna Riding and Claire Moore) will restore your faith in true friends. Their chemistry on stage is beautiful and they are brilliant leading ladies.

It’s a show that oozes both light and shade, the ups and downs and reality of life. The music is well balanced in terms of emotion and happiness. One minute it pulls at your heartstrings and the next you can’t stop smiling. Ending with Sunflower, a song written by Barlow and Firth, it leaves the audience with a sense of reflection. Sometimes we do need to turn towards the light even when you may feel that you’re surrounded by darkness and it’s an important to end the show with.

The Girls runs at the Phoenix Theatre July 15th 2017.
http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-girls/phoenix-theatre/

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Review: The Wild Party (The Other Palace)

Reviewed by Ksenya Gray
Tuesday 21st February
Reviewer rating:★ ★ ★ ★

The relaunch of St James Theatre as The Other Palace warranted a party and that’s exactly what it got.  Starting off the 2017 season under the Artistic Direction of Paul Taylor-Mills, Michael John LaChiusa’s dark and dazzling jazz-age Broadway musical is brought to the London audience. It sadly was short lived on Broadway with only 68 performances.

The Wild Party is set in the prohibition era circa 1920s New York where Queenie (Frances Ruffelle) and her partner/fellow Vaudeville performer Burrs (John Owen-Jones) throw a party for friends and acquaintances filled with booze and drugs to add spice to their mundane lives. Among the guests include an ex boxing champ with his wife; a stripper; a gigolo; an ageing performer still grasping for the spotlight (Donna McKechnie); wannabe producers: Gold and Golberg; and a small town girl who has her eyes set on bright lights of Broadway.the-cast-of-the-wild-party-photo-credit-scott-rylander-2

 

What holds the show together in this new space is the caliber of talent, both from West End veterans and newer faces, and the skillful work of director and choreographer, Drew McOnie, who weaves together the many strands of this complex and difficult musical.

John-Owen Jones was the major stand out of the 15 cast members, successfully giving Burrs a softer edge. Although clearly an abusive and controlling partner to Queenie, the audience can’t help but feel some understanding for the character. In The Heights and Murder Ballad favourite, Victoria Hamilton-Barritt as spit firer Kate dominates the stage the moment she enters. Some may argue that she is tad young for the role but her powerhouse vocals compliment Frances Ruffelle’s smoky tones. Donna McKechnie had the audience in the palm of her hands throughout the show, especially with her last number, ‘When It Ends’, a show stopper.

Although a few quivels, The Wild Party is a brilliantly original piece of musical theatre and a great inauguration for The Other Palace. 

The show runs until April 1st and you can grab yourself a ticket here: https://www.theotherpalace.co.uk/theatre/wild-party/

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Review: The Kite Runner (Wyndhams Theatre)

Reviewed by Sophie Ross
10th January 2016
Reviewer rating:★ ★★ ★

Khaled Hossenini’s, The Kite Runner opened at the Wyndhams Theatre last night following the success of both the novel and film. It tells the story of Afghanistan over the span of 25 years, through troubled times.

Transforming into a play adaption, Matthew Spangler has stayed true to the story and it’s importance by replicating this classic for the stage. The story is translated through Amir as he relives the past of his Kabul childhood. With his new life in America, he revisits his complicated life choices and his friendship with house servant Hassan.

Ben Turner plays a brilliant leading man/narrator with the role of Amir. His performance is strong and consistent throughout. Andrei Costin as Hassin makes the role unique and is very believable in the role. The two of them work incredibly well together and are a great duo.

With beautifully crafted music played to the side of the stage by Hanif Khan with the use of limited instruments, it gives the play a real authentic feel. The staging is very simple with the use of a few wooden slates and illustrations showing the pomegranate tree and kites flying. This allows you to focus on the true importance of this production rather than being distracted by anything else.

With everything that is going on in the world, the text translates the importance of friendship, loyalty and strength and although a little slow paced at times, it resonates well with the audience.
The Kite Runner plays at Wydhams Theatre until March 11th.

Review: LMTO’s “A Christmas Carol” – (Lyceum Theatre)

Reviewed By Sophie Ross
December 19th 2016
Reviewer rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

The London Musical Theatre Orchestra returns for a one night only performance of “A Christmas Carol”. Taking over the Lyceum Theatre, the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future came out to play accompanied by a star studded line-up. With a sold out audience performing on the exact same day that the original Dickens novel was published, it was time for Christmas week to commence.

This is the first time that Alan Menken and Lynn Ahrens’ musical has played in the UK and it was amazing to see it brought to life by such talented musicians and performers. With an incredible casting including leading man Robert Lindsay as Ebenezer Scrooge, Madalena Alberto, Hugh Maynard and Carrie Hope Fletcher as the ghosts of Christmas, Norman Bowman as Jacob Marley and Alex Gaumond and Giovanna Fletcher as Mr/Mrs Cratchit, it’s hard to find any fault. They were also joined on stage by an ensemble from the LMTO and some of the cutest kids you’ve ever seen, especially the young lad who played Tiny Tim.

What is so refreshing with seeing a concert version of the show is that it still has as much sparkle as a full scale production. The LMTO nails it on the head by bringing these stories to life by the use of wonderfully crafted music. The score is so incredibly beautiful that when played with a full orchestration, it makes you appreciate it even more. When the performance lacks action, it’s made up with cleverly thought out substitutions and translated with such ease. With this piece being a well-known classic, the storyline is just as important as ever, especially around the festive period. It really is spectacular to see it all unfold and always exceeds our expectations.

Robert Lindsay completely stole the show with his perfect character representation and his wonderful stage presence. With being centre-stage for nearly the entirety of the performance, he carried the storyline like a true professional and humoured the audience on more than one occasion. We must also give a mention Composer Freddie Tapner for not only putting together something so thrilling but for his impeccable timing and and bucket loads of passion. It’s a joy to see someone oozing with so much energy and joy.

We’re very excited to see what the next instalment from the LMTO will be. You can find out more about them here http://www.lmto.org/.