42nd Street at Drury Lane 5*

We were delighted to see this was coming back to the West End as it’s a fabulous show, one of my Mum’s favourites, which we saw in London many years ago when an unknown Catherine Zeta Jones was in it!

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A friend decided to get a party of 10 together to get the group discount so we were in the stalls, which I’m sure we wouldn’t have been if just paying for two tickets for ourselves. We were in row R and had a great view as the floor is slightly sloped and the seats are staggered so you weren’t looking directly at someone’s head as you so often are.

It was one of those shows that you could tell the crowd was excited the moment you stepped foot in the theatre.  There was a real buzz in the air as we queued for the toilets and took our seats. There were quite a few coaches parked outside and we saw a school party of at least 50 kids.

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We had a fabulous time – it is quite simply a wonderful evening’s entertainment. The dancers were all fantastic and there was quite a lot of them, unusual these days but totally necessary for this show.  I counted at least 22 female dancers and 10 male, who were all amazing.  The tap dancing all the way through the show was mesmerising.

One of the highlights of the show was a Busby Berkeley routine which used a large mirror to enable us to see an aerial view of the female dancers doing a routine on the floor.  Another number ended with the 22 female dancers coming out and standing in a line wearing dresses that perfectly graded from red to yellow to purple, going through the rainbow, which had a stunning effect. Those dresses were literally on stage for all of two minutes.  And of course there was the classic number “We’re in the Money” where they tap dance on platforms made to look like coins.

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(from http://www.42ndstreetmusical.co.uk)

The principal cast were all superb. Sheena Easton did a great job as Dorothy Brock and Clare Halse as Peggy Sawyer had great energy. Tom Lister as Julian Marsh was very charismatic, but Jasna Ivir as Maggie Jones was the standout for me, I really enjoyed watching her whenever she was on stage.

We must also give a shout out to Richard, the Stalls Supervisor. In the interval my Mum wanted to buy a programme and we couldn’t see anyone selling so he got on his walkie talkie to personally get the seller over to us as soon as possible.

Quite simply, with its amazing cast, dancing and costumes, this is the perfect production. We tap danced all the way home! Go see it if you can.

Date of visit: Thursday 6th April 2017

Stars: 5

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I Capture the Castle at Watford Palace 2*

Although I’m sure I must have read it as a child, as it’s one of my Mum’s favourite books, I didn’t remember the story of I Capture the Castle, and so the weekend before we were due to see the show I listened to the audiobook (rented digitally from the library for free).

To be honest, it didn’t really grab me and what I was thinking most of the time I was listening was, “really, they’ve made a musical of this?”.  Watching the official trailer didn’t give me much hope either as it featured the title song which was nothing special and a bit dreary.

Basically, my instincts turned out to be correct.

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When we arrived the theatre foyer was packed as it was press night, which suited us fine as it meant the show started at 7pm so it wouldn’t be too late a night. Our seats were in the centre of the front row so we had a great view of the stage and actors, although we did have to look up most of the time. Here’s a photo of the simple set meant to represent the castle (which I was told off for taking):

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During the first scene there was an actor dressed in grey with a somewhat scary mask. We had no idea who it was until it transpired it was supposed to be a gargoyle on the top of the castle. This figure reappeared a few times and was a bit unnecessary.

I was also really distracted by the actors playing the brothers Simon and Neil. To me, the guy playing Simon really looked like a Neil and the guy playing Neil looked much more like a Simon!  Simon is meant to be a charismatic American that both sisters fall in love with, but I couldn’t really see the attraction.

When listening to the book it had got a bit confusing with there being Simon and Stephen (it’s often much more helpful if names begin with different consonants!) and indeed, one of the actresses when talking about Simon said Stephen by mistake and had to correct herself.

I went with my mum and a friend and we all agreed that it would have been much better as a play and we would have enjoyed it a lot more as the story itself is quite sweet. The songs seemed unnecessary and were not very tuneful and the choreography was also quite bad, particularly for a production that is going on tour.

The actors were adequate, with the lead Lowri Izzard playing Cassandra being the only real standout, although she did have the look and air of Claire Danes about her.

I’m now eagerly awaiting the official reviews…

 

Date of visit: Thursday 6th April 2017

Stars: 2

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The Wedding Singer at the Orchard Theatre 4*

I saw this show on Broadway many years ago and loved it, but it never came to London’s West End.  I know the soundtrack off by heart and so when I saw it was on a regional tour I just had to go.  Unfortunately we don’t have any of the big regional theatres near us, so I decided to go to Dartford as I have friends who live there and they came along as well. IMG_2612

The Orchard is a lovely theatre.  As it is relatively new it has air conditioning and the seats are properly raked so there isn’t a bad seat in the house.  Before the show started there was a screen on stage showing trailers of 80s films, as that is when the film is set, which we enjoyed and which really took us back!

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The show is really fun.  It is based on the film starring Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler, but has original songs rather than 80s songs as the film did, although it does contain the couple of original songs that were written for the film in it.

The staging is simple as it has to be packed and moved around the country constantly.

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The leads, Robbie and Julia, played by Jon Robyns and Cassie Compton, were great as they have both been in musical theatre for years.  Ray Quinn was surprisingly good playing the sleazy Glen and Ruth Madoc made the most of playing Robbie’s comic grandma.

The tour is currently booking until October, so catch it if you can!

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Date of visit: Saturday 25th March 2017

Stars: 4

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Rent at St James Theatre 4*

I had never seen this show, either on stage or the film, although I knew a few of the songs, mainly from singing along with Idina Menzel at her concerts, so I jumped at the chance to see this production which celebrates the 20 year anniversary of the musical.

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Overall, we enjoyed it and were glad we took the opportunity to see it, but we came out thinking that we wouldn’t necessarily be desperate to see it again.  I can see how it would have had significant impact 20 years ago, being  groundbreaking at the time it was first shown, depicting men and women with AIDS, gay people, drag queens etc.

At the end the standing ovation was well deserved by all the cast.  Lucie Jones as Maureen was good, not that I’d heard of her until the night before when she was voted to represent the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest this year! 

See it if you can.  We saw it on its last day at the St James, but it’s now on a UK tour.

Stars: 4

Date of visit: 28th January 2017

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Promises, Promises at Southwark Playhouse 3.5*

As we stood in a cold corridor for half an hour before they opened the auditorium doors, we remembered why we haven’t been back to this theatre in years: no seating in the bar area, cramped, freezing toilets and no cloakroom to leave our bulky winter coats.

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However, we thoroughly enjoyed the show once it started (ten minutes late).  It’s a sweet story (you might know the film The Apartment) although not very good morally and we did wonder how the parents of the ten year old in the audience would explain what the married men needed to borrow the apartment for!

As the songs are by Burt Bacharach many of them are great and classics everyone knows – I Say a Little Prayer, Never Fall in Love Again, A House is Not a Home.  The ones I didn’t recognise, however, were not particularly memorable, including the title song.

The set is simple… just a square space that they bring tables and chairs into.  There is a screen at the back above the stage but it didn’t really add anything to the production most of the time, just telling you where the location was or in whose office they were.  The shots of New York were nice to look at though, as in the recent Anything Goes.  I think I’ve said before that productions increasingly seem to be going digital to keep up with the world generally, although a simple stage production has always worked for me!

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The actors were great, especially the leads, who did actually remind us of Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon.. probably why they were cast, of course.  Gabrile Vick plays Chuck and Daisy Maywood plays Fran.

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All in all an enjoyable afternoon although we will still keep to our policy of only trekking to Borough if we really want to see something.  Probably in another five years then…

Stars: 3.5*

Date of visit: Saturday 14th January 2017

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Anything Goes at Upstairs at the Gatehouse 3.5*

I enjoyed this show but it didn’t “wow” me like previous productions here have.  The trouble with this show is that there is not really much of a story, but luckily the excellent Cole Porter songs make up for this.

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As always, they make the best use of the small staging area, with each end looking like a doorway on a ship and one end having stairs up to a balcony area.  Above this there was also a screen showing footage to illustrate where they were in their journey from New York to London.

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During the interval, a stagehand came over to my Mum and asked her to hold a prop.  She said it would be taken off her by an actor during the second half.  This is what it was:

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The cast were good and all worked really hard, but maybe I just wasn’t in the mood on a cold and dark Sunday afternoon!

Stars: 3.5*

Date of visit: Sunday 8th January 2017

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The rest of 2016

Happy New Year to you all.   I seem to have lost the impetus for writing reviews during the last half of 2016, so here’s a roundup of those other shows and plays I saw that never made it to the blog, so that I can start fresh in 2017.  They are based on my tweets, notes I made after seeing them, my Mum’s memory and my not-so-great memory.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Globe

This was one production where not reading about it beforehand definitely impeded my enjoyment. Earlier that day I had read my niece’s fictionalised story of the play to reacquaint myself with it, but it beared little resemblance to what I saw on stage. I wish I’d read about how different it was and how they had had a dramaturg re-write it as then I may have been expecting what we saw. Our seats were to the side of the stage as well, so some of the action was obscured by columns.

I’m sure many people hailed the production as great, but it just left me confused. The premise was that people who work behind the scenes at the Globe are putting on a play and go into the woods to rehearse. After that it’s not clear what is ‘real’ and what’s not.

The last half hour was the ‘Globe workers’ putting on their play – Pyramus and Thisbe, which I didn’t know – and which, although most of the audience were in hysterics, I’m not really one really silly humour so it didn’t really sit well with me – especially when I’d been expecting to see Shakespeare!

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Date of visit: 5th July 2016 2*

Groundhog Day at the Old Vic

We hated this for many reasons. Firstly, we bought cheap seats in the balcony to the side of the stage as the reviews had been so good and, although they were called restricted view, they really should not be sold at all – we could literally only see the lefthand side of the stage so missed any action on the right.

Secondly, it’s clear the story is just not strong enough for a two and a half hour show.  The first 30 minutes is just the Bill Murray character being depressed.  I wasn’t taken with the songs either and the set was quite simple.

In the future, I’ll just be watching the film again.. and again… and again…

Date of visit: 29th August 2016 2* 

The MGM Story at Upstairs at the Gatehouse

This was a really fun show at our hidden gem of a theatre, with a talented cast as usual. Entertaining but a more amateurish than many of their productions. mgm

The show depicts ‘the history of the golden age of song and dance and tells the tale of how the studio fostered the talent of stars including Judy Garland and Gene Kelly and composers such as Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and many more. The songs were great, including classics from musicals such as The Wizard of Oz, Singin’ in the Rain and An American in Paris.

Date of visit: 4th September 2016 3*

The Entertainer at the Garrick Theatre

Part of Kenneth Branagh’s season, we had bought our tickets 18 months before so couldn’t really believe it had come around!

Kenneth Branagh was fabulous as always, but the play itself I thought was too long and drawn out. I didn’t really care about the play when KB himself wasn’t on stage as he really livened it up and I would have liked to see more singing and dancing.  The actress who played his daughter squeaked and my Mum, who notices these things, says that in the second act KB was wearing a beautiful Saville Row suit that in reality was too smart and expensive for the character.

The theatre was very hot and we were at the back of the stalls. Unfortunately the voices didn’t carry to us properly when the actors were speaking and not raising their voices for the part.  To top it all, we came out desperate for a G&T as onstage there were drinking and talking about it the entire first half!

Date of visit: 7th September 2016 3*

Ragtime at the Charing Cross Theatre

This is one of our favourite musicals. We love it so much that the last time we saw it was in Regent’s Park and we got absolutely drenched watching it!  We enjoyed the themed menu beforehand – NY immigrant food!

It is a sad and powerful story. As usual, the set and production quality at the Charing Cross Theatre was outstanding and all the cast were fabulous, getting a standing ovation.

Date of visit: 21st November 5*

Tosca at the ENO

As we expected, a great production with good acting and singing.

Date of visit: 3rd October 2016 4*

Pearl Fishers at the ENO

My thoughts on this can be summed up by my tweet during the interval which reads “Beautiful production of Pearl Fishers. Absolutely love the diving scene at the beginning, so realistic.”    And it was… it did actually look as though they were swimming on stage.

Date of visit: 19th October 5*

An Audience with Michael Douglas

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I’m often tempted by the “An Audience with…” evenings but this was one we just couldn’t resist. One of our favourite actors, my Mum and I enjoyed seeing him in person and hearing tales about him making some of his best films.  Evening Jonathan Ross wasn’t too annoying for once, realising the evening was about Michael not him.

Date of visit: 30th October 5*

Legally Blonde at Watford Palace Theatre

This was an amateur production that I went to see because one of my colleagues is in it and because it is one of my favourite shows. Not up to the level of the productions I saw in the West End and Upstairs at the Gatehouse, it was still very enjoyable.

Date of visit: 10th November 3*

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Showboat 4*

This is a great show so I was determined to see it and almost ran out of time as they announced it is closing early at the end of August.  I was, however, very pleased to find tickets for £19.75.

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I got to the New London Theatre early and whilst taking photos outside, two girls stopped a woman walking by and said “you’re in the show aren’t you, can we have a photo?” so I snapped one of her too!  Looking in the programme I noted it is Linda John-Pierre who is billed as Old Lady/Ensemble, and indeed looks a lot older when made up for the show.

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Yes you heard correctly, I bought a programme for once!  My mum is taking my niece to see the show next week so we thought if I got one we could all share it.  It was £6 but the articles about the show were interesting and there are some good photos in it and, of course, I now have all the information I need without having to scrabble around on the Internet for it.

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I don’t remember ever coming to this theatre and, looking at the list of their productions, I’m not surprised as I had no interest in War Horse or Cats (I don’t do animals!).  It’s a bit of a trek from the tube which has unfortunately probably contributed to it closing early, being off the beaten track for both Londoners and tourists.  The theatre has been modernised inside with air conditioning and ample leg room and the seating is in a u shape around the stage. I was in row E at the side of the stalls. There were a few empty seats in the stalls but the small circle was about 90% empty.  Even for a Wednesday night that’s not good.

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I really enjoyed the first half.  The set is very clever, with a walkway around the stage made to look like a wharf and the front of a steamboat that can move towards the audience.  You can just see it in this sneaky pic I took at the end of the interval.

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The show has one of my favourite show songs in it – Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man.  Ol’ Man River is obviously the classic song from the show and the actor who sang it had an amazing voice and again, because I had the programme, I knew that it wasn’t even the main actor (Emmanuel Kojo) but the understudy Tosh Wanogho-Maud.  The actress playing Julie, Rebecca Trehearn, really reminded me of Sandra Bullock (look her up, you’ll see!) and Gina Beck as Magnolia is fantastic with a great singing voice.

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Based on a novel by Edna Ferber and adapted for the stage by Hammerstein and Kern, the subject matter is still fascinating and relevant and musical lovers should note that it’s cited as the first musical as we know them today – with a storyline and the songs providing narrative, rather than just shows that were more like cabarets.

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I preferred the first half to the second.  I’m not sure if this is because I was tired and started to get uncomfortable in my seat or because the storyline gets even more downbeat. I wasn’t quite satisfied with the ending either, when Gaylord, a gambler and drinker, comes back 20 years after having abandoned his wife and daughter and is welcomed with open arms.  Chris Peluso plays this very weak man effectively and I noticed he has also played Chris in Miss Saigon, another somewhat weak male character.  He does it very well!

Overall I enjoyed Showboat.  The production is directed well by Daniel Evans and has a lot of energy with a simple but great set.  I’ve given it 4* not 5* because I wasn’t buzzing as I came out, which is a reflection on the show itself rather than the production.

Date of visit: Wednesday 10th August 2016

Stars: 4*

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Titanic 5*

I saw this production at the Southwark Playhouse in 2013 and loved it so much I just had to see it again when it came to the Charing Cross Theatre.

We went early to eat dinner first in the Player’s bar and were delighted to find it Titanic themed with ‘iceberg’ cocktails and a menu based on food that was actually served on the Titanic, with the dates they were served during the voyage.

 

The staging was different at this theatre because of the layout: Southwark Playhouse had the audience on three sides with the actors performing on the floor whereas Charing Cross has a stage, albeit a small one, but they made good use of the space by having a mezzanine level as well as the main stage.

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The first half tells the stories of some of the passengers, setting it up for when the ship hits the iceberg just before the interval. The stories provide a good cross section of characters from the crew and 1st, 2nd and 3rd classes, with the actors often having to make quick costume changes to play more than one person.  The first half went so quickly I couldn’t believe it when it was already approaching the interval. With some great tunes, fantastic actors and obviously a moving story, I still loved this show just as much, if not more, than the last time I saw it.

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The second half is a lot more downbeat and this production was so effective I had tears in my eyes a couple of times, first during the scene when they are putting the women into the lifeboat as they are saying goodbye to their husbands, and then again at the end when they hang down a memorial with all the names of all 1503 people lost that night.  They then flashback to the first scene when everyone arrives at the boat excited and hopeful which again brings home the extent of the tragedy.

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As this theatre is right next to Charing Cross station you can frequently hear tube trains and this is probably the only production I’ve seen there that not only does it not matter, it might even add to the production, especially in the second half when Titanic is sinking.

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I purposefully hadn’t read my review of the previous production before writing this and when I went to do so discovered that it features in the round up of my first blog from 2013 so isn’t a full review, but I did love it then too.

The show has just been extended until 13th August so please go see it while you still can.

Date of visit: 15th July 2016

Star rating: 5*

Follow me on Twitter/Instagram: @TheatreGremlin

 

The Bodyguard 4*

The Bodyguard

This was a belated birthday outing which I was treated to by my aunt and we were at only the second performance in the run on its return to London.

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Our seats in were Z 1 & 2 but it was nice to find that they were not actually in the back row (there were 5 more rows behind us).2

I noticed that the atmosphere was very different in this theatre to most performances I go to, probably because it’s one of those shows that appeals to people who aren’t regular theatregoers.  Of course, that also means that there was a lot of talking, rustling of food bags and people getting up to go to the toilet throughout.

I hadn’t seen the film in years but the story quickly came back to me, as it’s not a complicated one.  The actors were all fantastic.  Beverley Knight was great in the lead as Rachel Marron, with a fantastic and powerful voice, and it made me realise that this isn’t one of those shows that can run and run with just anyone taking over –  to pull off Whitney Houston songs you really have to have someone in the role who can sing and belt out these great songs.  Beverley Knight and Ben Richards, as the bodygard Frank Farmer, had perfect chemistry, which made it all the more believable, and Rachel John as Rachel’s sister Nicki also has an amazing voice.

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I’m a fan of Whitney Houston, particularly her older stuff, so it was nice that so many of her songs were in the show – a lot more than are in the film.  I don’t particularly like those shows that make a story around one artist’s songs so this worked well for me, as it was a proper storyline intermingled with the songs.  A lot of the classic songs were used in scenes when Rachel is performing, but there were some which had relevant lyrics to the story and were inserted effectively at appropriate times in the show to move the story along, in particular Run to You, I have Nothing and All the Man that I Need.

My favourite scene in the film – when Frank saves Rachel’s son from the boat – has been replaced, but I’m sure that would be a bit difficult to do on stage!  They use a bit of film in the background at times, most notably to show the baddie preparing to stalk/attack Rachel.

The show is quite fast paced, with the first half being just an hour and the whole show being 2¼ hours in total including the interval.   There are a few jumps and bangs in it, which had many people in the audience shrieking out loud and when the baddie (Matthew Stathers) took his bow some of the audience booed, which I guess is a compliment to him and to the show.

At the end of the show the entire audience jumped to their feet a good 30 seconds before Beverley Knight reached the end of I Will Always Love You.  As with most musicals these days, following the curtain call the cast stayed on stage and started singing and dancing for the audience to join in with, but we decided to hotfoot it out to the tube before the crowds.  I’d highly recommend this fun show with lots of great songs in, as long as you don’t mind them all being Whitney Houston’s!

Stars: 4*

Date of visit: 16th July 2016

Follow me on Twitter/Instagram: @TheatreGremlin