Saturday, 3 January 2015

2014 HIGHLIGHT - The Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Over the past few years, I have been lucky enough to experience some truly memorable theatre while on visits to the city of Manchester.

Believe me, seeing Kenneth Branagh lead a stellar cast as MACBETH was staged in an abandoned church, and being totally enthralled in a play all about the greatest chess player of all time in THE MACHINE are not things you forget in a hurry.

However, it was on my most recent trip to Manchester - in December 2014 - that I experienced yet another remarkable element to the Theatre scene in this beautiful City.

When one of my closest friends (who also took me to The Machine and Macbeth!) told me that, while on a visit to her home town, we would be going to see a show at The Royal Exchange Theatre, I was extremely intrigued. She had mentioned this theatre as one of her all time favourites on a number of occasions, mentioning in particular the
uniqueness of the performance space.

And as we arrived outside the theatre, my curiosity continued to grow.
 
 
 
Yes - it certainly was a beautiful building, a mix of the old and the new in the heart of the city. But in my head - I had already pictured what it would be like when we got inside.

However, nothing could have prepared me for what greeted me when I actually did step in. Never have what I expected something to be like, and what something was actually like been MORE different!

 
 
My breath was completely taken away at the sight of this stunningly beautiful and enchanting building. The central auditorium (which reminded me of one of those creatures you find in War of the Worlds) was surrounded by bars, coffee shops and spaces for the audience to relax both pre and post show.
 
This vast outside space also allowed the cast of the show - on this occasion, Little Shop of Horrors - to move both themselves and major scenery/props around with ease and considering they were performing in such an intimate space, this did not limit their outstanding performance abilities.
 
The auditorium itself reminded me so much of the Donmar Warehouse, but being in the round only added to the breath-taking atmosphere as I sat down to see Little Shop of Horrors for the first time ever.
 
 
 
What greeted me over the next 2 and a bit hours was one of the most bonkers shows I have ever seen - but I absolutely loved every second of it! It would be totally wrong for me to single anyone of the phenomenal cast out, but along with the superb creative team - they have a production of absolute sheer brilliance on their hands, and a definite must see whether you are 4, 44 or 84!
 
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE - http://youtu.be/VvJ99WXsdRA
 
The show runs until the 31st January 2015, and I can't recommend it enough! You can get your tickets at: - http://www.royalexchange.co.uk/whats-on-and-tickets/little-shop-of-horrors

I cannot say enough good things not only about the show, but also about this beautiful venue and everyone who works there - especially as they were so gracious, patient and friendly dealing with this non-Mancunian who kept losing her way!

I would encourage every single one of you to visit the Royal Exchange Theatre as I can guarantee it will be one of the most unique theatre experiences you will ever have. It was one of my 2014 Theatre highlights and I certainly can't wait to get back there!

Signing off for now

Blue Eyed Girl Xxx

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

PHOTO FEATURE! My 2014 Theatre Year - and what a year it was!

2014 has been quite a year for me in the Theatre World. A year of first time visits new productions and theatre overseas - how do I even try to summarise what my highlihgts of the year have been?
 
Well, here goes! As I couldn't narrow them down, may I present to you, my lovely readers - in no particular order - my 2014 Theatre Year highlights . . .
 
1) Seeing Porgy and Besss at Regents Park Open Air Theatre.
 
 
2) Taking my 10 year old sister to see her first West End show - Phantom of the Opera.
 

 
3) Meeting the brilliant Gavin Creel at Singular Sensations, holding an actual Olivier Award - and having quite possibly the BEST post show photo ever!
 
 
 
4) Discovering a renewed love for JERSEY BOYS, including seeing original Frankie John Lloyd Young perform the role live, and seeing the show in Las Vegas.
 

 
 5) Les Mis vs Phantom is always such a brilliant day! My second visit to the annual event, played this year in the memoery of the beautiful Melanie Oakley Dow, included a Team Phantom win, and a hauntingly beautiful performance of "Bring Him Home" by the Four Valjeans in her memory - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F63ilGRpVko&list=UUkMYAxrbhrQWcyjRuLxVyFw

 
6) Meeting the legendary Douglas Hodge after his phenomenal performance as Willy Wonka in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"

 
7) My first ever visit to the Donmar Warehouse to see Tom Hiddlestone and Hadley Fraser in "Coriolanus." (As an English teacher by day - this moment particularly blew my mind!)
 
 
 8) ONCE is always a highlight for me - it was so sad to see the phenomenal original cast leave, but the new casts, including Guys Arthur Darvill and David Hunter kept the standard so high!
 
 
 
 
10) Seeing WEST SIDE STORY for the first time ever, as it toured the UK.
 
 
11) I know it wasn't a highlight for many - but I loved I CAN'T SING and truly feel, even now, that it wasn't given the chance it deserved. The most bonkers 2 hours I have ever spent in a theatre - but my days - it was hilarious!
 
 
12) Seeing URINETOWN (and absolutely loving it!) at the wonderful St James Theatre and at the Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue.
 
 
13) My first ever ballet - Matthew Bourne's LORD OF THE FLIES.
 
 
14) The utterly brilliant IN THE HEIGHTS at Southwark Playhouse - really hoping there is a future life for this wonderful show in 2015.
 
 
15) My first ever visit to Trafalgar Studios 2 to see the enchanting DESSA ROSE.
 
 
16) The ROCK OF AGES UK Tour - God, I miss this show!

  
17) Meeting Beverley Knight after witnessing her final show at THE BODYGUARD, and having this picture as one hell of a memory :)
 
 
18) Shakespeare in Love being as utterly mesmerising as I hoped it would be. 

 
19) Seeing Kerry Ellis as ELPHABA in WICKED and finally understanding all the hype.
 
 
20) The Menier Chocolate Fcatory does it again! Forbidden Broadway was just amazing! (And theatre trips with my best mate Emily (left) are always amazing!)
 
 
21) Seeing LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS for the first time ever at the stunning Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, thanks to another one of my amazing best friends Selena.
 
  
22) MEMPHIS totally blowing my mind with its utter awesomeness and sheer brilliance.
 
 
23) Last, but not least - seeing the sensational CITY OF ANGELS at the Donmar Warehouse.
 
 
There were so many more shows/events/performers that I could have chosen - it has been that sensational of a year! What were your highlights? I would love to hear! Why not leave a comment? Or head over to my Facebook page and tell me there - it would be lovely to see you there :)
 
May I take this chance to wish you a very Happy New Year and wish you all so much joy, love and blessings for 2015.
 
Signing off - until next year!
 
Blue Eyed Girl Xxx

Sunday, 28 December 2014

50,000 VIEWS - A massive thank you!

Well - this was quite the surprise when I logged into my wonderful little Blog this morning.

I have finally surpassed the 50,000 hits marks - and I am totally thrilled by this milestone.

I never thought when I started this Blog two and a bit years ago that anyone would ever be interested in what I had to say, let alone still be reading my jibber jabber so many months later.

Since that faithful day in May 2012, I have accomplished things I never thought I would - I mean, who knew I would be so blessed as to interview some of the West End's biggest stars or review some of the biggest shows to ever be staged in the UK? I could never have dreamed that this little Blog would reach any kind of milestone, let alone such a huge one as 50,000 hits.

To my dear friends who supported me, encouraged me and gave me a kick up the butt when I needed it - thank you all so much! (You know who you are!)

This little Blog means so much to me, more than anyone could possibly know - and I can only thank you all , my amazing readers, from the bottom of my Blue Eyed heart for taking an interest in what I have to say. You have made me so happy and I am eternally grateful to every single one of you.

Much love to all of you!

An overjoyed Blue Eyed Girl Xxx

CITY OF ANGELS at the Donmar Warehouse - 20th December 2014

I have long been a fan of the Film Noir genre - in particular, the classic detective films that my now 86 year old Nan introduced me to when I was little. The mystery, the intrigue and the glamour always grabbed my attention and to this day, my love of this genre is still as important to me as ever! (I even studied Film Noir as part of my English degree when I was at University!)

So when I heard director extraordinaire Josie Rourke was taking on her first musical - the film noir inspired CITY OF ANGELS at the brilliant Donmar Warehouse, with a beyond phenomenal cast and creative team - I knew this was a show I had to see.

The musical comedy with music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by David Zippel, and book by Larry Gelbart, links together two plots, the "real" world of a writer trying to turn his book into a screenplay, and the "fictional" world of the film and the characters that the writer creates, which is made clear to the audience by the contrasting technicolour and black and white projections used throughout.


Knowing very little about the show when I went in, I was very curious to see, in the intimate setting of the Donmar, how what seemed such a large scale musical from what I had been told would fit into such a uniquely small space in performance. However, yet again - the creative team and all at the Donmar were brilliantly successful in making the performance space seem immensely larger than it actually was. Split over two levels, you felt as an audience that you were totally drawn in to both sides of the story, whether it was seeing Stine's (Hadley Fraser) literary troubles as he tried to please the ego-maniacal Buddy Fiddler (Peter Polycarpou), while also trying to save his marriage to Gabby (Rosalie Craig) or seeing the charismatic Detective Stone (Tam Mutu) and his loyal Girl Friday Oolie (Rebecca Trehearn) dealing with their newest case. Add to this a main stage revolve to allow characters a swift entry and exit - and you have the perfect setting for a sure fire classic.


I don't want to say too much about the plot as, like all good detective dramas, even the slightest clue could give everything away. What was particularly fascinating though was to see how the characters in Stine's real world mirrored and were so alike with the characters that we meet in Stone's fictional world - and this has to be a testament to the actors and actresses who bring them to life, but more about them later.

The score for this show is also just absolutely divine! The vibrant glamour needed for this show oozes from every single note and I defy anyone one not to have the biggest smile on their face for the duration of the performance. Coleman and Zippel's enchanting array of songs allows the audience to join the characters in the highest of highs, the lowest of lows, to have the biggest of smiles, and to shed the most heartbreaking of tears and that is the sign of an outstanding set of material. For me, personal highlights had to be the Act 1 finale of "You're Nothing Without Me", the on point Prologue which introduced all of the characters and the brilliant "You Can Always Count on Me."


Much has been written about the phenomenal cast of this show - but having seen them live and in person, I can honestly say that not one of those words does justice to how amazing every single one of them is. From the brilliant jazz stylings of the Angel City Four - Sandra Marvin, Jo Sevi, Kadiff Kirwan and Jo Saayeng - to the comedic and thuggish antics of heavies Nick Cavaliere and Adam Fogerty and the fantastically witty Marc Elliot, whose desperation and resulting joy in outwitting Stone is just a wonder to watch - there is no weak link anywhere in this cast.

 
The lead female members, who double as characters in both the real and film worlds, play an integral part in the plot and every single one of them does so with grace, charm and oodles of glamour. Samantha Barks takes feisty to a new level in the role of runaway Mallory and wannabe star Avril, while Rebecca Trehearn shows that she is one of the most under-rated talents in the whole West End as she brings the house down in her solo numbers and duet with Rosalie Craig and is definitely one of the stand out stars from the entire ensemble. Craig exudes 1940s starlet from the moment she walks on stage and with her Jessica Rabbit-esque red locks, is a perfect fit, on appearance alone,for the dual role of Gabbi and Bobby. However, in her enchanting solo numbers "With Every Breath I Take" and "It Needs Work" and her interactions with on stage (and real life) husband Hadley Fraser and Tam Mutu, Craig once again proves why she is one of the, if not the best musical theatre actress that the UK has produced in years. Katherine Kelly also brings the house down as she takes to the role of Alaura Kingsley perfectly, bringing a cheeky yet evil side to the lead femme fatale/seductress.


However, it is the shows two leading men in Hadley Fraser and Tam Mutu that absolutely steal the show. For me, having seen both men previously in the role of Javert in "Les Miserables" (as well as numerous other productions for Hadley), seeing two performers who I have great respect and admiration for in the same show together was definitely a major selling point of this show. However, nothing could have prepared me for how blown away I would be when these two immense talents came together on the same stage.

As Stine, Hadley Fraser takes to the geekish persona beautifully. He portrays the writers' hardships and emotional rollercoaster with such vibrance and confidence that you are willing Stine to "man up" and take control of his creation throughout the show. His on stage relationships and chemistry with wife Gabbi (Craig) and Donna (Trehearn) are joyous to watch and his interactions with Buddy Fiddler (Polycarpou) are so quick witted, you are on the edge of your seat waiting to see who will flinch first. Needless to say - his vocals are sheer perfection as he hits every note of every song with precision and power and a whole lot of pizazz! (Is that even a word?) It was so wonderful to see Hadley back in a musical role after his foray into Shakespeare earlier in the year (also at the Donmar, I might add) and I only hope it isn't too long before we see him in a lead musical role again.

When it comes to Tam Mutu, I had only ever seen him on stage as a certain big hat wearing, truncheon wielding, convict chasing policeman before I arrived at the Donmar - so the prospect of seeing him as a womanising, brandy drinking, smoking private eye was something my brain was struggling to compute. However, I think it took all of about 30 seconds from when the show started for my brain to really get back into gear.


Going from such an iconic role as Javert to something so different, and doing it with such charisma, class and out and out style just shows what a phenomenally talented guy that Tam really is, even more so than I could have ever imagined. He holds the attention of the entire auditorium from start to finish and it is clear to see from the cheeky smile on his face how much he enjoys every second of the show. His interactions with all of the female leads are electric (particularly those with Rosalie Craig), his vocals are as phenomenal as ever, and he fits the persona of the 1940s Private Eye perfectly - I completely second the idea suggested by another reviewer that he needs to have his own cop show! I didn't think I could be more blown away by this guy's amazing talent - but I was wrong! And I can't say how absolutely overjoyed and thrilled I am that he finally gets his chance to shine on Broadway next year, although he will definitely be missed in the West End. 

However, when Fraser and Mutu perform together on stage, that is when the utter brilliance and absolute genius occurs. The Act 1 Finale - "You're Nothing Without Me" - was phenomenal to watch as Stine and Stone battle for control over the other with a stunning use of projections and both performers trying not to break the set (If you've seen the show - you'll know what I mean!) Their voices match perfectly and this number, along with their interactions in the "Hollywood ending" at the finale of Act 2 show what outstanding talents they both are and I only hope and pray this is not the last time we will see them together on the same stage.

I consider myself truly blessed to have seen this production, especially as the run is now completely sold out!

However, there are Barclays Front Row tickets still available every Monday at 10am for performances two weeks later (see http://www.donmarwarehouse.com/whats-on/donmar-warehouse/on-now/2014/city-of-angels?gclid=CKr6-aSh6cICFanItAodojoAkw for more details) and day tickets are also available from the Box Office - I promise you will not regret trying your luck to see such a phenomenal production and one of my highlights of 2014!

(All photos taken from the Donmar Warehouse website)

Signing off for now

Blue Eyed Girl Xxx

My thoughts on WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN - 19th December 2014

 
My most recent London trip was one of many firsts for me - including my first ever visit to the beautiful Playhouse Theatre to see the brand new musical Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, starring Tamsin Greig. What was also so special about my visit to this show was it was the first time I had ever seen a new musical during its' previews - in fact, the night of my visit marked only the shows THIRD night on stage.
 
As if still being in previews wasn't enough pressure for this wonderful cast - we, the audience were also informed pre-show - that the cast had had to learn 5 hours of re-writes that day alone, and not only that but Pedro Almodovar (who created the original film and musical on Broadway) was also in the audience! (He was actually sat three rows behind me :))
 
Before I go any further - it is important that I state that this definitely isn't a review, more of a summary of my thoughts. It is a show I intend to visit again once previews are over - and I have no doubt there will be even more changes when I do. 

To start with, I must say that considering all of the factors that I stated above - in no way would you have thought this was only a third preview. The production as a whole was very slick and I did not spot one mistake from this stellar cast (but more on them shortly.) The set is kept simple, with the ensemble positioned at different sides of the stage assisting with set changes when needed. I think this is a definite selling point of the production - the simplistic set allows you to complete focus on the story and the journey of Pepa (Greig) and the people she encounters.

It is also surprising how much of a Spanish atmosphere is created considering the simplicity before you, but believe me - I felt like I was walking the streets of the beautiful Spanish capital, bathed in sunshine, Sangria in hand! The score definitely adds to this atmosphere - I am not ashamed to say I was humming opening number "Madrid" for days after! 

**Listen to two tracks from the show - including MADRID - at http://womenonthevergemusical.com/sights-sounds/listen-to-the-music**

 
One thing this show can boast, for me, is one of the most superbly talented casts currently in the West End. From top to bottom, every single member of the cast is on point in everything they do. Be it comic timing, beautiful vocals or the superb choreography, there is not a weak link amongst them. Special mentions must however go to a feisty Wiljemin Verkaik (what a pleasure to finally see this talented lady on stage), a ditzy and utterly hilarious Anna Skellern, and a guitar playing, flamenco dancing, comical taxi driver/narrator in Ricardo Afonso.

I can't really say much more without spoiling things for you all. But what I can say is that I can highly recommend a visit to this show. A raucous comedy with heart and a Spanish flavour, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is at the Playhouse Theatre for a strictly limited season.

Get your tickets now at: http://womenonthevergemusical.com/venue-tickets-info

Signing off for now

Blue Eyed Girl Xxx

GUEST BLOG FOR WEST END FRAME - A Change is in the Air

I was very lucky to once again be given the opportunity to write a guest Blog for the marvellous and all round awesome WEST END FRAME based on my recent visit to see three brand new West End shows  - Memphis, Urinetown and Made in Dagenham . . .

For many years, London's West End was known for being full of Jukebox Musicals. Shows such as We Will Rock You, Jersey Boys, Mamma Mia and Rock of Ages dominated theatreland, bringing audiences to their feet night after night. However, jukebox musicals aren’t for everyone as there are many who would prefer to see something totally new.

2014 has been very different, there seems to be a change in the air – there has been a sudden influx of original shows. New plays and musicals are taking the West End by storm and proving that you don't need a famous well known score to send audiences out from a theatre with smiles on their faces.

I was very lucky to witness three of these brand new original shows in a recent visit to the capital and they all made an impact on me in very different ways.




You can read my Blog in full over at http://www.westendframe.com/2014/12/guest-blog-change-in-air.html, as well as oodles of other Theatre-y goodness!

Signing off for now

Blue Eyed Girl Xxx

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Playing Our Part 2015 - IT'S BACK!

 
In May 2014, Nadim Naaman took on the challenge of organising a brilliant charity concert - entitled Playing Our Part - in support of Target Ovarian Cancer. The result of all of his phenomenal hard work was a stunning evening of enchanting performances and over £62,000 raised in aid of the charity. Despite this amazing success, Nadim had always wanted the concert to have a future, supporting a wider range of charities and worthy causes - so I had a sneaking suspicion this wasn't the last we would see of the event.

And I was right - because in 2015, Playing Our Part will return!

The concert will once again feature a fantastic mix of stars from the West End and beyond, this time however, the event will be raising money for Comic Relief.

Taking place on Sunday 1st March 2015, at the beautiful Cadogan Hall in London, the concert will be lead by musical director extraordinaire Alex Parker, and is once again being produced by the multi-talented Nadim Naaman. All money raised goes straight to the charity!

Already confirmed to perform are: - Jeremy Secomb, Wendy Ferguson, Laura Pitt Pulford, Killian Donnelly, Simon Bailey and Gina Beck - and with a promise of even more fantastic performers still to be confirmed, I don't know how you can resist not buying a ticket!

I can't say enough good things about this event - a beautiful venue, a mindblowingly talented cast of performers, and a fantastic cause to raise money for. This was one of my absolute highlights of 2014, and I have no doubt it will be just as good, if not even better in 2015.

You can get your tickets by calling the Cadogan Hall Box Office at 020 7730 4500, or online at http://www.cadoganhall.com/event/playing-our-part-150301/ You can also follow @PlayingOurPart1 on Twitter for all the latest updates on the concert!

I wouldn't miss the event for the world - I hope to see all of you there as well!

Signing off for now

Blue Eyed Girl Xxx