An American In Paris – Dominion Theatre

An American In Paris is a musical by Craig Lucas with music by George and Ira Gershwin. It is based on the 1951 film starring Gene Kelly. The musical premiered in Paris’s Théâtre du Châtelet in 2014 before hitting Broadway the year after and the West End in 2017.

Set in post-World War Two Paris, the main plot line centres on a beautiful dancer, Lise, who has three men in love with her and trying to woo her. The suitors are: Jerry Mulligan, an ex-American GI who is trying to make it as an artist; Adam Hochberg, a struggling artist and aspiring composer; and Henri Baurel, who is from a wealthy, traditional family but is secretly an aspiring singer-showman. The story gains depth from other love interests, hidden secrets and duties to pay old debts; however, it is essentially a simple, classic love story, with the question being “Who will get the girl?”

The musical is a dance show first and foremost. The choreography by Christopher Wheeldon is outstanding. The stylish, slick, sharp routines are mesmerising in their beauty and synchronicity. The whole cast are outstanding dancers, performing Wheeldon’s ingenious choreography with precision and panache.

The Gershwin musical score gave the show an air of old-school sophistication. ‘I’ve Got Beginner’s Luck’, ‘I Got Rhythm’ and ‘They Can’t Take Away From Me’ were standout numbers in the musical.

Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope (both having made their theatrical debuts with An American In Paris on Broadway) played Jerry Mulligan and Lise Dassin, giving standout performances with perfect grace and elegance throughout. Hayden Oakley (Side Show, Sunset Boulevard, The Smallest Show on Earth) was excellent as the flamboyant secret showman Henri and gave a wonderful rendition of ‘I’ll Build A Stairway To Paradise’. David Seadon-Young (A Damsel In Distress, Assassins, Ghost) excelled as Adam, the morbid pianist and composer.

An American In Paris is a superb musical with sensational choreography and a wonderful cast of dancers. The show’s set was high-tech, clever and adaptable, but rather overactive and at times distracting.

An American In Paris is showing at the Dominion Theatre and is currently booking until 30th September 2017 (to book tickets, click here). To read more about your visit to the Dominion Theatre, visit West End Theatre Guide’s guide.

Honeymoon In Vegas: The Musical In Concert – London Palladium

Honeymoon in Vegas is a musical comedy by Jason Robert Brown and Andrew Bergman adapted from Bergman’s 1992 film starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Nicolas Cage. It tells the story of Jack Singer and his girlfriend of five years, Betsy Nolan, who have decided to marry in Vegas, despite Jack having promised his dying mother he’d never marry, but chaos ensues when Jack loses $58,000 in a poker game to Tommy Korman, a professional gambler who has decided he wants Betsy for himself because she reminds him of his late-wife.

The musical debuted on Broadway in November 2014 but closed a few months later despite critical acclaim. It made its West End debut in a one-off concert production by the London Musical Theatre Orchestra at the London Palladium with a star-studded cast.  

The London Musical Theatre Orchestra (founded by Freddie Tapner) had been keen to take on Honeymoon In Vegas ever since its Broadway debut, and welcomed Jason Robert Brown to conduct a full orchestra to his own musical score for a one-night-only extravaganza.

The “love triangle” cast included: Arthur Darvill (Treasure Island, Once, Our Boys) as Jack, who excelled in the role, opening the show with ‘I Love Betsy’; Samantha Barks (The Last Five Years, Oliver!, Les Miserables (film)) as Betsy, whose vocals were outstanding, particularly with ‘Betsy’s Getting Married’; and Maxwell Caulfield (Guys and Dolls, Singin’ In The Rain, Chicago) as Tommy, who gave an excellent performance of ‘Out Of The Sun’.

Rosemary Ashe (Sister Act, The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables) gave a hilarious performance as Jack’s mother, Bea. Simon Lipkin’s (Guys and Dolls, Miss Atomic Bomb, The Lorax) jazzy showman’s rendition of ‘When You Say Vegas’ was fantastic, and his Elvis-inspired ‘Higher Love’ was one of the highlights of the show. Maisey Bawden (Little Shop of Horrors, 27, Sound of Musical Live (TV)) was hysterical as Mahi, particularly with ‘Friki-Friki’.

Honeymoon In Vegas in concert with the London Musical Theatre Orchestra was a fabulous, special production with an incredibly talented cast and musicians.

For more information on the London Palladium, visit West End Theatre Guide’s website.  For more information about the London Musical Theatre Orchestra and their upcoming productions, click here.

Evita – UK Tour

Evita is a musical by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber which popularised the previously little known story of Eva Duarte de Perón, wife of Argentinian president Juan Perón. The musical began its life as a rock opera concept album in 1976 before debuting on the West End two years later.

Eva Perón began her life as a poor aspiring actress in Buenos Aires and, following career success, broadened her ambitions to politics. After meeting Colonel Juan Perón and identifying him as a potentially very powerful man, the two formed an alliance and she drove him to election as president, rallying support of the common people and promising he will be a faithful advocate of their interests.

With Argentina being a prosperous country at the time, exporting to European countries that had been depleted by World War II and with several countries owing them vast sums, the economy boomed and the Perón regime was glowingly hailed by the masses.

Eva Perón herself did much humanitarian work, aiding the poor, setting up a generous charitable organisation; and being a feminist, she encouraged women to campaign for the right to vote (granted in September 1947) and created the Perónist Women’s Party. However, despite the style, grace and empathy of the Peróns, they went to great lengths to maintain superiority and compliance, quashing opposition by closing newspapers and imprisoning critics.

The musical begins with the epilogue, showing the devastating scene of Eva Perón’s coffin and the people kneeling and crying for the loss of their much-loved First Lady. The story then flips back 15 years to Eva’s rise as an actress, cleverly casting a shadow over the story.

Eva Perón was played by Emma Hatton (Wicked, We Will Rock You, Dreamboats and Petticoats), who was excellent in the role, portraying the youthful, innocent side of Eva yet maintaining the strong, determined and manipulative front. Hatton’s performance of ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ was breathtaking and tender.

Che was played by Gian Marco Schiaretti (Tarzan, Romeo and Juliet) who was outstanding in the role, particularly excelling with ‘And The Money Keeps Rolling In’, and broodingly stalking around the stage with great magnetism. Che is the show’s narrator and is able to look upon the Peróns’ circus with an ice cold eye. The character is thought to be based on real-life Argentine-Cuban political extremist, Che Guevara.

Overall, Evita is a heartbreaking, tragic story, powerfully brought to life by an outstanding score and cast.

Evita is currently on a national tour of the UK (for more information on tickets and dates, click here).

Lizzie – Greenwich Theatre

Lizzie is a musical by Tim Maner, Steven Cheslik-Demeyer and Alan Stevens Hewitt. It tells the story of the infamous, sensational American axe murder case of Lizzie Borden, with a cast of four incredibly powerful actresses/singers, backed by a fantastic band and a really strong rock score.

On 4th August 1892, in the town of Fall River, Massachusetts, Lizzie Borden allegedly killed her father and step-mother, but despite conflicting testimonies on the part of Lizzie and other witnesses, the burning of a dress a few days after the murders, and Lizzie’s want of prussic acid a few days before, she was acquitted at trial on 20th June 1893. The case remains to this day one of the world’s most famous unresolved mysteries, and Lizzie herself continued to reside in Fall River until her death.

The musical begins with the timid and shy young Lizzie facing abuse from her father, and with her sister, Emma, on the edge of murderous rage due to the sisters’ now disadvantaged position in their father’s new will now that he has re-married. Her only support seems to come from the housekeeper and a neighbour, but after several hints, prods and suggestions, the already unhinged Lizzie is sent over the edge when her father kills her beloved pigeons in the barn, decapitating them with a hatchet. By the end of act one, she is provoked into committing the deed, decapitating first her step-mother and then her father in splatters of blood and pumpkin guts.

There is an ingenious contrast between her fragile, disturbed, unbalanced character in the first act and her strong, uncaring and rather joyously unhinged character in the second act after the slaughter, giving a sense of liberation from her oppressive and cruel father and controlling step-mother.

Emma Borden, Lizzie’s older sister, is painted as the more angry, enraged and potentially vengeful sister, one of the driving forces behind her sweet little sister’s act of parricide, bringing out Lizzie’s pent-up rage and realising both of their fantasies. The housekeeper, Bridget Sullivan, is also portrayed as a pot-stirring puppet-master, subtly suggesting and quietly encouraging Lizzie to carry out the murders. In contrast, Alice Russell, the next-door neighbour and suggested lover of Lizzie, is the opposing character, cautioning against such drastic action and is reluctant to lie about what she’s seen to the police.

Bjorg Gamst (The Drowsy Chaperone, The Little Mermaid, The Three Musketeers) reprises her role as Lizzie from the original Danish production, and her interaction with Bleu Woodward (Oh! What A Lovely War, Kinky Boots, Hairspray), as Alice, was fantastic. Eden Espinosa (Wicked, Rent, Brooklyn the Musical) excels as elder sister Emma, particularly with ‘Sweet Little Sister’. Bridget is played by Jodie Jacobs (27, Carrie, Rock of Ages) who has outstanding vocal abilities and adds some very comic moments to the show.

It is a strongly feminist musical with an underlying “girl power” message throughout. Lizzie takes charge of her own destiny, refusing to suffer any more abuse and unhappiness. There is also a suggested romance between Lizzie and Alice in a time when lesbianism would have been considered scandalous. The cast of four women are all outstanding, with immensely powerful rock voices. The musical score is superb, with standout numbers including ‘Somebody Will Do Something’ and ‘The House of Borden’.

Lizzie is a thrilling, chilling, electric interpretation of the Borden murder-mystery legend set to an incredible rock score.  It is a must-see and we’d love to see it transfer.

Lizzie is showing at the Greenwich Theatre until 12th March (for more information and to book tickets, click here).

Dreamgirls – Savoy Theatre

Dreamgirls is a musical by Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen and is based on the successes of rhythm and blues stars, following the story of an aspiring girl group, The Dreams, and their journey to stardom. The musical debuted on Broadway in 1981 and was adapted for the big screen in a 2006 film starring Jennifer Hudson and Beyoncé.

The main storyline of Dreamgirls is typical, even stereotypical, with a girl group of three who pay their dues shooting for fame, make it big and then start fighting among each other, leading to the break-up of their band and friendship. There are moments of “girl-power” as the women each in turn walk away from their no-good men who are stringing them along, controlling them or taking them for granted, and these are uplifting moments in the show; however, despite the actors’ best efforts, it is a weak main plot line. Similarly, the musical makes a commentary on the racial divisions in the music industry at the time. The band’s manager is determined to conquer these restrictions and does so by diluting the soul, integrity and originality of his acts – in essence, selling out, but again, the story is quite weak.

The music within the show far outshines the insubstantial plot, however. The highlight of the show is without a doubt ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’ at the end of Act 1. Act 2 is then a bit of an anti-climax, and although ‘Listen’ and ‘One Night Only’ are outstanding musical numbers, it would have been a wonderful end to the show to see a reprisal of the end of Act 1’s huge number rather than of the relatively weak ‘Dreamgirls’ itself.

Amber Riley (Glee (TV), Duke of Ellington’s Cotton Club Parade, Into The Woods) starred as Effie White. Her voice was sublime throughout, her character sassy and fun, and her performance of ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’ was simply mind-blowing and had the audience going wild. Liisa LaFontaine (Rent, Dog Sees God, Once on this Island) and Ibinabo Jack (The Bodyguard, Hot Stuff, Little Shop of Horrors) were also fantastic as other Dreams members, Deena and Lorrell. Joe Aaron Reid’s (In The Heights, Ghost, Rainbow and Curtains) performance as Curtis Taylor, the sleazy group manager, was excellent. Adam J Benard (Thriller Live, Hairspray, I Can’t Sing) gave a standout performance as Jimmy Early and at times gave a much-needed change of tempo and sound to the show.

Despite a lacklustre plot, Dreamgirls is a powerhouse of a musical, with phenomenal singing, amazing music, and a talented cast.

Dreamgirls is showing at the Savoy Theatre and is currently booking until 21st October 2017 (to book tickets, click here). For more information on your visit to the Savoy, click here.

Thriller Live – Lyric Theatre

Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, is known the world over for his distinctive vocals, rhythmic dancing moves and magnetic stage presence. Thriller Live is a musical created by Adrian Grant which is not only a fitting tribute to the late Michael Jackson but also a superb documentary and celebration of his award-winning career, philosophy and ethos.

With Jackson’s music containing themes of equality, peace, anti-war, change and other global issues, he was one of the most influential artists of all time. He is also regarded as one of the most versatile artists ever, with his music ranging in genres from rock to pop to disco, R&B, soul, dance and jazz.

Thriller Live begins at the very start of Michael’s musical career with the Jackson 5 at Motown Records in the early ’70s, before the transfer to Epic Records in 1975, and his first bestselling solo album, Off the Wall (1979), and then further success with the Thriller (1982), Bad (1987), Dangerous (1991), HIStory (1995) and Invincible (2001) albums.

The musical expertly mixes Jackson’s popular dance tracks (‘Beat It’, ‘Blame It On The Boogie’, and ‘Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground)’), with his ballads (‘She’s Out Of My Life’), and with his powerful social and political statement songs (‘They Don’t Really Care About Us’, ‘Man In The Mirror’, ‘The Earth Song’ and ‘Black or White’). Other standout numbers in the show include ‘Dirty Diana’, ‘Can You Feel It’ and of course the iconic ‘Thriller’.

Both the singing and dancing casts were incredible. Angelica Allen, Reece Bahia and Haydon Eshun stood out particularly with their fantastic vocals. The show was masterfully choreographed by Gary Lloyd incorporating Jackson’s iconic moon-walks and other signature moves into other high-energy routines, including ‘Beat It’ and ‘Off The Wall’.

Overall, Thriller Live is an amazing show, tribute and documentary of the great Michael Jackson’s musical career for all audiences, not just Michael Jackson fans, performed by an outstanding cast.

Thriller Live is showing at the Lyric Theatre and is currently booking until 1st October 2017 (click here to book tickets). For more information on your visit to the Lyric Theatre, click here.

Rent – UK Tour

Rent is a musical created by Jonathan Larson, who took Billy Aronson’s idea of developing a modern musical interpretation of Giacomo Puccini’s opera La Bohème and made it a reality. Larson’s writing of this piece was heavily influenced by his interest in rock music, by his idol, composer Stephen Sondheim, and by a puppet-style performance of La Bohème which he saw as a boy with his parents.

The musical is set in East Village, New York City, and follows the story of a group of aspiring artists in the 1990s, with their battles against HIV/AIDS, poverty, and eviction from their squatted homes due to redevelopment projects, and cruelly and powerfully depicts the conditions faced by the homeless with the backdrop of the New York youth artistic scene.

Rent opened on Off-Broadway on 26th January 1996, the day after Larson tragically died at a very young age. Nevertheless, Rent went on to be a worldwide cultural phenomenon, showing on stages on Broadway, in the West End, and in numerous other countries around the world, and on the big screen in a 2005 motion picture. It has become a fitting tribute to the great Jonathan Larson.

Rent is a story of hopes, dreams, struggle, disease, addiction and, above all, love, in all its beautiful forms: heterosexual love with Roger Lavis, an aspiring musician, and Mimi Marquez, a club dancer, both HIV-stricken; lesbian lovers Maureen Johnson, a redevelopment protestor, and Joanne Jefferson, a lawyer; gay couple, anarchist professor Tom Collins and drag queen Angel Schunard, a beautiful but ultimately tragic match; and Mark Cohen who is dedicated to his career passion for film-making.

Ross Hunter (The Book of Mormon, Rock of Ages, We Will Rock You) (Roger) showed off an incredible rock voice, particularly with ‘One Song Glory’. Philippa Stefani (In The Heights, Grease, Ghost) (Mimi) was sensational throughout and excelled with ‘Out Tonight’. Lucie Jones (Legally Blonde, We Will Rock You, X Factor (TV)) (Maureen) gave a memorable, quirky performance of ‘Over the Moon’. Jones also gives a powerhouse performance along with Shanay Holmes (Jesus Christ Superstar, Close To You, Thriller Live) (Joanne) of ‘Take Me or Leave Me’. Layton Williams’s (Billy Elliot, Thriller Live, Hairspray) (Angel) sassy delivery of ‘Today 4 U’ was also a highlight of the show.

Bruce Guthrie’s 20th anniversary production of Rent gives a new lease of life to Jonathan Larson’s masterpiece. The show is beautifully moving, tragic and inspiring and it is perfectly summed up in the musical number ‘La Vie Bohème B’ with an upbeat, party spirit despite surrounding circumstances and trials, and the current cast are truly phenomenal!

This production of Rent closes at the St James Theatre on 28th January before embarking on a UK tour, for dates and ticket information, click here

Beautiful: the Carole King Musical – Aldwych Theatre

Beautiful is a musical written by Douglas McGrath, with music from Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann.

The musical tells the story of two songwriting power-couples, Carole King and Gerry Goffin (writers of ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’, ‘The Locomotion’ and ‘Up On the Roof’) and Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann (writers of ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’, ‘On Broadway’ and ‘He’s Sure The Boy I Love’). Their friendly competition saw them pushing themselves, bending the rules of music at the time and achieving great things, and this musical follows their journeys in music and their romantic relationships.

Carole King is played by Cassidy Janson (Dessa Rose, Avenue Q, Wicked). King is painted as a shy, mellow character who cherishes the simple things in life. Janson excels in the role with brilliant vocals and piano skills. She gives a particularly lovely performance of ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’.

Matthew Seadon-Young (Billy Elliot, Urinetown, Sweeney Todd) was excellent in the role of Gerry Goffin, portraying his many stress-induced mental struggles, including a nervous breakdown, and his unfaithfulness to King. Seadon-Young gives a great performance of ‘Take Good Care of My Baby’, a duet performed with Janson.

Lorna Want (Footloose, Evita, Dreamboats and Petticoats) gave a standout performance as Cynthia Weil. Want is sensational in the role as the zany, charming lyricist and her first appearance with ‘Happy Days Are Here Again’ is a highlight of the show.

Ian McIntosh (The Commitments, Rock of Ages, Hair) gave an outstanding performance as the eccentric, hyper-paranoid musician Barry Mann, and a great rendition of ‘We Gotta Get Out Of This Place’. The chemistry between Want and McIntosh is electric and their duet of ‘Walking In The Rain’ is wonderful.

The rendition of ‘You Got A Friend’ is a particularly tender moment in the show when, following the break-up of her marriage, King decides to move to LA leaving behind her friends. The closing number ‘Beautiful’ and ‘I Felt The Earth Move’ brings the show in a loop, starting and ending with King alone with her piano.

Beautiful is a gentle, uplifting and easy-going musical, with amazing songs from both couples. It is of course “The Carole King Musical”, but often the King character takes a backseat to the crazier, more magnetic and charismatic personality of Weil, whose character and choices seem more relatable to most women now than King’s. A lot of the highlights of the show are also songs by Weil and Mann rather than King and Goffin. Nevertheless, it is a very enjoyable production with an excellent score.

Beautiful: the Carole King Musical is showing at the Aldwych Theatre and is currently booking until 22nd July 2017 (to book tickets, click here) and will be embarking on a UK tour from September 2017. For more information on your visit to the Aldwych Theatre, click here.

Peter Pan Goes Wrong – Apollo Theatre

Peter Pan Goes Wrong is a play written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Harry Shields and is a Mischief Theatre Company production. Following a very popular run at the Apollo Theatre last year, the play has returned for another strictly limited season.

In this play, the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society (of The Play That Goes Wrong infamy), having received a generous donation from a cast member’s father, are putting on another production, this time an interpretation of the J. M. Barrie classic, Peter Pan, and the result is one of comic mayhem, with botched lines and technical disasters, which leaves the audience crying with laughter!

Harry Kershaw (The Play That Goes Wrong, Lights! Camera! Improvise!, One Man, Two Guvnors) played Captain Hook and George Darling. Kershaw’s comic timing was fantastic throughout and his audience interaction abilities also shine in this production.

Peter Pan was played by Daniel Pitout (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Blood Wedding, White Christmas). Pitout’s over-exaggerated proud hero stance was pure comedy gold, a performance full of incompetent flying mishaps.

Laurence Pears (The Play That Goes Wrong, The Tempest, La Dispute) played the Narrator of the play. His storytelling was excellent and his interaction with his faulty chair was hilarious.

Oliver Senton (Showstopper!, Mamma Mia, The Tempest) played Nana, the Darling family dog, and Starkey. Senton’s interpretation of Starkey was hilarious with incomprehensible, slurred lines.

The Darling children – Wendy, Michael and John – were played by Bryony Corrigan (The Play That Goes Wrong, How I Learned To Drive, Lights! Camera! Improvise!), Matt Cavendish (The Play That Wrong, Lights! Camera! Improvise!, Sleeping Beauty) and Sydney K Smith (The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Butterfly Lion, Murder on the Nile). They were all fantastic, particularly in the collapsing bed scene.

Peter Pan Goes Wrong is a brilliant mix of fluffed lines, set collapses and mishaps, stage crew being roped into the production and injured, and bandaged actors battling determinedly to make the final curtain. It is another magical, perfectly orchestrated, calamitous production from the Mischief Theatre Company.

Peter Pan Goes Wrong is currently showing at the Apollo Theatre until 29th January. The Mischief Theatre Company have two other productions currently in the West End – The Comedy About A Bank Robbery and The Play That Goes Wrong. For more information on your visit to the Apollo Theatre, click here.