Close To You onstage seating, Criterion Theatre


Close To You is a celebration of the music of Burt Bacharach. The first time we saw the show, we loved it – amazing music, talented musicians and vocalists, cleverly mixed and great fun. This time, we tried the onstage seating experience, an exceedingly rare thing for a West End performance.

Basically, there are around ten couches and armchairs on either side of the stage. It is a unique experience because you are so up close to the performance and you can also look out at the auditorium audience just like the actors. These seats are cheaper than most other tickets as they provide a side view of the performance. However, Close To You features a turntable on stage which is used frequently throughout the show and so you do get an excellent perspective.

The stage seating accentuates the intimate atmosphere that this show always manages to evoke, a feeling that can often be lost in big West End productions, and we found it reminiscent of our experience seeing the first London iteration of the show at the Menier Chocolate Factory (where it ran from 3rd July to 5th September 2015 as What’s It All About? Bacharach Reimagined).

Once again the show was fantastic with wonderful energy and life. The cast are phenomenal and look like they are having the time of their lives on stage, and this joy and love is pervasive and warms the soul. Stephanie McKeon and Anastacia McCleskey demonstrated amazing vocal ability, as did Kyle Riabko, Greg Coulson and Daniel Bailen who are amazing guitarists as well, and Renato Paris is highly talented on piano with an excellent voice. A standout number was ‘Message to Michael’ which was mixed with ‘San Jose’. This part of the show is high energy and involves all of the cast.

Close To You is a heart-warming, uplifting show which must stay in the West End, although it is only currently running until 14th February at the Criterion Theatre.

For more information on the Criterion Theatre visit West End Theatre Guide’s website: http://www.westendtheatreguide.london/west-end-theatres/criterion-theatre/

Les Miserables – Queen’s Theatre

IMG_3861

Les Misérables is London’s longest running musical and has been translated into 22 different languages and performed in more than 319 cities. It is one of the all-time theatre classics and a must-see for any theatre fan. The musical is based on the book by French novelist and poet Victor Hugo.  The music is by Claude-Michel Shoënburg and the original lyrics were written by Alain Boubill and Jean-Marc Natel (in French).

The musical is set in post-Revolution 19th Century France and contains three interlocking storylines: Jean Valjean and Inspector Javier are arch enemies; a love triangle between Cosette, Marius and Éponine; and the Boys of the Barricade fighting to overthrow the King.

At this performance, Jean Valjean was played by Adam Bayjou (Assassins, Love Story, Carousel), the understudy, and is played full-time by Peter Lockyer (Miss Saigon, La Bohème, Phantom of the Opera).  Valjean begins the show as a prisoner, 24601, for stealing a loaf of bread, but as the story progresses, he rises to respectability, running a factory and then becoming a father figure to Cosette, the daughter of Fantine (played by Rachelle Ann Go (Miss Saigon, Little Mermaid, Tarzan)). Fantine is a tragic character, being kind of a martyr as she gives everything she has to her daughter, Cosette.  Fantine was forced to give Cosette into the care of Mr and Mrs Thenardiers (owners of a pub) as she couldn’t take care of her and work after her husband left them stranded. Valjean, having been a prisoner, remains on the run from the officials, specifically Inspector Javier.

Inspector Javier was played by Jeremy Secomb (Sweeney Todd, Phantom of the Opera, Evita).  He was given the task in Revolution and post-Revolution France to oversee the prisoners. They were treated like slaves and Javier’s commitment to the law leads him to be unforgiving to anyone who breaks it, believing that once someone has offended, no matter how trivial the offence, they can never be reformed and see the error of their ways.  Secomb is fantastic in the role, giving an impassioned performance of ‘Stars’.

Fantine’s daughter, Cosette, begins the show as a frightened little girl in the care of the Thenardiers who are far from kind to her in contrast to their own daughter, Éponine, who they treat like she was an angel.  The Thenardiers, played by Phil Daniels (A Clockwork Orange, The Beggar’s Opera, numerous Shakespeare plays) and Katy Secombe (The Lion, I Can’t Sing, Mamma Mia) own a pub and have made an art form of taking advantage of people in a befuddled state. After performing ‘Castle on a Cloud’, Valjean, keeping his promise to Fantine, takes her into his care.  The show moves on nine years (now 1832), and, now a young woman, Cosette is played by Zoë Doano (Sweeney Todd, Grease, The Grand Tour) and falls in love with Marius.

Marius is played by Rob Houchen (professional debut), who is a young man fighting on the barricade.  However, he falls in love with Cosette at first sight and he begins to question everything he is doing, thinking perhaps his place is beside her and not fighting against the National Guard. He asks his friend, Éponine, to find Cosette for him so he can see her again.  Houchen is outstanding in the role, with an excellent voice, and brings an innocent boyish quality which suits the part very well.

Éponine is played by Carrie Hope Fletcher (Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Wind in the Willows).  Fletcher has an incredible voice, and her rendition of ‘On My Own’ was very emotive, conveying her agonising love for Marius that is not returned and indeed he remains ignorant to her feelings.

The Boys of the Barricade are fighting to overthrow the King.  After the French Revolution, the monarchy of Louis XVI was overthrown, however, nine years later, another monarchy was established with Louis-Phillipe on the throne.  The Boys of the Barricade is based on true events, known as the June Rebellion in 1832.

The show has some of the most iconic, powerful songs in musical theatre, all of which were performed fantastically by the cast. ‘Bring Him Home’ was performed perfectly by Bayjou who delivered the song with intense emotion, giving it so much power and moving everyone in the audience. ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ is deeply moving and performed very skilfully by Rachelle Ann Go. ‘Do You Hear the People Sing?’, which is sung after ‘Red and Black’, rallies the supporters of the Barricade and is a very inspiring song and captures the hearts of the audience.  Although it is a very serious show, ‘Master of the House’, performed by the Thenardiers, adds some contrasting comedy.

Les Misérables is absolutely phenomenal show and deserves all praise that is given to it.   It is currently showing at the Queen’s Theatre – we urge everyone to go and see it.

Casting news

It’s been an eventful beginning to the New Year with major cast changes in Les Miserables and Jersey Boys, Phantom of the Opera soon to be having a new Phantom, and with Cats and Elf closing in the West End.

Carrie Hope Fletcher and Rob Houchen who play Eponine and Marius in Les Miserables have announced their departure from the show on the 13th February after two and a half years there. Houchen will be replaced by Craig Mather and Fletcher by Danielle Hope (from 15th February to 2nd April) and Eva Noblezada (from 4th April). As previously announced, Rachelle Ann Go will leave on 30th January also and the role of Fantine will be taken over by Patrice Dipoki.

We’ll be getting a completely new line up of the Four Seasons. Michael Watson, Jon Boydon, Gary Watson and Edd Post have announced they will be leaving their roles as Frankie Valli, Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi and Bob Gaudio in Jersey Boys on 13th March. Also leaving the cast is Sandy Moffat who plays Frankie at certain performances.

John Owen-Jones is currently playing the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera. The role is very soon to be taken over by Ben Forster who had recently appeared in Elf the Musical at the Dominion Theatre and The Rocky Horror Show at the Playhouse Theatre. Owen-Jones’ last performance will be on 30th January.

Casting has also been announced for The End of Longing which will be showing at the Playhouse Theatre from 2nd February to 14th May. Matthew Perry will star in his own creation, alongside him will be Christina Cole, Jennifer Mudge and Lloyd Owen.

The Blues Brothers Xmas Special Revisited – Arts Theatre


We revisited the Blues Brothers Xmas Special at the Arts Theatre after having seen it early on in the preview performances. The preview performance was littered with sound issues and minor problems with the flow of the show. This time around, the show was absolutely fantastic! All of the cast are completely comfortable in their roles and the whole thing ran like clockwork.

Joshua Mumby (An Idle World, Oliver!, Hansel and Gretel) , T’Shan Williams (Love Me Tender) and Simon Ray-Harvey (Memphis, Billy Elliot, Flashdance) give standout performances as before. David Krisopher Brown (Phantom of the Opera, Sister Act, Little Shop of Horrors) has grown into the role of Joilet Jake Blues and excels in the role with a perfect voice for it. Once again a fabulous band as well.

The songs are classic blues with a little festive music thrown into the mix for variety. The standout numbers were ‘Shake Your Tail Feather’, ‘Sweet Home Chicago’, ‘Think’ and ‘Minnie the Moocher’.

We thoroughly enjoyed our return trip to this show and are very sad to see it close on the 10th January.

For more information about the Arts Theatre visit here:  http://www.westendtheatreguide.london/west-end-theatres/arts-theatre/

Jersey Boys – Piccadilly Theatre

Jersey Boys tells the story of The Four Seasons. The musical was the idea of Bob Gaudio, one of the original Four Seasons. Rick Elice and Marshall Brickman are the writers and Des McAnuff is the director. Brickman suggested the musical should tell the story of the band’s history.
It begins with Tommy DeVito, who brings Frankie Castelluccio (soon to be Frankie Valli) under his wing. Frankie is taught to sing by Nick Massi, and the trio form a group. However, trios are no longer ‘in’ so the band search for a fourth member. Joe Pesci introduces Bob Gaudio, a songwriter who had previously had a hit with ‘Short Shorts’, and Tommy reluctantly allows Gaudio into the group. They start their journey first as backing singers and then touring, after numerous hits, and the story is a rollercoaster of emotions.

The music is fantastic, with famous songs such as ‘Sherrie’, ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’, ‘Walk Like A Man’, ‘December ’63 (Oh What A Night)’ and ‘C’mon Marianne’. There are some very tender and emotional moments in the show, such as ‘My Eyes Adore You’ when Frankie Valli’s first marriage to Mary Delgado breaks down.

Frankie Valli, at this performance, was played by Sandy Moffat (Rock of Ages, Dirty Dancing, We Will Rock You), who is the understudy, with Michael Watson (Imagine This, Sister Act, Shrek the Musical) playing the role full-time. Moffat’s Valli was fantastic. His voice is perfect and he manages Frankie Valli’s iconic falsetto with ease. ‘Can’t Take My Eyes off You’ is Valli’s solo song, which Moffat performs beautifully, and ‘Fallen Angel’ is another very tender and also extremely sad moment of the show, after Frankie’s daughter, Francine, is killed.

Jon Boydon’s (Rocky Horror Show, Grease, We Will Rock You) portrayal of Tommy DeVito was excellent. DeVito gets the band into almost one million dollars of debt, but they make allowances for him for a time because he was the one who discovered Frankie’s talent and got the band’s gigs organised. Eventually though, the debts lead to the break-up of the original line-up.

Nick Massi (A Chorus Line, Mamma Mia, Hair), the bass player in The Four Seasons, is played by Gary Watson. Massi is a quiet individual and is always, comically, threatening to start his own band. When the size of the debts came to light, Massi decides to leave the band to spend time with his kids (who believe him to be their uncle, not father).

The band’s songwriter, Bob Gaudio, was played, at this performance, by Chris Stoddart (Evita, Cinderella, Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat), the understudy, with Edd Post (We Will Rock You, West Side Story) playing the role full-time. Gaudio plays a very important role in the Four Seasons’s journey because his music produced countless hits, and he formed the early partnership with Valli, bound by a ‘Jersey handshake’.

Bob Crewe gives the band their recording contract and helps them get their music played. Crewe is played by Simon Adkins (Singin’ In The Rain, Gotta Sing Gotta Dance, Cats), who portrays the role very well, making the character very flamboyant and likeable.

The four harmonise perfectly and take turns narrating the show, giving the story of events from their points of view. The show reveals a lot of information about how the music was released and how close the music was to not being released at all (particularly ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’).

The story is a rocky one, with the band facing many challenges, changes and setbacks. The show starts off slowly and then explodes into life, which reflects what happened to the Four Seasons in real-life. It is captivating in every way and it is impossible to exit the theatre and not have a smile on your face. We strongly urge everyone to go and see it.

Jersey Boys is currently booking until 23rd October 2016 at the Piccadilly Theatre.