An Evening with Simon Lipkin, Jon Robyns and Giles Terera – Orange Tree Theatre

What do Simon Lipkin, Jon Robyns and Giles Terera have in common (other than clearly being great friends)? They’ve all been in the hit show Avenue Q. After ten years, they decided to get together for one night, along with MD and brilliant pianist, Alex Williams, to put on a night of “music, banter and comedy” – and what a night it was!

The event began with the three lamenting on the ones that got away…those parts they’d auditioned for and didn’t get – a really funny number, ‘Not In The Show’.

Giles Terera performed ‘Pure Imagination’. This song was part of a musical that he starred in last year called Pure Imagination, celebrating the music of Leslie Bricusse. After this, he performed ‘Mr Bojangles’ which was just superb. His version of ‘Send in the Clowns’ was deliciously camp, and we loved the duet with Lipkin of ‘Me and My Shadow’.

Jon Robyns gave an epic performance of ‘Music of My Soul’ from Memphis, which sadly closed at the Shaftesbury Theatre last October (but is going to do a UK tour), and another from Last Five Years called ‘Shiksa Goddess’.

Simon Lipkin took to the piano and started a set with the fantastic ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ from Rock of Ages, which turned into a hilariously brilliant mash-up of popular songs which can evidently be played on three chords, including ‘Apologise’, ‘If You Wannabe My Lover’, and ‘Baby Got Back’. He also performed a song from A New Brain called ‘Sailing’, as well as a song he sang to his girlfriend in the audience, ‘The Sensitive Song’, which starts tenderly but spirals to a hilarious chorus line of “Skanky, Skanky Whore”. She appeared to take it in good spirits certainly – although we understand she is off on a UK tour as Sophie in Mamma Mia shortly!

The Avenue Q numbers were very funny and the four puppets were endearing little fellows, brilliantly handled by Lipkin and Robyns. The ‘If You Were Gay’ number with Nicky (puppeteer Lipkin) and Rod (puppeteer Robyns) was hilarious.

Teresa attempted a “serious moment” with a passage from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but was constantly interrupted by Lipkin, who was looking for the WiFi code and then the loo, and, as Teresa struggled valiantly on, we heard that Lipkin had indeed found the loo, and the audience was in uproar by the time both Lipkin and Robyns re-joined him on stage.

There were many other fantastic moments – solos, duos, trios, with and without puppets, with piano, guitars, tambourine, as well as the odd feather boa and even some tap-dancing. A standout number was their rendition of ‘Jailhouse Rock’, where one played piano, one sang, and one was on tambourine, but they then had to quickly switch roles when a participating audience member honked a horn – it was a hysterical scramble. ‘Hasa dega Eebowai’ from the Book of Mormon, which Terera had starred in, was another standout for the trio, during which numerous unsuspecting audience members were pulled on-stage to do a conga!

This event was held at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond. All three men are wonderfully talented singers, who interact with and play off their audience beautifully, and they were clearly having loads of fun – we did too, and really hope they do another one of these soon!

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Bad Jews – Theatre Royal Haymarket

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Bad Jews is a comedy which was written by Joshua Harmon.  Following popular runs in the Ustinav Studio, Bath and the St James Theatre, it has returned for a strictly limited 6-week run at the Theatre Royal Haymarket from 8th February.

Bad Jews tells the story of three of Poppy’s grandchildren grieving after his death. Each of them have their own unique ways of dealing with their loss and expressing their feelings. Daphna and Jonah have been sharing his studio apartment for the past few days leading up to the funeral.

Jonah’s older brother, Liam, arrives back from skiing in Aspen with his girlfriend, Melody, and is forced to stay in the studio too due to the number of guests and limited space in their parents’ home. Liam was unable to make it back in time for the funeral.   Daphna and Liam have an unfriendly relationship and are at each other’s throats.  The irony is that they both make epic speeches about how much they dislike the other while the other is not in the room and rope Jonah into helping them “quash” any conversation about who gets their grandfather’s chai (a gold necklace with a pendant of the Jewish symbol for life).

The whole play builds to a massive farce with the discussion of who gets to keep Poppy’s chai. Unknown to Daphna, who wants the chai for herself and believes she has the most right to it because she is the most devout of the three, Liam already has the chai to propose to his girlfriend. The significance of this is that Poppy had the chai through the Holocaust and kept it in his mouth. Then, when he came to America and met his future wife, Poppy didn’t have any money to buy her a ring and so gave her the only piece of jewellery he owned and she wore it until he could afford a ring.  By the end of the discussion, which quickly escalated into an argument, Melody figures out Liam is going to propose to her before he does. Daphna is outraged that this meaningful piece of jewellery was placed around a non-Jewish, Delawarean girl.  Jonah also feels that the chai should be kept in the immediate family.  Daphna tackles her and rips it off Melody’s neck, who forces Liam to take her to the hospital even though she is not at injured.

The closing scene of the play, is breathtaking and shocks the audience changing the previously comic tone of the show.

Daphna, played by Ailsa Joy (Pride and Prejudice, TimePlays, The Wind and the Willows), is kind of the outsider of the trio due to her neurotic nature and strong opinions. Liam describes her as a “Super Jew” and an “Uber Jew” because she is fanatically religious and very knowledgeable. Joy gives a fantastic performance as Daphna, carrying off the character’s rapid dialogue with ease. Liam, played by Ilan Goodman (Dinner with Saddam, Dorian Gray, Austentatous), is the older brother and is very wealthy which he perhaps takes for granted.  Liam doesn’t see any problem with a non-Jewish person having Poppy’s chai, only seeing the romantic side and not the traditional argument.

Jonah, played by Jos Slovick (The Snow Queen, Once, Guys and Dolls), who initially seems to be the least affected by his grandfather’s death, appearing quite uncaring and preferring to play his video games and fiddle on his laptop.  While Daphna and Liam are fighting, he is put in the middle of them and he repeatedly states he doesn’t want it and to leave him out of it. Slovick plays the reserved, complex Jonah very well.

Melody, played by Antonia Kinlay (Lady Anna: All of Sea, The Three Lions, A History of Falling Things), is Liam’s girlfriend from Delaware who majored in opera. One of the highlights of the show is when she is asked to sing to soothe Daphna’s nerves after Liam’s outburst. Her singing is nothing short of awful but it’s hilarious.  Melody is kind of a fish out of water because she is not part of the family and the only non-Jew.  Kinlay is wonderful in the role, playing Melody with a persistent politeness, despite continuous grilling and insulting remarks from Daphna.

Overall it was a very funny play.  Bad Jews is showing at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 19th March 2016. For more information about your visit to the Theatre Royal Haymarket visit West End Theatre Guide’s website: http://www.westendtheatreguide.london/west-end-theatres/theatre-royal-haymarket/

Motown – Shaftesbury Theatre

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Motown is a jukebox musical by Berry Gordy, which is based on his autobiography ‘To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown’.  Gordy founded the Motown record label on 12th January 1959, and, in doing so, defined the sound of the decade and gave life to some of the most loved and famed songs of all time.   This show is the story of Gordy’s Motown record label and its music, his professional relationships with some of Motown’s most famous artists, as well as his personal one with Diana Ross.  Gordy himself wrote the musical and it features over 40 classic Motown songs.

It also links in with events going on at the time, for example, the assassinations of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the Vietnam War, and of course the civil rights struggle in America.  Gordy struggled against everyone telling him his label was “race music” and maintained that: “Motown was about music for all people – white and black, blue and green, cops and the robbers. I was reluctant to have our music alienate anyone.”

The show begins with a stubborn Berry Gordy resisting attempts to persuade him to attend the 25th anniversary concert of the formation of Motown, and then a flashback takes us on a rollercoaster ride through the story of Motown.

The story begins with an eight year old Berry Gordy, who aspired to be a boxer after Joe Louis won an historic match by knocking out German Max Schmeling. Gordy’s grandfather was a slave in Georgia, and his father, Berry Gordy Snr, moved from Georgia to Detroit to become an automotive factory worker.  His father told him to be the best version of himself possible.  He gave up his aspiration to be a boxer, however, believing he’d never be Joe Louis, and ended up working on the Ford Motor Company automotive assembly line.  He discovered his talent for songwriting when he produced a number one hit for Jackie Wilson.

He then met Smokey Robinson and The Matadors (later The Miracles), and the two formed a partnership, and, frustrated with working for other record companies and not receiving the credit they deserved, together they founded a new record company – Motown.  The Miracles produced ‘Shop Around’ which was Motown’s first million seller and helped establish the independent company.

They quickly signed many more stars in the making including: Mary Wells, who was their first major success with Robinson’s ‘My Guy’, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, a young Stevie Wonder and Martha Reeves. The Marvelettes’ first record, ‘Please, Mr Postman’, became Motown’s first number one record.

In 1965, the Tamla-Motown Revue toured the UK and then Europe with the Motortown Revue.  The label later signed Gladys Knight and also The Jackson 5.  Marvin Gaye’s rendition of ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’ was his first number one hit and became Motown’s biggest single at the time.

The Motown label came under threat as their headline groups and singers began to leave for the better deals being offered to them, including Diana Ross, The Jackson 5, and Marvin Gaye.  Gordy began negotiations to sell the company but was talked in from the ledge, and Motown revived itself with a series of hits from The Commodores, Rick James and Stevie Wonder.  These efforts were unfortunately not enough to keep the label as an independent company and Gordy resigned to sell it.

The show closes with all the Motown stars reuniting to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Motown record label.  After a passionate plea from Smokey Robinson, Gordy attends the celebration.  It is a very touching story and gives the inside view of a sound that took the world by storm.

Berry Gordy was played by Cedric Neal (After Midnight, The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess).  Neal is fantastic in this part: the orchestrator of the Motown machine, songwriter, and oh what a voice!

Charl Brown (Motown on Broadway, Hair, Jersey Boys) played Smokey Robinson, who had a key role along with Gordy in the running of Motown and wrote many classic songs.  Brown is brilliant in the role, singing the classic ‘Shop Around’ with The Miracles.

Diana Ross was played by Lucy St Louis (Beautiful, The Book of Mormon).  She is spectacular, singing and talking exactly like Diana Ross.  One of the standout numbers of the show, also much loved by the crowd, was ‘Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)’ which was Diana Ross’ solo debut after she left The Supremes.  If your dream is to sing with Diana Ross, sit on the right side of the auditorium and you may get lucky!

Gordy said: “I’ve discovered that Motown and Broadway have a lot in common – a family of wonderfully talented, passionate, hardworking young people, fiercely competitive but also full of love and appreciation for the work, for each other and for the people in the audience.”  Based on this performance, we’re inclined to include the West End in this too. The cast were all phenomenal, and the show is high energy, fast moving and packed with amazing songs from start to finish.

Motown is currently showing at the Shaftesbury Theatre and booking until February 2017.

For more information about Motown and tickets visit Box Office’s website here: http://www.boxoffice.co.uk/arts-and-theatre-tickets/musicals/motown-the-musical-tickets.aspx

For more information on your visit to the Shaftesbury Theatre visit West End Theatre Guide’s profile: http://www.westendtheatreguide.london/west-end-theatres/shaftesbury-theatre/

West End Up Close…An Evening with Jodie Jacobs – House of St Barnabas, Soho

Cabaret and solo concert events in the West End are an opportunity to get close to an individual performer as themselves rather than playing a role in a show, so it is a unique and often very intimate experience.  This event certainly more than lived up to expectations.  “An Evening with Jodie Jacobs” was absolutely fantastic, an informal romp of an evening, full of laughter and with a stunning vocal performance from the lady herself. 

Jodie Jacobs’ career began over 15 years ago, and some of her work includes Fame, Footloose, We Will Rock You, Rock of Ages, Carrie, Jest End and Legally Blonde, and she certainly knows the industry well.  The set comprised mostly lesser-known musical songs that are close to Jodie’s heart in some way, and she told some both moving stories and some that had the audience roaring with laughter too. 

There were two special guests at this event, Kim Criswell and Evelyn Hoskins, with whom she worked in Carrie at the Southwark Playhouse.  Kim and Evelyn each sang individual songs which were fantastic, and both of them have very different, but equally beautiful, voices.  There were powerful duets, and then the trio came together for the penultimate song to perform an arrangement of ‘Unsuspecting Hearts’ from Carrie, which was a powerhouse of truly amazing vocal abilities.

The event was hosted at the House of St Barnabas in Soho, who are a charity organisation dedicated to helping the homeless.  They have an employment scheme in operation to help homeless people find work, and all the revenue from the events, bar and memberships go into helping the homeless, so it’s a great charity.  For more information, visit their website: https://hosb.org.uk/    The venue itself was spectacular: a beautiful chapel which had amazing acoustics, beautiful architecture, and the candles placed around the walls created a warm, welcoming and intimate atmosphere.

 In conclusion, it was brilliant evening, and we’d thoroughly recommend going to see solo concerts by West End stars like the incredible Jodie Jacobs.   She said she’s “waiting to hear on some nice stuff right now but is otherwise deeply unbusy after tonight”.  She has an outstanding voice and is an extremely talented actress as well as being a thoroughly lovely person.  We’re really looking forward to seeing her in her next venture, whatever it may be. 

 

Chicago – UK Tour

As the opening line of the musical proudly boosts, Chicago is about “…murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery, and treachery”.  Before Chicago was made into a musical, it was a play written by Maurine Dallas Watkins in 1926, who used her crime reporting experience to satirise ’20s women becoming celebrities for being accused of murder.  It was then produced as a silent film in 1927, with another adaptation entitled Roxie Hart in 1942. Chicago was developed as a musical by Bob Fosse, a director and choreographer, on the suggestion of his wife and actress, Gwen Verdon.

The musical tells the story of Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, who were real life murderesses. The show is set in Chicago in the ’20s when the city was run by gangsters, jazz was the sound and prohibition was in full swing. At the time, there was a string of females who were made famous by committing murder – they were celebrity criminals. These women received press attention, making front page headlines and receiving desirable job offers because of the publicity.

Roxie Hart shoots and kills her lover, Fred Casely, for walking out on her.  Amos, Roxie’s husband, who she manipulates and controls like a puppet and he remains loyal to her even though she is running around on him, is given a story to tell the police in the hope they will be deceived and she will be off the hook for her crime.  However, he fluffs the story and she is arrested.  In jail, she meets a vaudeville dancer, Velma Kelly, along with several other ‘celebrity criminals’.

Roxie is introduced to a high-price and highly successful lawyer, Billy Flynn, by Mama Morton.  He specialises in corrupting justice by performing a circus act in the courtroom. Roxie doesn’t have the $5000 his services cost and so manipulates her ever-loyal Amos into getting it for her. He is the orchestrator of the mass-deceit of the jury during Roxie’s trial, and creates ‘context’ and ‘grounds’ for her crime and paints her a press image of a likeable and much wronged, weak female when in fact she is benefitting from her crime and enjoying her new-found fame.

In the end, Roxie goes free and is deserted by her husband and by Billy, but she is more devastated by no longer being ‘big news’ with the press, who have moved on to their latest sensational murder story.  The show ends with Roxie and Velma forming a jazz double act.

Chicago is currently on a tour of the UK.  The show debuted on Broadway in 1975 before opening in the West End four years later.

In this production, Roxie Hart is played by Hayley Tamaddon (Emmerdale (TV), Mamma Mia, Fame), who gives a wonderful performance of ‘Me and My Baby’.

Velma Kelly is played by Sophie Carmen-Jones (Jersey Boys, Wicked, We Will Rock You) and she gives an all-round fantastic performance and steals the show.  Carmen-Jones is a wonderful dancer and delivers a great rendition of ‘All That Jazz’ and ‘I Can’t Do It Alone’. She stands out in the ‘Cell Block Tango’ number during which the arrested women tell the audience who they killed and why they did it.

John Partridge (Cats, Miss Saigon, A Chorus Line) played Billy Flynn with charm and swagger.  His performance of ‘All I Care About’ and ‘Razzle Dazzle’ was excellent.

Mama Morton is played by Sam Bailey (X Factor winner (TV), Dick Whittington), who performs ‘When You’re Good To Mama’ and a duet with Carmen-Jones singing ‘Class’.

The ensemble were all fabulous, dancing perfectly in sync and with incredible style and swagger.

Overall, it is a very good show and has a sexy and seductive vibe.  Chicago is touring the UK into October 2016, showing in over 20 cities.  For more information and full tour listings visit the musical’s website: http://chicagothemusical.com/uktour.php We hope to see the show back in the West End very soon.

Close to You – final performance, Criterion Theatre


We’ve reviewed Close To You twice over its 8 month London run at the Criterion Theatre and Menier Chocolate Factory.  It is a heart-warming, magical show with wonderful music and performed by an incredibly talented group of musicians and vocalists. The show takes classic Bacharach songs and changes the melody and rhythm with the clever use of different instruments and a few everyday objects that you wouldn’t think of using to make music (such as a water cooler!). It is a joy to watch for anyone, especially aspiring musicians.

Kyle Riabko, Stephanie McKeon, Greg Coulson, Daniel Bailen, Renato Paris and James Williams were all fantastic once again.  Anastacia McCleskey’s place (who left a week before the show’s closure) was taken by Shanay Holmes, who was impressive, especially when considering she’d been performing in the show for the last week.  Holmes slotted into the show perfectly, grooving and harmonising with all the cast, and she has a wonderful, powerful voice.

The final performance was bittersweet.  Close To You is very uplifting and happy but, knowing it was the last, it was very sad.  It was obvious the cast were having a ball and going out in style.  The audience were incredible, cheering, clapping and singing-along, and there were many return visitors.

Once again, it is a phenomenal show, celebrating the music of one of the all-time great songwriters, Burt Bacharach, and it will be greatly missed in the West End.

There is a cast recording coming out soon.  To receive notification of when the CD is released, subscribe to Close To You’s mailing list here.

For more information about the Criterion Theatre, visit West End Theatre Guide’s website to view their profile.

News round up

There has been a lot of exciting news this week, here’s a round up.  Funny Girl (Savoy Theatre), Kinky Boots (Adelphi Theatre), The Railway Children (King’s Cross Theatre) and In The Heights (King’s Cross Theatre) have all extended their booking periods.
Casting for The Bodyguard’s run at the Dominion Theatre has been announced. The cast includes Beverly Knight as Rachel Marron (Knight recently starred as Felicia Farrell in Memphis and Grizabella in Cats), Rachel John as Nicki Marron, Carole Stennett as alternate Rachel Marron, Mark Holden as Bill Devaney, Dominic Taylor as Sy Spector, Matthew Stathers as Stalker and Glen Fox as Ray Court. The Bodyguard will open on 15th July 2016.

It has been announced the Matt Curry will take over the role of The Wizard in Wicked from 25th March 2016. Tom McGowen, currently The Wizard, will end his limited run on 12th March. Between 14th and 24th March, Sean Kearns, currently playing Doctor Dillamond, will be The Wizard. Wicked recently extended its booking period into April 2017.

Michael Crawford is making his return to the West End in the upcoming production of The Go-Between at the Apollo Theatre as Leo Colston. The Go-Between opens at the Apollo on 27th May with press night on 7th June.

Dreamgirls is confirmed to open at the Savoy Theatre in December 2016 (with previews in November). Glee star Amber Patrice Riley will make her West End debut in the production as Effie White.

Guys and Dolls – Savoy Theatre

 

Guys and Dolls Savoy

Guys and Dolls is a musical based on ‘The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown’ and ‘Blood Pressure’, both short stories written by Damon Runyon.  The musical was written by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser.  It follows the stories of New York gamblers and their pursuit of ladies. Interestingly, the book was selected as the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1951, but because of Burrows’ troubles with the House Un-American Activities Committee, this selection was vetoed and no prize was awarded that year.

The story begins with Nathan Detroit (played by David Haig (Someone You’ll Watch Over Me, The Madness of George III, (TV) Four Weddings and a Funeral)) trying to find a venue for his crap game (an illegal dice gambling game), with the help of his friends Nicely-Nicely Johnson and Benny Southstreet (played by Gavin Spokes (1984, One Man Two Governors, Laurel and Hardy) and Ian Hughes (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Lion King, The 39 Steps)).  He is also trying to conceal his business affairs from his “doll”, Miss Adelaide (played by Sophie Thompson (Four Weddings and a Funeral (TV), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (TV), numerous Shakespeare plays on stage)) who he’s been engaged to for 14 years and who thinks he has given up gambling and running crap games.

Detroit needs to find $1000 to secure the venue for his game. He makes a bet with Sky Masterson (played by Jamie Parker (High Society, Assassins, Proof)) that he can’t get Sarah Brown (played by Siubhan Harrison (From Here To Eternity, Grease, Les Miserables)), a missionary against sinning, to go to Havana with him.

The cast were all fantastic, with some really standout performances.  ‘Luck Be A Lady’ is performed by Sky when he makes a bet with the crap players.  If they win, they get $1000 each, and if he wins, they have to go to Sarah’s missionary meeting.  He does this because he is in love with Sarah and knows that she is in trouble with the Head of the Missionary for the lack of success in recruiting sinners. If he wins the bet, he’d deliver a group of sinners to the Missionary.

‘Adelaide’s Lament’ is a song sung by Adelaide when she is feeling ill with a  cold, and believes it is psychological due to waiting for 14 years for her wedding day. There is a reprise of this song in the second Act as well.

‘Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat’ is a high energy performance and the highlight of the show, sung by Spokes and Lorna Gayle (The Crucible, Rudy’s Rare Records, Nation), who plays the head of the missionary.

‘Marry the Man Today’ is sung by Sarah and Adelaide when they decide to marry their gamblers, Sky and Nathan, in spite of their faults.

The show features many high energy dance numbers. All of the dancers are fantastic.  Selina Hamilton (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Rock of Ages, Dirty Dancing) really stands out of the ensemble, particularly during ‘Havana’, where she is a dancing diva.

During the crap game, the male ensemble are phenomenal.  There is also a funny moment when Big Jule (played by Nic Greenshields (Oklahoma!, Anything Goes, Billy Elliot)) is ‘out 25 Gs’ ($25000).  He is a sore loser, and then rolls Detroit again with his own special dice with no numbers on them.

Guys and Dolls is an excellent show, with high quality singing and dancing with a swing style. It is currently showing at the Savoy Theatre until 12th March, before moving to the Phoenix Theatre from 19th March and embarking on UK tour.

For more information on the Savoy Theatre, visit West End Theatre Guide London here: http://www.westendtheatreguide.london/west-end-theatres/savoy-theatre/