Tag Archives: Norman Bowman

Murder Ballad at the Arts Theatre

8 Nov

Who did it? That is the big question in Murder Ballad, currently playing at the not very glamorous Arts Theatre (yes, the place is in BAD need of a refurb, there just is no denying it). I will not spoil the surprise for those who have not seen it by giving away details of the plot. Just this: While watching the show I came up with various possible endings and none was what actually happened. So there is definitely potential for a good old guessing game as the story progresses.

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Victoria Hamilton-Barritt does not just lead us through the story; she is the star of the show. Both her voice and her sometimes sinister, sometimes almost cheeky and always intriguing portrayal of the Narrator are in a class of its own.

Kerry Ellis plays Sarah, the female love interest. One thing is for sure: She can sing. Personally I do not find her acting convincing. She is not bad by any means but next to her fellow cast members she never manages to shine.

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Then there is Ramin Karimloo – recently returned to the UK after playing Jean Valjean in Les Miserables on Broadway to rave reviews – as Tom, the former boyfriend: Dark, handsome – one of those guys women tend to fall for even though they know they mean trouble. Seeing Ramin take on a role that is so completely different from both the Phantom and Valjean (the two roles he has been playing on and off for a while) is a revelation. He gets to be bad and sexy and finally that incredible voice can show its diversity with a few slightly more rocky tunes. It is a joy to watch and clearly he is having fun in the show.

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Norman Bowman completes the love triangle as Sarah’s nice, gentle partner Michael – the guy she meets after Tom breaks her heart and who she settles down and has a child with. Michael is without a doubt the most interesting of the three lovers. While both Sarah and Tom know there is a third “party” involved Michael is kept in the dark the longest. And it is that moment of heartbreak – when Michael realises Sarah has been cheating on him (betraying her family) – that shows what a tremendously talented actor Norman is. And as if that was not enough he is an incredibly strong singer too.

While you cannot fault the cast of this production the set falls short at times. Personally I am no fan of the huge projections used in this show. They do nothing for the production and only distract from what is happening on stage (that is what a massive black and white photo of Ramin Karimloo does to me at least – call me shallow if you want). And while the revolve is used quite well it seems a bit like a gimmick someone simply wanted to play with.

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The songs did not stick in my head the first time around. I admit I have been back to see the show a second time (the cast is just too good to resist) and that time the score really got to me. So for me Murder Ballad is a grower.  It is not a prefect show. It has some obvious flaws and it will not be everyone’s cup of tea. But it is worth checking out if only for seeing a group of talented, well-known performers in such a small venue – who knows when you will get the chance again.

Murder Ballad is playing at the Arts Theatre until December 3rd. For more info and to book tickets visit https://artstheatrewestend.co.uk.

Westend Fest at St. Paul’s Church – 3rd February 2013

7 Feb

Westend Fest is a live event that brings together various West End performers for an evening of music at St. Paul’s Church in Covent Garden. This time the show was held in aid of CRY Foundation (find out more about their work here: http://www.c-r-y.org.uk/) and in memory of Matt Beadle, wo sadly passed away last year.

There were so many highlights so I will only point out a few. First of all the wonderful Norman Bowman provided one of the show stoppers of the evening with his sing along “Deliliah” and his fantastic “Who’s the man”.

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Then there was MiG Ayesa who treated the audience to three songs: “Hammer to fall” (with Lauren Varnham), “Hallelujah” (on piano, with Paul Ayres) and “Fix You” (with Sabrina Aloueche). I would like to quote Paul Ayres and say “He (MiG) is a legend!”. Watch MiG and Lauren sing “Hammer to fall” here:

 

Matt Wycliffe showed everyone what a huge musical talent he is by not only performing two of his own songs but also playing three instruments in total. I was especially impressed by his piano playing. Here’s a clip of him performing:

Personally I loved hearing Rebecca Trehearn sing “The Hill” from Once because I adore the whole score of this show and cannot wait to finally see it on stage next month. Simon Adkins doesn’t get the chance to show off his famtastic voice often enough so it was great to have him perform “Life of the party” on this occasion. Beside being a fabulous singer he also proved that he is a wonderful and entertaining moderator and quite a talented auctioneer.

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However, the absolute highlight and probably on of the most heartbreakingly beautiful performances I have ever seen definitely was Matthew McKenna’s “No one but you”. I can hardly imagine how difficult it must have been for Matthew to sing this song at this event. I am happy and proud I was there to witness it and I’m sure everyone who attended the event will agree that this was one of those very special moments you will remember forever.

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Nathan James closed the evening with two songs – personally I’m not really a fan of him as a performer although I do think he has a great voice. But the audience clearly loved him so I guess he was a good addition to the line up. I do think Matthew McKenna’s song should have been the last one of the evening though simply because it was impossible to top such an amazing performance.

For everyone that is interested, here is the running order of the evening (please note that Matthew McKenna was meant to sing “Show must go on” but sang “No one but you” instead).

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Photo credit goes to @WestendFests . Go follow on Twitter to find out more about upcoming events.

2012 – A look back

31 Dec

With 2012 coming to an end I thought it was time to look back at the past 12 months and sum up my theatre related highlights of the year. And what a year this has been! I have had the opportunity to discover new shows, keep re-visiting my favourite shows, spend time with some amazing people, travel to places I haven’t been to before and – thanks to this blog – share my views on shows and theatre in general with all you guys.

It’s impossible to name each and every fantastic theatre moment – there are just way too many. But I want to mention a few that have had a special impact for various reasons. Lets start with my show highlights.

First of all one of my all time favourites is still going strong: Jersey Boys. That show has been a huge part of my theatre life since 2008 and I’m happy I got to visit the boys and girls in Jersey a lot during 2012. Obviously I have my favourites in every part but all in all the whole cast of this show is doing such an amazing job. They are the reason I will never get bored of the show. A special thank you goes out to Ryan Molloy (you are totally mad but I love you for it), Jon Boydon, Ben Wheeler, Mike Conway, Matt Wycliffe, Eugene McCoy, Mark Isherwood and TeeJaye. You guys are amazing!

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Another show that has had a huge impact on my 2012 is Les Miserables. Thank’s to (mainly) Ramin Karimloo I ended up seeing that show around 25 times between January and March 2012. Ramin’s Jean Valjean was quite simply one of the most stunning things I have ever seen in a show – breathtakingly fantastic all around. And his final show is definitely in the top three of my favourite theatre performances of 2012.

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Next up is a show I wish I could have seen more often than just twice. But sadly a limited run (clashing with the Olympics as well) prevented me from that. It is, of course, Mack and Mabel which was staged at the Southwark Playhouse this summer. This show was such a perfect production, from set and choreography right through to the cast (led by the wonderful Norman Bowman and Laura Pitt-Pulford).

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A show that restored my faith in musical theatre was Singin’ in the rain at the Palace Theatre. Shows like this are the reason I fell in love with musical theatre in the first place – from the dancing to the story to the amazingly talented cast, there’s no weak link in this production. I adore that show and it’s on my list of shows to see a lot more often in 2013.

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One of the smallest yet most enjoyable shows I have seen this year is Boy meets Boy at Jermyn Street Theatre. My reason to book tickets was Stephen Ashfield who I always enjoy to see on stage. I ended up loving this gem of a musical and would be thrilled to see it get another run sometime in the future.

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There were so many other shows I enjoyed (and still enjoy) watching. I can’t name them all but if you’ve been reading my blog and maybe even follow me on Twitter you probably have a basic idea anyway.

I’ll go on with some gig highlights of 2012.

The ones that had the biggest impact on me (and my travel diary) are Ramin Karimloo’s Road to find out concerts in May 2012. Without this tour I would never have ended up visiting cities like Newcastle, Cardiff and Birmingham. The tour consisted of 10 concerts and I am proud to say I managed to attend 7 of them – not bad considering I was flying over from Germany all the time. Was it worth it you may ask? Oh yes! I had a brilliant time. It was wonderful to see Ramin explore this new chapter in his career and I hope he continues to be successful with what he enjoys so much – making music.

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Some slightly smaller but still memorable concerts were the Bloomfield Avenue gigs at Roadhouse, Covent Garden on various Sundays throughout 2012. If you haven’t heard of that band I urge you to check them out: http://www.bloomfieldavenueband.co.uk/. They are currently looking for a new London venue for 2013 so watch out for any upcoming gigs.

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And finally some personal highlights that will remain a special memory of 2012 for me.

I still remember how thrilled I was when Dean Chisnall was promoted to playing the lead in Shrek the musical. I have known Dean for several years and I am proud to call such a wonderful and talented person my friend. And trust me when I say: Dean is by far the most dedicated performer you will ever meet. He so deserved to have a lead part in a big West End show and this year he finally achieved just that. It fills me with joy to see Dean on stage in such an iconic theatre as Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Here’s to more fantastic parts in great shows in the future!

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Tim Howar taking over as Stacee Jaxx in Rock of Ages is yet another highlight of 2012. I first saw Tim on stage in Tonight’s the night (the Rod Stewart musical – some of you may remember it) in 2003 and fell in love with his voice straight away. Tim has to be one of the kindest people on this planet. I feel privileged to know him and I’m beyond happy that he is back on stage in the West End where he belongs.

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My charity auction in aid of The Brain Research Trust was by far the most challenging theatre related project this year. Lots of emails, walking around the West End collecting posters and programmes and generally a lot of organisational work – but it was all so worth it. I couldn’t have done it without all the support from various lovely people (thank you again – you know who you are). It was great to see what a wonderful community the theatre world really is.

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So, all that’s left now is a look out for what is to come in 2013. There are so many things I’m already looking forward to. In no particular order:

1. Once the musical
2. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
3. Book of Mormon
4. Seeing MiG Ayesa and Jenna Lee James in the We will rock you arena tour
5. Seeing my lovely friend Björn Klein play Emmett in Legally Blonde in Vienna
6. Seeing Peter Johansson as Stacee Jaxx in Stockholm
7. Finally seeing Ben Whishaw live on a theatre stage
9. Watching The Bodyguard again (slightly addicted I fear…)
10. Generally continuing to support my favourite performers

… the list goes on…

With that I will leave you for 2012. Thank you for sticking with me throughout the year. I really appreciate your support for my little blog. Hopefully I’ll manage to keep you entertained with more reviews and other theatre related posts in 2013 (watch out for my review of The Bodyguard which is coming up as soon as possible).

Happy new year everyone! I hope 2013 brings you all you ever wished for. Keep in touch – comment, tweet or email me. I love to hear from you guys. x

Cabaret in the House – Norman Bowman – Lauderdale House, 11th November 2012

16 Nov

Lauderdale House is one of those little cabaret spaces you will find throughout London. What makes it stand out is the amount of well-known musical theatre performers that grace the place and the way the house is embedded in the local community offering not only cabarets but also activities for families and children, exhibitions and other events.

This was my second visit to this venue having previously seen Stephen Ashfield’s cabaret there in 2011. What always strikes me first is the shape of the room in which the cabaret performances take place – it’s very narrow and long which in my eyes is rather unfortunate for cabaret gigs. Since there are no mics used for the performances the sound tends to gets worse the further back from the “stage” you sit (there is no stage as such – the performer simply stands or sits at the front of the room, accompanied by a piano). I managed to secure a place at the front on this occasion so there were no sound issues for me during the performance.

Valerie Kutko was the host of the afternoon and entertained the audience with two songs and some charming and funny anecdotes.

The support act on this occasion was American-born Kendra McMillan. Personally I didn’t enjoy her choice of songs a lot simply because they were mostly focused on acting and expression rather than pure singing. For me this works brilliantly in context of a show but can be a bit too deep for a cabaret. Too add up to it I quickly discovered that I’m no fan of the tone of Kendra’s voice – this, of course, is personal preference as well and I’m sure many in the audience really enjoyed her performance.

But on to the main act – Norman Bowman whose leading roles include Marius in Les Miserables, Sky in Guys and Dolls, Sam in Mamma Mia and Mack Sennett in the critically acclaimed Mack and Mabel at the Southwark Playhouse earlier this year to name just a few.

I have been lucky enough to see Norman in quite a few productions and he has never failed to amaze me. However, this was the first time I’ve watched him do a cabaret performance and I was curious to see how he would manage to entertain an audience with just songs and no show to go with them.

To put it short: Norman didn’t disappoint. From the first moment he stepped into the room he had everyone eating out of the palm of his hand. I loved the idea of walking down the middle aisle whilst singing “Oh what a beautiful morning” and greeting members of the audience on the way to the stage – this definitely helped to connect with the audience right from the start. The mix of songs ranged from some Sondheim to Carousel, Mack and Mabel, Parade and Witches of Eastwick. And all the while Norman bedazzled the audience with his boyish charm and his warm and down to earth personality. Some minor text glitches actually added to the enjoyment because they made the whole performance seem honest and real and not staged at all.

Personal favourites of the afternoon have to be “Agony” from Into the woods (performed brilliantly with the fantastic Robbie Scotcher), “Soliloquy” from Carousel and “Finishing the hat” from Sondheim’s Sunday in the park with George.
“I won’t send roses” took everyone back to the brilliant Mack and Mabel times this summer (and definitely made those who haven’t seen the show regret they’ve missed out) and the beautiful “Spring will be a little late” with Laura Pitt-Pulford was probably the most intimate moment of the whole performance. Laura and Norman have such a fantastic stage chemistry – it was impossible not to be drawn into the song.
The most intense moment of the afternoon has to be the outstanding rendition of “Soliloquy” from Carousel followed closely by the touching “Hard to speak my heart” from Parade.
The cabaret ended way too soon (my opinion) with the wonderful “Love is like a red red rose” from Robert Burns – nothing but a beautiful song and Norman’s voice, what more do I need?

All in all this was a delightful afternoon at Lauderdale House with the brilliantly talented Norman Bowman. Here’s hoping for more cabaret performances from Norman in the future. He has definitely proven that he has what it takes to entertain an audience with tales and songs. The Delfont Room next I say!

Set list
Oh what a beautiful morning (Oklahoma)
Sorry – Grateful (Company)
Finishing the hat (Sunday in the park with George)
Agony 1 (Into the woods), with Robbie Scotcher
I won’t send roses (Mack and Mabel)
Spring will be a little late (Frank Loesser), with Laura Pitt-Pulford
Who’s the man (Witches of Eastwick)
Hard to speak my heart (Parade)
Agony 2 (Into the woods), with Robbie Scotcher
Soliloquy (Carousel)
Love is like a red red rose (Robert Burns)

For more info about Lauderdale House please visit http://www.lauderdalehouse.co.uk/.

Follow Norman on Twitter @normanbowman69

Thank you to Sally Eastwood for letting me use her photos!

Mack and Mabel at the Southwark Playhouse – July 12th 2012

14 Jul

The Southwark Playhouse has proven to be one of London’s top addresses for high quality fringe theatre with shows like Parade and Floyd Collins. Their latest musical theatre production is Mack and Mabel, a show that tells the relationship between Hollywood director Mack Sennett and Mabel Normand who became one of his biggest stars in the late 1910s.

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Music and lyrics for this show were written by Jerry Herman and the book by Michael Stewart, revised by Francine Pascal. The original 1974 Broadway production starred Bernadette Peters and Robert Preston and received eight Tony Award nominations.

The Vault is a former railway tunnel which has been transformed into a unique and atmospheric performing space. And while I can’t imagine watching a feel-good and happy show in there, the place is perfect for a show that does well with a gloomy or melancholic setting.

I really like the U-Shape staging they’ve done for this show. But I’d definitely choose the centre rows over the rows on either side of the performing area as I guess the view might be slightly restricted on the sides.

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The only real downside of this theatre are the ridiculously uncomfortable seats and the slightly damp air which makes concentrating on the show a slight challenge after a while.

Norman Bowman is stepping into the role of movie director Mack Sennett. His portrayal is intense and gripping and had me on the edge of my seat throughout the show. Mack certainly is no character that vows himself into the audience’s hearts. He’s driven by his passion for making movies and it’s hard for him to accept that there might be something else in life that is more important. Norman’s Mack seems almost haunted by his one and only ambition: To make people laugh. The fact that someone who seems unable to love and who is simply not very likeable is so dedicated to bringing people joy with his movies is one of the features of Mack that I found most interesting. And despite all that, Norman manages to make me feel for Mack who slowly realises that he actually does love Mabel but is unable to properly express his feelings until it’s too late.

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Laura Pitt-Pulford gives an outstanding performance as Mabel Normand, the sandwich delivery girl who becomes a movie star. She brings out a vulnerability in Mabel that makes it impossible not to love her. I especially liked the on stage chemistry between her and Norman. Those two work exceptionally well together.

The third stand out performance in this show is definitely Stuart Matthew Price as Frank Capra. He manages to really shine in a part that could be drowned out by the two leads if played by an actor with just an average stage presence. Just one minor grudge: I wish he would get to sing more – it’s a shame to “waste” such a beautiful voice.

The rest of the performers are without exception perfectly cast. There is no weak link on stage (except for a rather rebellious egg). It was good to see Steven Serlin again – Saturday Night Fever seems like ages ago! And big thumbs up for Jessica Martin. Her facial expressions during the silent movie scenes were hilarious and I generally loved her portrayal of Lottie Ames.

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Mack and Mabel is yet another example for a high class fringe show that doesn’t have to hide behind the big West End productions. With a fantastic cast, a lovely score (“I won’t send roses” has to be one of the most beautiful and truthful love songs ever written) and a small yet very effective set.

As for the story itself: I think it’s a well told romance between two people who couldn’t be more different when it comes to their ideas of a relationship. My only criticism would be that the whole story is slightly obvious from the start. You can guess how the show is going to end pretty easily after the first few minutes. This one has the “no happy ending” stamp printed all over its cover.
But that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of Mack and Mabel. I had a wonderful time and can’t recommend this show enough. Please do consider watching this one over one of the big West End musicals and show your support for fringe theatre. You won’t be disappointed.

For more info and to book tickets go to http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/the-vault/mack-and-mabel/

Photos by http://www.annabelverephotography.com

Little Women in concert – Playhouse Theatre – June 24th 2012

29 Jun

On Sunday the 24th of June I attended a one-off concert performance of Steven Luke Walker’s adaption of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel Little Women. I knew the story of the March sisters through movie adaptions – I admit I’ve never gotten round to reading the actual novel, it’s on my to do list though!
However I had never come into contact with a musical adaption of the material so for me this was like experiencing a brand new show.

I very much enjoyed Steven Luke Walker’s songs. He has written some beautiful ballads for this musical which really capture the emotions in the story. Personally I would have liked a few more uptempo songs because as much as I loved the ballads I ended up thinking “There are SO many of them”. This is just a minor criticism though because all in all the score is simply beautiful.

Stand outs in the cast for me were the absolutely wonderful Gina Beck as Meg, Nikki Davis-Jones as Jo and Lisa-Anne Wood as Amy. I was especially surprised by Lisa-Anne who I had only seen as Cosette in Les Miserables so far. I admit I didn’t expect her to deliver the humor of her character so well. Lisa-Anne convinced me the moment she started singing. Her portrayal was spot on and even though this was just a concert performance she managed to bring her character to life.
I remember seeing Nikki as Chloe in the Take That musical Never Forget years ago. It was wonderful to see how far she has come since then. Currently stand by for Elphaba in Wicked she seemed to be an audience favourite (at least judging from the cheers she got whenever she was on stage). I really enjoyed her performance. A personal favourite has to be “The Critique”, a duet with Norman Bowman (Professor Bhaer).
Gina Beck brought heart and soul to her character and her voice suited the songs perfectly. The same goes for Sarah Lark who was absolutely wonderful as Beth. I’m pretty sure she would have me in tears in a full production of this show.
The rest of the cast did a fantastic job. Special mention for Norman Bowman, the fabulous German Scott – I still want to know what that first German sentence was supposed to mean though! I also loved seeing Daniel Boys on stage again. He has such a positive stage presence. Can we please get him back on stage in the West End sometime soon?

Sadly Samantha Barks wasn’t able to be there in the end. Maeve Byrne (supported by the fabulous GSA Choir) stepped in for her and sang “Once more” at the very end of the concert. And what treat that was. Make sure to watch out for her in the future!

The evening was hosted by Mark Shenton who lead the audience through the evening. Personally I think for someone who wasn’t familiar with Little Women it would have been a bit difficult to follow the story. But then this was advertised as a concert production so a bit of preparation by reading at least a synopsis of the story was a must anyway.

If I was to sum up the whole evening in one word it would be “delightful”. Hearing a great score sung by such amazingly talented people was a pure pleasure. It has definitely made me wish for a fully staged production of this show. I could imagine it in a theatre like the Trafalgar Studios or maybe one of the smaller West End theatres like the Gielgud Theatre.

Hopefully we will get to see more of Steven Luke Walker’s Little Women in the future. Although the story has been told a hundred times before this is a fresh approach which deserves to be seen by a wider audience.

Cast

Gina Beck: Meg
Helena Blackman: Belle Gardner
Norman Bowman: Professor Bhaer
Daniel Boys: Laurie
Nikki Davis-Jones: Jo
Sarah Lark: Beth
Shona Lindsay: Marmee
Jon Robyns: John Brooke
Lisa-Anne Wood: Amy

All proceeds of the evening went towards The Gingerbread Charity. Please check out there work at http://www.gingerbread.org.uk/.

Vampirette at the Manchester Opera House – May 12 2012 (matinee)

14 May

Vampirette – the name alone had me slightly worried. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I took my place inside the auditorium of the Manchester Opera House but I wasn’t expecting much to be honest.

This show tells the story of Vampi, a vampire girl who wants nothing more than to be a normal teenager – fashion, boys, the usual stuff. She meets Andrew, a friend of her brother Rudi, the two fall in love but of course he doesn’t know she’s a vampire. And than there’s the fact that Andrew’s last name is van Helsing and one of his ancestors has killed a member of Vampi’s family (yes, Dracula – you guessed it). To make things even worse the sleazy journalist Stanley Pea is on a mission to unveil the secret surrounding Vampi’s family.
It does sound like a bad piece of fanfiction, doesn’t it? And it would be just that if the show took itself seriously. However, Vampirette is a complete exaggeration of all those well-known vampire stories old and new. It’s a parody that takes the mickey out of every vampire cliché.

The cast is definitely the most outstanding part of this whole show. Jay Worthy as Dr. Acula and Caroline Deverill as Countess Zanguina do an all around great job. I have to mention their accents which are absolutely spot on throughout the show. Lauren Samuels plays Vampi(rette) and while her accent slipped a few times I enjoyed her performance. However the secret star of the show has to be Stuart Matthew Price as Andrew van Helsing who doesn’t just have an amazing voice, he also manages to make the audience laugh without turning his character into a complete fool. Adam C Booth plays Vampi’s brother Rudi – the stereotype of a playboy. While I loved his portrayal of the character (his facial expressions were hilarious!) I wasn’t totally convinced by his singing. His voice seemed a little weak especially compared to Stuart Matthew Price’s outstanding vocals. I wish Stanley Pea would get to sing a proper solo song – Norman Bowman has such a great voice and only gets to show it during the finale. I loved seeing him in this show though – he acts, he sings, he dances = triple treat.

The ensemble seemed a bit out of sync in parts but then one of the ensemble dancer had gone off with an injury the night before and without swings this ment last-minute changes with little to no chance to rehearse properly.
I really enjoyed Matthew Cole’s choreography which was passionate and vibrant. It’s great to see him do so well although I hope he won’t abandon his performing career completely.

Music wise this show definitely is a jukebox musical. From “Come fly with me” to “If you could read my mind” and “Moonlight shadow” – there wasn’t one song I didn’t recognise. I have to mention “Total eclipse of the heart” because the way they used and arranged that song was hilarious and rather brilliant. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen the show but that scene was definitely the highlight of the show for me.

Maybe some of you have seen Rock of Ages – in case you have and you enjoyed it I’m pretty sure you will like Vampirette. If you love your Sondheim and nothing else – don’t bother with this show.
Vampirette is a funny feel-good musical that doesn’t want to deliver a complicated message. It doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not and that’s what makes it a good show. It’s not a revolution in musical theatre and I’m pretty sure it’s not ready for the West End (yet). But it’s enjoyable and deserves a place in the theatre landscape.

For more info on the show and to book tickets go to http://www.vampirettethemusical.com/. But be quick, the show finishes on May 19th!

End of the Rainbow (UK Tour) – November 24th 2011

28 Nov

I’ve never had a special connection to Judy Garland. Yes, I’ve seen The Wizard of Oz (who hasn’t?) and yes, I know she’s a movie and musical icon. I like several of her songs. I think she was a huge talent. But I’ve never been what you would call a fan.

Still, when I saw End of the Rainbow at Trafalgar Studios for the first time I was a complete mess by the end of the show. I remember sitting there during the last song (that very famous Judy Garland song) with tears running down my face. That last scene was completely devastating and beautiful at the same time.

I was thrilled when I heard the show was going on tour and that Tracie Bennett was reprising her performance as Judy Garland. The fact that Norman Bowman was joining the tour cast to play Judy’s last husband Mickey Deans was the last little push I needed to sort out a date to watch the show in Richmond.

End of the Rainbow shows the tragic picture of the late Judy Garland – a psychological wreck, addicted to narcotics and alcohol, who wants to be loved for being herself but can’t and never will escape the icon that is Judy Garland and all the highs and lows that fame brings along.

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I’m sure everyone who has seen the show will agree when I say it doesn’t get much better than Tracie Bennett as Judy Garland. This is one of the rare moments of an actress playing the part of her life. It’s what every actor and actress dreams of – a role that just fits perfectly and allows you to really shine on stage. And Tracie Bennett does shine in End of the Rainbow. Her performance is breathtaking and mesmerizing. Whilst I’m not the biggest fan of her voice Tracie’s way of singing the big Judy Garland tunes is simply amazing. Her “Somewhere over the rainbow” at the very end of the show made me cry – the pure tragedy that was displayed in this last scene in combination with such a beautiful song was heartbreaking. The last play I watched was Jerusalem with Mark Rylance. I think Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow is for Tracie Bennett what Johnny Byron in Jerusalem is for Mark Rylance: A gift – a part that will be associated with you for all time and that makes people go “Wow, he/she is AMAZING in that part, no one could play it like that!”.

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Hilton McRae plays Anthony, Tracie’s pianist for the Talk of the town concerts in London. I loved his portrayal of the part during the show’s first run and I still loved it on tour. His Anthony has this typical dry, British humor but he’s also vulnerable and very concerned about Judy (as in Judy, the person and not Judy, the icon).

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Norman Bowman as Mickey Dean, my favourite addition to the tour cast. I’ve seen him in a few productions but all of them were musicals so it was nice to catch him in a part that concentrated on the acting alone. It must have been a challenge to join the established on stage team Tracie Bennett / Hilton McRae. But I can definitely say that Norman managed to fit in perfectly. His Mickey was both ambitious and concerned about Judy’s well being. Mickey loved Judy but he also loved success which means he was torn between giving Judy what she needed to function in the public eye and taking care of Judy as a person. I think the hardest thing when playing the role of Mickey Deans is to manage the mix between Mickey, the manager (who gives Judy drugs to make her go on stage) and Mickey, the fiancée (who loves Judy and doesn’t want her to destroy herself completely). Norman did just that – he found the perfect balance and really made Mickey a three dimensional character I could relate to.

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Robert Maskell in various small parts did a great job although one has to say the focus of the play is definitely on the three other performers. But it sure was nice to see him on stage again. I remember really enjoying his portrayal of Georges in La Cage aux Folles at the Playhouse Theatre a few years ago.

I’m curious to see how this show will work in the USA. It’s absolutely amazing for Tracie Bennett to get to perform the part on Broadway. I’m not entirely sure an American actor will be able to play Anthony the way he should be played (as in VERY British). Plus I think they should have taken Norman along – how amazing would that have been! But hey, at least he got to play this interesting part alongside Tracie Bennett. That alone must have been an experience and something to cherish for a lifetime.

I wish I could tell you all to go and see End of the Rainbow but sadly the tour has finished so in case you haven’t seen it already: Sorry, you missed out big time!

Haven’t I seen you on the telly?

10 Sep

I only started this whole blog thing a few days ago after being told by a lovely performer friend that I should have one. We were in this pub in Soho along with her boyfriend just before watching Jersey Boys and were talking about this and that. And whenever it came to anything theatre related I would skip in a “Oh, but that show is going into that theatre” or “He finishes in that show in a month”. Just random theatre news stuff really – for some reason I’m quite good at remembering things like that (I wish I would have been that good at remembering vocabulary back in my school days!!). So in the end she said “You should have a theatre blog!!”. Which brings me to the here and now. I’m sitting outside with my notebook. It’s a lovely day, apparantly the last day of summer if the weather forecast is right for once. And I’m thinking “Now that I’ve got this blog I actually have to be interesting!”. I do feel the pressure I promise you!

And since I have no show to review at this point (unless you want me to write about shows I’ve seen more than 2 weeks ago which I will if I get asked to do so!) I thought I’d squeeze in a piece about theatre and celebrities. Because lets face it, the Jude Law’s and Keira Knightley’s and Hugh Jackman’s of this world are a part of theatre life. More and more movie and tv actors (and sometimes even popstars) take the step onto a theatre stage.

I’ve had the chance to see quite a few well known people in plays and musicals. And yes, there have been shows I have gone to see especially because I wanted to see “that famous person” in it. It’s obvious producers like to put someone famous in a show as this almost guarantees an increase in ticket sales. And theatre is after all a business.
My biggest fear whenever I hear of a celebrity taking on a part in a show is that ticket sales are the only reason for casting that person. Who cares about talent? He/She is going to put bums on seats! So honestly, all the time I go and see a show that has someone more or less famous in it I’m filled with a kind of hesitation and I do try and lower my expectations. Of course, there are exceptions. When I went to see A Steady Rain with Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig on Broadway (front row seat I might add) I was over the moon with excitement! That was the theatrical event of the year for me and I had been raving about it for weeks and weeks before the actual day. No hesitation or low expectations – I was about to see Hugh Jackman on stage and I expected him to blow me away! And he did I can assure you. Both him and Daniel Craig were beyond amazing. And yes, I did meet them both and yes, I did get a pic with Mr. Jackman and yes, I was the happiest girl on the planet in that moment!

But those exceptions aside a celebrity on stage always fills me with worry. Will he/she be able to act properly, on a stage, in front of a live audience, with no chance to just shout “Cut!” and do the whole scene again?

Maybe I’ve just been lucky but so far I can honestly report I haven’t witnessed any complete disasters in that department. I admit I will never be fond of Duncan James’ Billy Flynn and I found his Warner a bit bland (but actually missed him when Richard Fleeshman took over – funny enough I loved Richard’s performance in Ghost!). But there has been no one who’s performance I really disliked. Actually a lot of famous people have surprised me by being proper stage actors and actresses. There was Daniel Radcliffe in Equus. Who thought little Harry Potter had it in him to take on a part like that? Yes, it was a bit of a shocker to see the guy run around the stage naked for what seemed like an eternity but I think he did really well in that play and I’m happy I got to see him.
Christian Slater in One Flew Over The Cockoo’s Nest – quite a dark part in a not very happy play and he was brilliant. Although I have to add that Mackenzie Crook (you know, that guy from The Office and the pirate with the fake eye from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies) stole the show for me. Amazing acting!
There was Josh Hartnett in Rain Man. I expected a pretty face and I got that plus a proper stage actor. He knew exactly where to pause and how to hold the audience’s attention.
Ben Barnes in Birdsong – pure charisma on stage! Matthew Fox in In A Forest Dark And Deep – there’s definitely more to that guy than Jack from Lost. Ethan Hawke in A Winter’s Tale – he can even sing, I didn’t know that!
Jeff Goldblum in Speed-the-Plow and Prisoner Of Second Avenue – two great performances which I enjoyed tremendously. Rowan Atkinson in Oliver – such a versatile actor who played Fagin with just the right mixture of humor and danger. John Stamos in Bye Bye Birdie on Broadway – the show was a small disaster (cheap set, not so great child actors and the whole thing was rather tacky) but it did keep me entertained and that was mainly due to John. He was funny and he could sing. Gillian Anderson in A Doll’s House – I’ve been watching the X-Files right from the start (I can still throw random quotes from the show at you without thinking about it) so I was a little biased. But that woman, as tiny as she is, has such a huge amount of talent that it didn’t even occur to me to see Scully from The X-Files. I saw Nora from Henrik Ibsen’s play.
Ewan McGregor in Guys and Dolls – the man can sing and dance and act. I might add that he wasn’t my favourite Sky Masterson (Norman Bowman and Sebastien Torkia share that throne) but I definitely enjoyed his performance a lot. Jude Law in Hamlet – what a breathtaking performance and I’m usually not someone who really enjoys Shakespeare.

Ok, not every performance was flawless and amazing. David Schwimmer in Some Girls – the guy did well but basically he was just Ross from Friends on that stage. It fit the character he portrayed but it didn’t convince me of him as a stage actor. After all this was no real challenge, he’d had years to perfect Ross. Keira Knightley in The Misanthrope was alright but nothing outstanding if you ask me (but then the play itself wasn’t my thing either). And David Hasselhoff in Chicago – I’m not going to say anything nasty about The Hoff! He was my childhood hero (there, I’ve said it!!) and I will always have a soft spot for him. And his Billy Flynn was entertaining and not that bad. He certainly seemed to enjoy being on stage. It’s just once you’ve seen people like Alex Bourne play the part you know how it should be done.

The one thing I don’t like is putting wannabe clebrities on stage in the hope of selling more tickets which mostly happens in musical theatre. There are talented people out there for those parts. People who have worked hard to succeed in the business and who deserve a chance to shine. And yet they get pushed aside by so called “names” who often lack the voice and the skills for the part they play.
So, I say yes to celebrities on stage if they have what it takes. And from my experience the really famous people are often the ones with the real talent. Only very few less known celebs (but still celebs as people will say “Haven’t I seen her/him on the telly?” when they see their picture or read their name) have convinced me of being worthy of their part in a West End show. And that always leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth as I know those people are standing on that stage just because they are who they are and nothing more. As much as I do understand the need to sell a show to Joe Public it shouldn’t be necessary to do so by putting names on stage. The aim should be to produce shows that sell because the audience wants to see the show and not “so and so” in the show. It’s possible! Look at Wicked or Jersey Boys for example.

Sadly the general public often expects to get something “special” (and who can blame them for 65 quid) and in these days that often involves well known people on stage. I really wish people would start to admire and respect the theatre more and actually enjoy being entertained by a good story, a good score and a talented cast. Well, I can always dream, right?

And by the way, I didn’t mention Kevin Spacey in this blog because let’s face it: Kevin Spacey may be a celebrity but he’s also Kevin Spacey! The man is an acting genius and clearly belongs on a theatre stage.