Tag Archives: Rolan Bell

We will rock you at Heineken Music Hall, Amsterdam – 11th April 2013

16 Apr

We will rock you is without a doubt one of the (if not the) most successful Jukebox musicals of all time. The show has been running at the Dominion Theatre in London since 2002 and is now touring European arenas to celebrate its 10th anniversary. Based on the music of Queen this show is all about great rock songs and big voices. Ben Elton’s script has some funny moments, however the story is rather random and definitely not the focus main of the show. Personally I’ve always looked at We will rock you as a rock concert with a bit of a story in between. And I’m not saying that in a negative way. I used to watch this show a lot a couple of years ago and I have fond memories of my visits to the Dominion Theatre.

This tour production is scaled down slightly which is understandable. It would be impossible to tour the Dominion. There’s no trapdoor in the middle of the stage and no rotating stage lift. The lack of the latter means Killerqueen and Khashoggi do a lot of walking around on stage during “A kind of magic” which I had to get used to first – I didn’t really miss anything set-wise though.
There were a few sound issues on the night and sometimes the music drowned out parts of the singing which was a shame. However, it didn’t spoil my overall enjoyment of the show.

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The anniversary tour is led by MiG Ayesa as Galileo. Having seen MiG play the part almost 10 years ago in London I have really been looking forward to catching his performance one more time. He is not the vocally strongest Galileo out of all performers I’ve seen in the part but his voice suits the songs really well and he definitely makes the part his own. His Galileo is playful and likeable. I don’t even mind that he doesn’t actually fit into the role age-wise anymore. MiG is just a wonderful Galileo with so much enthusiasm for his role and the show. It’s simply a joy to watch.

Lauren Samuels plays Scaramouche and once again proves why she received such rave reviews for her portrayal of the part at the Dominion Theatre. Her Scaramouche is funny without losing her vulnerable side and she has a beautiful and strong voice. I especially loved to hear her “Who wants to live forever” (with MiG) – such a tender moment in an otherwise rather loud and in your face kind of show.

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Sean Kingsley’s Khashoggi doesn’t stand out acting wise for me. However, I completely love his take on “Seven Seas of Rhye”. He has quite an edgy rock voice and some of the notes he hits are just insane.

My personal highlight of the show has to be Jenna Lee-James’ Killerqueen. I have been lucky enough to catch Jenna as Meat Loaf and Scaramouche when she played the parts at the Dominion Theatre a few years ago. She remains my all time favourite Scaramouche and I’m thrilled I now got the chance to see her take on Killerqueen. Jenna has a stunning voice which fits the part perfectly. Her “Another one bites the dust” is nothing but amazing and it is great to see her play the villain for a change. Until now Mazz Murray has been my favourite Killerqueen by far (and everyone who has seen her will probably agree that she was absolutely perfect in the part). But I can safely say that Jenna has taken her place right next to Mazz in my all time favourites.

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I quite like Lucie Jones’ Meat Loaf but I admit she doesn’t blow me away. She’s a good singer but I think her voice lacks a bit of power especially during “I want it all”. Next to Lauren Samuels she doesn’t quite manage to stand out.

Rolan Bell plays Britney Spears on this tour and I admit I just can’t warm to his portrayal of the part. It’s probably not even his fault as my main issues are down to the way the part is written these days. Britney used to have a bit of dignity but now the role is a walking joke. I really dislike the mocking way in which the Welsh accent is used. And the whole karate thing is just too much in my opinion.

Rob Castell’s Pop is highly entertaining. I’ve never been a fan of the part itself so the fact that I actually enjoyed Rob’s performance speaks for itself. His Gollum impression is the best I have seen and I loved his “These are the days of our lives”.

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All in all this tour is a fun night out – it has great songs, some stunning voices and is simply a great celebration of Queen. If you like the music you will enjoy the show. If you are expecting thoughtful theatre this one is not for you.

I had a brilliant time watching the show again and seeing Jenna and MiG brought back wonderful memories of my days at the Dominion Theatre. If you get the chance please go and check out this tour. It’s a great chance to see We will rock you in the original English version. And although the script has been changed quite a lot since the show’s opening 10 years ago (and not for the better if you ask me) this show still rocks!

For more info on the tour visit http://www.wewillrockyou.co.uk/tour/.

You can check out my interview with Jenna Lee-James here.

 

Ragtime at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre – July 14th 2012 (evening)

18 Jul

A visit to the Open Air Theatre in the middle of July. It seemed like a brilliant idea at the time of booking – a lovely summer evening and maybe a picnic before the show. In the end I spend about 3/4 of the performance sitting in the pouring rain (my wallet took 2 days to dry completely!).
But that’s the risk with performance spaces like Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. I’ll just call this a challenge completed because yes, I did sit through the whole performance despite the weather.

But on to the show: Ragtime (based on E L Doctorow’s novel from 1975). This musical is all about life in Amerika at the beginning of the 20th century focusing on three different groups. There’s an upper-middle class family, a Jewish immigrant and his daughter and a black musician and his girlfriend. The lives of these people intertwine as they deal with issues such as immigration, politics, racism and social challenges of the time. The story is quite complicated but really interesting and well told. In case you want to take a closer look at it I recommend you read through the plot summary here: http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/ragtime/summary.html

This production has quite a modern feel to it with the big banner of President Obama in the background of the stage. I’m not too convinced by the set I have to admit. It looks a lot like a random garbage dump and reminds me of a set one would use for Cats. There’s a piano on one side of the stage where the house of Mother and her family is set and various scenes take place on a slight elevation on the left side of the stage. I know a set doesn’t have to be detailed or naturalistic but I just didn’t see the point in letting the characters walk around in a dump. That might be just my lack of understanding for a new and modern approach to this show though.

The cast is the real stand out in this production (with few exceptions). First of all there is the wonderful Rosalie Craig as Mother. She is without a doubt the star of the show and brings such a warmth to her character that is it impossible not to be impressed by her performance. Plus her voice is nothing but beautiful and suits the songs perfectly. Rolan Bell plays Coalhouse Walker (father of Sarah’s child and leader of the black group). He seems to struggle with the songs now and then and in my opinion his portrayal of the character is slightly too angry and imature which makes it hard to be on his side no matter what injustice he experiences.
Claudia Kariuki on the other hand brings a tear to the audience’s eye with her moving portrayal of Sarah, the black woman who first abandons her newborn child and is then invited to stay with Mother and her family.
John Marquez plays Tateh, the Jewish immigrant who comes to America with his little daughter in search for a better life, with a twinkle in the eye while never losing sight of the struggle the character goes through.
David Birrell gives a fabulous performance as Father and manages to give the audience a great insight into the inner turmoil of the character. His singing is spot on and I particularly enjoyed seeing him and Rosalie act together.
Both Harry Hepple and Jo Servi do a good job as Brother and Grandfather. I would have loved to hear Harry sing more as I loved his voice when I saw him in Pippin at the Menier Chocolate Factory.
I would like to give a special mention to Stephane Anelli (Harry Houdini) who never fails to make me smile with his amazing dancing and his great facial expressions (which can be hilarious if the part allows a funny interpretation). Special kudos for dancing like this on a wet and slippery stage and for performing those Houdini tricks (or rather stunts!) in the rain.

My one major criticism regarding the casting is the mixing up of gender and race. I have nothing against colour-blind casting, don’t get me wrong! But having a black guy play the white grandfather and a woman the male Booker T Washington just makes this already quite complicated piece even harder to understand. If Ragtime was a well-known musical it probably wouldn’t matter but most visitors will most likely never have seen the show and the different storylines are difficult enough to follow without adding cross-race and cross-gender casting.

As the title of the show suggests the score is very much influenced by the ragtime era so it has a jazzy and partly gospel feel to it and makes good use of the piano. The title song “Ragtime” is definitely a catchy tune and big ensemble numbers like “Till we reach that day” are quite spectacular to listen to. I probably wouldn’t listen to a lot of the songs at home but I really enjoyed them in context with the story.

Ragtime is certainly not an easy musical and I highly doubt it will please theatregoers that are focused on feel-good shows and who want to spent a relaxing evening at the theatre without having to think too hard (and there’s nothing wrong with that, I do it as well to get away from the busy and hectic everyday life now and then). However, if you want to see a show that intertwines history and fiction to tell a story of personal drama, change and everyday problems of people in America in the early 20th century this is the piece for you. This production is by no means perfect but the stellar cast alone is worth braving the British “summer” and spending an evening at the Open Air Theatre.

Ragtime is showing at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre until September 8th. For more info and to book tickets go to http://www.openairtheatre.com/production/ragtime-the-musical.