Tag Archives: Sebastien Torkia

Top Hat (UK Tour) – New Theatre, Oxford

16 Feb

I love classic American dance musicals. I grew up watching Gene Kelly movies and I always adored great dancing. So I don’t really know why it took me so long to check out Top Hat, a show that has been in the West End for a while before embarking on a UK tour last summer.

But no matter how long it has taken me, I’m glad I finally managed to see this wonderful show. Top Hat is pure entertainment, a slightly cheesy but never boring evening out.

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The cast is led by Alan Burkitt (Jerry Travers) who sings and dances his way through the story with such ease it is hard to take your eyes off him. He is charming, lovable and cheeky and quite simply a joy to watch.

Charlotte Gooch plays Dale Tremont with grace and elegance. Seeing her and Alan dancing together certainly is worth the ticket price alone.

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The two leads are joined by a brilliant supporting cast. Rebecca Thornhill is wonderfully feisty as Madge Hardwick and Sebastien Torkia’s Alberto Beddini is hilariously funny. If only he got to show off his great voice in more than just one song. A special mention goes to John Conroy as Bates who really owns the dry humour in the show.

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The star of the show is the choreography. It doesn’t get much better than seeing the whole company dancing to some of the most glorious musical songs ever written. The story may be a little thin and predictable but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. In this show the story simply supports the magic of song and dance that come together so perfectly in this timeless classic.

The set – while maybe a little dated by now – fits in with the style of the time and provides the perfect surrounding for this musical experience.

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Top Hat is exactly what a musical should be like – it’s funny, heartwarming and entertaining. It has great dancing, songs that stick in your head and a cast that is mesmerising to watch. What can I say? They just don’t make them like this anymore.

You can catch Top Hat on tour until 25th July 2015. For more info and tour dates visit http://www.tophatonstage.com.

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Sweeney Todd at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester – 9th November 2013

12 Nov

Sweeney Todd – without a doubt one of Sondheim’s most gruesome musicals – tells the story of Benjamin Barker, the so-called demon barber of Fleet Street. It is one of those shows that requires perfect casting especially for the part of Sweeney to make me enjoy it.

The Royal Exchange Theatre is a unique performing space located in the middle of the Royal Exchange building and configured in the round. This production of Sweeney Todd had its first run at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds on a regular stage. To fit the production into the Royal Exchange Theatre the staging had to be changed completely. Since I haven’t seen the show in Leeds I can’t compare the two versions but for me the staging in the round worked perfectly. The setting of the different levels (pie show downstairs, barber shop upstairs for example) is well done in a theatre that due to its nature only offers one stage level.

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David Birrell gives what one might consider to call the performance of a lifetime as Sweeney Todd. Vocally strong he displays layers and layers of emotions – from anger to rage, sadness to despair, moments of joy to madness. His Sweeney is a maniac but he is not a one-dimensional killer. He has his motives – however crazy and out of proportion they may seem – and in order to connect with the character the audience needs to understand these motives. David Birrell manages to draw the audience in and make them actually care for Sweeney Todd. This is exactly how the character needs to be played – I was and still am in awe of David Birrell’s mesmerising performance.

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Gillian Bevan’s Mrs. Lovett is the perfect counterpart for David Birrell’s Sweeney. She plays the character with just the right amount of humour while not losing sight of Mrs. Lovett’s manipulative nature.

I’m impressed by Sebastien Torkia as Adolfo Pirelli. The part involves some tough singing and he manages this effortlessly (or at least he makes it look like that). I’m not sure it is necessary to transform him into a Sasha Baron Cohen / Borat lookalike but it doesn’t hurt the show either.

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Ben Stott is wonderful als Tobias and Michael Peavoy does one of my favourite Sondheim songs of all time justice (Johanna). Speaking of Johanna, I admit I’m not convinced by Niamh Perry in the part of Sweeney’s daughter but that might have to do with the fact that it is by far my least favourite part in the show anyway. I just think her voice seems a bit shrill at times and she doesn’t come across as really innocent and slightly naive which I think is crucial for the part.

Don Gallagher is wonderfully repellent as Judge Turpin – to say I was relieved of being spared of facing him in a certain scene involving a whip is an understatement.

The rest of the cast does a brilliant job. Special mention for Barbara Drennan as Beggar Woman – crazed and manic but not offensive, a perfect portrayal of this small but vital character.

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I like the modern-day setting and think the pre show is a great idea to get people in the mood for this production – I won’t spoil anything by adding more details! Sweeney Todd is not the most melodic show in parts (but then which Sondheim show is?) but it consists of some wonderful harmonies and hearing the score sung by such a talented cast is a real joy.

If you think you have already seen the best production of Sweeney Todd – think again. Sadly this is a strictly limited run but if you want to see how Sweeney Todd should be performed then go and watch the show at the Royal Exchange Theatre. The run finishes on 30th November so you better be quick.

For more info and to book tickets go here.

Saturday Night Fever Cologne remembered

13 Jun

If you have been following my blog you might have guessed by now that I am what one could call a theatre geek. I adore theatre. It’s by far my favourite way of spending my free time and I honestly couldn’t imagine my life without the arts.

And in just a little over 2 weeks a very special date is coming up. June 30th 2012 will mark the 10th anniversary of the last performance of the show that started it all of: Saturday Night Fever in Cologne. It wasn’t the first musical I’d seen in my life but it was the one that really made me into what I am today: A complete theatre enthusiast.
It’s funny because I can’t even name the exact date of my first visit to Saturday Night Fever (although I’m 100% sure I still have the ticket somewhere in my ticket collection). It must have been sometime in autumn 1999 and I remember the ticket was a gift from my parents – they are probably still blaming themselves for my theatre addiction.

Group shot taken on the last day of the show

So, Saturday Night Fever – yes, the musical adaption of the popular movie. And yes, a German production of the show (meaning German dialogues and English songs). Until then I had never seen the same production more than 3 times and I had never been a regular at any theatre. But this changed once I got hooked on this colourful show with all its catchy tunes and fabulous choreography. During the first year my visits were rare – first of all I still regarded watching a musical a very special occasion and then I was only a student back then which ment money was quite tight. It wasn’t until late summer 2000 that I started making monthly visits to the show. And from 2001 on those visits became weekly until I was basically living inside the theatre. I remember one of the dressers telling me and a friend: “You are not fans! You are  part of the theatre!” I’m sure some of the people who worked at the theatre thought we were crazy and I don’t blame them. But we never felt out-of-place. No, actually it was like being part of a community. There were us few regulars, the front of house people (the theatre wouldn’t have been the same without Hamid – I wish I knew what he was doing today), the “Bistro” people (which was the theatre’s little bar – we could spend all day in there without getting bored thanks to Rainer – the owner – and his staff), the backstage people (Ralfi who was running the theatre canteen, for example, or Hubert from stage door – such a one of a kind person!) and the cast.
Whilst everyone except us was doing a job there it was more than just work for most of those guys and girls. Saturday Night Fever was special and we – the supporters of the show – were in a way part of this very special show.

Michelle Escano (Maria) and Robb Morris (Chester)

Before Saturday Night Fever I had never spoken to a performer and suddenly I was right in the middle of a bunch of lovely and talented people from around the world. Those guys loved their job (with few exceptions – you will always get a few people who are just in it for the money) and they loved being part of the Night Fever family. And the thing that was most extraordinary for me at the time was that they accepted us – the fans – and made us feel welcome and appreciated. Not once during my 2,5 years at that theatre did I feel like the cast didn’t want me there or was getting annoyed by my presence. I will always cherish the friendliness I experienced from those people who were working so hard to put on a great show for the audience day by day and who would always have a nice word for me and my friends despite being busy and often simply beyond tired.

Aykut Hilmi (Doube J) and Gerald Marko (ensemble)

It has been almost 10 years now since Saturday Night Fever left the blue tent (that’s what we called the Musical Dome which is the theatre the show ran in – google it and you will understand why). I have seen other productions of this show over the years and I loved most of them. But none ever came close to the Cologne production. It wasn’t just a show – it was a huge part of my life at the time. I’ve met so many amazing people through this production, a lot of whom I am still in contact with today.
I am proud to call some of the performers I have met through Saturday Night Fever my friends today. Some of them are still performing – a few even in London. I will go and see them in whatever show they are in or we’ll just meet up for a catch up when time allows. And most of them have nothing but the fondest memories of their time in Cologne.

Curtain call, last performance on June 30 2002

Even if you have never seen Saturday Night Fever you might recognise a few of the performers who were part of the show. To name just a few:
Peter Johansson (who went on to play Galileo in We will rock you London)
Mike Denman (Contact, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Chicago, Never Forget and currently Wizard of Oz – all in London)
Ashley Hale (Guys and Dolls, Dirty Dancing, Jersey Boys and lately Shrek in London to name just a few)
Luke Jackson (yes, the guy from “So you think you can dance”)
Sebastien Torkia (Guys and Dolls and currently playing Ed in the Lion King in London)
Matthew Cole  (understudy for Adam/Felicia in the original London cast of Priscilla)
Michael Rouse (Legolas in Lord of the Rings in London)
Stephane Anelli (Jose in Never Forget to name just one show and currently appearing at Regents Park Open Air Theatre)
Aykut Hilmi (he has just started as a regular in East Enders)

The two performers I am especially grateful to have met can’t go unnamed although most of you won’t have heard of them: Marc Seitz and Matthew Huet. Both are exceptionally talented and all in all fantastic guys and I feel very lucky to know them.

Me and Matthew Huet (Cesar) in 2000

So, what is the point of this post? I simply wanted to share a few memories of a very special time in my theatre life. Without Saturday Night Fever I might never have become the theatre addict I am today – and trust me, I love being a theatre addict!
I’ve seen various shows over the years and met a lot of lovely people (performers, fans etc) but nothing will ever come close to the Night Fever times. Maybe it has to do with the fact that this was my first ever experience of theatre life. But mostly it’s because I don’t think there will ever be a theatre community like this again – the people, the theatre, the production – it was perfect.Like Cheyenne (Double J and Tony Manero in the show) used to say: Keep the fever!
This simple quote is still valid even after 10 years and I’m sure for everyone that was part of this show in any way it will never lose its meaning.

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.