Jersey Boys Returns To Birmingham In Style

It lays a claim to being the greatest musical of them all, and last night it started it’s UK tour with a press night at the New Alexandra Theatre in serious style. Jersey Boys, the story of the Four Seasons, is the musical that has it all – instantly recognisable songs, strong performances, and a story that is so incredible in its highs and lows it could almost be a work of fiction. The fact that it is all true makes this truly special – potent theatrical magic that is simply mesmorising.

jerseyboys-sq

The story of Frankie Valli and the original Four Seasons is the stuff of legends. When Tommy DeVito hears Frankie Castelluccio (Valli) sing, he knows that his amazing falsetto voice could be the key to stardom for his band. But run ins with the law, numerous line up changes and a set list based on cover versions of standards all hinder their rise to any sort of fame. It is only when former teenage one hit wonder (‘He wears short shorts’) and songwriter Bob Gaudio joins the group that they hit on the magic formula of pop hits that will lead to super stardom. However, Tommy’s debts and dodgy dealings catch up with the Four Seasons at the height of their fame, leaving the band in pieces and Frankie to go it alone, with Bob as songwriter behind the scenes. But the brilliant pop they create at their height means they are destined for an appearance in musics Hall of Fame, a legendary group with an incredible back story and back catalogue.

Photos by Brinkhoff Mögenburg

Frankie is played by Michael Watson. He delivers a faultless performance, with his wonderful falsetto voice a great match for those faultless songs, particular in the sublime rendition of ‘Can’t take my eyes off You’. He also shows great acting talent too, showing how Frankie grows from a gauche teenager to a man in charge of his own destiny, you really feel his heartbreak over his marriage and loss of his daughter. Simon Bailey is  fabulous as Tommy, playing the role as a brutal, bullish bully who is never quite as in control of ‘his’ band as he thinks. He has many of the best one liners in the show, and he delivers them in perfect, New Jersey wisecracking style. Tommy is his own worst enemy, but it is hard not to like him, and his interactions with a young Joe Pesci are a hoot.

Declan Egan is also perfect in the role of Bob Gaudio, playing the former teen protegee as the voice of reason, wise beyond his years, but also with a sense of fun, especially during the ‘Oh what a night’ scene midway through the first half. Rounding out the trio is Nick Massi, once again played as a man of few words by Lewis Griffiths. He describes himself as the Ringo of the group, and has one of the funniest scenes when he describes what it has been like to share a room for 10 years with Tommy De Vito. This is the most expression he exhibits during a brilliant, poker faced performance. Lewis is the quiet hero of the piece and I love the way he plays the role, a cool and laconic star.

Left to right: Declan Egan, Michael Watson, Simon Bailey, Lewis Griffiths
by Brinkhoff Mögenburg

The musical harmonies in those classic songs are spine-tingling  and brilliant, with the trio of Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry and Walk like a man a definite high point. But there are so many other brilliant songs, from the poignant ‘My eyes adored you’, to the angriness of ‘Beggin’, the urgency of ‘Let’s hang on’ to the triumphant comeback single ‘Who loves you’, that in any other musical, every song could be a high point.

So much more than a jukebox musical, Jersey Boys is brutal and brilliant, shocking and funny, with the most wonderful soundtrack around.Jersey Boys is the must see show in Birmingham this Christmas

Jersey Boys New Alexandra Theatre

Until 6th January 2018. Click here for ticket information.

Peter Pan – Christmas In Neverland Is Coming Soon To The Arena Birmingham

The Worlds Biggest Pantomime is back in Birmingham for a host of new Christmas shows this December. The latest show is ‘PETER PAN- CHRISTMAS IN NEVERLAND’, a stunning new spectacular super-sized for the Arena Birmingham stage. It promises to be a stunning, unmissable Christmas spectacle that is not to be missed, whether you are seven or seventy!

PETER PAN – CHRISTMAS IN NEVERLAND stars Bradley Walsh as Mr Smee, Martin Kemp as Captain Hook and Matt Knight as Peter Pan. Bradley says: “I’m so excited to be appearing in PETER PAN. It really is an extraordinary production, the like of which has never been seen before!  It has a life-size galleon, a 25 foot crocodile, plus a cast of over 100!  It’s a big, bold arena extravaganza and a festive treat with something for everyone.

J.M. Barries original story and characters will be brought to life in PETER PAN – CHRISTMAS IN NEVERLAND, by a cast of over 100 performers, including a thrilling team of BMX riders, stuntmen and trapeze artists, along with a seven-metre-long animatronic crocodile! This amazing new show will be performed across three arena stages on a stunning movie-style Neverland set.  The Jolly Roger Galleon will sail around the arena in front of a 10,000-gallon water wall.  From any position in the audience, you are close to the action, with a giant 60 feet-wide LED screen, computer graphic imagery and a live close-up TV-relay ensuring never a moment is missed.

 PETER PAN – CHRISTMAS IN NEVERLAND is directed by Jon Conway, designed by Wellington Scenic, with lighting design by Jamie Corbidge and sound design by Dave Shepherd, and is presented by arrangement with Great Ormond Street Hospital Childrens Charity & Samuel French Ltd.

PETER PAN- CHRISTMAS IN NEVERLAND

 20-24 December, Arena Birmingham

 Tickets for the new Arena Birmingham show are on general sale from 9am 17 November 2017 from www.theticketfactory.com or by calling 0844 33 88 222 *Calls cost 7p per minute plus your phone company’s access charge.  Tickets for all other performances are on sale now.  Tickets priced at £27.90/£41.40/£52.20/£60.30 (Prices include admin fees and 90p facility fee) + £2.55 fulfilment fee per order.

Website:  www.worldsbiggestpanto.com

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/biggestpanto

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/Biggest_Panto

101 Dalmatians at the Rep Birmingham – Just Wonderful

How a 101 Dalmatians would play as a stage show, particularly one based more on the Dodie Smith book rather than the Disney version was a question that I had been asking, particularly after watching a rehearsal session early last month. The answer is that it is a totally wonderful, heartwarming piece of theatre that makes you laugh, makes you cry, makes you gasp at the sheer brilliance of the puppetry, and gasp at what is the cutest spectacle you will see all Winter. It is, is short, a masterpiece that I totally fell in love with.

Morgan Philpott_Mr Dearly Nadi Kemp-Sayfi _Mrs Dearly Oliver Wellington_Pongo Emma Thornett_Missis credit: Graeme Braidwood

Pongo and Missis meet when their owners fall in love. It is love at first sight for the dalmatians too, and soon they are one big happy family, a happiness that is further enhanced by the news that Missis is expecting a delivery of pups. But that happiness is short lived when Mrs Dearly bumps into an old school friend, Cruella De Vil, a fur obsessed creature who takes and unhealthy interest in the puppies. Little do the Dearly’s know that Cruella is currently coveting, indeed obsessing over a dalmatian fur coat, and needs the dalmatian pups to make her warped dream a reality. The Dearly’s refuse to sell their puppies to her, but there is more than one way to skin a pup, and with the help of her husband Horace, and her henchmen the Badduns, she devises a plan to steal the puppies and get her coat. Will Pongo and Missis, and their friend Perdita, get the puppies back before Cruella is able to carry out her evil plan?

Morgan Philpott (Mr Dearly) Gloria Onitiri (Cruella) with Pongo & Missis credit: Graeme Braidwood

First we need to talk about the puppets that dominate the stage for large parts of the show. The range of ways that have been developed by puppetry designer Jimmy Grimes to house so many dogs on the stage are both ingenious and delightful. They truly enchant the audience, particularly the youngest members. There are a range of dogs and cats, as well as the dalmatians, and the fact that they dogs have been created to resemble their owners is just a wonderful, funny touch. In addition, all the animals have their own character and personality that is brought to live wonderfully by the talented puppeteers. In particular, Pongo, Perdita and Missis are exquisite, given their own unique personalities and mannerisms by Oliver Wellington, Lakesha Cammock and Emma Thornett. You feel their pain at losing their puppies, and this is no mean feat when you are working with animal puppets.

Oliver Wellington (Pongo) credit: Graeme Braidwood

Of course, there are also acting performances by humans in this play, and, in Gloria Onitiri, we have a true Cruella who dismisses the other Cruella’s with just a swish of her fur cape. She is phenomenal, dominating the stage with her style, beauty and cruelness. Her monologues, which she sings, are so powerful and memorable, and, it has to be said, wickedly funny too. She may not have got her wish to get that coat, but you know she would have totally rocked it, in all honesty.

Gloria Onitiri (Cruella de Vil) credit: Graeme Braidwood

Cruella is supported brilliantly by the fabulous Jo Servi as Horace. The dynamics of his relationship with Cruella are integral to the play, and they have wonderful chemistry together. Highlights of his performance include the jazzy 1920s dance routines that he performs with Cruella, and his own final monologue.

Luke Murphy (Saul) Lewis Griffin (Jasper) Gloria Onitiri (Cruella de Vil) Jo Servi (Horace De Vil) credit: Graeme Braidwood

The Dearly’s are lovely. Nadi Kemp-Sayfi is perfect as Mrs Dearly, the right combination of kindness, and a bit of insecurity when Cruella is around. Morgan Philpott shines as Mr Dearly, having a lot of the shows funny lines as he gets confused over whether it is his wife, or the dog that is pregnant, and also very funny as he describes Cruella, unaware she is listening to every word.

The Badduns are also hilariously funny in their ineptness and reluctance to hurt the puppies. They have so many funny moments, from their dance routine to something that resembles ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, to the way they try to catch the escaping puppies, encountering the older dogs and the feisty cat Tibbs (Mei Mac). Their musical number is performed with verve and swagger, and even though they are bad through and through, the audience absolutely loved them.

Luke Murphy (Saul) Lewis Griffin (Jasper) and ensemble credit: Graeme Braidwood

The whole play is flawless, from the pastel coloured sets, the stunning costumes worn by Gloria Onitiri, to the perfection of the direction from Tessa Walker.

This is one show that should not be missed this Christmas. It is simply stunning.

101 Dalmatians

Birmingham Rep

30 Nov 2017 – 13 Jan 18

Click here for ticket information