Frothy and Fabulous – Hairspray arrives in Birmingham

Big, bold, bright and beautiful and that could just be describing the leading lady Tracey Turnblad, Hairspray arrived in suitably glittering style at the Birmingham Hippodrome last night. The musical, which mixes the fun and frolics of the Corny Collins show, with the dark undercurrents of racial inequality in 1960s Baltimore, received a standing ovation from an ecstatic audience who had been thoroughly entertained. As the final song exclaims, you really can’t stop the beat. Last night, Birmingham couldn’t stop the beat!

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Tracey Turnblad is a big girl growing up in 1960s Baltimore, but that doesn’t stop her being confident, cool and full of ambitions. She wants to be the newest dancer on the Corny Collins show and wants to win the man of her dreams, teen hunk Link Larkin. Whilst spending time in detention (again) she forms a friendship with black teenager Seaweed and his friends, a group she had seen on the Corny Collins show during ‘Negro Day’. They teach her their style of dancing (the Peyton Place) and she soon catches the eye of both Corny Collins and her beloved Link, but buoyed by her loving and supportive parents Edna and Wilbur, and Seaweed’s mother, Motormouth Maybelle, her dreams start to shift to something more serious and important, racial integration on the Corny Collins show. It is a serious message of ugly times, hidden in the froth and fun of the brightest musical around.

The whole ensemble cast is faultless, there is not a wrong move, with exceptional singing and dancing, comedic episodes and moments of real pathos. But there are still standouts even within the perfection. The brilliant Rebecca Mendoza, in her stage debut,  was born to play Tracey, she is a ball of energy and enthusiasm who literally lights up the stage – you are always waiting for her to return to the stage when she is not there.  Her partner in crime is the hilarious Annalise Liard-Bailey as Penny Pingleton, all sweetness and dipsy one liners.  Teen Dream support is also offered by Layton Williams and Edward Chitticks as Seaweed and Link, both showing great singing talent and skilled dance moves. Layton Williams in particular, is a polished and charismatic performer, another stand out in a cast at the top of its game.

As Edna and Wilbur, Matt Rixon and Norman Pace are wonderful, their sense of comedic timing only matched by the warmth and charm of their performances. Gina Murray hams up a storm as the manipulative Velma Von Tussle, having great fun in her villainous role, while Brenda Edwards (Motormouth Maybelle) manages to just about bring the house down with her emotional, passionate performance of ‘I know where I’ve been’. All in all, the perfect cast performing the perfect feel good musical.

With costumes to die for, infectious, retro sounding songs that you feel like you’ve heard before, and a live band on stage providing the icing on the cake, Hairspray is a fabulous treat you should definitely indulge in this Autumn.As those dark nights draw in, Hairspray brings a riot of sparkle and colour. Go see!

Hairspray

 

Tuesday 10th – Saturday 14th October, Birmingham Hippodrome.

Click here for ticket information

 

Reviewed: Penguin Cafe Mixed Programme

The Autumn season of the Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Birmingham Hippodrome began last night with the Penguin Cafe mixed programme, an eclectic collection of three short ballets headlined by the sublime ‘Still Life’ at the Penguin Cafe. The triple hander showed the diversity of ballet, from the Ragtime dancing of Elite Syncopations, to the Morris dancing of ‘Penguin Cafe’, right through to the paired back, beautiful simplicity of Concerto.

Concerto

A bare stage, plain rehearsal style costumes and the stirring music of Shostakovich, Concerto is a ballet that definitely has two moods. The first and third act are upbeat and lively, but it is the second act dance that stays in the memory, a lucid, sensuous pas de deux that, on this occasion, was performed to perfection by Jenna Roberts and Tyrone Singleton.

‘Still Life’ at the Penguin Cafe

There is one word that perfectly sums up ‘Penguin Cafe’ and that is enchanting. But although the story raises smile after smile through the characterisation of the endangered species, it also has a series message about the conservation of these disappearing animals. The wonderful opening scene features the penguin of the title, in actual fact the know extinct The Great Auk, danced by the wonderful Ruth Brill in ‘Air A Danser’, this is an elegant dance that brings to mind 1930s tea dances, particularly with the bias cut evening gowns of the female dancers.

We then see the humour of the wonderfully loveable Texas Kangeroo Rat (Tzu-Chao Chou), struggling to get comfortable as he tries to sleep and delighting the audience with his incessant scratching. It is a fine performance by Tzu-Chao Chou, filled with warmth and funny moments. The scratching leads neatly to fantastically named Humboldt’s Hig-Nosed Skunk Flea, danced with light hearted finesse by Laura Day, and given exquisite, and hilarious support by five morris dancers, showing how ‘Penguin Cafe’ makes the surreal something really special.

But as light hearted as the early scenes are, there are darker moments to this ballet. Tyrone Singleton again sizzles as the Southern Cape Zebra, proud and strutting but hunted down, all the while surrounded by women in zebra striped dresses who seem to ignore what is happening.

Penguin Cafe is wonderful in that the music remains upbeat right until the end, which is oblique and open to interpretation. Is the storm that comes made up of acid rain? Is the final scene of animals on the ark an premonition of our future?

Elite Syncopations

Elite Syncopations is a delight, a ballet that also brings the Royal Ballet Sinfonia onto the stage and into costume. Using the music of Ragtime, notably that of Scott Joplin, Elite Syncopations is a one act composition, using a dance competition as the premise for showcasing a range of wonderful dance routines that both inspire and amuse.

The dance competition allows us to enjoy a range of soloists, dancing whilst the rest of the troop sit on stage and watch, almost like they are sizing up the competition. I loved the Stoptime Rag, with Jenna Roberts dancing the role almost like a drum majorette, complete with a costume that brings to mind the stars and stripes. The Alaskan Rag is hilarious, with the mismatched coupling of Yvette Knight and Tzu-Chao Chau bringing laughter to the theatre and showing just how funny ballet can be.

This is a bright and vibrant ballet, full of joyful moments, and yet at times it also brings to mind the dance floor desperation of ‘They Shoot Horses Don’t They’, also centred around a dance competition, also taking place around the time Joplin’s ragtime music was in vogue.

The Penguin Cafe Mixed Programme is a brilliant way to enjoy a diverse and colourful range of ballets.

A triple bill with joyous dancing, ragtime music and animals sheltering from a storm!

Thu 28 – Sat 30 Sep, Click here for ticket information.

 

Birmingham Hippodrome Launch Cinderella at Villa Park

Cinderella – Birmingham Hippodrome Panto Launch 2017. 20th September 2017.
Pictured are Beverley Knight, Matt Slack, Suzanne Shaw, Ceri Dupree and Phil Randall.
Picture by Simon Hadley.

Wednesday saw Villa Park turned into a pantomime wonderland (not for the first time this season it has to be said – Baggies fan Joke!).  The Birmingham Hippodrome were launching this year’s panto, Cinderella, with an all star cast. Beverly Knight, Suzanne Shaw, Matt Slack, Ceri Dupree and Phil Randall were all there, in their best panto finery, talking to this year’s panto producer and director Michael Harrison. It was a funny, happy occasion and certainly wet the appetite for what looks set to be another astounding success for the Hippodrome.

Suzanne Shaw,Ceri Dupree and Phil Randall

For Suzanne, this is the third time playing Cinderella, although the first time playing at the Hippodrome. She was asked about songs and revealed that she will be singing some songs in the panto, including a duet with her handsome prince, Danny Mac. She also has a new song called ‘At the Hippodrome’ which tells of the history of the Hippodrome. Suzanne says she is a little scared to be singing alongside Beverley Knight – saying ‘who wouldn’t be’, and also joked how lucky she is to have some ‘eye candy’ over Christmas in the form of the delectable Danny Mac.

Veteran pantomime dames Ceri Dupree and Phil Randall are coming together this year as the Ugly Sisters, enjoying the chance to play the wickedly evilas Voluptua and Verruca  rather than cuddly dames. As ever, the costumes were the subject of much excitement, described as showstoppers, ‘so big they could be scenery, and the audience was told that the costumes to look out for are when the sisters arrive at the ball.

I loved all the little backstage details like make up taking around an hour due to needing to shave, cover eyebrows etc. Someone asked if the costumes need to be specifically cleaned and Ceri Dupree had the audience in hysterics as he said ‘no, just spray a little Febreeze around the crotch and you’re done’.

Matt Slack

Matt Slack could be considered a Birmingham Hippodrome legend, after starring in the last five pantomimes, holding the record for the most consecutive pantomime performances at the Hippodrome. Earlier this year Matt won a British Pantomime award  for best comic for his role in Dick Whittington. This year Matt is playing Buttons for the first time and joked that it is the role that gets lots of the laughs and the pathos, but that it is going to be rewritten so he also gets the girl.

Matt is well known for being the king of Birmingham Panto, but he is also a talented serious actor. This year has seen him playing in Eastenders and in a touring production of Mrs Henderson Presents, playing a 1930s Cockney Comic in the story of the Windmill Theatre.

Matt says he is lucky to be able to do diverse things, but that his heart always lies in panto.

Cinderella – Birmingham Hippodrome Panto Launch 2017. 20th September 2017.
Pictured is Matt Slack (Buttons).
Picture by Simon Hadley.

Beverley Knight

Making her pantomime debut this year, Midland born Beverley Knight was clearly happy to be back home in ‘God’s own country’ as she described it. Beverley is playing the part of the Fairy Godmother and is really looking forward to performing ‘Knowing that friends and family are just up the road.’

Beverley was resplendent in her gorgeous glittering costume and said ‘I’ve never been so sparkly and sequinny, I love the fact that I can float in and out of scenes.’

Beverley was asked about her other West End theatre roles, including playing Grizabella in Cats. She explained how much she had loved singing Memory, saying ‘If you have a voice, who wouldn’t want to sing Memory.’ She also said how happy she was to be singing in this year’s panto and admitted ‘ I will sing whatever is put in front of me.’

CINDERELLA runs at Birmingham Hippodrome from Mon 19 Dec 2017 until Sun 28 Jan 2018.  Tickets from £15.50* can be booked on 0844 338 5000† or from birminghamhippodrome.com.