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

 

Funny Girl – Just Incredible At The Birmingham Hippodrome

Last night I was in the audience at the Birmingham Hippodrome to watch ‘Funny Girl’. I left feeling privileged to have watched one of the great modern theatre stars playing a role that she has made her own. Sheridan Smith is sensational as Fanny Brice, and ‘Funny Girl’ is a masterpiece. I was mesmerised from start to finish.

‘Funny Girl’ is the story of the rise of 1920s star Fanny Brice, and of her love story with the gambler and con man Nicky Arnstein. Fanny is a theatre natural, a funny girl who can also bring the house down with the beauty of her voice. Told that she was not suitable for the chorus line because she wasn’t beautiful enough, Fanny is given her chance by her friend, choreographer Eddie Ryan, who was also in love with her. Fanny becomes a star and moves to the famous Ziegfeld Follies. She also meets the man who proves to be the love of her life, Nicky Arnstein (Darius Campbell), a suave smooth talker who charms and exasperates Fanny in equal turns. Fanny has it all, fame, fortune and love, but a series of events pull Nicky to the brink, and Fanny’s overpowering love starts to stifle Nicky, changing the man who fell in love with the ‘funny girl’.

Sheridan Smith was born to play Fanny Brice. She is a pocket dynamo who dominates the stage with her powerful and expressive voice and her force of personality. She brings Fanny Brice to life in such a way that you feel that you are actually watching the return of the 1920s star, so perfect is she in this role. Her performance of key songs such as ‘People’ and ‘Don’t rain on my parade’ are extraordinary, and her comic skills shine as the pregnant bride in the Ziegfeld wedding scene, and the hilarious ‘You are Woman, I am Man’. Watching Sheridan, you are in the presence of brilliance.

In the role of Nicky Arnstein, Darius Campbell is matinee star perfect, and has great chemistry with Smith. He is smooth and self assured in the role, but also gives the character real heart which allows you to feel real sympathy for Nicky as life continues to deal him bad hand after bad hand. His beautiful singing voice is used to full effect as he effortless puts heart and soul into the songs, and his final scene is Fanny is heartbreaking, containing so much love and tenderness.

In the supporting roles Rachel Izen is strong as mother Mrs Brice, whilst Joshua Lay gives a stunning performance as Eddie Ryan, a real song and dance man who was given a spontaneous round of applause with every amazing dance routine. The set was also excellent, whether it be railway platforms or backstage at the theatre.

Funny Girl is not just another musical, it is an event that is not to be missed. You’ll be talking about it for years.

 

Birmingham Hippodrome for One week only.

Wed 10 – Sat 13 May

Click here for information

 

Shirley Valentine – A Jodie Prenger Masterclass

Jodie Prenger proved, once again, what an amazing talent she is as she brought Willy Russell’s 1980s heroine Shirley Valentine to life at the New Alex Theatre last night in a one women tour de force.

Leaving a note on a post-it on the fridge, explaining that she had ‘gone to Greece, be back in two weeks’, Shirley Valentine has proved to be one of Willy Russell’s most enduring and beloved characters. Shirley is a bored surbuban housewife who feels that life, and all it has to offer, has passed her by at the age of 42. Her kids are grown up, and she has grown apart from her husband Joe. She dreams of a time when she might have some excitement, or at least something different in her life. A ticket for a two week holiday in Greece might just bring the excitement that she needs, but will she really be able to return to her mundane life once she has had a taste of something different?

This is Shirley’s story told in a series of monologues, first in her kitchen where she is tied to the cooker and the kitchen sink and talks to the wall, and then from the beach of her Greek island escape. Jodie Prenger brings Shirley vividly and brilliantly to life as she tells those stories. She commands the stage with her sheer presence and force of personality, by turns hilarious, and by others poignant, and with a faultless Scouse accent. Prenger makes Shirley so real, funny, sympathetic and brave. As she tells those stories of Bryan and Malandra, and her husband Joe, you really root for her to go out and enjoy herself.

Even though Shirley Valentine is now over 30 years old, it still resonates – there are still plenty of Shirley’s out there, and that is why the ending is so heartwarming. You don’t really know what Shirley’s next step will be, but we do know that the downtrodden housewife has disappeared for good, and that is a brilliant thing.

 

Shirley Valentine

New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham

Until March 11th