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.

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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.

Reviewed: Alice In Wonderland At The Old Rep

A press day on a Saturday afternoon – it must be nearly Christmas. Today we were very excited to attend the press event for the opening of Alice in Wonderland at Birmingham’s Old Rep Theatre. As well as getting to see the show, we also enjoyed a Mad Hatter’s tea party and craft session before the show, making this a very special and memorable afternoon.

Alice in Wonderland is a classic tale, and this is a production that more than does it justice, being funny, magical and charming in equal measure. There is a clever mix of action, songs and puppetry, and the songs in particular, are memorable and catchy, a great new score that really suits the musical and the audience. The down the rabbit hole sequences are cleverly done with the use of music and lights that give it a dreamlike feel, and the use of the different sized doors and sets are also achieved smoothly.

But it is the talented cast that really make this show a delight. Alice is played by Grace Dean and is wonderfully feisty, especially when standing up to the Queen of Hearts, played wonderfully wickedly by Katie Paine. The weird and wonderful characters the Mad Hatter, the Doormouse and The White Rabbit are also great, particularly Alec Fellows-Bennett as the Mad Hatter. He, along with Laura Curnick and Ewan Goddard, bring enormous verve and likeability to their roles and this delighted the young audience.

The other fantastic characters are also impressive, from Mark Collier as the giant caterpillar, to the puppetry of the fabulous Cheshire Cat. They are ably supported by an ensemble cast who perform the song and dance numbers with panache and enthusiasm. This is clearly a cast that is enjoying itself and is able to pull the audience along with the sheer delight of the show.

If you are looking for something a little different from the traditional pantomime this year, then I would definitely check out Alice in Wonderland this Christmas.

Alice In Wonderland

The Old Rep Theatre

Until December 30th

Click here for Ticket Information

Awful Auntie Live On Stage In Birmingham

Awful Auntie stormed into the Birmingham New Alexandra Theatre tonight delighting both children and adults alike. The latest David Walliams novel to be adapted for the stage has all the hallmarks that make Walliams’s books so brilliant, a monstrous villain, a plucky, determined child, a story of loss and friendship. But, unlike the other Walliam’s stories, this is a story set in the past, in the 1920s, and there’s no sign of Raj. That said,it is still a brilliantly told tale, and in Alberta Saxby, it has one of the most memorable baddies in recent times.

Stella Saxby is 12, almost 13, when she wakes up in her bed swathed head to toe in bandages. She’s been in a coma for four months, since the car crash that killed her parents Lord and Lady Saxby, and is now in the care of her Aunt Alberta and her giant Bavarian Owl Wagner. Stella is suspicious that her Aunt means her harm and may have been involved in the death of her parents, and this is confirmed when Stella is locked in the dark coal cellar. But in the cellar she meets a friendly ghost, Soot, a chimney sweep who lost his life when someone lit a fire underneath him. With Soot’s help, Stella sets about getting rid of her ‘awful auntie’, but it turns out to be a difficult job as her aunt outwits her every step of the way. Will Stella ever be safe again, and who is Soot really.

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The key to the success of ‘Awful Auntie’ is the superb casting. Timothy Speyer is a hoot as Aunt Alberta, playing the role as a cross between Stanley Baxter and, well, David Walliams, in drag. His comedic timing his just brilliant, particularly in the Home Alone – esque scene when his bedroom is booby trapped. Georgina Leonidas and Ashley Cousins are also great, giving spirited charming performances as Stella and Soot, characters you can really get behind in their troubles. Elderly butler Gibbon, played by Richard James was another crowd pleaser, have the young audience in stitches with his short sighted, decrepit ways and actions, actions that include serving a pair of burnt slippers as breakfast and wiping a dirty floor with a priceless fur stole.

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The staging of Awful Auntie is clever, with a vintage motor car careering across the stage, and sets that rotate to create a coal shute and a library and other rooms to give the impression of Saxby Hall. Wagner is wonderfully controlled by puppeteer Roberta Bellekom.

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Awful Auntie is a delight for children of all ages.

Awful Auntie

New Alexandra Theatre 

Wednesday 22 to Sunday 26 November 2017

Click here for ticket information