Miracle On 34th Street – Feelgood Fun

Feelgood is a word that is overused at this time of the year, but when it comes to BMOS production of Miracle on 34th Street, it is the perfect word to use. This lovely production of a Christmas classic is warm, funny and charming, and in Stewart Keiller it has a lead character who may just be Santa Claus.

The story of Miracle on 34th Street is that of a Christmas Classic. A kindly elderly gentleman, Kris Kringle, comes into the life of a cynical little girl called Susan Walker. Susan’s mother Doris has hired him to play Santa at Macy’s, but Doris and Susan have no real love of Christmas, they don’t believe that Santa is real. Doris is also bruised by her experience of love, so when her new neighbour, retired marine Fred Gaily starts to pay attention to her and Susan, her defences go up and she tries to shut him out. But they are thrown together when Kris Kringle is accused of being insane because he says he is the real Santa Claus, with Doris asking Fred to defend Kris. Can Kris be saved from commitment, and can it be that he really is Santa Claus?

Ariane Photography Studio

Ariane Photography Studio

This is a heartwarming story that is told well by its talented cast. Stewart Keiller is just right as Kris Kringle, he plays Santa exactly as you want him to be, jolly, kindly and with a twinkle in his eye. Jo Smith has a wonderful singing voice that is shown to great effect as Doris, and she has a great chemistry with her leading man Matthew Collins as Fred. Matthew is great as Fred, particularly in the funny scene featuring ‘She Hadda Go Back. Willow Heath makes a super Susan, sweet and cute without being precocious, she touches the heart when she wishes for a farm house, with a swing and a cow.

The sets are just beautiful, recreating 1940s Macys and the parade with real style. The whole feel is of a Christmassy winter wonderland, a feeling only enhanced with the use of ‘It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas’. With a snowy fairytale finale, I left the theatre totally ready for Christmas.

Just lovely.

Miracle on 34th Street

New Alexandra Theatre

16th-18th November

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Legally Blonde Is Just The Most Fun

Legally Blonde is a fabulous film, and Elle Woods is a modern heroine, but this does not always mean a great show when it comes to theatre versions (for instance, I hate Saturday Night Fever on the stage). But, fear not, fans of all things pink and surprisingly feminist, Legally Blonde the musical is just brilliant. Yes it is frothy and bubbly and totally, totally pink. But Elle is a real modern heroine, one who may have the face and look of a Barbie doll, but also has a brain, wit and determination to succeed. And succeed she does, without compromising just who she is. It is a great musical, thorough entertainment with a strident message at its heart.

Elle Woods is the golden girl, a sort of Malibu Barbie with a pink wardrobe to die for and a suitably ‘Ken’ boyfriend in Warner Huntington lll. Elle thinks he is going to propose to her when he takes her to a rather swish restaurant, but instead he breaks up with her, telling her that he is going to Harvard to study law, and that he needs a serious girlfriend ‘a Jackie not a Marilyn’. Devastated, Elle decides that she will also go to Harvard to win him back, and manages to get in thanks to a great average and an hilarious personal statement (think cheerleaders, cupids on skates etc). Elle gets to Harvard and is in the class of Professor Callahan with Warner in the same class. But Warner has found his ‘Jackie’ is the shape of Vivienne Kensington, who instantly dislikes the seemingly fluffy Elle and her lack of commitment to learning about law. Luckily Elle makes two friends, Emmett Forrest, and older student who helps her to get serious about her learning, and Paulette Bonafonte, a hairdresser who teaches Elle that beauty of staying true to her blonde roots. When Callahan takes on four students to help fight a murder case, Elle is one of them. But will she prove to be a ‘legally blonde’ and will she have to lose who she is in order to succeed?

Lucie Jones is fabulous – she is Elle Woods and her excellent soaring vocals help her to steal every scene. She plays Elle as idealistic and frankly adorable – one of the things I love about this character is that she actually is nice, inside and out, no edges.no malice and no bitchiness. Lucie conveys all this and more, and is a central character who simply shiines like a star.

Rita Simons, the brash Roxy Mitchell from Eastenders, is also fabulous as Paulette. Her comic timing is impeccable and she makes Paulette a sympathetic character who you are totally supporting, especially in the hilarious scenes with the UPS man Kyle (Ben Harlow – a hoot!). Rita has a gutsy singing voice and performs her numbers with aplomb, and as for the Riverdance (don’t ask), I’m still laughing.

Bill Ward is another standout as the smarmy Professor Callahan. His performance seems very timely in our current political and the Hollywood climate, and he makes Professor Callahan thoroughly unlikable and morally corrupt. He’s great.

The supporting cast is also sound with David Barrett as Emmet and Laura Harrison as Vivienne providing great support, and the Greek chorus of Elle’s friends are great fun too.

Legally Blonde is one of those experiences that leave you walking out of the theatre with a huge smile on your face and a warm glow. It is brilliant entertainment, perfect for a girl’s night out.

Legally Blonde

Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Thurs 9th – Saturday 11th November

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Deathtrap At The New Alex Theatre – Deliciously Chilling

A famous, successful writer now suffering from writer’s block, a young student who has written the perfect play and a wife who is worried that her husband is about to turn killer. This is the exciting premise of Ira Levin’s Deathtrap, which opened at Birmingham’s New Alex Theatre last night. It was a deliciously chilliing night of theatre, with shocks and jumps galore, and enough twists and turns to keep the audience constantly on the edge of its seat. I loved it.

Sidney Bruhl is a successful writer who is now struggling to write a new play after the failure of his last effort. Married to the supportive Myra in a seemingly happy union, he receives a play through the post from an ex student who attended one of his seminars. The play is Deathtrap, and Sidney believes it to be perfect, and wishes aloud that he had wrote it as it is likely to be a big hit. When he finds that there are only two copies of the play, and that he already has one of them in his hands, he invites the student, Clifford Anderson, to his remote home to ‘work on the play’, but really has murder in mind. But who’s murder? The issue is made all the murkier by his neighbour, Helga ten Dorp, a famed clairvoyent with very strong extra sensory perception, especially when she enters the Bruhl’s house, where she has a strong sense of death. Deathtrap twists in one direction, and then another, as cross and double cross, surprising revelations and shocks galore lead to a satisfyingly macabre conclusion.

Deathtrap is made up of a cast of just five characters, and the ensemble cast in this version is brilliant. The Eastenders contigent of Paul Bradley (Sidney) and Jessie Wallace (Myra) have a fabulous chemistry that rings true as a married couple. Paul plays Sidney as a man who is deceptively cheery, amiable man who has an edge, when he loses his temper you can see that he could be capable of acts of violent. it is a great performance of someone who could turn on a pin. Jessie Wallace shows her range playing Myra, she is a world away from brassy Kat Slater, starting out the play with understated calmness, but becoming more frantic and then terrified as she faces the fact her husband could be a murderer. Only at the end of the terrible events of Act 1 does she show another side of her character, another surprising twist in a tale full of them.

Sam Phillips is also very good as Clifford Anderson, playing the character with idealised charm and innocence, until he is revealed to be anything but. Beverly Klein is hilarious as Helga ten Dorp, divinely overacting her ESP, and given all the best one liners that she delivers with perfect comic timing. The cast is round out by Porter Milgrim as the lawyer Julien Ball, who proves to be another character who has more facets than you immediately sense.

Deathtrap all takes place in one room, but the set never feels claustrophobic. This is due in no small part to the excerpts of classic movies that break up the scenes, and are a clue to what is really going on – a really clever device to move the action along.

Deathtrap is clever, cunning and utterly calculating. All this makes it a devilishly good night of theatre. Go See.

Deathtrap New Alex Theatre

Wednesday 8th – Saturday 11th November

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