The Brightest Musical In Town: Hairspray Is Back With A Bang!

Big, bold, bright and beautiful and that could just be describing the leading lady Tracey Turnblad, Hairspray arrived in suitably glittering style at the Wolverhampton Grand last night, with the nicest kids in town once again proving that this is the feelgood musical to beat all others. The musical, which mixes the fun and frolics of the Corny Collins show, with the dark undercurrents of racial inequality in 1960s Baltimore, was the tonic that we all need in these increasingly dark times. As the final song exclaims, you really can’t stop the beat. Last night, Wolverhampton couldn’t stop the beat!

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 Katie Brace 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 when she is not there.  Her partner in crime is the hilarious Rebecca Jayne-Davies as Penny Pingleton, all sweetness and dipsy one liners.

Teen Dream support is also offered by Akeem Ellis-Hyman and Ross Clifton as Seaweed and Link, both showing great singing talent and skilled dance moves. Charlotte St Croix is a polished and charismatic performer as Little Inez, scene stealing throughout the show, whilst Richard Meek as Corny Collins delivers his one line retorts in style. another stand out in a cast at the top of its game. The support cast is rounded out with Jessica Croll as  Amber Von Tussle, great in the ‘Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now’ number.

As Edna and Wilbur, Alex Bourne and Norman Pace are wonderful, their sense of comedic timing only matched by the warmth and charm of their performances. Ad libbing their way through the always so lovely and funny ‘you’re timeless to me’ bought the house down. Rebecca Thornhill 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

Wednesday 20th – Saturday 23rd October, Wolverhampton Grand.

Click here for ticket information

 

Ghost The Musical – Beautifully Heartbreaking

It is one of the most iconic movie love stories and translates beautifully onto the stage. Ghost The Musical may well be the best show you can see to open 2019 theatre season. Hauntingly beautiful, spine-chilling and heart-breaking, Ghost, which is now showing at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, paints pictures that linger in the memory long after it’s emotional finale. In short, it is a memorising piece of theatre.

 

The story is true to the film, Sam and Molly are the young couple with a perfect present and a promising future. All this comes to a sudden and violent end when Sam is murdered, seemingly in a mugging incident that goes horrifically wrong. This was the first sign of the awesome special effects that impressed throughout the musical. Sam leaves his body and runs across the stage, whilst his actual body remains on the floor. I know this film well, but even so I actually thought Sam was chasing the robber, until I glanced across the stage. Very clever and effective.

There are many more fabulous visual effects to come. The Subway pays a huge part of the movie and this is superbly conveyed through the visual images and props that are projected onto the stage. Equally impressive are the special powers of the ghosts to jump through walls and make things move by themselves.

Ghost The Musical is first and foremost a romance, and a weepy at that. But is also has great scenes of humour, and these are the ones featuring the fake spiritualist Oda Mae Brown. Portrayed hilariously by Jacqui Dubois, Oda is a powerhouse who just dominates every scene she is in. The Rita Miller bank scene is worth the admission fee alone.

The performances are uniformly excellent. Niall Sheehy is very good as Sam, you feel his frustration and pain at every turn, whilst Charlotte-Kate Warren is simply brilliant as the heart of the musical, the grief stricken, vulnerable Molly. Molly’s song ‘With You’ was an emotional high point of the first half.

The iconic Unchained Melody is used throughout the musical as a recurring motif, it signifies love and promise, terrible loss and grief, and finally the pain of final goodbyes. It retains the power to reduce even the most hardened people to tears, and typically Ghost the Musical ended with many of the audience reaching for the tissues. Beautiful, tender and tragic, Ghost the Musical is one thing you must see year.

Ghost the Musical

Wolverhampton Grand

Until Saturday 26th January

Click here for ticket information.

 

An Evening With Dave Haslam At Birmingham Town Hall

If there was a World Cup dedicated to having quite a life, then Moseley born Dave Haslam would certainly be into the knockout stages. DJ at the legendary Hacienda, DJ for the Stone Roses (also legendary) Spike Island concert when it seemed all the youth of the world were Baggy, and also a talented best selling author and raconteur, Dave really has been there, done that and got the t-shirt (or maybe the record.)

Last week Dave returned to Birmingham to promote his latest book, a memoir with the brilliant title ‘Sonic Youth slept on my floor.’ An intimate audience of friends and fans gathered together on the stage of Birmingham’s beautiful Town Hall to listen to extracts from the book read by the man himself, and then to enjoy a question and answer season conducted by Birmingham Music Archivist Jez Collins.

The evening started with a couple of readings from the new book, the first being from the chapter ‘Joy Division in a Mod Club’, which took place during August 1979 in Romulus, a club once on the Hagley Road in Birmingham, and where Dave had talked his way in to attending a soundcheck for the band ‘The Au Pairs’. The chapter was an amusing look at the Birmingham Music scene in the late 70s, with Dexy’s Midnight Runners popping up to add a slightly sinister air to proceedings with their ‘Dexy’s against the world persona.

The second reading was an hilarious episode where Dave appeared on Icelandic MTV to promote the Factory film ’24 Hour Party People’ and was interviewed by a very young, bouncy person and was asked just one question ‘who is the most famous person you have ever met’ and answered Moby – he’s very short.

Q&A with Jez Collins

On Birmingham in the 1970s

I was inquisitive, as 12-13 watching Saturday night television, something like ‘It aint half hot mom’ and I’d think, there’s got to be more than this. I wanted to get beyond the obvious and the mainstream. I would follow strangely dressed people through the streets. I fell in love with the weirdos, they were incredibly creative and incredibly brave.

On Why the Book is a memoir

It is deliberately a memoir rather than an autobiograhy as there is a lot of emotion in the book. Not all the emotion is negative, there is a lot of joy as well as despair. The book is me trying to find the words for my emotions.

On his record Collection

I had 4,500 records in my collection which represented both my career and my life. I sold my record collection when I instinctively knew I had lost my connection to them. I still have the music as it is everywhere. The records had begun to feel like baggage that I didn’t want to carry around everywhere with me.

I sold the collection to a DJ who wanted to take them around the world. He made them living things again.

On the Fanzine Debris

I’ve forgotten about it, but I loved it at the time. It has very varied content, a product of who I was.  We finished issue 19 in 1987, and I feel that we should now bring out issue 20 like nothing ever happened.

The Fanzine led to me writing for the NME, which was funny as the fanzine had been set up as a reaction against the NME.

On going to Manchester

Manchester and Birmingham were very similar, with more people buying Dire Straits than Factory Records. It was a small scene, but that made it easier to fit in, these were my tribe.

On tribes today

There are indie tribes now, young people are just as resourceful as they ever were. There was a generation that was bewitched by the internet and Tony Blair, but the generation came after were bewitched by neither and are finding their own space.

The title of the book

You can’t get more mudane than sleeping on someone’s floor. Although situations are mudane, they can also be memorable, like when you hear a song and can remember something in perfect detail down to what you are wearing etc.

The Hacienda

Someone once came up to me in the Hacienda and said that he loved the Acid House I was playing, and I had no idea it was called Acid House!

The best period was the early period, before everything was defined. We all felt like we were on a big adventure. Tony Wilson believed that youth culture and music culture could change the world. He was the only one who truly understood the importance of what we were doing. We were playing the music but he was shaping it all.

The Birmingham musical heritage is just as strong as Manchester’s on paper, but Manchester is so reverred due to the likes of Tony Wilson. People like Jon Savage and Tony Morley were writing about it, the Factory label stayed in the city, and the Hacienda was at its centre.

Stone Roses and Spike Island

The Stone Roses were always pretty ropey live, well Ian (Brown) was. Reni was one of the best drummers around, he held it together and Mani raised them with a great rhythm section. I was their warm up DJ for three years, and to watch them rise to Spike Island in front of 20,000 people was incredible.  But it also felt like a natural end.

Morrissey

I was close to Morrissey for a time, I made him cauliflower cheese.  I was a big Smiths fan, from 83-85 they were my favourite band. I found Morrissey to be very charming and funny.

I lost touch with him around 33 years ago, so I really don’t know this person who appears on my Twitter feed spouting shite.

With my sister at the end of the talk.