Sparkle and Shine Indeed! Nativity The Musical

Christmas came to Wolverhampton tonight, and whilst it may be slightly early, I couldn’t feel more festive if I tried. Because if you are looking for a show that is the epitome of feelgood, family entertainment, then you must see Nativity the Musical, which is delighting audiences at the Wolverhampton Grand. I went to see the show last night and was totally enchanted by a show that has so much heart and warmth. In the words of my fave Christmas song, it Sparkles and Shines from start to finish.

You may remember Nativity from the Martin Freeman movie that has become a bit of a Christmas classic, but for those who haven’t seen the movie, Nativity is the tale of three childhood friends who all go into acting but fail in this chosen career. The two male actors, Mr Maddens and Mr Shakespeare, become primary teachers in two very different schools, whilst Jennifer, who is also the girlfriend of Mr Maddens, pursues her dream of working in Hollywood, leaving Maddens one Christmas. Maddens and Shakespeare get into a deep rivalry when it comes to the annual Nativity performance, both seeking a five star review from local reviewer Patrick Burns, with only Shakespeare, working at the exclusive Oakmoor School, getting it. Despondent over the loss of Jennifer, and the humiliation of the  St Bernadette’s nativity, Mr Madden decides he hates Christmas. But when headteacher Mrs Bevan decides that the school is going to have another try at the nativity, and that Mr Maddens is going to be in charge, things start to catapult out of control. Add into the mix the arrival of the loveable, but slightly crazy Mr Poppy as his new classroom assistant, and you have all the ingredients for a Christmas disaster.

Nativity is a total joy, not least because of the joyous performances. The leads are just wonderful, with Scott Paige a standout as Mr Poppy, playing the role with the childlike exuberance it needs. His Mr Poppy isn’t just ‘down with the kids’, he is a real child-man, and is totally delightful, and so easy to fall in love with as a result. Scott Garnham, who I loved in Billy Elliot, plays Mr Maddens as a perfect foil for the energy of Mr Poppy he adds balance and pathos to the piece, particularly in the scene where he reads the letters the children have wrote for Santa. Ashleigh Gray as Jennifer is also very good, particularly in the scene where she sings the poignant ‘Jennifer’s request’, whilst Charles Brunton is hilariously funny as Mr Shakespeare, who is almost a perfect pantomime style baddy, I loved his over the top rendition of ‘Herod the Rock Opera’ which is frankly hilarious and terrifying in equal measure. Love Island’s Dani Dyer is a surprise addition to the casting, but works really well as Polly Parker, bringing her trademark warmth and personality to the role of the studio head with a heart.

But as good as all those central performances are, it is the children who are at the heart of Nativity, and totally steal the show. Forget all ideas of the stage school kids that can be frighteningly professional (and slightly scary if I’m honest), the children of Nativity are adorable, totally melting the hearts of even the hardest critic. The warmth and exuberance of their performances feel totally real and natural, and each and every one of them just shine. There could not have been an audience member who didn’t have a lump in their throat during the poignant, heartfelt ‘Dear Father Christmas’ whilst the songs of the ‘Nativity’ itself are alive with humour and sass. By the time the curtain falls, after the incredibly catchy ‘Sparkle and Shine’. they have the audience on their feet, totally believing they have witnessed the rebirth of St Bernadette’s.


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Nativity is a total delight, a must see for anyone with a love of musicals, the underdog, and, of course, Christmas. Just Fabulous for all ages, you leave the theatre ready to put your Christmas tree up and hang those decorations.

 

 

Nativity the Musical

Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

31 Oct – 02 Nov 2019

 

Click here for ticket information.

The Nutcracker brings Christmas Magic to Birmingham

A visit to see ‘The Nutcracker’ always signifies the start of my Christmas. The classic Tchaikovsky ballet which tells the magical story of the night before Christmas, is a seasonal treat that arrived at the Birmingham Hippodrome this weekend, delighting audiences young and old.

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To put it simply, The Nutcracker is Christmas, especially when staged by the fabulous Birmingham Royal Ballet, celebrating 25 years in 2015. It is sparkle and glitter, excitement and anticipation, presents and children, and, most of all dreams and magic. This is all reflected in the exquisite set design, which transforms from a sumptuous Victorian home, complete with an enormous Christmas Tree (courtesy of Prince Albert, who introduced them in 1840), to a veritable winter wonderland, with bleak midwinter trees and falling snow. Simply spellbinding.

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The story of The Nutcracker tells of Clara, a young girl who is presented with a Nutcracker doll by a magician, Drosselmeyer. As night falls Clara is unable to sleep, so creeps downstairs to collect her Nutcracker from under the Christmas tree. But magic is afoot, and the sitting room grows and changes to a sinister enclave filled with giant rats, all of whom seem to want to hurt Clara. The Nutcracker then springs to life, along with her brothers toy soldiers to run to the defence of the young girl. Thus starts a night of dream adventures that encompass dancers from many different lands, a flying dove and a Sugarplum fairy.

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As Clara, Laura Purkiss is wonderful, her dancing is full of charm and youthful elegance. Celine Gittens is a memorable Sugar Plum fairy, so beautiful and majestic when dancing with the Prince. And, as the Prince, Tyrone Singleton, who I adored in Carmina Burana shows that he is the Prince of sensual romance, with a performance that combines drama and sensitivity.

The famous score soars across the theatre, played so expertly by the excellent Royal Ballet Sinfonia, and, as the performance comes to a close, it is clear that, 25 years on, Birmingham Audiences are still as enchanted by The Nutcracker as they were 25 years ago.

The Nutcracker is at the Birmingham Hippodrome until 13th December. Click here for ticket information.

Jersey Boys receives a standing ovation at the New Alex Theatre

The much anticipated musical Jersey Boys opened at the New Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham last night and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Sparkling set pieces, uniformly excellent performances, and those magical songs ensured that the packed house was on its feet by the end of the show, all hoping for one more song before they trooped off into the bitterly cold night. It was just that good.

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Jersey Boys is the story of the Four Seasons, the New Jersey band who had hit after hit at the start of the swinging 60s. I recently interviewed lead Jersey Boy Tim Driesen, who is playing Frankie Valli in this tour, and he said that the Four Seasons were a band with a back story that was kept hidden away, a group no-one really knows anything about. The start of the story shows a group of young felons, caught up in petty crime and larceny, serving time behind bars, whilst striving for fame and fortune with the perfect band line up. They were not exactly the wholesome, all American boys their later image suggested.

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Lewis Griffiths, Tim Driesen, Sam Ferriday and Stephen Webb in JERSEY BOYS UK tour credit Helen Maybanks

In this early section, Tommy De Vito, played with real virile intensity and swagger by Stephen Webb, dominates. His drive to put a winning band line-up together, and simultaneously protecting the young Frankie Valli, whilst almost introducing him to a life of crime, is the heart of the early story.  With Nick Massi (Lewis Griffiths – just brilliant, and totally droll and funny in so many scenes.) they go through a series of names and line-ups, with their lead singer Frankie Valli being their saving grace. But when Joe Pesci (yes, that Joe Pesci) introduces former one-hit-wonder Bob Gaudio to the group – the stage is set for Pop history to be made.

Sam Ferriday plays the songwriter extraordinaire Bob Gaudio with a youthful, yet sensibly calm demeanor that is a great counter balance to hothead Tommy. His friendship with Frankie Valli is a joy to watch, the support they give to one another is another strength of the story. Tim Driesen is just a revalation as Frankie Valli, that falsetto voice is pure and perfect and just soars across the theatre. The first time he sings Sherry I just got the shivers, it was such a brilliant moment, whilst the pathos and heartbreak he brings to ‘my eyes adored you’ was another brilliant moment in a performance packed with so many.

 Lewis Griffiths, Tim Driesen, Sam Ferriday and Stephen Webb in JERSEY BOYS UK tour credit Helen Maybanks


Lewis Griffiths, Tim Driesen, Sam Ferriday and Stephen Webb in JERSEY BOYS UK tour credit Helen Maybanks

Some would argue that the songs are the real stars of Jersey Boys, and certainly, they have stood the test of time to sound just as good today as they did in their heyday. Standout moments are many – but I would certainly say ‘Can’t take my eyes off you’ was a sublime moment of musical theatre that will linger in the memory for the longest time.

Jersey Boys is probably the best musical I have ever seen, and the best recommendation I can give is to say I wish I was going to see it again tonight, and tomorrow, and Saturday…as I said, it is that good.

Jersey Boys is at the New Alexandre Theatre, Birmingham until Sunday 4th January 2015. Click here for ticket information.