The Exorcist (Live Review)

See the source image

18+ – The Phoenix Theatre, London – tickets from £30.00

Official WebsiteBox Office (until 10th March 2018)


 

THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT REGAN

While the easily-petrified may turn their noses up at the very prospect of seeing a theatrical adaptation of one of the most chilling books/films of all time, there is no denying that with the bulk of the action taking place in a single location (a simple bedroom), that William Peter Blatty’s horror masterpiece lends itself remarkably well to the stage.

… Keep Scuttling!

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Aladdin The Musical (Live Review)

Prince Edward Theatre, London – A Delfont Mackintosh Theatre

Official Website – Box Office (Booking until February 2018)


 

DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH

As a much-watched and much-adored film in my youth, the recently-opened West End production of Disney’s animated classic Aladdin has been on my “must see” list since it made the move from Broadway to UK shores in June of last year. After far fewer than “One Thousand and One Nights,” I was fortunate enough to take a magic carpet ride to London’s Prince Edward Theatre last week for a weekday evening performance of this magical musical extravaganza.

… Keep Scuttling!

Phoebe in Wonderland (DVD Review)

12 – 96mins – 2008


 

DANGEROUS OR LIBERATING?

“I don’t want to do those things, or say those things, but I have to!”

Akin to the heart-breaking coming-of-age weepie Bridge to Terabithia, Elle Fanning’s 2008 debut feature was sorrowfully mis-promoted upon its belated 2014 UK home release as a magical fantasy (just look at that florid and whimsical DVD cover!!). Despite indiscreetly trading off its connections to Lewis Carroll’s surreal children’s classic, Phoebe in Wonderland is actually an unconventional indie drama which deals with how mental health issues can hamper and disrupt the ‘normal’ experiences of a child growing up. Hardly delightful, kid-friendly fare.

… Keep Scuttling!

Mad About the Musicals (Live Review)

Theatre Royal, Bury St. Edmunds – Thursday 16th June – 7:30pm

Official Website10th Anniversary Tour Tickets


 

JUKEBOX MUSICAL

Last night I was supposed to be sat in a sea of 80,000 Coldplay fans singing along to “Fix You” at Wembley Stadium, but the fates conspired to alter my plans, so instead I happily accepted an invitation to the oldest Regency Theatre in the county (fact) to watch an M.A. Promotions production called Mad About the Musicals, which is celebrating its 10th Anniversary by bringing former Pop Idol runner-up Gareth Gates along for a whistle-stop country-wide sing-song.

Fronted by jubilant show creator, producer and director Michael Courtney (who reminded me of Michael Ball, although another member of my group threw Alan Titchmarsh’s name into lookie-likie contention), MAtM’s concept is a simple one: a celebratory selection box of the very best songs from the musicals of stage and screen, intercut with onstage interplay between the five main singers and banter with the audience.

Having not seen any of the previous nine years’ productions, I can only imagine that a need to spruce things up year-on-year has lead to such a broad and diverse set-list this time around. Whilst I have no qualms with being introduced to some of the more obscure gems of the genre, the sheer number of songs – from Funny Girl, Dreamgirls and Jekyll & Hyde to name but three – which I had not encountered before has lead me to re-evaluate what I thought was my rather knowledgeable acquaintance with the genre. As such, I was beholden to Michael Courtney’s introductions when we reached half-time with only numbers from Miss Saigon and a rousing We Will Rock You medley striking a chord with me.

While the second half – opening with an attention-grabbing selection from The Phantom of the Opera and closing with a five song run-through from everyone’s favourite Les Misérables – provided a more comfortably familiar anthology, what stood out most was how underutilised star name Gareth Gates was. He was the first man on stage at curtains up, but after some jovial repartee with compère Michael (including a self-deprecating jibe about Gareth’s strugglesome stutter) he receded backstage and was by far the least seen of the singers through the night.

Front and centre on the posters to get bums on seats, it was also true that new-to-the-company Gareth – whose primary strength is in pop songs, lest we forget – had the softest/weakest voice of the group, with Michael and the terrific trio of leading ladies each astounding with some assured and belting vocal acrobatics, particularly during duets and complex layered harmonies. Any seriousness during some of the more tender ballads (such as Jesus Christ Superstar) did sometimes feel at odds with the over-rehearsed pantomime-esque (mis-)behaviour between songs, but this was a variety show and that they delivered.

Michael made multiple complementary references to the beauty of the diminutive venue, helping to personalise the banter, but despite the Theatre Royal’s revered history, it must be said that size is not its strength. Despite being on row F, I felt close enough to count the hairs in Gareth’s designer stubble! Indeed, when the colourful lighting rig swathed the audience in light during the more upbeat numbers, my heart went out to the live band and singers who were forced to look out at a solid-but-patchy audience, with the front row in particular looking depressingly threadbare. Wembley Stadium, this was not. Nevertheless, the company behind Mad About the Musicals never let their smiles slip and the show went on with theatrically game gusto.

CR@B Verdict: 3 stars


Photo and poster courtesy of the official Mad About the Musicals Facebook page – I did not take or design these, nor infer ownership. No copyright infringement intended.

SHOWSTOPPER! The Improvised Musical (Live Review)


Cambridge Arts Theatre – 27th February 2016 – 7.45pm
www.showstoppers.org


FROM SCRATCH TO STAGE

“Not too near the front,” I requested to the box office saleswoman only half-jokingly as she asked how close to the stage we minded sitting as I booked tickets to a show which promised audience participation in crafting an entire musical extravagance at the outset of every performance.

I was certainly curious to see how successful such a bold – and, let’s face it – potentially disastrous enterprise could be, but I was less interested in being a part of the production! The saleswoman belayed my nerves by assuring me that while the audience would be asked for suggestions, they would NOT be dragged up on stage! Relieved, I agreed to an end seat on Row E, and just prayed that the cast would at no time wander the aisles mid-show.

To my relief as we tentatively put bums to seats last night for The Showstoppers’ final performance in Cambridge, they did not. With the house lights still on, the show got underway with MC/compère Pippa Evans asking the audience to proffer suggestions of theme, plot, musical styles and punny title for a new musical she was hoping to pitch to influential West End producer extraordinaire “Cameron Mackintosh” by the end of her “phone call”!

My enthusiasm took a bit of a hit as some very middle class suggestions were put forward (politics, on a Saturday night?!), with “Behind the Scenes with Donald Trump” (eurgh!) eventually garnering the loudest applause over wedding and Le Mans-based suggestions.

Fortunately – and to my great relief – even a passing knowledge (and minimal interest) in America’s bad-haired clown du jour was enough to enjoy this thoroughly astonishing, hilarious and altogether unique theatrical experience.

Once the musical’s title – “Nellie the Elephant Lost Her Trump” – and a vast range of musical styles – ranging from The Lion King and Little Shop of Horrors to Gilbert & Sullivan – were written on a white board to stage right, the lights went down and I could sit a little more comfortably…

“For those who have not seen us before: everything we say, sing and do is entirely improvised. There are no plans and nothing to fall back on!”

With Pippa sat at a desk next to the white board throughout and only occasionally interrupting to shout instructive cues or gauge audience acceptance of a plot development, the rest of the performance was left in the sharp and spontaneously-capable hands of the brilliantly inventive improv. actors and musicians, who somehow managed to generate a polished, funny and engaging production on the spot, with no sense of uncertainty or nerves ever apparent as they sang, danced and imitated their way through Donald Trump’s farcical campaign trail – and relationship with his speech writer, Nellie – in his bid to become POTUS.

Sure, there was the occasional missed cue, escaped chuckle or fluffed line, but this all added to the personable appeal of a truly talented and capable troupe who were literally at the mercy of the audience from the off. What if they hated the chosen theme or characters, I wondered? But there was no sense of displeasure or sapped energy as they gamely rattled through the ninety minute live-brainstorm with gleeful abandon, crafting catchy lyrics and toe-tapping routines while the keyboard plays them in!

Thoroughly TRUMPing my expectations, I cannot sing The Showstoppers praises highly enough – and the fact that no two shows will ever be the same, lends this spectacular creative curio literally limitless re-watch value. I would happily pay to see them perform time and again – political theme or not!

CR@B Verdict: 5 stars