Review – In The Heights, Kings Cross Theatre, 29th December 2016

In The HeightsI’m not sure why it took me so long to get around to seeing In The Heights. It has a great reputation as the winner of three Olivier awards; it features one of my favourite stage actors, David Bedella; it’s choreographed by man-of-the-moment Drew McOnie; and it’s being staged at the Kings Cross Theatre round the back of the station, which would be a venue new to me. What’s not to look forward to? When I realised that it would be closing on 8th January, I knew that our Christmas break would be our last opportunity.

ith-sam-mackaySo let’s start off with some observations about the theatre itself. Tucked unpromisingly away at the end of some long tarpaulined corridors by the back entrance to Kings Cross station, we wondered a) whether we’d come to the right place and b) if either of us would get out alive. However, eventually the paths lead to a wide, open bar/reception area, which was full of excited people milling around, eating and drinking – and the overall atmosphere is terrific. There was a real sense of occasion, an almost dangerous vibe, that you rarely get in some of the more established and rarefied London theatres. You have a choice of platforms to watch the show from – I don’t think it makes a difference which as the show is performed in traverse, so either way you get excellent sight lines.

ith-freeflow-choreoIt does however mean that it takes longer than you expect to go from the bar to the auditorium, as all your fellow theatregoers make their way through just two small entrances (one to each platform). They didn’t start letting people in until about ten minutes before the show was due to start, and there was no way everyone would be in place in that short space of time. So if you’re the kind of person who finds announcements like “the show will begin in one minute” sweat-inducing when there are still dozens of people in front of you, just make sure you hover near the platform doors before they are opened. Inside, the acting space is long and narrow, but that’s nothing a talented choreographer can’t use to their advantage. I thought it was a great little venue – and they’ve even gone to the trouble to provide thoroughly decent wine for sale as well.

ith-bodegaThe show itself is set in Washington Heights, a Dominican-American neighbourhood in New York City, and depicts the love lives, the ambitions, the desperations and the exhilarations of living in that locale. You’ve got Usnavi, who runs the little bodega, working hard to make ends meet, entranced by the beautiful Vanessa but almost too enfeebled by life to see his way to trying to build a relationship. You’ve got Kevin, who runs the taxi company, taking out expensive loans so that he can finance his daughter Nina through college – even though she’s dropped out and her heart is no longer in it. You’ve got Daniela, who runs the hair salon, trying to steer the younger people in what she thinks is the right direction in their careers and in their love lives. You’ve got Nina and Benny, she the taxi “heiress”, he the radio controller,IN THE HEIGHTS forging a relationship despite her father’s disapproval. You’ve got Sonny, Usnavi’s smartass brother, in danger of letting success pass him by, although he is not without ambition. And you’ve got Abuela Claudia, who wins the lottery. Over the course of two hours and twenty minutes their lives get stretched and subjected to all kinds of emotional battering, but in a relatively unusual turn of events, there’s a really feel-good and uplifting end to the show that leaves most of the characters in a better place than they were at the beginning. You could almost call it a happy ending.

IN THE HEIGHTSThe story is fast moving and rewarding, and the songs are emotional, uplifting and atmospheric. I loved Drew McOnie’s joyous choreography – I knew I would; it hits you from the first instant and shakes you up as inventive routine follows inventive routine. In response to the lively Latino sounds, he creates a brilliant blend of hip hop, salsa and rap, bringing a show that has its roots somewhere between West Side Story and Rent firmly into the 21st century. Mind you, he is blessed with a simply superb ensemble who live every inch of those dance moves. The production looks beautiful too, with atmospheric sets and costumes – and indeed, with Nina, Daniela, Vanessa and Camila all squeezed into figure-hugging salsa dresses, things often get a little hot under the collar. Gabriella Slade’s costume design for the show is a true work of art.

IN THE HEIGHTSOne of the muffled announcements that was made twice before the show, and which, on neither occasion, did I catch properly, listed all the cast-changes for that performance, rattled off at great speed because there were so many of them. I understood hardly any of it. So, apologies in advance if I get any of the performers’ names wrong. I did, however, catch that David Bedella would not be performing (sad) and that the role of Kevin would be played by Vas Constanti. Nothing against Mr Constanti, but the role of Kevin is quite mundane anyway, and I think would need someone of the charisma of Mr Bedella to make it stand out. The other major male role is that of Usnavi, played brilliantly by Sam Mackay; a central, Everyman character, and a force for good and kindness. Mr Mackay has a wonderful stage presence and is a great song and dance man.

IN THE HEIGHTSGabriela Garcia, who plays Nina, is one of those can’t take your eyes off her performers. She looks stunning; she runs the gamut of emotions with apparently effortless ease; and she has a beautiful singing voice. Sarah Naudi’s Vanessa is another great performance with a dynamic emotional click; and Aimie Atkinson’s Daniela is a lot of fun to watch, as she revels in the attention of being the boss and, let’s not deny it, looks super sexy in that dress. Among the supporting cast, I really liked Damian Buhagiar as Sonny, conveying all those recognisable signs of being the irrepressible little brother – and he’s also an amazing dancer. Juliet Gough is superb as Camila, clearly the power behind the throne at the taxi company, and, among the ensemble, Genesis Lynea has a brilliant stage presence and is a most stylish dancer.

IN THE HEIGHTSWhen the show ends, you feel a satisfying sense of exhilaration and real humanity. Congratulations to this most talented and energetic cast on bringing a little piece of Latino New York to Kings Cross. Possibly the greatest compliment I could give this is show is that you don’t feel like you’re in London, you really do feel transported to Washington Heights. Closing on the 8th January, but I can’t believe that will be the last we will see of this little gem.

Production photos by Johan Persson

Review – Jekyll and Hyde, The McOnie Company, Old Vic, 28th May 2016

Jekyll and HydeThe Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde has come a long way since its first appearance as Robert Louis Stevenson’s celebrated novella back in 1886. Several films, a musical, a play, TV series, even video games have all taken their inspiration from that original story about the decent everyman character who cannot control his evil side. Even if you haven’t read it – and I expect precious few of us have, I certainly haven’t – everyone knows the premise and everyone will have, at some time or other, have had reason to refer to someone as “a bit Jekyll and Hyde”.

Old VicIt’s excellent news for dance lovers that the Old Vic have decided to bring dance back to their regular drama seasons in their beautiful traditional theatre. And I can think of no choreographer better than Drew McOnie to bring a big, punchy story-based dance to the London Stage. He’s the next generation’s Sir Matthew Bourne. One of the reasons why I wasn’t wowed on the recent touring production of Chicago was that it lacked Mr McOnie’s choreographic deftness that we had seen in hisDanny Collins and Rachel Muldoo Leicester version of the show. He can bring magic to an old favourite, such as Oklahoma, or create something completely original like Drunk. I’m still to see In The Heights, I expect that will be amazing too. So when I realised that he was creating a dance version of Jekyll and Hyde I knew it was a Must See.

Ebony Molina and Jason WinterAnd, boy, was I right. It’s an immense production. The set is extraordinary, the costumes are evocative, and the lighting is sensational, with some of the best use of strobe you’ll see in ages. There’s an intricate array of props that really provide detail to the scenes, like all the stock in Jekyll’s flower shop or all the potions and chemicals in his laboratory. Grant Olding’s soaring score is passionate and evocative, combining dozens of different rhythms and moods, perfect for accompanying the range of scenes from high comedy, through Hollywood glamour to Grand Guignol. The overall effect is an assault on the senses and the feeling that you are watching something on a huge scale. It was that marvellous sense of being delightfully overwhelmed.

EnsembleThe show has some really big dramatic moments and the combination of top choreography and exciting music means that they work incredibly well. The first time that Jekyll turns into Hyde really spooks you. Jekyll nips into the shower and you think this might become a slightly saucy comedy moment, but as his jaunty cheery music gets gradually taken over by Hyde’s serious heavy metal, you realise that the man also has been taken over, but by someone with evil on their mind. It’s a brilliant idea to have two dancers play the roles, rather than have one try to encapsulate both sides of the character; the visible difference between the two dancers makes the differences between the two characters much stronger. All the murders that Hyde commits are really powerful dance/drama moments; chillingly executed (literally) by both Hyde and the production. And there’s a very effective nod to the aforementioned Sir Matthew Bourne in the final scene, where all the characters crawl out of the woodwork at Jekyll’s lab (just like the swans do from the headboard in Swan Lake).

spookyBut the stand-out aspect of the piece for me was its extraordinarily clear storytelling. Dance can beguile you with its mystery, its deliberate ambiguity, and with just a suggestion of narrative leaving you to fill in the gaps. That’s fine – I really enjoy that challenge. But with Jekyll and Hyde Mr McOnie has made the narrative as clear as daylight. And by that, I don’t mean it’s one-dimensional or “easy”; I mean that it’s a strong story with rewarding plot development that unfolds naturally and for the benefit and entertainment of the audience. This also helps you to identify with the characters – to will them on, to empathise with them, to keep your fingers crossed that they will survive unscathed – even though you know this is a forlorn hope. You couldn’t fail to identify with the character of Jekyll, as his emotions are all laid bare by Mr McOnie’s dramatic choreography.

Tim HodgesBut that’s only part of Jekyll’s magic. I’d seen Danny Collins in Drunk, and Show Boat, and thought he was a great dancer. However, this role has taken him to a new level. Within literally seconds of the show starting I knew that he was going to make a truly stunning impact. I can’t dance but I would have thought it was an extraordinarily demanding role. His athleticism combined with his characterisation is superb. He dances in love, he dances in fear; he dances with cheeky humour, he dances facing intimidation and threat; he dances facing death and destruction. For me it was one of the finest dance performances I’ve ever seen.

Jekyll and DahliaTim Hodges is perfect for the other side of his character, the malevolent and selfish Mr Hyde. He really conveys the delight with which Hyde goes on his sprees, and whenever Mr Collins goes out and Mr Hodges reappears you get a real frisson of horror. The swap-round moments where Jekyll becomes Hyde are brilliantly realised all the way through; and I also really loved Mr Hodges’ interactions with Ebony Molina’s incredibly expressive Ivy, including his dramatic launch on the bed from way on high!

Ivy and CharlieI particularly enjoyed the performance of Alexzandra Sarmiento as Daisy, who has a fantastic I’m happy to be dancing in a flower shop solo, full of genuine joy and optimism, which makes the character’s ultimate demise even more affecting. After Hyde has run riot, Miss Sarmiento is extraordinarily good at playing dead! Anabel Kutay, as always, delivers both comic and serious with her inimitable sensual style, Rachel Muldoon conveyed all Dahlia’s growing affection for Jekyll with great sincerity and class, and Jason Winter was a terrifically bullying Charlie (whose come-uppance was fantastically dramatic). But the whole cast are amazing and give such strong, committed performances so that there’s never a down moment or a misplaced foot.

DancingI’ll be honest – I thought the constant scene changes, though accurately and seamlessly achieved, slightly got in the way of the dancing, sometimes creating an unwanted interruption to the action, rather than enhancing the performance. But this is a comparatively minor quibble. The show had such a brief run at the Old Vic for this superb production – surely it deserves a life somewhere after this? If you were lucky enough to see it, cherish those memories! If you didn’t see it – you definitely should be kicking yourselves!

Production photos by Manuel Harlan

Review – Hairspray, Derngate, Northampton, 28th September 2015

HairsprayThe prospect of the return of Hairspray the Musical filled Mrs Chrisparkle and me with delight. We loved the original show in 2008 with Michael Ball and Leanne Jones, and remember leaving the theatre energised and upbeat. The original film, too, is a heap of fun, with the amazing Divine as Edna – casting that thereby required all future Ednas to be played by a bloke. One quick check of the creative team for this revival tells you you’re in the safest of hands, with Leicester’s Paul Kerryson directing, top-of-his-game Drew McOnie choreographing, and a cast of huge talent. So it was no surprise that the Derngate was packed to the rafters with an almost full house on Monday night for its first performance in Northampton.

Tony MaudsleyI’m sure you know the story, but in a nutshell: “pleasingly plump” Tracy Turnblad longs to be a TV star but she has neither the figure nor the middle class background to break into the big time. When she tries to audition for Corny Collins’ music and dance show she comes up against the ruthless producer Velma whose sole ambition is to get her pretty but obnoxious daughter Amber into the limelight, primarily by fixing her to win the “Miss Teenage Hairspray” title. But Tracy’s natural vivacity and talent shine through and when Corny sees her perform he insists on her being in the show. We’re talking 1962 Baltimore, and there’s racial segregation everywhere you look. Prim parents, like that of Tracy’s best mate Penny, Peter Duncanrefer to “race music”, and the prejudiced Velma has an “all-white” policy for the show. One day a month is “Negro day”, when the black performers are allowed to take to the stage – no other time. Tracy tries to use her new influence to break down this barrier by organising a protest march for all the dancers on the show to demand full integration between the races. When the march gets out of hand, the police are called, they’re all arrested, but “the new Elvis”, Link, sneaks into the prison and helps Tracy escape so that she can get back to the studio just in time to win “Miss Teenage Hairspray”. In the end, segregation becomes integration in what turns out to be a very moral story where good wins through and evil is defeated.

Freya SuttonThere’s so much to enjoy this production, and a good night was had by all despite some technical problems, no doubt related to the fact that this was its first night on tour. Given that it’s Paul Kerryson in charge, perhaps surprisingly the majority of problems are down to the staging. We were in the middle of row F of the stalls – and I spoke to a friend who was in the side stalls in Row K – and we both had the same problem: you can see far too much of what’s going on in the wings. Now, you might expect that if you’re right on the edges of the seating plan; and sometimes a little hint of what’s going on is quite exciting from a stagecraft point of view. But this level of movement was distracting. The problem is that the side drapes don’t hang low enough to mask what’s going on – maybe because of the two platforms that get wheeled on and off at the sides, representing the Turnblads’ house and Motormouth Maybelle’s record shop. The band are also positioned at the back of the set, which means from time to time they are in full view, normally something that would lend an added, exciting dynamic; but during the course of the evening I looked up at them occasionally and when some band members were not playing their instruments, they simply looked bored! So that really didn’t work. I also felt that the scenery representing the prison was distracting, as it flew in and out of position just a bit too often; and I also didn’t realise that the place where Seaweed and his pals hung out was meant to be a record shop; I thought it was just a street.

Claire SweeneyHopefully the technical issues will get quickly ironed out – there were, for example, too many moments when actors were performing unlit, and where the pauses between scenes were too long. Fortunately, the cast coped with the problems admirably; particular kudos to Jon Tsouras for deftly switching from hand-held mic to no mic and back again without a flicker of an eyebrow. I must say though this is the first time I’ve ever seen a dancer (no names, no pack drill) come on stage in a pair of trousers at least three sizes too small for him, unzipped and unbuttoned up at the top, do a few moves and then run off, not to reappear for the rest of the scene. What on earth happened there?! Had he put on someone else’s trousers? Despite that, I thought Takis’ costume design for the show was first rate, providing a stage billowing with primary colours and creating some enormously snazzy shirts and jackets of which I was thoroughly jealous.

Brenda Edwards and castTalking of dancing, and dancers, this is one area in which this production absolutely excels. Drew McOnie’s choreography is sparky and funny, and reaches out to the audience with a huge pair of open arms and welcomes us in. He creates dances that manage to tell a story, even within the context of a big show number, in a way that other choreographers would just create something that looks pretty. It was his choreography for the song “Run and Tell That” that was so instantly captivating and that matched perfectly the creativity of his dancers, that made you feel you were watching something really special. The whole dance ensemble are fantastic, but amongst them there is one Layton Williams, whom we saw in Lord of the Flies, who is just an amazing dancer, and for whom I predict Really Great Things.

Jon TsourasOf course the role of Edna is really larger-than-life, and Tony Maudsley has some very big shoes to fill when you consider other performers who have taken the role before him. When he first appeared on stage, I was completely thrown as he was the spitting image of my Nan in the 1970s. Even their gravelly voices were similar. He plays Edna more demurely than I would have expected; very respectful of her maternal role, and not remotely playing up the drag aspect. I was unsure of this interpretation at first, but it worked particularly well with the show-stopping “You’re Timeless to Me”, as his surprisingly refined and elegant Edna provides a great contrast with Peter Duncan’s cheeky-chappie portrayal of Wilbur. With Mr Duncan cutting a diminutive figure in comparison to Mr Maudsley’s statuesque Edna, it was a bit like Tigger romancing Winnie-the-Pooh’s granny. I didn’t expect to have to say this, but I still think he could brighten up (maybe even camp up) his more glamorous appearances; in particular his final entrance didn’t quite have a sufficiently outrageous wow factor for me. Mr Duncan is, however, pitch-perfect throughout, conveying just the right mix of parental kindliness and general facetiousness that you would expect a joke shop proprietor-father to have.

Dex LeeFreya Sutton is a great Tracy; full of teenager enthusiasm, hopelessly infatuated with pop stars and delightfully open-minded and unprejudiced. She sings with great strength and charm and can turn in some wicked dance moves too. There’s a cracking performance from Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Maybelle, putting all her heart and soul (and then some more) into that big rousing number; and a funny yet very strong musical performance from Monique Young as Tracy’s dorky friend Penny, who graduates from Ugly Duckling to Beautiful Swan in front of our eyes. Jon Tsouras cuts a charismatic dash as Corny Collins, nicely massaging away the fixed grin from his face whenever the camera is turned off, and there’s excellent support from both Adam Price and Tracey Penn as the two “authority figures”. Lauren Stroud is a splendidly smart-arsey Amber, the perfect representation of what you become when you’re spoilt rotten as a child. I thought Ashley Gilmour rather underplayed the role of Link Larkin; I’m not sure I could see him as the next Elvis, to be honest, and you couldn’t really tell when he was being a louse and when a hero. There was an unintentionally hilarious moment when he came through the audience to rescue Tracy from prison. Waving his torch in all directions he called out “where are you?” to which an audience member replied “here!” and we all had to stifle our giggles.

Monique YoungI always love it when I see A Star Is Born performance – and this show has one in the form of Dex Lee as Seaweed. We’ve already seen him once in the incredible Scottsboro Boys but in Hairspray he absolutely shines and confirms he is a brilliant song and dance man. His voice, his dancing and his enormously likeable stage presence make for a winning combination; and he and Monique Young made a really charming young couple together. There were also brilliant contributions from the three Dynamite girls, Vanessa Fisher, Aiesha Pease and Bobbie Little. They looked gorgeous, sang like a dream and danced their little socks off.

Layton WilliamsOf course the show has lots of amazingly entertaining moments, none more exhilarating than its brilliant finale – You Can’t Stop the Beat – which, as Mrs C pointed out, is worth the ticket fee alone, and which guarantees you leave the theatre in the bounciest of moods. It also has some hard-hitting and poignant moments where it exposes the racial segregation system of the time, and its occasional uncomfortable scenes stand out as moments of telling dramatic tension. Once it’s taken a couple of days to bed in this is going to be a really slick show – fingers crossed for no more technical failures! It’s on a pretty massive UK tour right round to next May, so if you’re local to Malvern, Liverpool, Hull, Manchester, Wimbledon, Bradford, Southampton, Ipswich, Brighton, Birmingham, Newcastle, Aberdeen, Sheffield, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Inverness, Bristol, Woking, Cardiff, Norwich, Milton Keynes, Canterbury or Stoke, I’m sure you’ll have a great time!

Review – Oklahoma! Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 19th February 2015

OklahomaWhen it comes to writing the annals of the development of Musical Theatre, few productions are more significant than Oklahoma! Based on Lynn Riggs’ play Green Grow the Lilacs, this was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first partnership. It wasn’t foreseen that R & H would be a dream team together, even though they’d had considerable successes in previous partnerships (Rodgers and Hart, Hammerstein and Kern). Given that the source play had been a flop on Broadway, chalking up only 64 performances, and that Oscar Hammerstein had had a string of disasters throughout the 30s, commercial backing was hard to come by. Few people thought a folksy musical set in historical Indian Territory would be The Next Big Thing. But those few people who did, laughed all the way to the bank as the original Broadway production of Oklahoma! ran for 2,212 performances (at the time a Broadway record) from 1943 to 1948, and the West End production didn’t do badly either, opening in 1947 and running for 1,543 performances. In London, Curly was played by a young Howard Keel – so young, in fact, that at that stage he hadn’t yet changed his name from Harold Keel. And there was the film version too, directed by Fred Zinnemann in 1955 – I expect that made a few bob.

Ashley Day and Charlotte WakefieldBut it’s not only as a commercial success that it’s significant. Stylistically it was way ahead of its time. Usually musical shows would open with a big ensemble number to get the mood swinging – after all, the musical is the perfect vehicle for upbeat, uptempo, comic, all-singing and all-dancing theatre. The original production of Oklahoma! (like Oliver! you must never forget the exclamation mark) started with an old woman churning butter and a young cowboy singing Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’ offstage, on his own, with no accompaniment. From glitzy and glamorous to minimalist in one fell swoop, you couldn’t get a more reserved, introverted start. In this new production directed by Rachel Kavanaugh, Curly does actually come on stage before he starts singing, and Aunt Eller is washing shirts rather than churning butter, but I guess that’s progress.

Charlotte WakefieldThen there is the subject matter. Forget your Irving Berlin and Cole Porter fripperies of the 1920s and 30s, here we have a tale of survival, of ruthlessness, of potential violence. In its exploration of adolescent love there’s an element of Spring Awakening; in the character of Jud Fry you have a brutal sex pest, the cause of which may be due to his mental deficiencies; with his murder at the hands of Curly, you have the heroic young male lead killing off his rival in love. There were certainly elements of the story with which Mrs Chrisparkle wasn’t comfortable. There’s a scene where Curly shows Jud how easy it would be to hang himself, using a rope tied round a conveniently protruding beam end. The song Pore Jud is Daid is a fantasy about how, after he has died, everyone realises what a great bloke he was (he wasn’t) and how much they will miss him and weep for him (they won’t). Where else would it be acceptable to laugh at a scene where a young man tries to convince his mentally challenged rival to top himself? It’s definitely the stuff of Orton or Bond – hardly what you would expect from a jolly Rodgers and Hammerstein musical from the 1940s. But that is the power of the musical – it can explore such difficult material whilst retaining the veneer of light entertainment.

Belinda LangSo it’s great to welcome this new production of Oklahoma! to the Royal and Derngate before it embarks on its national tour. The performance we saw last night was its first preview before opening on Monday and you could almost taste the excitement from the stage as the cast gave it all they had and seemed to have a great time in the process. Francis O’Connor’s set slowly opens out in the first few moments as the back flies up to reveal a hint of the bright golden haze on the medder; Aunt Eller’s front porch looks poor but hospitable; the ever revolving windmill sail keeps on turning and it’s easy to imagine yourself taken back to the Indian Territory of 1906 before it is assimilated as the 46th state of the USA as Oklahoma. Stephen Ridley’s ten-piece band plays the amazing score like a dream (there isn’t a duff song in the show, although occasionally some of them end a little more suddenly than you expect), and the volume amplification is set to just perfect (something that’s so easy to get wrong nowadays).

Gary WilmotThe choreography is by Drew McOnie, who basically seems to have choreographed every show we’ve seen recently, and is a joy to watch. You can see that a lot of it is inspired by the action of getting on or off your horse, with a sense of cowboy machismo running through it like a stick of rock. Typical of these early-mid twentieth century musicals you’ve also got a dream ballet sequence to contend with. As an audience member, if you’re not attuned to the choreographer’s style than these can be anywhere on a scale from dull to excruciating. But Mr McOnie has created an exciting, dynamic piece of modern dance, including aspects from other numbers and routines elsewhere in the show, and really bringing to life the tangibility of Laurey’s dream, with its sensual delights and terrifying horrors in equal measure. No dull dream ballet this, but a riveting dance drama, fantastically performed. Oh, and there’s dancing with bales of hay. Where else would you find that?

James O'Connell and Lucy May BarkerThe show is blessed with a talented and likeable cast who give some tremendous performances. At its heart is the on-off love interest between Curly and Laurey and you really need to believe the relationship between these two for the show to work – and they express that relationship magnificently. Early in the show Charlotte Wakefield’s Laurey is to be found moping on Aunt Eller’s porch, sending off hostile vibes to Curly; but she has a glint in her eye from the start and really captures that sense of a young girl being swept away by her emotions. She is a brilliant singer, and brought a massive amount of warmth and affection to the role. She was perfectly matched by Ashley Day as Curly (who we last saw as one of those nice Ugandan missionaries in The Book of Mormon) at first feigning cocky confidence over his wanting to take Laurey to the box social that night, but soon unable to conceal his true feelings for her. I can imagine there’s a considerable sense of responsibility in delivering the iconic Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’ by yourself, right at the beginning of the show, but Mr Day carried it off with ease. Vocally the two blend stunningly. I really enjoyed the whole Surrey with the Fringe on Top routine, and they did more than justice to People Will Say We’re In Love, a song I learned in my infancy, it being one of the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle’s favourites. These are two young actors to watch – they’re definitely on course for a great career in musical theatre.

Charlotte Wakefield in rehearsalThere are also a couple of actors who are already at the peak of their fantastic careers, and these performances will do no harm to their CVs either. Aunt Eller is played by Belinda Lang with amazing conviction. She’s on stage a lot of the time, even if she’s just washing shirts or observing conversations. We both loved how she expressed the kindliness of the role with very little sentimentality. It was a harsh world in those days, and you can see it in Miss Lang’s eyes. She also turns on the comedy with a great deftness, particularly in the Act Two opener, The Farmer and the Cowman, wielding a rifle that’s almost bigger than she is. And of course there is everyone’s favourite song and dance man, Gary Wilmot, as the Persian peddler Ali Hakim, with a comic performance that’s part pantomime, part music hall, whilst never going over the top or losing sight of the genuine concerns of his character. We’ve seen Mr Wilmot a few times recently – in the Menier’s Invisible Man, the Birmingham Hippodrome’s Snow White and in Radio Times at the Royal, and if ever there was a born entertainer, it’s him.

Belinda Lang in rehearsalThe ensemble boys and girls all sing and dance with great verve and enthusiasm and brighten up the stage whenever they are on. But there are also some great performances from other members of the cast. I was very pleased to see that one of my favourite performers was in this show, James O’Connell as Will Parker, the not-overly intelligent suitor to Miss Ado Annie Carnes, who has been told to save $50 before her father will agree to their marriage; and who every time he amasses $50, he spends it. We saw Mr O’Connell in Chichester’s Barnum a couple of years ago and he’s a great combination of character actor and dancer. What I particularly admire about him is how nifty he can be on his feet without being one of the more svelte members of the cast. I’m sure he’s also going to have a great career. Lucy May Barker was Ado Annie, and gave us a brilliantly funny I Cain’t Say No. It’s a great fun role, being hopelessly attracted to every man she meets, and Miss Barker does it with great aplomb. There was also excellent support from Kara Lane as the horrendous Gertie Cummings, laughing hideously as she gets more and more attached to the unfortunate Ali, and Paul Grunert as Ado Annie’s inflexibly stern and protective father Andrew – who also allows Curly to get off scot-free at the end.

Nic GreenshieldsAnd that nicely brings us to Nic Greenshields as Jud, which has to be one of the most serious roles in all musical comedy – and maybe thankless too, as the audience doesn’t like the character even though you’re not a typical stage villain. Mr Greenshields has a fantastically imposing stage presence, and he creates the most expressive and moving performances of the songs Pore Jud is Daid and Lonely Room. There is a fine line to be trod with the character of Jud – part thug, part bumpkin; the kind of guy who will line the walls of his living room with the equivalent of Page 3 Girls, and fantasise about gadgets that will kill a man without his having a clue he’s in danger; but who on the other hand is simply desperately lonely and in need of some female company. Mr Greenshields treads that line perfectly – I thought it was a tremendous performance.

Gary Wilmot in rehearsalOklahoma! is scheduled for a national tour from now until the middle of August. Whilst it may be a little old fashioned for some people’s taste, nevertheless when you have a score as rich and entertaining as this, as well as an excellent cast, great singing and dancing and plenty to think about on the way home, I unhesitatingly recommend it as a terrific revival of one of the most significant shows in American musical theatre. Oklahoma, OK!

Publicity photos by Pamela Raith

Review – The Sound of Music, Curve Theatre Leicester, 17th January 2015

The Sound of Music 2015Everybody loves The Sound of Music, don’t they? It was a natural choice for us to take our nieces Secret Agent Code November and Special Agent Code Sierra to see a show completely suitable for children. As indeed did the majority of the citizens of Leicester, judging from the number of children who were in Saturday’s matinee audience. All eager for a stage presentation of that sweet, wholesome musical film that generations have grown up with. Of course, the original stage version preceded the film by six years, but we don’t often think about that.

Do Re MiYou can smell that crisp, unpolluted Austrian countryside air. The delectable, yet innocent, Julie Andrews teaching children to sing Do-re-Mi. Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. High on a hill stood a lonely goatherd. Larks that are learning to pray. It’s the full package. Yes, of course there are Nazis, but you never really get the sense that they’re anything but plastic baddies creating a bit of an exciting chase towards the end of the film.

The Sound of Music 2007That used to be my opinion. Then on 9th April 2007 we saw the Palladium production starring Connie How do you solve a problem like Maria Fisher – except that it was one of the performances where Maria was played by Sophie Bould who normally played Liesl – and extremely good she was too. But the most memorable thing about that production was how, about three-quarters of the way through, the Palladium transformed itself into a Nazi rally, with huge swastika banners hurling down from the ceiling throughout the auditorium; and that simple device just took my breath away. It was really scary.

Maria and LieslSo there is definitely a blend of the sweet and the sour in this show. Mrs Chrisparkle and I once dressed up for a performance of Sing-along-a-Sound-of-Music at the Wycombe Swan. That experience certainly emphasised the sweet side of the story. Mrs C became a less than demure nun and I was a redoubtable, fully-kitted-out German Officer. The best dressed competition was tough for the ladies as the place was awash with nuns of all shapes and sizes. However, us German Officer lads were fewer and farther in between. Only half a dozen or so of us actually got on the stage to be voted on, and I think I was the only one who assumed any sort of character. I based my performance on Bernard Hepton in Colditz, only a bit more vicious. I got loads of boos and hisses. and won a rather lousy CD of cover versions of Sound of Music songs for my pains.

Seven childrenThe new production of The Sound of Music at the Leicester Curve – which ended its season on the 17th January – repeated the dream team of the previous year’s Chicago, being directed by Paul Kerryson (his swansong before standing down as Curve Artistic Director) and choreographed by up-and-coming dance genius Drew McOnie. It was a beautiful production, and I’m glad we managed to see it on its final day. Al Parkinson’s sets were stunning, on a grand scale. The severe looking bars that dropped down to represent the hallowed gated cloisters of the Abbey, with coloured lighting coming from imaginary stained glass windows; and the huge painting that appeared to suggest the Reverend Mother’s office gave it a real sense of substance and occasion. The surprisingly natural looking green mountain where Maria first appears, with its big strong trees descending into place made you want to go for a hike; the grandeur of the inside of Captain von Trapp’s villa made you feel like you were worth a million dollars. The Nazi element was also effectively portrayed, with the subtle regular introduction of swastikas on armbands as the show proceeds, and when the von Trapp children are performing at the Kaltzberg Festival there was no escaping our row (E of the stalls) as we had two Nazi “heavies” at either end, observing us closely and making sure we weren’t going to assist in any escape attempt. As if.

16 going on 17Recently a number of otherwise really good musicals have been spoiled by the sound amplification. In some – Calamity Jane, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – it was really hard to hear the words at all because of the over-amplification. Well, all praise to the people twiddling the technical knobs at the Curve because the sound quality in this show was just perfect. The star roles were sung with impeccable exquisiteness anyway; but the overall clarity and purity of the sound throughout the performance was amazing.

Maria and the CaptainMaria was played by Laura Pitt-Pulford, who was a magnificent Irene in the Curve’s Hello Dolly a couple of years ago. It was a faultless performance; the singing, the humour, the warmth, the anguish, were all perfect. Seeing her Maria was like meeting an old friend – there’s a lot you remember from when you last met but since then they’ve got a few new tricks up their sleeve too. By the time she’d finished singing the opening “Sound of Music” theme I had goosebumps everywhere. I loved her relationship with the children – especially Emma Harrold’s Liesl (so much better in this show than in the awful Happy Days) – and her growing relationship with the Captain was very delicately portrayed. Her Ländler dance with him, after which one of the children, Brigitta, tells her that she’s obviously in love her dad, was one of those deep down, genuinely lovely moments.

RolfIn the performance we saw, the Captain was played by Mark Inscoe (who normally plays Max, and who we last saw as a villainous Claudius in Hamlet the Musical). His was a very different Captain from any other I’d seen, in that he didn’t come across as particularly tyrannical at first. He didn’t raise his voice in belligerence or strictness; he just liked households to run like a well-oiled machine. In fact he was like one of those very quiet level-headed bosses who you know will handle a crisis well – firmly but fairly. In many respects it’s a much more believable presentation, but it does also mean that his leaving the dark side and becoming nice again isn’t quite so dramatic. This Captain definitely reserves his tough side for dealing with the Nazi sympathisers rather than disobedient children. I very much enjoyed his performance though, including how he doesn’t have much time for his reprehensible pal Max (played on this occasion by Matt Harrop, who warmed into the role during the course of the show) and having a lot of flirtatiousness with the glamorous Frau Schräder, (she’s just a Frau here, she’s a Baroness in the film), played with style and vivacity by Emma Clifford (although Mrs C wasn’t convinced by her accent).

Climb Every MountainThe other outstanding performance was by Susannah van den Berg as the Mother Abbess. Previously we’d seen her in a relatively minor role in Fiddler on the Roof where she was clearly hiding her light under a bushel. Her Mother Abbess is a fantastic creation – balanced, witty and not afraid to be cruel to be kind. When she sang Climb Every Mountain before the interval, those goosebumps came back in droves. A total musical treat. There was also excellent support from Hannah Grace, Rebecca Ridout and Kate Manley as the Sisters with opposing views of how you solve a problem like Maria; an intelligent performance by Jack Wilcox as Rolf who seems kindly enough to Liesl in the superbly staged Sixteen Going on Seventeen, but proves himself a turncoat at the end; and an excellently nasty portrayal of Nazi enthusiast Herr Zeller by Patrick Moy.

EdelweissAnd then, of course, there are the children. A captain with seven children…. what’s so fearsome about that? I always enjoy that line. The programme lists a choice of two or three names against each child character but with no photos so I’m afraid I don’t know which particular actors we saw in our performance. Suffice to say they were all excellent. I do think they were probably considerably older than the children they were playing – especially the character of seven-year-old Marta who seemed very mature – but they never put a foot or a vocal chord wrong throughout. You’re not meant to have favourites with kids, but little Gretl was outstandingly cute, and Kurt was impishly decent in his dancing with Maria. Their So Long Farewell was definitely a highlight of the show.

Frau SchräderAll in all, a superb production that looked and sounded absolutely great throughout. A very fitting send-off for Paul Kerryson, and a tribute to the wonderful theatre that he has steered artistically over the past few years. We all loved the show, and have been singing the songs with irritating regularity ever since!

Review – Drunk, McOnie Company – revisited – Bridewell Theatre, 8th February 2014

Gemma SuttonI was lucky enough to see the McOnie Company’s new show Drunk on its first preview night in Leicester, but as Mrs Chrisparkle spent that night in New Jersey, training American and British colleagues on the art of how not to rub each other up the wrong way, it was a case of “Dance for One”. But when she read my blog about what a great show it was, she announced that she too would like to see for herself what all the fuss was about. Thus it was that last Saturday evening we walked along the Strand and crossed that boundary into the No Man’s Land that is Fleet Street after dark, hung a right into Bride Lane, walked the wrong way around the church and eventually found the little Bridewell theatre.

Simon HardwickIt’s a neat little place, with a very welcoming bar that serves nice red wine, and I thought it was a friendly touch that a lady came round all the tables in the bar asking if we wanted to buy a programme. I had already decided that I wouldn’t need another one, as I still had my programme from Leicester, less than two weeks previously. But I can’t resist a fresh programme, so, much to the scoffing of Mrs C, I parted with my two quid; and I’m glad I did, as the new programme has much more information in it, including (what a 21st century world this is), the twitter addresses for all the cast, creative team and band. There are no reserved seats at the Bridewell; you just pile in and grab the best one you can. A word of warning; don’t do as I did, and expect the email which you have printed off as your e-ticket to magically gain you entrance to the auditorium – you have to present it to the box office first and swap it for tickets, which the door staff then take off you. Not realising that led to our losing our place in the queue with my subsequent brief but tangible annoyance that others, who were behind us, were nicking all the best seats. I shouldn’t have worried though, because the Bridewell is a neat and compact venue, and even if you are sitting at the outer edges of the rows you still get a very good view of the action.

Lucinda LawrenceIf you’ve not seen the show before and want to know what it’s all about, may I refer you to my previous blog – just go back a couple of paragraphs and click on the link. It’s always fascinating to see a show a second time; to notice if there are any changes, maybe things you missed the first time, things that are better, or worse, than you remember. That for me is the absolute magic about live entertainment – no two performances are ever identical. And whilst I don’t think there are any significant differences, there were some aspects that I’d overlooked in my first review.

Katy LowenhoffI’d forgotten the brilliant first solo dance, when Daniel Collins’ Martini first shows up, all swagger and swank, and acting as though he owns the place. Gemma Sutton’s Ice thinks she’s really landed on her feet with this hot new date, but then, isn’t it always the way, he’s actually meeting someone else…and someone else… well, Martini is a very versatile drink, after all. It’s a really funny and sophisticated routine, which tells its own mini-epic story in the space of a few minutes.

Fela LufadejuI also appreciated much more this time the scene when we are introduced to Ice’s first boyfriend. He was her Adam, and no doubt she was his Eve; but it was he who tempted her with the apple, and I guess cider is many people’s first experience with drink. It’s a beautiful scene between Miss Sutton and Simon Hardwick – fresh and innocent, cheeky and loving, and very touching. When she decides that she’s had enough of first love and needs to move on, his sense of rejection is very moving. Looking back, you wonder if she really made the right decision that day.

Daniel CollinsAnabel Kutay’s Absinthe seems sexier than ever with her studied slow pouring of her intoxicating liquid down everyone’s helplessly open mouths – there’s no doubt who’s in charge of dishing out hangovers here. The Pimms party of four toffs out on their jolly rampage is still, for me, the funniest scene; and I was very taken by Lucinda Lawrence’s paparazzi’d star Vodka, like a Russian Norma Desmond, languishing at the bar, bedecked in ermine, alluring yet aloof. The Scotch and Rum scene is sensitively and beautifully done; this love story between two American soldiers in 1943 starts with a rolled up note stuffed in a bottle, such as you might find drifting on to a desert island beach and ends with the knowledge that only one of them survived the war. The superbly tender performances of Ashley Andrews and Fela Lufadeju quite bring a lump to the throat.

Ashley AndrewsFinally, I love the cheery and generous curtain call, with each cast member introducing another cast member; and the final exit from the stage, the cast hungover after 80 minutes of hedonism, helps us back into the real world too. As they slope off, from our seats on the side you hear them fantasising about getting cheesy chips on the way home, and you think, “that’s not such a bad idea”…

Anabel KutayI was already sold on the show, but what did Mrs C think? I could tell she loved it, from the way she leaned forward throughout the whole performance, in that body language expression that betrays how involved you are with what’s on stage. We both feel that Drew McOnie has got a real winner on his hands here; with its innovative combination of theatre and dance, he’s created something really special. It’s on till March 1st at the Bridewell but surely it must have some future life afterwards? No matter what, it’s a must-see whether you love dance or drama.

Review – Drunk, McOnie Company, Leicester Curve Studio, 28th January 2014

DrunkDrew McOnie’s Drunk. No, that’s not a criticism, it’s an exciting and vivacious evening of music and dance that had its first airing last Tuesday at the Leicester Curve. It was only a month ago that I saw his stage work for the first time in the raunchy and inventive Chicago, at the very same theatre. Now he has launched his own dance company with a new show, the exhilarating and cheery Drunk; 80 minutes of fast, frenetic, funny and fabulous choreography interspersed with the story of how “Ice” spent her evening, waiting for a date and recollecting ex-lovers by means of Grant Olding’s wistful and witty songs.

Gemma SuttonWhilst Ice (Miss Gemma Sutton on terrific vocal form) is hanging expectantly round the bar, she encounters various customers who all take on the mantle of representing various drinks. Scotch, Martini, cider, Absinthe, vodka, champagne and rum, all get a mention in the programme but I reckon there were quite a few others there who turned up at the bar with the intention of getting smashed. Ice herself is somewhat slow to nail her drink colours to the mast, and with the others all demanding to know what she wants to order, the pressure is on – and she can’t decide. It’s as though her senses are assaulted by the huge variety of alcoholic choices; confronted by an overload of optics one might say. Surprisingly, Ice isn’t a great mixer;Anabel Kutay I guess when the heat is on she tends to water down the contents a bit. Thus she looks horrified when getting coerced into a dance routine by those reckless spirits cavorting around her, although she soon gets the hang of it. As each digestif gets digested, she starts to loosen up, and as the evening comes to an end, she finally melts and makes her choice.

Ashley AndrewsFrom my position in the front row of the Curve Studio last Tuesday, I felt a tremendous impact from the show. It’s like a waft of pleasure that just hits you direct from the stage. The set is simple but effective. You’re in a nightclub, with the wonderful band amassed on the other side of the bar, who create a fantastically sophisticated sound that incorporates jazz and swing, with elements of musical theatre; in fact, the score contains a wide variety of musical influences and absolutely calls out for a cast album to be made. Along the bar counter are enticingly shaped frosted glasses and bottles that the dancers will later take to both their mouths and their hearts; apart from that there are just a couple of stylised box seats scattered around and an empty stage for the eight superb performers to fill. The majority of the costumes are in various shades ofSimon Hardwick grey and white, which look classy and elegant by themselves and then take on the livelier colours of whatever light is being projected on to them, creating an almost chameleon effect. The whole thing is a cunning combination of classiness and self-indulgence; in a nutshell, it all looks and sounds gorgeous.

Katy LowenhoffThe real impact though is from the incredibly lively and strong dancing. These eight performers really know the meaning of entertainment. At close range, you can see so clearly the huge effort and stamina required for them to do what they do, and I am full of admiration. I don’t know how collaborative the choreographic process is – very, I expect – because each dancer seems to have their own particular moves or styles at which they excel and which form a major part of their contribution to the show; for example no one does slinky sexy quite like Miss Anabel Kutay, and no one does athletic high kicks quite like Mr Ashley Andrews, and both of them have great routines that encourage them to dig deep and absolutely perform their socks off.

Daniel CollinsWhat sets this show apart from many other excellent dance pieces is its clear narrative, as expressed through the songs, rather than being a group of scenes each with equal abstract weight from which you assemble your own interpretation of what’s going on. That’s what makes it feel more like a one-act play, enhanced with music and dancing, instead of simply a piece of contemporary dance. It has the “one woman’s journey” element of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tell Me on a Sunday, but with those great moves to accompany it, it’s a lot more entertaining.

Lucinda LawrenceThe whole show flows beautifully from scene to scene, and each scene generates its own humour or pathos as well as its superb dancing; but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have my favourite moments. I loved the humour and choreography of the opening routine where all the dancers start chatting up their chosen drinks and the “drinkies” themselves start to respond back, so that they end up almost making love to each other. The thought of Mr Simon Hardwick’s slightly shocked response to his bottle snuggling up to him (“oh, that’s a bit intimate”) still makes me laugh. Another highlight was Miss Katy Lowenhoff’s glittering (literally) appearance as Champagne, the belle of the bar, whizzing about in an appropriately bubbly fashion, whilst everyone else was singing from their pompous wine tasting notes. But perhaps the funniest sequence featured Messrs Andrews, Collins, and Misses Kutay and Lawrence as four posh sporty types, chukka-ing their polo ponies and getting down to some very close quarters rowing. It had the audience in hysterics.

Fela LufadejuDrunk has a very grown-up feel to it, and it doesn’t shy away from a number of adult themes, which absolutely proves that top-quality dance is probably the most expressive form of theatre you can see. In productions like this, you don’t need words to be eloquent. It was one of those shows where you came away at the end a better person than the one you went in as. I sense this new show is going to make a big impression on the dance world, and it was a privilege to be part of its first ever audience. There’s only a handful of seats left for Saturday’s performance at the Curve, but it’s going on for a month’s season at the Bridewell theatre in London in February. Really tempted to go again!

Review – Chicago, Curve Theatre, Leicester, 31st December 2013

Chicago Confession time: I have a problem with the show Chicago. I first saw it on 14th April 1979 (look, there’s my programme and ticket stub in the picture below! Such a trend-setting teenager I was, just four days after opening night), and three weeks after the original production of A Chorus Line closed at Drury Lane, a show I’d seen eight times by that stage and which was, and remains, my favourite show of all time. To put it in context, I was missing my Chorus Line, and I hoped Chicago might fill its void. Chicago 1979But I was wrong. Chicago is no Chorus Line. Chorus Line is highly moral; good gets rewarded, respect is given to everyone, and everyone is special, there are no celebrities. The songs and book are about talent, personal development, and being true to yourself. The costumes are either work-functional or showbiz pizazz. Michael Bennett’s choreography was optimistic, cheeky and bright.

Gemma SuttonChicago, on the other hand, is highly amoral. Murderers and corrupt officials get rewarded, celebrity status is king, the good get downtrodden. The songs and book are about crime, cynicism and putting on an act. The costumes are sleazy. The Bob Fosse-inspired choreography was flashy, sexual and lurid. Why did I want to see this Leicester revival then? In fact I very nearly didn’t book for this show, but in the end I decided to “keep the faith” with the recent London A Chorus Line, as three impressive members of its cast are in it. History repeating itself in fact; the original London cast of Chicago featured five members of the Chorus Line cast who had lost their jobs three weeks earlier.

Sandra Marvin and Verity RushworthAs a Chorus Line fan, I was always a Michael Bennett boy, never a Bob Fosse boy. But now, after seeing the Curve’s new production of Chicago, I think I could become a Drew McOnie boy. For one of this show’s chief highlights is the completely new set of routines by this young choreographer who we enjoyed watching a few years back on “So You Think You Can Dance”. You can’t classify his style by any one term, as every song,David Leonard every routine has its own different flavour. I had no sense of repetition, but I did get a great sense of inventiveness, showbiz, sexiness and some mystery too. I particularly loved the transformation of “Razzle Dazzle” into a circus presentation. Above all, the choreography throughout was enjoyable and communicative, and I look forward to seeing more of his work in the future.

Sandra Marvin, Gemma Sutton and Verity RushworthIn case you don’t know, but may have surmised from my first paragraph anyway, Chicago is set in the 1920s and is based on the true stories of Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner who got away with the murders of their lovers through their courtroom glamour and pretend vulnerability that made their all-male juries go weak at the knees. On stage in this show they become Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, who live a celebrity lifestyle whilst on remand and are represented by the dashing lawyer Billy FlynnBilly Flynn, whose interest in solely financial. The structure of the show is key to how the audience reacts to it, as each scene is introduced by a member of the cast addressing the audience directly and telling them what to expect in 100% Bertolt Brecht style. Brecht’s original vision was deliberately to distance the audience from the action, and it’s absolutely true, it’s an incredibly effective device to take you one step further away in each scene from either identifying with the characters or from getting lost and involved in the action. I think that’s one of the reasons I have reservations about the show. It’s intriguing without being all-involving.

Mr CellophaneI also found the some of the costumes rather off-putting too. With the original Fosse choreography, a sense of sleaziness felt very appropriate, but in this production I don’t think the choreography requires it. In fact I thought some of the “boys-in-a-basque” costumes bordered on the Rocky Horror instead, which I’m sure is not what was intended. After all, I follow some of these chaps on twitter, it doesn’t feel entirely decent to see them clad so dubiously. I’m also not entirely sure I like the “unveiling” of the character of Mary Sunshine at the end either; in the other productions I’ve seen, the performer’s details in the programme feature an androgynous face and their first name is in initials so you can’t be entirely sure if it’s a man or a woman; but at the Curve, we know straight away that the character is played by Adam Bailey, so revealing his bare chest at the end is I feel both prurient and redundant.

Harry FrancisHowever, what is beyond doubt is that Paul Kerryson has assembled a cast of great talent who work together fantastically well, and who sing and dance with superb skill. The double act of Verity Rushworth and Gemma Sutton as the wicked Velma and Roxie works brilliantly. Miss Sutton’s Roxie is a harsh heartless bitch who transforms herself into a glamourpuss-de-luxe at the flash of an instamatic; and Miss Rushworth’s Velma is a world-weary siren who can knock out a song with ultimate conviction and appeal. Sandra Marvin is un-take-your-eyes-off-able as the devious Mama Morton, the “matron” of the convicts who will look after her girls as long as they look after Mama.Simon Hardwick That Curve stage always strikes me as being massive but she completely fills it with her show-stopping performance. David Leonard is a superb sleazebag as the arrogant Billy Flynn, and Matthew Barrow turns in a great performance as Roxie’s ineffectual husband Amos. His “Mister Cellophane” number was terrific stuff – again with clever use of circus elements – and his so-called “exit music” drew a huge sigh of sympathy from the audience. The chorus who fill the minor roles are all excellent; I would expect no less from Harry Francis, Simon Hardwick and Katy Hards (the ex-Chorus Line contingent) but also Zizi Strallen was a beguiling Mona and Anabel Kutay a tragic Hunyak.

Zizi StrallenBen Atkinson’s band were sensational and brought the best out of John Kander’s jazzy and exciting tunes. Al Parkinson’s set is cunningly gloomy for the prison scenes – the low hung light bulbs over the front few rows of the stalls at the beginning almost makes us feel part of the set – but then is minimalist enough accurately to suggest all the locations without getting in the way of the dancing. It’s very rewarding to see such a committed performance from everyone involved and I’m pretty sure (from memory) that this is a more fulfilling production than the original London one or the touring show we saw at Milton Keynes in 2007. The combination of vocal and dance skills with the new choreography and fabulous band make this a really excellent show. It’s still on for a couple more weeks so if you prefer your murderesses sassy, you’ve come to the right place!