reviewed at the Regent Theatre, Ipswich on 29 October
Fame is a dangerous as well as elusive will-o’-the-wisp. What does the word really signify? Pre-eminence or notoriety? The pinnacle of achievement or merely its distorted shadow?
Wrapped in a dance-musical about aspiring students at an 1980s performing arts academy in New York, this is the story of young people with hopes and dreams all too aware that most of them are training only to be unemployed.
This new touring production is fast-moving with spirited direction and choreography by Nick Winston. The young cast radiate commitment and create thoroughly believable characterisations as we focus on personal and professional dilemmas.
On the surface Carmen (Stephanie Rojas) has everything going for her. She a talented lyricist as well as performer, but becomes hooked on drugs to enhance her performance.
Budding composer Schlomo (Simon Anthony), lovelorn Serena (Molly McGuire), show-off Joe (Albey Brookes) and chip-on-shoulder Tyrone (Jamal Kane Crawford) are all excellent, as are Hayley Johnston’s Mabel and Keith Jack’s career-dedicated Nick.
Mica Paris as Miss Sherman, a disciplinarian who really does care that her students will have a future and Katie Warsop as dance instructress Miss Bell are the main adults with whom we engage.
Ultimately, this is a show which relies on its younger performers for its impact. They don’t let us down.
Four star rating.
Fame runs at the Regent Theatre, Ipswich until 3 November with matinées on 31 October and 3 November. It is also at the Milton Keynes Theatre between 24 and 29 June as part of an extended national tour.
reviewed at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend on 15 August
Yet another stage version of a musical film is on tour this summer. This time it’s The Wedding Singer, set in the 1980s (how long ago that now seems!) and decorated with hit numbers of the period.
The story centres on Robbie Hart (Jon Robyns) who really wants to compose his own songs for his band – friends Sammy (Ashley Emerson) and George (Samuel Holmes) – but who scrapes a living by singing at weddings.
Robbie is engaged to Linda (Tara Verloop), but she jilts him (literally) at the altar and his only consolation comes from grandmother Rosie (Ruth Madoc) and waitress Julia (Cassie Compton), herself on the verge of becoming engaged to businessman Glen (Ray Quinn).
You can guess how it all pans out.
Under musical director Sean Green the numbers go with a swing, even if none of them are particularly memorable, and the choreography of director Nick Winston is excellent and very well performed. Designers Francis O’Connor (set and costumes), Ben Cracknell (lighting) and Jack Henry James (video projections) use the stage imaginatively.
Both Compton and Verloop have strong voices and personalities to match while Robyns makes as much as he can of the title character; Robbie’s a nice guy but one wonders if he’ll ever make the big time, even with Julia (and grandma)’s help. Madoc as usual steals all the scenes she’s in.
Three and a half-star rating.
The Wedding Singer runs at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend until 19 August with an early evening performance on 18 August and matinées on 16 an 19 August.
(reviewed at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend on 3 August)
Little orphan Annie is not a newcomer to UK stages, though this production by Nikolai Foster for Michael Harrison and David Ian is something of a radical re-think. Yes, it’s still a razzamatazz of a musical, set in Depression-era New York with a cameo roll-on part for President Roosevelt, but Foster has injected just a touch of grit into the syrup.
Our heroine, at the performance which I saw, is Madeleine Haynes, all ginger pigtails and attitude. Balancing the sound system at the first date in a new theatre is always slightly problematic, and her words didn’t come into proper focus until the second half. The eight-piece band under George Dyer make the most of the score and there is real dymamisim in Nick Winston’s choreography, with its cheeky salute to Jerome Robbins and Gene Kelly.
Annie’s would be nemesis is the trio of Miss Hannigan (Craig Revel Horwood), her brother Rooster (Jonny Fines) and his moll Lily (Daljenga Scott). Horwood’s drag-act is as accomplished as ever, though never quite show-stopping. “Easy street” shows them at their best, that is to say worst. “Daddy” Warbucks, the billionaire who discovers that he has a heart as well as a fortune, and his secretary Grace Farrell come over as thoroughly believable people in Alex Borne’s and Holly Dale Spencer’s characterisations.
Callum McArdle is the wheel-chaired president who tries to find Annie’s parents and somehow in the process thaws Warbucks’ stalwartly Republican convictions. Colin Richmond has designed an effective all-purpose set, based on jigsaw puzzle pieces with just the odd piece of necessary furniture – a desk, orphanage beds, a table, sofa or art déco doorway – signalling a change of location.Ben Cracknell’s lighting is equally clever.
Annie runs at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend until 8 August and at the Theatre Royal, Norwich between 17 and 22 August.