Thursday, 4 September 2014

Editor's Blog: New openings, career defining performances & a trip to Chichester

Michael Flatley, Christina Bianco, Jacqueline Hughes, Cynthia Erivo, Drew McOnie & Sophie Thompson take centre stage...

August is always a strange month in theatreland. As the focus moved to Edinburgh, few shows opened in London, but suddenly September has crept up on us and the West End is kicking into action. Two of this month's biggest openings include the West End transfers of Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games and Forbidden Broadway.

Filling the gap left between I Can't Sing and Cats, Lord Of The Dance has opened at the London Palladium. Flatley's show is totally bizarre but left me grinning from ear to ear. The piece features a number of performances from former Girls Aloud singer Nadine Coyle. At the show's press launch Coyle explained she had always been a fan of Flatley and Lord of the Dance so was overjoyed to be joining the cast. 

“Everything Michael has done just gets better and better every time" Coyle said. "When we first met and Michael asked me to be part of the show I couldn’t believe it, I was on cloud nine… and I still am! I can’t thank Michael enough for this opportunity.”

Michael Flatley, Nadine Coyle & the cast of Lord of the Dance / Photo Credit: Brian Doherty

Flatley was beaming with pride for his cast and team. As well as hoping to bring the show to a whole new audience, sadly he confirmed that Lord of the Dance will mark his final West End performances. The production plays at the London Palladium until Saturday 25th October 2014.

Last week the Menier Chocolate Factory also hosted a press launch for its production of Forbidden Broadway which is about to transfer to the West End, coinciding with the theatre's tenth anniversary. As Sophie-Louise Dann is departing the production to star in Made In Dagenham, YouTube sensation Christina Bianco is joining the company for the West End run.

At the launch we were treated to a thirty minute preview performance, providing a sneak peek at some of the new material which has been added to the show which makes fun of the West End's most popular musicals. The West End is an ever changing world which is reflected in Forbidden Broadway with a brand new section on Cats.

Casey, Lewis & Humbley complete the cast
Photo Credit: Alastair Muir
Bianco is a sensational addition to the cast. It came as no surprise that she has already nailed her comical rendition of 'Let It Go', but I was completely taken aback by her Kristin Chenoweth impression! Bianco's soprano range blew my mind! I can't wait to see Forbidden Broadway at the Vaudeville Theatre where it runs between Tuesday 9th September and Saturday 22nd November 2014.

After the Forbidden Broadway launch I was left in central London with a rare night off from reviewing and couldn't resist the urge of seeing a show. I had hoped to see The Bodyguard which was playing its final few performances but sadly (for me) that night was sold out. Before I knew it I was at the Apollo Victoria Theatre to see a performance of Wicked.

It just so happened that in Kerry Ellis' absence, understudy Jacqueline Hughes was making her Elphaba debut... and what an astonishing debut it was! Hughes made quite an entrance, acting the opening scenes beautifully. It always startles me when actors are able to bring out something new in a role so many people have previously played, but - even with just one performance under her belt - Hughes has already made the part her own.

I was absolutely blown away by Hughes's vocals. She showcased some beautifully tender moments while her 'Defying Gravity' was nothing short of epic. Hughes made all the big notes sound so effortless. The West End star is shortly departing Wicked London to take over as Standby Elphaba in the Wicked UK Tour. Those who are lucky enough to catch her over the next year are in for a treat! 

When it comes to reviewing five productions a week, one of the toughest challenges is being able to digest a piece of theatre straight away. Sometimes it can take several days until you are able to fully digest and appreciate a piece of theatre, particularly shows which dare to be different. Despite being thoroughly impressed by the performances in Dessa Rose first time around, I didn't fully connect with the piece. After hearing so many rave reviews I was determined to catch the show a second time, and luckily managed to catch the final performance last week.

It was remarkable to see just how much Andrew Keates' production had developed and grown over the course of its run. I became far more wrapped up in the show's tremendous emotional journey and jumped to my feet during the curtain call. The entire company gave their all; the love and passion from the cast and audience was extremely special.

Cynthia Erivo and the cast of Dessa Rose / Photo Credit: Scott Rylander

Once again Cynthia Erivo gave her all in the title role, providing yet another career defining performance. It's hard to explain in words how Erivo portrays a character such as Dessa and is able to open up her heart and soul with her extraordinary vocal talents. We are lucky to have such a talented individual working in our industry.

With plays and musicals dominating my diary, I am rarely able to see dance shows; however, on Monday I headed to the New Wimbledon Theatre to see the National Youth Ballet Gala. It made a nice change to watch upcoming performers take to the stage, performing work by promising young choreographers with the likes of Matthew Bourne in attendance.

The highlight of the evening was the premiere of Drew McOnie's new jazz ballet Little Red Riding Hood. I was particularly impressed by the talent of the leads, especially by the performer who starred in the title role. Tom Deering's new score is a perfect fit for the piece, providing a refreshing feel for a ballet. 

Following acclaimed productions of Chicago, In The Heights and Drunk, once again McOnie has exceeded all expectations and created something new, bold, exciting and (most importantly) meaningful. The staging was just beautiful with exquisite attention to detail and I sincerely hope that isn't the last we see of this exciting piece.

Sophie Thompson in Guys & Dolls
The final show I have to gush about is Chichester's production of Guys and Dolls. I recently braved the M25 and paid my first ever visit to the Chichester Festival Theatre. Although I've never been to Chichester, I have of course seen countless of their productions; therefore it came as no surprise when I totally forgot I wasn't sat in a West End theatre watching a West End show. 

The standard is ridiculously high - probably even higher than the standard of some West End shows! Everything about Gordon Greenberg's production is theatrical perfection. I honestly could not fault a single thing! Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright's choreography is heavenly while the entire cast were a dream to watch. 

The star of the show is Sophie Thompson who gives a triumphant performance; I never wanted her to leave the stage. I will be very surprised if we don't hear from this production again! Someone might as well give Thompson an Olivier Award now. Guys and Dolls runs until Sunday 21st September 2014.

Next week is play-heavy with openings including Breeders (St James), True West (Tricycle), King Charles III (Wyndham's), Fully Committed (Menier Chocolate Factory) and The Play That Goes Wrong (Duchess). 

As well as Lord of the Dance and Forbidden Broadway, make sure you also look out for Great Britain (Theatre Royal Haymarket), Evita (Dominion), As You Like It (Southwark Playhouse), Speed-the-Plow (Playhouse) and Urinetown (Apollo) which all open over the coming weeks!

Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

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