Rain Man at Milton Keynes – a triumph!

RAIN MAN

BY DAN GORDON

Directed by Jonathan O’Boyle

Rain Man is at Milton Keynes Theatre from 3rd – 8th September.

Based on the MGM motion picture · Story by Barry Morrow · Screenplay by Ronald Bass and Barry Morrow · Produced by special arrangement with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

Bill Kenwright presents the inaugural Classic Screen to Stage Theatre Company production of Rain Man. Mathew Horne (Gavin & Stacey, The Catherine Tate Show) stars as Raymond Babbit opposite Ed Speleers (Downton Abbey, Wolf Hall) as Charlie Babbit.

TWO BROTHERS. ONE DESTINY.

When self-centered salesman Charlie Babbitt discovers that his long-lost brother Raymond, an autistic savant with a genius for numbers, has inherited the family fortune; he sets out to get ‘his half’.

Charlie ‘borrows’ Raymond from the institution where he has spent most of his life and the two brothers embark on a trip across America where Charlie soon discovers that Raymond is worth more than he could have ever imagined…

Inspired by the heart-warming Oscar-winning film, which famously starred Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman and won Oscar’s for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Director and Best Actor, Rain Man follows previous acclaimed Bill Kenwright productions of films to the stage such as A Few Good Men, The Shawshank Redemption and Twelve Angry Men.

The production was directed by Jonathan O’Boyle whose credits include Rasheeda Speaking (Trafalgar Studios), This House (UK Tour); Pippin (Hope Mill Theatre/Southwark Playhouse); and Hair (Hope Mill Theatre/The Vaults) winner of the WhatsOnStage Award for Best Off West End Production.

Rain Man is at Milton Keynes Theatre from 3rd – 8th September.

 Box Office: 0844 8717652 or online: www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes

When I saw the Bill Kenwright production of Cilla I thought it was his finest work so far – Rain Man is most certainly its equal. It is a beautifully told story, thanks to the book by Dan Gordon and Jonathan O’Boyle’s direction. A fairly basic set which transforms seamlessly from office to bedroom to casino never detracts from the actors.

The very strong cast lead by Mathew Horne and Ed Speleers keep the audience entranced and completely immersed in the story. Although he’s done plenty of acting for the screen I was very surprised to learn that this is Ed Speleers’ stage debut! He gave such a strong performance – the perfect foil and complete contrast to Mathew Horne’s wonderful portrayal of Raymond, the adult autistic brother that has spent most of his life in an institution. I took with me a friend who teaches young adults with various forms of autism and he assured me that Mathew had obviously done his research as his performance was completely accurate.

I urge you to get to see this amazing piece of work, try as I might I couldn’t pick fault with the tiniest thing. Congratulations to a superb effort from The Classic Stage to Screen Theatre Company and this particular cast and crew.

Rain Man is at Milton Keynes Theatre from 3rd – 8th September.

 Box Office: 0844 8717652 or online: www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes

Shrek The Musical is back at Milton Keynes!

Shrek The Musical returns to Milton Keynes 

shrek the musical,mcdermott,chisall,blackwood,walsh,photo: Helen Maybanks

Based on the award-winning DreamWorks animation film, Shrek The Musical is this year’s must-see show for all the family – and when we say ‘must-see’ you really MUST see it!

Let’s face it, Shrek is an unlikely looking hero but with his loyal (if hugely irritating) steed Donkey, he embarks on a quest to rescue the beautiful (if a little temperamental) Princess Fiona from a fire-breathing, love-sick dragon.

shrek the musical,mcdermott,chisall,blackwood,walsh,photo: Helen Maybanks
Add the diminutive Lord Farquaad and a gang of fairytale misfits, and you’ve got an all-singing, all-dancing, all-gloriously funny spectacular GIANT of a hit show!

The company stars Steffan Harri as the swamp-dwelling Shrek, the role he previously played in the West End. Laura Main is damsel in distress Princess Fiona. Bedfordshire’s Marcus Ayton is Shrek’s wisecracking sidekick Donkey and Samuel Holmes is pint-sized villain Lord Farquaad.

Nigel Harman (well-known, well-loved and consistently well out of order playing a series of bad boys in Eastenders, Downton Abbey and the Sky Living series, Mount Pleasant) has directed the tour. Having played Lord Farquaad in the West End, Nigel came to the role of director knowing exactly how entertaining the show is for both adults and children and determined to make it even more of a monster of a hit. And when you’ve got a full line-up of fairy-tale characters at your disposal, how can you not have fun?
So, would you please give a big welcome to the Three Little Pigs, Pinocchio, Three Blind Mice (in stockings and carrying white sticks) some tap dancing rats, a large, low flying dragon, a tortured gingerbread man and, of course, a cross-dressing wolf!

Featuring a great score of all new songs as well as cult Shrek anthem I’m a Believer, Shrek The Musical is making Milton Keynes Theatre the biggest, brightest, most beautiful place to be this summer!

Shrek the Musical is at Milton Keynes Theatre until 5th August

Box Office: 0844 8717652 or online: www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes

Shrek poster

Even if the cast hadn’t been 1st class (They are, they’re great!) I would tell you to get to see Shrek the Musical at Milton Keynes Theatre purely for the design and production values alone! From the utterly brilliant costumes to the sets, the special effects (including a wonderful singing dragon) to the direction by Nigel Harman. Those things alone would make a fabulous night out for all the family. Don’t run away with the idea that this is just a show for children, I guarantee the adults of the family will laugh a lot, have sympathy for Shrek and enjoy the excellent 7 piece orchestra lead by Colm O’Regan.

I probably shouldn’t single out anyone from this talented cast, they were all just perfect, but from the moment Steffan Harri (Shrek) opens the show he’s got the audience in the palm of his hand, he’s no mean singer either. Marcus Ayton (Donkey) and Laura main (Princess Fiona) both prove that in addition to fine singing talents they both have a flair for comedy. Speaking of comedy, Samuel Holmes as Lord Farquaad absolutely tears the house down with some brilliantly funny scenes! I’m now a devoted fan of his horse “Fibreglass” – the only horse I’ve seen with a reverse gear!

You might not leave the theatre singing any of the tunes – apart from I’m A Believer the Monkey’s old hit, which like in the film is used for the end credits, but you will most certainly come out with a smile on your face having had a truly magnificent theatrical experience!

Ernie Almond.

Shrek the Musical is at Milton Keynes Theatre until 5th August

Box Office: 0844 8717652 or online: www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes

Matilda the Musical is at Milton Keynes!

Winner of over 85 international awards, including 16 for Best Musical, Matilda The Musical is at Milton Keynes Theatre until 30 June.

The title role is being shared by Annalise Bradbury, Lara Cohen, Poppy Jones and Nicola Turner.

Craige Els is reprising the role of Miss Trunchbull, having played her in the West End for three years between 2014 and 2017. He is joined by Carly Thoms as Miss Honey and Sebastien Torkia as Mr Wormwood as well as former West End cast-mate Rebecca Thornhill as Mrs Wormwood.

 Matilda The Musical is written by Dennis Kelly, with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, and direction by Matthew Warchus. The production is designed by Rob Howell, with choreography by Peter Darling, orchestrations, additional music and musical supervision by Christopher Nightingale, lighting by Hugh Vanstone, sound by Simon Baker and the special effects and illusions are by Paul Kieve.

The production will be accompanied by Change My Story, a new RSC education programme inspired by Matilda The Musical and devised in collaboration with each touring theatre partner to help build long term partnerships between school communities and theatres. 

  • Matilda The Musical has now been seen by more than 7.7 million people worldwide. Having swept the board at the 2012 Olivier Awards, with a record-breaking seven awards, and winning four Tony Awards and a Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theater for the four girls sharing the title role on Broadway, Matilda The Musical has now played in over 60 cities and has played more than 5500 performances worldwide.

 

Matilda The Musical is produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company with André Ptaszynski and Denise Wood as Executive Producers. The production was developed with the support of Jeanie O’Hare and the RSC Literary Department.

Matilda The Musical is at the Milton Keynes Theatre until June 30th.

Box Office: 0844 870 0887 or online:  www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes

The sets, the music and all of the production methods used are spectacular! The mother & father and of course Miss Trunchbull are beautifully crafted characterisations of the Dahl books and an absolute joy to watch. My only problems were that much of the dialogue was missed due to the usual poor sound quality and I found it difficult to have any sympathy for Matilda herself! I’m sure she got all the words in the right order and the Matilda on duty on the night I was there, enunciated perfectly (possibly too perfect?) but for all that I got the feeling this was a recitation with nothing behind the eyes.

Fans of musicals with children in the cast will love this although don’t expect a Wow moment like in Oliver or Billy Elliot.

Ernie Almond.

10 Minute Standing Ovation for Legally Blonde in MKT!

OH MY GOD YOU GUYS! LEGALLY BLONDE IS at MILTON KEYNES

EastEndersRita Simons, X Factor & Eurovision entrant Lucie Jones, and Bill Ward, star of Coronation Street and Emmerdale star in a major new UK tour of the smash-hit Broadway and West End musical Legally Blonde The Musical, at Milton Keynes Theatre until  Saturday 2 June.

Legally Blonde The Musical is an all singing, all dancing romantic comedy, a fun-filled, feel-good pink fest. College sweetheart and homecoming queen Elle Woods, doesn’t take no for an answer. When her boyfriend dumps her for someone more serious, Elle puts down the credit card, hits the books and heads for Harvard Law School. Along the way, Elle proves that being true to yourself never goes out of style.

Legally Blonde The Musical has music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin, book by Heather Hach, and is based on the novel by Amanda Brown and the MGM motion picture.

Based on the Reese Witherspoon film, Legally Blonde The Musical earned seven Tony nominations and 10 Drama Desk Award nominations during its Broadway run. In the UK it was nominated for 5 Laurence Olivier Awards winning 3 including Best New Musical, and was nominated for 8 Whatsonstage Awards winning 4 including Best Musical.

Rita Simons (Paulette Bonafonte) is best known for playing Roxy Mitchell in BBC’s EastEnders for which she has won numerous awards and is one of Britain’s best loved actresses. Rita has also appeared on TV in Mile High as Hannah, Dream Team as Julie and London’s Burning. In Spring 2012, Rita was the subject of a major documentary film Rita Simons: My Daughter, Deafness and Me made by Leopard Films for BBC1. Rita actively supports the charity RNID.

Lucie Jones (Elle Woods) recently played Maureen in the 20th anniversary UK tour of Rent. Her previous theatre credits include: Elle Woods in Legally Blonde (Leicester Curve); Molly in Ghost (Asian Tour); Victoria in American Psycho (The Almeida); Meatloaf in We Will Rock You (International Tour); Kelly Byrne in The Prodigals (Edinburgh Festival); Cosette in Les Miserables (Queens Theatre, West End and O2 Arena). Her TV acting credits includes: Melody Carver in Midsomer Murders (ITV); Louise in The Sarah Jane Adventures (BBC). Lucie was a finalist in the 2009 series of The X Factor.

Bill Ward (Professor Callahan) is best known for his work on two of the country’s leading soaps. He has just finished 3 years playing farmer James Barton in Emmerdale. Previously, he played the builder Charlie Stubbs in Coronation Street. In addition to his many and varied TV and film credits Bill is no stranger to the stage and has worked on everything from Sophocles to The Spice Girls at Bristol Old Vic, Manchester Royal Exchange, Northern Stage, Clwyd Theatr Cymru, and The National Theatre Studio amongst others. He’s played Prospero in The Tempest in Guildford, Lancelot in Spamalot in the West End, and Kevin the Gnome in a muddy field in Glastonbury.

Legally Blonde is at Milton Keynes Theatre until 2nd June

Box Office: 0844 870 0887 or online:  www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes

 I was lucky enough to be at the press night of Legally Blonde at Milton Keyne – and what a night! This show has toured before, but this production beats the previous incarnations hands down! It has pace, lots of new ideas and its lots of fun! They have subtly brought it slightly up to date in place – but not so’s you’d notice. Lots of great new production ideas (involving bicycles etc.) and I thought the classroom at Harvard and the courtroom scenes worked better than ever without being too cluttered with tables and chairs. All in all, this is a great night out, the audience stood as one and applauded for a good ten minutes – don’t miss it! 

Legally Blonde is at Milton Keynes Theatre until 2nd June

Box Office: 0844 870 0887 or online:  www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes

Summer Holiday the Musical at MK Theatre

 NEW STAGE MUSICAL VERSION OF SUMMER HOLIDAY
AT MILTON KEYNES THEATRE

A brand new production of the feel- good musical, Summer Holiday, featuring Cliff Richard’s classic hits is at the Milton Keynes Theatre, until  Saturday 19 May.

Based on the iconic 1960’s film starring Cliff Richard and The Shadows, Summer Holiday includes all of the number one hits from the movie, plus some additional Cliff Richard classics.

Talking on the lead role of Don, made famous by Cliff Richard, is singer-songwriter Ray Quinn. Ray shot to fame as the runner-up in ITV1’s The X Factor in 2006. This spurned a career in both music and of late musicals, with his debut album ‘Doing it My Way’ entering the charts at Number 1, and quickly gaining platinum status. Ray is perhaps best known of late for ‘doing the double’ on ITV1’s hugely successful show Dancing on Ice, winning for the first time in 2009, and then again on Dancing on Ice: Champion of Champions in 2014. Ray’s theatre credits include Danny Zuko in Grease (West End), Dirty Dancing (West End), Legally Blonde (UK Tour) and most recently, The Wedding Singer (UK Tour).

The role of Jerry, the long-suffering agent, will be played by Bobby Crush. Famous in the UK for 45 years primarily as a pianist, but also as a songwriter, actor, broadcaster and television presenter, Bobby rose to fame after six winning appearances on Opportunity Knocks (ITV). West End successes include three seasons at the London Palladium alongside Jack Jones, Vic Damone and Dame Julie Andrews. He also spent a year with Max Bygraves in SwingalongaMax at the Victoria Palace and was chosen to appear for Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother at The Royal Variety Performance. Bobby has also appeared in four musicals starring as Dr. Frank N. Furter in The Rocky Horror Show, Vernon Gersch in They’re Playing Our Song, L.M. in Pump Boys and Dinettes and Billy Flynn in Chicago at top theatres around the United Kingdom. Bobby’s debut album ‘Bobby Crush’ reached the UK top 20, and he plays the role of Pharaoh on Pickwick’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. TV credits include two series of Sounds Like Music (ITV) as the show’s host, and most recently, Bobby has been playing Billy Sparkle in the popular TV comedy Benidorm (ITV). In April Bobby will be seen on a major new series for ITV called Last Laugh in Vegas, which documents Bobby’s American debut alongside 7 other legendary British acts and their adventure to star in a Las Vegas show.

Sophie Matthew plays runaway singer, Barbara, with Taryn Sudding taking on the role of Stella, her controlling fame-hungry mother. Sophie is best known for playing the role of Sarah in Our House (UK Tour), and also played the role of Ginny in Humans (Channel 4). Taryn Sudding played Angie in the 1997 production of Summer Holiday. She is most well-known for playing Bombalurina in Cats across the world over a fourteen-year period, including in the original South African production. Other notable roles include Grace Farrell in Annie (South African Production), and Elsa in The Sound of Music (SA and international tour).

Summer Holiday tells the story of Don and his fellow London Transport mechanics as they journey together in a red double-decker bus through Paris, the Alps, Italy and Greece. Along the way they pick up a girl singing group and a young American pop star who is on the run from her domineering mother!

 

This hit-filled musical features many of 1960’s biggest songs including In the Country, Summer Holiday, Travellin’ Light, Bachelor Boy, Move It, Living Doll, The Young Ones and On the Beach.

Summer Holiday is at Milton Keynes Theatre until 19th May

Box Office: 0844 870 0887 or online:  www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes

I went along to the press night with keen anticipation. Sadly, it turned out to be more of an exercise in how to put on a National Tour without spending too much! The set was made up of black drapes (very obviously hiding the bus, giant sliding panels of Travel Posters – and a bus.

The costumes, set, and the choreography all seemed to me to lack much inspiration or even imagination. Sure there were some sixties dance moves, but I got the impression that once they’d found half a dozen moves from that era, they made do, when in fact there were probably very many to choose from.

I can’t think why Ray Quinn’s management got him into this, surely they read the script? It was worthy of a local am-dram or at best an End of the Pier show. Ray is a fine, multi talented performer and did his best with some very poor material. It was good to see Bobby Crush, never happier it seems than when he’s wearing something outrageous! If you’ve not seen Bobby playing Dame in panto, you get an inkling from this performance.

My verdict? Most disappointing. If it was mine I’d keep the cast, keep the music, keep the finale and ditch the show! (or at least re-write it!)

Ernie Almond.

Children’s auditions for Nativity! The Musical

Following sold-out performances in London and a triumphant UK tour in 2017, Jamie Wilson, Entertainment One (eOne), Ramin Sabi and Belgrade Theatre Coventry are delighted to announce the return of Nativity! The Musical and are on the look-out for children across the UK to audition for the 2018 UK tour.

Bright, young stars from across the country will have a chance to sparkle and shine as one of the children from Oakmoor School. Auditions will be held around the country, coming to Milton Keynes on Saturday 30 June.

 Other dates include: Liverpool on 30 May, Oxford 9 June, Stoke 16 June, Coventry 7 July, Nottingham21 July and London 14 July. Auditions for both Edinburgh and Glasgow will be held in Edinburgh on the 23 June (children will need to be available to play both venues).

 All children auditioning must be:

 Children must be age 9-12 years old by 1st September 2018

Strictly no taller than 4ft 7inches

Children must live within 45 miles commute to the venue and be available to perform the playing dates of the venue they are auditioning for – tour dates listed below
Characterful but disciplined children with strong singing, acting and movement skills and with a passion for performing

 Nativity! The Musical is written and directed by the creator and director of the blockbuster film series, Debbie Isitt. Debbie said;

 ‘We are looking for characterful but disciplined children who can ‘act’ as snobby and superior and yet have a sense of fun and can give over the top performances if required.  We need the children to have good movement ability – marching, basic choreography and have excellent posture.  They should also be able to sing confidently, have basic acting ability and enjoy performing’.

Every child in every school has one Christmas wish, to star in a Nativity, and at St Bernadette’s School they’ve decided to mount a musical version! Join teacher Mr Maddens and his crazy assistant Mr Poppy as they struggle with hilarious children, and a whole lot of sparkle and shine to make everyone’s Christmas wish come true. Featuring all of your favourite sing-a-long songs from the smash-hit films including Sparkle and Shine, Nazareth and One Night One MomentNativity! The Musical promises to be the perfect feel-good comedy for all the family.

To audition, children must be pre-registered with Keston and Keston the Children’s Regional Casting Directors via the iOS App ‘Keston Casting- downloadable’ which can be downloaded for free via the app store or registration can be via the website www.kestonandkestoncasting.com.

 All children who fall within the criteria above will be sent an invite with full information and the location for the audition.

The Play That Goes Wrong – MK Theatre

The Play That Goes Wrong, the West End’s Olivier Award winning box office hit, sets off on its third major UK tour, visiting Milton Keynes Theatre, Monday 23 – Saturday 28 April.

Winning eleven international awards, including the 2015 Olivier Award for Best New Comedy and a 2017 Tony Award for its Broadway transfer, The Play That Goes Wrong continues to play to sold out houses in the West End, whilst enjoying its new status as Broadway’s longest running play. It is a remarkable rags-to-riches story for a play, which started its life at a London fringe venue with only four paying members of the public at the first performance, and has since played to an audience of almost one and a half million worldwide. In 2017, The Play That Goes Wrong played simultaneously in twelve countries.

Co-written by Mischief Theatre company members Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, The Play That Goes Wrong is a highly physical comedy packed with finely-tuned farce and Buster Keaton inspired slapstick delivered with split-second timing and ambitious daring. The play introduces The ‘Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’ who are attempting to put on a 1920s’ murder mystery, but as the title suggests, everything that can go wrong… does, as the accident prone thespians battle on against all the odds to get to their final curtain call.

Why would all these regional theatres want a return visit of our little murder mystery show when last year’s tour went so badly wrong. I am at a loss to understand it.” Producer, Kenny Wax

Mischief Theatre was founded in 2008 by a group of graduates of The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) and began as an improvised comedy group. Their other production The Comedy About A Bank Robbery is now booking into its third year in the West End at the Criterion Theatre and their new improv show Mischief Movie Night opens in the West End on 13 December at the Arts Theatre.  The company is led by Artistic Director Henry Lewis and Company Director Jonathan Sayer.

The touring cast presents: Jake Curran (Chris), Catherine Dryden (Annie), Bobby Hirston (Max), Benjamin McMahon (Dennis), Gabriel Paul (Trevor), Steven Rostance (Jonathan), Kazeem Tosin Amore (Robert), Elena Valentine (Sandra) with David Kristopher-Brown (Understudy), Laura White (Understudy), Liam Horrigan (Understudy) and Louisa Sexton (Understudy).

The Play That Goes Wrong is directed by Mark Bell, with set designs by Nigel Hook, lighting by Ric Mountjoy and costumes by Roberto Surace. The Play That Goes Wrong is produced in the West End and on tour by Kenny Wax Ltd and Stage Presence Ltd.

The Play that Goes Wrong is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 28th April

Box Office: 0844 870 0887 or online:  www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes

I went along early in the week and I would be less than truthful if I said all ran smoothly. The few minor technical hitches were cleverly covered up by this stellar cast led by actor/director Trevor (played by Gabriel Paul). I’m sure that with the help of a few nails, a hammer and a roll of gaffer tape all will be well by the time you see this – and see it you must if only to witness the best corpse in the business played by Steven Rostance.

New Musical by Sting comes to Royal & Derngate

The UK premiere of The Last Ship, with a Tony-nominated original score and lyrics by Sting, comes to Northampton’s Royal & Derngate from Tuesday 24 to Saturday 28 April, as part of a major UK and Ireland tour.

The Last Ship, which was initially inspired by Sting’s 1991 album The Soul Cages and his own childhood experiences, tells the story of a community amid the demise of the shipbuilding industry in Tyne and Wear, with the closure of the Swan Hunter shipyard.

This personal, political and passionate new musical is an epic account of a family, a community and a great act of defiance. It features an original score with music and lyrics by Sting as well as a few of his best-loved songs, Island of Souls, All This Time and When We Dance

When a sailor named Gideon Fletcher returns home from sea, he discovers the ship-building life he left behind in chaos. The local shipyard is closing and no-one knows what will come next. With the engine fired and pistons in motion, picket lines are drawn as foreman Jackie White and his wife Peggy fight to hold their community together in the face of the gathering storm.

Playing the part of Jackie White, Joe McGann is perhaps best known as Charlie Burrows in the comedy series The Upper Hand, with stage roles including Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof and Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls. Emmerdale star Charlie Hardwick takes the role Peggy White. Playing Gideon Fletcher, Richard Fleeshman’s stage roles include Sam Wheat in Ghost the Musical (West End and Broadway).

The Last Ship is at the Royal & Derngate from 24th to 27 April.

Box Office on 01604 624811 or online at www.royalandderngate.co.uk.

 

New cast for Hairspray

The Cast has been announced for the major UK tour of Smash-hit musical  HAIRSPRAY  at Milton Keynes until 14th April

Norman Pace (ITV1’s The Hale and Pace Show) will play Wilbur Turnblad, he will be joined by Matt Rixon (The Ladykillers, Around the World in 80 Days) reprising his role as Edna Turnblad,

 

musical theatre star Brenda Edwards (Chicago, We Will Rock You, The X Factor) returning as Motormouth Maybelle and Layton Williams (Bad Education, Rent) now starring as Seaweed. Gina Murray (Chicago and Full Monty) joins the cast as Velma Von Tussle with Jon Tsouras (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Crazy for You) once again playing Corny Collins; Edward Chitticks (On the Town, Mamma Mia) as Link Larkin; Aimee Moore as Amber Von Tussle and Annalise Liard-Bailey as Penny Pingleton.

Rebecca Mendoza will make her professional debut as Tracy Turnblad.

Featuring the iconic music and lyrics by Academy Award, Tony and Emmy winning duo Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, this big, bold and beautiful production is choreographed by Olivier Award-winning Drew McOnie with direction from Paul Kerryson.

It’s Baltimore 1962, where Tracy Turnblad, a big girl with big hair and an even bigger heart, is on a mission to follow her dreams and dance her way onto national TV. Tracy’s audition makes her a local star and soon she is using her new-found fame to fight for equality, bagging local heartthrob Link Larkin along the way.

Hairspray is a musical based on the 1988 film of the same name which starred Divine and Ricki Lake by cult filmmaker John Waters. With music and lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman and book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, Hairspray originally opened to rave reviews on Broadway in 2002 and subsequently won eight Tony Awards. The production opened in London at the Shaftesbury Theatre in 2007 and won four Laurence Olivier Awards including Best New Musical. Proving to be an international success, Hairspray has also opened in South Africa, Japan, South Korea, China and Dubai. Following the musical’s phenomenal success on stage, a film of the musical was released in 2007 which starred John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer and James Marsden.

Hairspray is at Milton Keynes Theatre until 14th April

Box Office: 0844 870 0887 or online:www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes

Unlike the last time I saw Hairspray, this production was fun, energetic, really tight and overflowing with good performances! Firstly, congratulations to Rebecca Mendoza – if her debut professional performance is this good, she’s heading for stardom! Then we had the fabulous Layton Williams as Seaweed – fabulously acrobatic dancing and owned the stage for every second he was on it. Brenda Edwards, for once working on home territory proved once again that she has one of the richest, most powerful voices in British Musical Theatre, she’s always a complete joy to interview and to experience when she lights up the entire theatre with every entrance she makes. Norman Pace was not on the night I went, but Wilbur was in the very capable hands of ??????? (He should have been given much more credit!)  To my mind, one of the best Edna Turnblads, Matt Rixon gave his usual impeccable performance or perhaps I should say Outstanding rather than usual!

With a truly fine band onstage throughout, I can only advise those of you that have seen Hairspray before to get a ticket and bask in this production’s polished difference – and those who have never seen it DO NOT MISS THIS! 

Hairspray is at Milton Keynes Theatre until 14th April

Box Office: 0844 870 0887 or online:  www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes

I’m not Crazy for this Crazy for you!

 Claire Sweeney takes on the role of ‘Irene’, Tom Chambers plays ‘Bobby’ and Charlotte Wakefield  ‘Polly’ in the national tour of the Watermill Theatre’s production of CRAZY FOR YOU, at Milton Keynes Theatre, until Sat 24 March.

Claire Sweeney has a television and theatre career which spans over 20 years. She is probably best known for playing the role of Lindsey Corkhill in Brookside. Other television credits include Clocking Off and Merseybeat along with a presenting role on 60 Minute Makeover and a panellist on ITV’s Loose Women. Claire’s West End roles include Roxie Hart in Chicago and Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls. Claire previously played the title role in Educating Rita at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory and prior to that, played Paulette in the UK tour of the award winning Legally Blonde. She most recently appeared as Baroness Bomburst in the National Tour of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Tom Chambers created the role of Jerry Travers in the West End musical Top Hat, for which he was nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical. In 2008 he won the 6th season of Strictly Come Dancing. He can currently be seen in the hit BBC drama Casualty. His recent stage credits include Private Lives and White Christmas in the West End.

Crazy For You UK Tour
Photo Credit : The Other Richard

Charlotte Wakefield made her West End debut as Wendla in Spring Awakening, for which she was nominated for an Olivier Award. She played Maria in the critically acclaimed production of The Sound of Music at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre receiving nominations for Best Actress in a Musical at both the Evening Standard and Olivier Awards.

High energy, high kicking and gloriously glamorous, CRAZY FOR YOU is the ultimate feel-good musical with a fabulous score from the Gershwin brothers’ songbook. Mistaken identities, plot twists, heartbreak, happiness and a wealth of memorable tunes, including I Got Rhythm, They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Nice Work If You Can Get It and Embraceable You, all feature in this celebration of the great Broadway musicals.

Crazy For You is at The Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 24th March

 Box Office: 0844 870 0887 online: www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes

I went along to see the show, these are my thoughts:

With a fine looking set of the dilapidated theatre, and some very fine musicians/actors/singers/dancers – yes they had all those skills, a quadruple threat! = we were all set for a fantastic musical,

So where on earth did it go wrong? Well, with gags seemingly added willy-nilly presumably borrowed from the local pantomime (“You’re one step away from an idiot” etc) some very laboured comedy routines, especially early in act two with the two Bela Zanglers routine with its very careful moves going on forever, not to our leading man mention getting down from the balcony with a bucket which Norman Wisdom would’ve made hilarious. As the show opened originally in October 1930 I was surprised to hear “simples” and “health & safety” as throw away gags.

Claire Sweeney’s one song “Naughty Baby” could have had the  seductiveness of Marilyn Munro or even played for comedy, it floundered somewhere in between. I thought Tom Chambers in this was miscast, he’s not exactly another Tommy Tune or Tim Flavin! Tap dancing is hard work, but the masters manage to make it look easy, Tom’s efforts looked mechanical and exhausting, the lounge suit he spent a lot of time in didn’t help flapping all over the place. The last straw for me was when Bobby came through the fourth wall and handed his bottle of beer to and audience member to look after, purely to set up the gag that the man had apparently drunk the contents of the bottle!  I haven’t felt quite like that since Za Za in the recent tour of La Cage Aux Folles stopped the show to go into a panto routine with the audience!

Most of the supporting cast were terrific, some of them playing several instruments and still managing to stay in character, special mention I think to Ned Rudkins-Stow great musician with a fine voice who I’d not seen before, but my guess is that we’ll all see quite a bit more of this young man. The same goes for Seren Sandham-Davis playing Dim but adorable Patsy.

You might have guessed by now that I was not Crazy for this production of Crazy For You – sorry, George & Ira!

Ernie Almond

Crazy For You is at The Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 24th March

 Box Office: 0844 870 0887 online: www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes