The King & I is Something Wonderful!

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I

Set in a glittering palace where everyone dresses in ravishing costumes, it’s the most visually splendid of Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, and teems with a small army of the king’s children, wives and servants.

In the spectacular show‐within‐a‐show in the second half, the king commands Anna to stage a version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin to impress visiting diplomats with Siam’s project to modernise, this is a wonderful dazzling spectacle, courtesy of set designer Michael Yeargan, costume designer Catherine Zuber and choreographer Christopher Gattelli.  

Not only did this critically acclaimed Broadway hit have a record breaking season in New York, it comes to Milton Keynes Theatre from a sell-out run at the London Palladium. 
With almost more great songs than the King of Siam has wives (and he’s tied the knot many times over) Bartlett Sher’s interpretation of Rodgers’ & Hammerstein’s Tony Award-winning classic from the golden age of musicals is a triumphant revival. 
Set in Bangkok in the 1860s, Anna Leonowens, a widowed British schoolteacher, has been hired to educate the children of the King of Siam. 

Anna is sweet-natured but spirited and, though their relationship can be unconventional and tempestuous, it is not long before she wins the heart and mind of her employer. But, as a moderniser in an imperialistic world, he is struggling with his own principles and ideology. Performing as Anna, fresh from her West End success, is Annalene Beechey and reprising his critically acclaimed USA national tour performance as The King, Darren Lee.
 
The King and I features a company of more than 50 worldclass performers, including Ethan Le Phong and Paulina Yeung in the roles of the young lovers, with a full scale orchestra keeping them company by playing one of the finest scores ever written – including songs such as I Whistle a Happy Tune, Getting to Know You, Hello Young Lovers, Something Wonderful and Shall We Dance. 

The King & I is at The Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 7th March

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

 

If I said this was the finest show I’ve seen this year, you might say “but it’s only February!” so let me say that without a doubt this is most definitely in the top three of all the shows I’ve sen in the last twelve months! The cast list alone took my breath away with its full orchestra and the enjoyment 50 top performers can bring – and they most certainly did!

To sit and enjoy the orchestra, under the direction of Malcolm Forbes-Peckham, play the overture not only sets the mood, but assures us that we are in for something really special. As the curtain rises we see Anna (Annalene Beechey) arriving with her son to take up the post of governess to the children of the King of Siam. The boat is life size and glides into dock through the mist. What an opening!

The sets (designed by Michael Yearn) throughout the show are not only spectacular but exactly right for telling this story.

But its the casting without a doubt that made this such a wonderful theatrical event. Annalene Beechey is the perfect Anna, having played the role at the London Palladium. Anna has grit and determination and a considerable sense of humour and I get the strong impression that Annalene has too! She is onstage virtually throughout and each song she sings  makes the packed house warm to her just that bit more! This performance deserves  awards!

The King of Siam, played brilliantly by Darren Lee is the perfect foil for Anna. Darren has that knack of being the King that you truly believe in but there is always a twinkle in his eye making the very most of all the comedy.

Mentioning any member of cast seems unfair as they were without doubt a fine team, but “Something Wonderful” beautifully sung by Cezarah Bonner as Lady Thiang was a highlight for me – as was “We Kiss In A Shadow” sung by Ethan Lee Phong & Jessica Gomes-ng as Lun Tha & Tuptim

The songs we know, the story we know, in fact if I’m honest I was expecting a slightly dated production – how completely wrong I was!  If you can get tickets, I implore you to make sure you see this show before it is too late – you’ll thank me afterwards. If I did a star system (which I don’t) I wouldn’t have enough for this production! Congratulations to the entire and very large team!

Ernie Almond

Farce by John Cleese is a Banging success in Peterborough!

John Cleese (no, not appearing) makes his stage writing debut with a hilarious new adaptation of this classic comedy – a delicious blend of French Farce and Fawlty Towers.

When Leontine, (Tessa Peake-Jones) a respectable society lady, discovers that she’s been hoodwinked by her husband, Duchotel, (Tony Gardner) who’s always pretending to go hunting but really chasing after other ‘prey’, she vows to take revenge on the philanderer! But while Duchotel’s away, his lifelong friend Dr Moricet (Richard Earl) comes calling – and he’s on the hunt too. 

Will Leontine get caught in his sights, or instead set a trap of her own?

Secrets unravel as the devilish Duchotel finds himself snared in a door-slamming, trouser-dropping, balcony-climbing night of chaos set amidst the stylish apartments of Paris. The apartments are run by Madam Latour (Wendi Peters)

Bang Bang! is at The New Theatre, Peterborough until 29th February

Box Office: 01733 852992 or online: www.newtheatre-peterborough.com or bangbangtour.co.uk

Press Night thoughts…..

If you’re a fan of farce this is this is for you! John Cleese has adapted a story by Georges Feydeau and proved yet again that he is a master of outrageous comedy. He wisely decided to leave the play set in Paris which seems to make the plot all the more believable. Due to the combined skills of the author, the director and the very strong cast, we are taken in completely believing every ridiculous antic our “devoted” couples get up to!

Every now and then the “third wall” is broken for a character to make a comment as to how things are going. You might be forgiven for thinking this would break the mood, but it in fact adds to the general chaos happening in the lives of most of the cast!

The play, as you might expect, has many a nod towards Fawlty Towers, but then we might be disappointed if it didn’t! The hilarious script is performed absolutely straight by our talented cast, lead by Tessa Peake-Jones, Tony Gardner and Wendi Peters. Originally a three act this has been changed to a two act play by giving Madam Latour a song to sing (she’s fallen from grace due to an unfortunate incident with a lion tamer) during the set change. As you might (or might not) expect, the stage hands in their brown coats complete the set change in time and step with Madam Latour’s singing.

Get to see this if you can, its a hoot! You might see a man without his trousers…..but you’ve seen a lot worse!

Cast, script, set, direction, lighting etc all 10 out of 10! Don’t miss it!

Ernie Almond

Bang Bang! is at The New Theatre, Peterborough until 29th February

Box Office: 01733 852992 or online: www.newtheatre-peterborough.com or bangbangtour.co.uk

“Once” tears the place apart in Milton Keynes!

When a Dublin street busker is encouraged by a young Czech musician to give up the day job in his dad’s Hoover repair shop it turns out that it’s more than just her broken vacuum cleaner that is likely to get fixed. 

 

Based on the critically acclaimed 2007 Irish small budget movie, Once tells the story of two lost souls whose lives are changed over the course of five short days.  

 ‘Girl’ meets ‘Guy’ just as he is on the verge of giving up his dream of becoming a successful singer-songwriter. Worn down by the misery of a broken heart and an infuriating excess of self-pity, the arrival of ‘Girl’, with her boundless optimism, common sense and motivation, is exactly the kick up the backside ‘Guy’ needs to recharge his batteries and restore his faith in, not only the power of music but also the power of love. 

 Once premiered at the New York Theatre Workshop in 2011 before transferring to Broadway in 2012. There it won eight Tony Awards including Best Musical, the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical and the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theatre Album. Productions have since opened all over the world, including the West End production in 2013 which received the Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Music. 

Once has a Book by award-winning Irish playwright and screenwriter Enda Walsh, and Music & Lyrics by Academy Award winning Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová who, for Falling Slowly, won the Oscar for Best Original Song. 

 Daniel Healy and Emma Lucia return to the roles of ‘Guy’ and ‘Girl’ after receiving critical and audience acclaim in the production’s premiere last year at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich and Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch.  

Daniel is a singer-songwriter, musician and actor, who has co-written songs for multi-platinum artist Ronan Keating including the single Breathe, which topped the BBC Radio 2 Playlist. Theatre credits include Backbeat and Once, both in the West End.  

Emma Lucia made her professional debut as Marilyn and understudying Carole King in the UK Tour of Beautiful, before taking on the role of ‘Girl’ in Once. 

 

Once is directed by Peter Rowe with set and costume design by Libby Watson and musical supervision by Ben Goddard

Once is at Milton Keynes Theatre until 22nd February

Box Office: 0800 912 6971 or Online:   ATGTICKETS.COM/MiltonKeynes 

Ernie Almond was lucky enough to be invited to the Press night, here are his thoughts:

From the moment you walk into the auditorium at MK Theatre this week you WILL be in an Irish pub somewhere in Dublin. People are singing, dancing and playing all manner of instruments including (& especially) percussion on a wooden box. Before you know it and almost imperceptibly we are into the play proper with “Guy” (Daniel Healy) playing his guitar and singing. Its a love song and as he replaces his guitar into its case we learn that he’s giving up music. The reason for this is linked to affairs of the heart which turn out to be the backbone of this story. Along comes Czechoslovakian “Girl” (Emma Lucia) who sets out to save this poor soul – as much for the sake of his musical talent as the fact that there could be a romantic liason in the offing!

Beautifully performed by the entire cast – each one a character in their own right. I wish I had space here to describe every one of them. The music is not particularly “Irish” (apart from the pub scenes), just very effective romantic light rock. At one point the entire cast sing a cappella in such a beautiful rendition that it takes the audience a couple of seconds after it finishes to burst into applause.

If you want a frivolous, feelgood musical, wait until Mary Poppins comes round, but don’t miss Once which will intrigue you, amuse you, make you both happy and sad and most certainly make you think long after you leave the theatre.

Verdict: Not To Be Missed!

Once is at Milton Keynes Theatre until 22nd February

Box Office: 0800 912 6971 or Online:   ATGTICKETS.COM/MiltonKeynes