Blood Brothers gets ‘em standing & cheering in Milton Keynes 

Blood Brothers

Often described as “the ideal Musical for those that don’t really like Musicals” Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers was originally commissioned by Merseyside Young People’s Theatre and had its premier in 1981 at Fazakerley Comprehensive School in Liverpool. Eventually, after a bit of titivating and fleshing out by Russell it ran to full houses at the Liverpool Playhouse. It then transferred to London’s West End where it won an Olivier award for Best Musical although it’s run there was not as long as had been hoped. Bill Kenright got his hands on it, put it on in the Albery (now the Noel Coward) Theatre where it ran for 3 years then transferring to the Phoenix where it had a record breaking run of 21 years!

As ever from Willy Russell, the story is gritty and well observed. The story concerns the twin sons of a single mother. She is very poor and reluctantly gives up one of them to a wealthy woman who is desperate to have a child. The two boys never know they are related but become good friends after meeting when they are seven (nearly eight). We see them grow up and this fascinating production keeps the audience completely gripped as all the trials and tribulations unfold.

Niki Colwell Evans plays the mother (Mrs Johnstone) who doesn’t have the easiest life. Brilliant performance by Niki and you’ll find yourself laughing (and crying) along with her.

The two sons are as different as chalk and cheese played by Sean Jones & Jay Worley. These two have to progress from 7 year olds to middle age and so skilful are both actors that the whole time we completely believe them – both the lighter moments and the more dramatic. If there was an award for touring productions I think Sean and Jay, along with love interest Linda (Carly Burns) would win Best Performance hands down!  As for the excellent supporting cast – Mr & Mrs Lyons (Paula Tappenden & Tim Churchill), Sammy (Timothy Lucas) the list goes on. Some very fine performances from all cast members some playing more than one role and a fine band under the direction of Matt Malone make this a proper theatrical event! 

Conclusion: Kill for a ticket if you have to! 

Blood Brothers is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 3rd September

Box Office: 0844 871 7615 or www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes

Doom & Despondency amid the glitter

Cher Show is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 13th August.

If this story is to be believed, Cher has had hardly any light moments in her life. The signing of that first contract with Sonny was the start of a very downward spiral that just seems to have continued. Even the times that she hoped to win an Oscar but didn’t are made as big an event in the show as the time she did win one for her amazing performance in Moonstruck. The set is black and grey looking for all the world like a branch of Johnson’s Dry Cleaners with its racks and racks of costume bags on hangers. 

The use of many blasts of lights from a wall of coloured spots straight out from the stage certainly put colour onto the audience’s faces! One thing I didn’t know about Cher, she always had a set of dancers dressed as the campest row of sailors you ever saw!

I’ve just watched a clip online of Cher introducing her band, singers & dancers to the audience at one of her concerts – she was such fun, a million miles away from the Cher portrayed in The Cher Show.

The cast however, we’re top class, all of them. The three Chers: Babe (Millie O’Connell) gave us a good glimpse of the feisty young Cher, Lady (Danielle Steers) with possibly the closest to the sound of Cher’s voice and a special mention for Star played most convincingly on the night we were in by stand-in Samantha Ivey. Not sure when Samantha got the “You’re On” call but we’ll done that lady, not a foot wrong! Sonny (Lucas Rush) was such an accurate portrayal that those of us old enough to have seen Sonny & Cher perform had real memories brought back by Lucas’s skill.

Bob Mackie played with gay abandon by Jake Mitchell, put me in mind of the days of the GayLib protests against John Inman at his most flamboyant! 

If you prefer you musicals downbeat, this one starts at a low point in Cher’s life and slowly works it’s way down from there. If you are a fan of Cher’s songs then these are very acceptable cover versions of the real thing.  This show covers from when Cher was just 16 to where she admits to being 52 – that’s 36 years and still those camp sailors are still. Wearing the same outfits!

Conclusion: If you’re a fan of Cher, this is an eye opener, if you like her music then you’ll hear faithful portrayals of 35 of them.

The Cher Show is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday, 13th August.

box office: 0844 871 7615 or online: www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes

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Dance routines wearing flippers? Mama Mia! Arrives in Milton Keynes in style!

Mama Mia!

The show with the best ever finale! A load of camp old nonsense? Well yes, it’s both of those things – but don’t underestimate this theatrically camp and maybe OTT offering! Even if you enter the Milton Keynes Theatre full of doubt (as I did) it’ll have you standing and cheering at the end, guaranteed! (As I was!)

Unfortunately there’s quite a bit of scene setting that needs to be done at the beginning. This takes place 3months before the wedding of Sophie (Jena Pandya) and Sky (Toby Miles), so we find Sophie showing her two mates Ali (Jasmine Shen) and Lisa (Mariella Mazzilli) her mother’s diary giving details of three of her boyfriends just before the time of Sophie’s birth. One of them is probably her father! Wouldn’t it be great to have her true father give her away? That’s as much of the plot as I’ll give away, but the scene – though absolutely necessary, does take a while and would be tough for a seasoned performer let alone 3 of the younger members of the cast. 

But don’t panic, after this slightly slow start, on bound Tanya (Helen Anker) and Rosie (Nicky Swift) who are soon joined by Donna (Sophie’s single mum played by Sara Poyzer)and things really start moving! As an ex three-girl singing group they certainly know how to perk things up and give it some welly!

From then on the very accurate renditions of ABBA songs flow almost non-stop, cleverly woven into the story. Even from the 3 Dads played superbly by Richard Standing, Daniel Crowder & Phil Corbett

There’s lots of fine choreography which though fitted the 70’s theme didn’t for a second feel dated. Praise to choreographer Anthony Van Laast for that. Good to have some (if augmented at times) live musicians in the pit under the direction of Carlton Edwards

The whole show is a lot of fun with plenty of good music. Plenty of laughs along the way – special mention for the hilarious routine with Rosie and Pepper (James Willoughby Moore). 

If you doubt the idea of taking one singing group’s music and weaving it into a story, some have tried and failed – but Mama Mia! will prove to you that it can work and work spectacularly!

Mama Mia! is at Milton Keynes Theatre until 6th August.

Box Office: 0844 871 7615 or online www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes