Charlie Carter ~ Every Ounce of Love (Album Review)

Charlie Carter has released another Jazz album – it’s called ‘Every Ounce of Love’ and in my humble opinion it’s another triumph from the man with a unique sound that’s a must-listen! Released digitally on 27 June 2019 download it now Every Ounce Of Love

In the meantime, here’s my thoughts on a few of the tracks from this musical masterpiece:

‘Every Ounce of Love’ – the title track packs a punch and sets the tone for the tracks that follow. ‘Wedding Bells Are Gonna Chime’ makes me smile and has a feel-good factor to it. ‘Decide’ is one of my favourites, the melody and musicality appeal to me. ‘Turn Off The News’ feels very current and relevant and the beat is catchy and easy to get along with. Those Three Little Words stands out lyrically and has a familiarity to it.

There are collaborations with other artists too, notably Siubhan Harrison and Odette Adams who are a joy to hear. Frances Eva Lea features on a track called ‘Something Changed’ and her vocals lend an extra dimension of sound to an already engaging piece.

All the tracks tell a story and there’s a defined linear throughout the whole album. It’s one of the best compilations of original music I’ve listened to this year.

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On Your Feet ~ London Coliseum

Star rating: *****

Gloria Estefan is the voice of my childhood and beyond, her sound way back from the Miami Sound Machine days never seems to date and the story of her rise to fame is a fantastic basis for a musical.

Based on the story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan, the show charts the key moments in Gloria’s life. From a soulful, bright child who was always singing; following on through to her remarkable recovery from a coach accident in later adult life. The musical shows us all of the important relationships throughout her life to date too, notably as a granddaughter, daughter, sister, wife and mother. The knockbacks from the powers whom she and Emilio needed on side to catapult her music and talents to a mainstream audience also form a strong linear as the story gives us an insight into her musical successes and struggles.

Gloria’s superb back catalogue of hits are naturally used as the soundtrack, from ‘1-2-3’ to ‘Conga’, ‘Don’t Want To Lose You Now’ and of course, ‘Get On Your Feet’. The tracks are sung in spectacular fashion by Christine Prades as Gloria herself. She’s a wonder, it’s easy to see why she was cast and I could listen to her all night. Her chemistry with George Ioannides as Emilio was on point and together they were a force to be reckoned with. Madalena Alberto who’s long been a favourite of mine is outstanding as Gloria Fajardo, Gloria’s mother – she has a few moments to shine and makes the most of every one. Elia Lo Taura also puts in an impressive performance a Gloria’s father. He suffered from MS and it can have been no mean feat to have portrayed that on stage. Karen Mann stole the show as Consuelo, she really was the lynchpin of the family and her wondrous comic timing made the character marvellously engaging. Holly McDonagh was a delight as young Gloria and Alejandro Puentes Motato was equally entertaining as Nayib/Young Emilio/Jeremy.

The ensemble are also sensational and incredibly strong in vocal ability and in the dance numbers, in fact I’d go so far as to say that a more solid ensemble I’ve not seen in a long time. They wowed with the eye-catching choreography from Sergio Trujillo.

Jerry Mitchell has directed a masterpiece which deserves as wide an audience as possible. The tale is one of love, hope, tragedy and strength as well as an abundance of musical talent. If you love Gloria Estefan you will adore this show and if you’re not familiar with her or not necessarily a fan, go and see this and you son will be. Book your tickets here for the limited run at London Coliseum: https://www.londonboxoffice.co.uk/on-your-feet-tickets

Photo credits: Johan Persson

Hobson’s Choice ~ Birmingham Royal Ballet

Star rating: *****

Celebrating David Bintley’s final season as Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet couldn’t come in a more glorious form than their latest production of Hobson’s Choice which delighted a packed auditorium at Birmingham Hippodrome.

The story itself is a well-known classic, the original play which the ballet is based upon was written by Harold Brighouse. Love and the class system are running themes as we are introduced to Henry Hobson, proprietor of a boot shop where his input is lessening due to his attachment to the demon drink. His three daughters, Maggie, Alice and Vickey are all vital cogs in his enterprise, their cheap labour in the shop ensures that he can live the drunken, gluttonous lifestyle he has become accustomed to. Alice is courting Albert Prosser (a lawyer) and Vickey is courting Fred Beenstock (son of a corn merchant) – however they are denied Hobson’s blessing in marriage as he fears losing them from the shop. Although he takes Maggie’s presence and hard work for granted and could never have predicted that she had set her sights on Will Mossop, the boot hand whom their wealthiest customer has praised to the skies. The twist in the tale catalyses a chain of events that sees Hobson’s world turned upside down.

Bintley’s choreography adeptly assists the artists to convey the story clearly, concisely, comically and is remarkable in the extreme. Every dancer in the cast puts effortless characterisation into their role as well as flawless performance. Stunning pas de deux offered intricate insight into relationships and the chemistry between the couples was palpable.

Jonathan Payn earned many a giggle from the audience as he danced the role of Henry Hobson with exceptional comic timing. His cronies; Jim Heeler (Kit Holder), Sam Minns (James Barton) and Mr Tudsbury (Tom Rogers) gave a solid, engaging performance and played off one another superbly. Marion Tait was beautifully self-righteous and eloquently portrayed the upper class Mrs Hepworth. Mathias Dingman as Fred Beenstock and Rory Mackay as Albert Prosser entertained as the suitors of the younger Hobson daughters. Laura Purkiss as Vickey and Delia Mathews as Alice were delightful, they perfectly emphasised the age and immaturity of the young girls. Samara Downs offered a performance as Maggie which showed vulnerability, strength and assertiveness all in one beautiful portrayal. The synchronicity with Lachlan Monaghan as Will Mossop was a joy to behold and their facial expressions conveyed every emotion which was mirrored by every step. Monaghan’s movement was so wonderfully fluid and purposeful that he was practically singing as well as dancing.

Accompanied by Royal Ballet Sinfonia conducted by Phillip Ellis and lead by Robert Gibbs, with a set that framed the action so ornately – this particular ballet has a place in my heart. It’s a perfect first ballet for anyone who hasn’t been before, equally a must-see for ballet aficionados. Look out for the cymbal player in the Salvation Army scene too, I’m still chuckling now! Book your tickets to see the production, here: hobsons-choice

Photo Credits: BRB

Calendar Girls The Musical ~ Birmingham Hippodrome

Last night I was lucky enough to go and see one of my favourite musicals, courtesy of a 40th birthday present from one of my besties from my baby group days. The Girls, as it was titled when I first saw this uplifting show in the West End (twice) quickly became a firm favourite of mine. With a stellar cast, a beautiful and often funny score and a story that most are familiar with at the heart of the show. This is by no means a review, as I wasn’t on duty last night, however I can’t miss the opportunity of filling you all in on my first experience of my favourite show on its tour.

If you’re not familiar with the story then check out the write-up via this link, as opposed to letting me bore you with it: Calendar Girls Musical Story So Far

At Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre last night I was moved to tears, laughing out loud and sobbing. The touring production has lost none of the magic created in the west end. There are noticeable tweaks, and I listen to the soundtrack in my care on an almost daily basis so I know the show well considering I’d only taken two trips to see it in the west end.

The set is simpler, although I felt that left room for the lighting to take centre stage and that was fascinatingly atmospheric. Some of the scenes are played differently, the Knapely fete is not quite so elaborate, however the lyrics and performances from the cast more than make up for that. Silent Night is one of my best loved songs and that particular number has been played down in comparison to the piece de resistance it was in the west end’s version.

The cast have mostly familiar to me as faces from the telly, Julia Hills plays Ruth and to me she has always been Rona in BBC One’s 2 Point 4 Children. I was gloriously taken aback by her stunning singing voice and she brought Ruth to life beautifully. Rebecca Storm who plays Chris, I remember seeing as the Mistress in Evita a fair few years ago, she was a force to be reckoned with, in fact you might say she stormed it! (pardon the pun!). The audience reacted enthusiastically to her rendition of Sunflower. Sue Devaney is another favourite of mine, most memorable perhaps as the character who ordered the toast in Victoria Wood’s Dinnerladies. Cora was a fantastic fit for her, she brought her natural comedic talent and a touch of humility to the role, plus what a voice. The there’s Lisa Maxwell as Celia, slightly understated I felt yet she shone in the role and I already knew how wonderfully she can sing so Had A Little Work Done was one of the highlights of the evening. Lesley Joseph, much loved as Dorian in Birds of a Feather, has stood in for Ruth Madoc as Jessie and she’s doing a fine job.

I’ve long been a fan of Sarah Jane Buckley, from her Kathy Barnes in Hollyoaks days through to seeing her both as Mrs Lyons and Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers. Once I knew of her vocal capabilities I immediately visualised her as Annie in Calendar Girls. She more than exceeded more expectations, the part fits her like a glove. I felt that she captured the essence of Julie Walters’ take on the role when she played Annie in the film version, combined with her own brilliant stamp. Every emotion was conveyed intricately which was no mean feat in a large auditorium and her rendition of Kilimanjaro blew me away. Plus the chemistry she has with Storm as Chris is key to the tale and works amazingly well.

I’m looking forward to officially reviewing the show later in the year, but in the meantime, I’m so glad to have had the chance to see Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s masterpiece in my home city. Book to see the show on tour, you won’t regret it: Calendar Girls The Musical

Zog ~ Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham

When I heard that Julia Donaldson’s fabulous book, Zog was going to be performed as a live stage show with puppets, I thought – what a good idea! A golden star to the team who came up with the idea…

A cast of five performs the tale, they bring it to life with puppetry, playing instruments on stage and acting out each character. It’s a truly incredible feat when the talented five-some seamlessly move between playing a character, operating a puppet or playing a variety of different instruments. This innovative continuum does not break the story and keeps the flow of the tale brilliantly.

Emily Benjamin plays Princess Pearl and also performs in the ensemble. She’s entertaining and energetic to watch as she makes good use of the functional set. Robert Ginty plays Sir Gadabout and other characters in the ensemble and he demonstrates excellent comic timing. Elliot MacKenzie is Zog and he’s just the right stature and has accurate characteristics for the role. Dixie McDevitt kept the audience participating with the rabbit puppets and also entertained overall as a member of the ensemble. Euan Wilson shone as Madame Dragon, he was the epitome of strict school ma’am and gave a very physical performance.

As we go on Zog’s journey in his quest to win a golden star from Madame Dragon at school, it’s a wonderful window into the world of a young dragon. Reception age and year one children in particular should identify with the element of school and wanting to impress and do their best in a new environment with a disciplinarian at the helm.

Having said that, my five year old lost interest on a couple of occasions and I felt that he would have been more engaged is the dragon puppets had made more appearances. I felt there was some confusion on his part as to why the puppets were there and the performers were also there dressed as dragons. Maybe one or the other would have been better? The script varies from the dialogue I know so well from the book too. There was no mention of ‘what a good idea’ really or the zig-zagging through the blue, so it was disappointing from that perspective.

As a piece of theatre it was enjoyable and beautifully thought out, however the synchronicity with the much loved book was lacking. It’s a great way to encourage the younger audience member into the theatre though.

Book your tickets to see Zog on tour: http://zoglive.com

Photo Credits: Helen Maybanks

Les Miserables ~ Milton Keynes Theatre

Guest Reviewer: Hayley Makepeace

Star rating: ****

Wow, what can I say, but go and book your tickets for this show now, it is pure value for money!

Cameron Mackintosh gives an incredibly cinematic production of Boublil & Schonberg’s musical, Les Miserables. The fantastic score along with top vocals and flawless lighting provide a visual feast, as though you are watching a real life Hollywood blockbuster.

Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

Being familiar with Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, but having never seen the stage version before, I found the character developments hard to follow and wasn’t always sure of their place in the story. Like War & Peace, this epic tale runs quickly through time periods. You need to have a keen ear on the lyrics to keep up with the plot. The songs are highly emotional and permit the characters to share their innermost thoughts and feelings with a passion the audience would find hard not to be moved by. First class performances resonated the theatre and during the second half there were many a sniffle and rustle of tissues amongst the audience. However, I expected Cosette to be far more prominent, and instead found Eponine to be more integral in this production. Tegan Bannister, as Eponine, gave a passionate and captivating performance of ‘On My Own’. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself taking this away as my highlight of the evening.

In a very dark and serious story, the Thenardier’s give a welcome light relief and raised a lot of laughter with their amusing antics. I found the touch of colour in their costumes to be endearing. As I anticipated, Sophie Louise Dann is phenomenal as Madame Thenardier and as usual did not fail to disappoint with her strong stage presence.


Visually this show is spectacular especially during the barricades, although disappointingly the stage does not revolve in this production. I was particularly taken with the use of Victor Hugo’s drawings in the backdrops. These, together with the use of very dark lighting accentuated the atmosphere of deep political & social unrest.

Overall I’d say this show is a must see and judging by the entire audience giving a heartfelt standing ovation, I’d say I’m not alone in my recommendation!

Best Availability Monday to Thursday performances. Call the theatre’s dedicated Les Misérables booking line on 01908 547669 (open Monday to Saturday, 12 – 6pm) or visit: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/les-miserables/milton-keynes-theatre/. Check daily for returns and last minute ticket releases.

Gwyn Williams Bursary Concert ~ Royal Birmingham Conservatoire

It was an evening to remember at Birmingham Conservatoire’s Bradshaw Hall on Sunday 5 May, with a bevy of musicians out in force to support and raise money for the Gwyn Williams Bursary fund. The Bursary, has been set up in memory of the late Gwyn Williams who, amongst other credits, was the leader of the Viola section in the jewel in Birmingham’s crown, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. The Bursary benefits and supports talented, up and coming young violists at the Conservatoire.

Nick Bailey, our host for the evening

The concert featured a cornucopia of classical delights and quite rightly, the Viola was the star of the show. The first voice of Classic FM, Nick Bailey played host as we were treated to music from the superb John Wilson on piano, accompanying Chris Yates who now leads the Viola section of the CBSO – they kicked off the varied programme. Arpeggione Sonata, D.821 (Schubert) was the opening piece and set the tone for the rest of the inspirational evening. Wilson and Yates went on to accompany one of my all-time favourite performers, Yvonne Howard, who sang Two Songs for Voice, Viola and Piano (Brahms). Later on, she treated us to a stunning rendition of Casta Diva from the Bellini Opera ‘Norma’. The artists accompanying Howard’s memorable performance were a mesmerising Quartet by the name of The Behn Quartet. The talented girls who make up the string Quartet also played String Quartet No. 1 in E minor (“From My Life”) (Smetana). Peter O’Connor, flautist, was also a welcome addition to the accompaniment for Casta Diva and he entertained us thoroughly at the close of the evening in a double act with pianist, John Wilson, with Carnevale di Venezia, Op.78 (Briccialdi).

Mezzo Soprano, Yvonne Howard

One of the most poignant performances (and there were many!) was courtesy of two nineteen year old students from Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Yuxin Chen played Viola beautifully, with Yang Bai on piano – they gave us a rousing rendition of Dance of the Knights from Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev. It was a fantastically dramatic display and quite literally music to my ears!

This amazing concert would not have been possible if it hadn’t have been for Gwyn Williams’ widow, Stephannie who organised the event. As a string player myself (although I’m a very rusty violinist!), I appreciate the support that such a Bursary provides for up and coming musicians and long may it continue to benefit all who need it.

Sharkwater Extinction From Award Winning Director & Renowned Activist & Conservationist, Rob Stewart

An eye-opening, epic new feature documentary Sharkwater Extinction from Rob Stewart, the award-winning director of Sharkwater and Revolution takes us on one man’s mission: to protect sharks from extinction and save the oceans before it’s too late.

More than 150 million sharks are being killed every year. The oceans are in danger. Sharks play a hugely important role to the environment. Who is the real enemy: shark or human?

We join the courageous filmmaker and renowned activist on a hugely inspirational, thrilling but hazardous journey, as he dives deep into oceans and travels across four continents to investigate the eye-watering scale of corruption, destruction and danger that the multi-billion-dollar pirate fishing industry and vast illegal shark fin trade bring.

Sharkwater Extinction stands as Rob Stewart’s legacy as he was tragically killed in a diving accident, in the final stages of shooting the film in January 2017. His parents Brian and Sandy Stewart have dedicated themselves to completing the film.

REVIEW

This thought-provoking, stunningly filmed documentary captured my interest from the get-go. My fascination in conservation and admiration for activists such as Rob has heightened in recent years. The damage we’re doing to our planet and the oceans have been highlighted and continue to be brought to our attention. Rob’s film digs deeper and plunges us into an underwater world where extinction is so horrifically imminent. As a film-maker he shows empathy, determination and overwhelming enthusiasm. I feel like I have watched everything first hand through Rob’s eyes as the perspective combined with his energy enhance the viewing experience. This film will shock you with seemingly endless revelations and heart-breaking truths. If you’re like me, it will also spark an admiration for a creature whom I usually associate with the signature tune from the Jaws movies. A fitting tribute to Rob Stewart, thanks to his parents, whom I have an interview with which they kindly gave their time to me, for:

What was it that prompted Rob’s interest in conservation? Was it a passion of his from a young age?

Rob always loved the outdoors and exploring. He was captivated by the underwater world from a very young age – and a self proclaimed “fish nerd”…! We were so fortunate to have traveled a lot as a family and every new location offered new wildlife to explore.

He was always first into the water! And was always trying to catch everything he saw….we once had to pull him out of a beautiful fountain with koi fish that he jumped into trying to catch them. 

He saw his first shark at age 9 and instantly fell in love with these majestic creatures that seemed, to him, like the last of the dinosaurs.

Not surprisingly he studied biology in university, started his photography career there and went on to become an underwater photographer.

On an assignment to the Galapagos, he discovered illegal longlining, indiscriminately killing sharks with the marine reserved and became determined to bring awareness to the issue….when traditional media didn’t work, he decided to make a movie believing that if people knew what was happening it would bring about change.  Sharkwater was the result – and from there Rob became a filmmaker, activist and deeply committed crusader for protection of sharks and the planet.

You’ve released the film in his memory, was this an easy decision and how did you decide when the right time would be?

Rob had shot over 400 hours of footage and left very detailed notes on his vision and plan for the film.  Wanting to complete the project was never a question but we had to make sure we had enough footage with Rob and could find the right editor to pull it together.

Once we went through all the footage and saw what we had – we knew it was possible – and from that point,  Editor Nick Hector began work assembling the film. 

How has the film been received? Are you pleased with the response?

We’ve had an amazing response to the film – it celebrated its world premiere at TIFF to an audience of 1800 people and a 10 minute standing ovation. From there – it has gone on to premiere at over 30 international film festivals garnering numerous awards and rave reviews. It still maintains a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes!

It opened in theatres across North America and has just started its theatrical release in the UK. It will release on ITunes and platforms and on Amazon Prime Video in July.

What is most rewarding is that people leave the film excited,  wanting to know how they can help…how they can continue Rob’s mission.

What do you think of the work that your son has done and the progress he has made in raising awareness?

We are, of course, so proud of Rob and all he has accomplished. He changed the world. He brought the issue of shark finning to the world stage and taught people that sharks were important – not menacing dangerous predators. The film changed public policy and launched numerous non-profit organizations. He continues to inspire a new generation of conservations, filmmakers and biologists.

REVOLUTION was the first film to talk about Ocean Acidification and the risk to coral reefs and the oceans.

Rob also had the most infectious, inclusive approach to his work – he believed that conservation should be fun – that fighting for what you believed in was something cool – and that eveyone was capable of  making a difference.

Is there a personal highlight for you in the film?

The fact that we were able to get the film completed and get Rob’s message out is really the highlight. Even people that didn’t know his work loved the film and even shark people learned something they didn’t know before. It’s an important film that Rob wanted everyone to see.

Also – people don’t know the many ways they are unknowingly consuming shark – through mislabeled fish products, pet food, cosmetics, fertilizers, and livestock feed. It was important to Rob to get that out – to encourage people to ask questions and to insist on more full disclosure and accuracy in labeling.
At every Q&A we do – people ask how they can check their products and what they can do to ensure they are only using those that are shark free….

What had he planned to do following the release of the film? Are you continuing with the work in his memory?

Rob always had several projects going  in various stages of development.  We plan to get them completed.

We have established the Rob Stewart Sharkwater Foundation which will ensure Rob’s mission continues – in addition to projects Rob had started, the foundation will support and encourage other filmmakers doing work inspired by Rob, continue to advocate for the protection of sharks and the oceans and launch a  “Shark Free” campaign to ensure that consumer products do not contain shark.

Huge thanks to Rob’s parents for this wonderful and insightful interview. The movie is available to download digitally today and all the info you need can be found here: Sharkwater Extinction

Club Tropicana The Musical ~ Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Star rating: *****

Club Tropicana drinks are free, fun and sunshine there’s enough for everyone… and Club Tropicana The Musical certainly encompasses fun, sunshine and epitomises the feel-good theatre production.

With all the horrors of hell we read about in the news on an almost hourly basis, the opportunity to sit in an auditorium packed with people who were out for a good time in their 80’s throwback outfits was too good to miss. Club Tropicana is a musical packed to the rafters with popular 80’s hits from ‘Fantastic Day’ to ‘Addicted To Love’ to ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’. I reminisced on my childhood and couldn’t wait to get on my feet with the enthusiastic crowd during the energy-infused finale.

The storyline is flimsy and ultimately cheesy, bride dumps groom on wedding day, groom and two mates go on honeymoon, bride and her two mates have the same idea. The hotel they holiday at is Club Tropicana and this particular venue for sun seekers is entered into a competition. There’s a will they/won’t they situation going on with the two managers, with over-riding concerns that the judge of the hotel competition is sneaking about. Meanwhile a flamboyant host by the name of Garry is trying his best to put a smile on everybody’s face and put-upon colleague, Consuela is causing chaos and hilarity with her ideas and signs!

Joe McElderry lights up the stage with his exceptional stage presence as Garry, his flamingo jacket looks spectacular! Of course, McElderry’s vocal ability is incredible so lent itself brilliantly to the musical numbers. Neil McDermott was superbly cast as Hotel Manager, Robert and had wonderful chemistry opposite Amelle Berrabah as Serena, she’s been in love with Robert for years and it’s a sweet story to watch as it unfolds. Amelle’s singing voice is as beautiful and powerful as I remember in her Sugarbabes days. Karina Hind gave an engaging performance as the bride with cold feet, Lorraine. Well matched with Cellen Chugg Jones as jilted groom, Olly and their duet ‘Take On Me’ was pitch perfect, a real highlight of the show. Emily Tierney was on form as Christine, the feared Hotel Inspector who is not who everybody thinks she is. An overt character, she played her as a combination of Tanya from Mama Mia mixed with Cruella de Vil! A hilarious caricature of a person whom Tierney embraced. Stealing the show was the genius that is the amazing Kate Robbins, I’ve long admired her ability to mimic famous voices and her comic timing made for an audience who were in fits of laughter every time she appeared. As Consuela, Robbins was almost given free reign to be as outlandish and comical as she can be and to be able to cleverly interweave just a handful of the celebrities she can impersonate was the cherry on the cake. What a fabulous showcase of a wonderful artist.

Kudos to the Directors; Samuel Holmes and Nick Winston, the set and costume design by Diego Pitarch was simply glorious and choreography also by Nick Winston was sensational.

If you’re looking for a rollicking good night out with an easy-viewing plot, plenty to sing along to and a cast who are all at the top of their game, this is the one for you. Club Tropicana stays at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until Saturday 4 May, book your tickets now and I bet you’ll feel like you Just Can’t Get Enough! Club Tropicana Tickets

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