Jack And The Beanstalk ~ Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Jack And The Beanstalk stays at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until 14th January 2018 – book your tickets here: Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Star rating: *****

Last year’s pantomime at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre was exceptional – this season they’ve only gone and topped it! Truly one of the best pantomimes I’ve seen in years, completely flawless traditional family fun with a cast de force who offered all the right ingredients for a terrific show.

Jack And The Beanstalk offered plenty of returning cast members who helped to make Aladdin a triumph, last season. Lisa Riley as Mother Nature, offering quick wit and sparkle, Adam C Booth as Simple Simon – I’ve yet to see a comedy lead to compare to him. Then there’s Ian Adams as Dame Trot, he’s got some killer costumes and he tap dances, what more do you want? Doreen Tipton has also returned, she’s managed to get off her arse and play, quite simply, Doreen. She’s a marvel and had the audience in the palm of her hand, definitely one of the best performers to come out of the Midlands. Doreen is actually Jill’s mum, but there’s no maternal interest there – more of a concern for child tax credit when Jill is swept off to be fodder for the Giant. I had wondered if Doreen would play the cow, given that she’s a lazy cow, no type casting on this occasion! Gareth Gates is a strapping Jack, his vocals are the icing on the cake and he’ brilliantly matched with Sarah Vaughan as Jill. Graham Cole tops it off as Fleshcreep and he’s a slick, menacing Baddie, an outstanding performance. Of course a special mention must go to Daisy the Cow, too! The Giant is spectacular too, I was mesmerised by him.

The set is glittering, elegant and frames the action beautifully. It certainly lends itself to a fairy tale setting. There’s a good, wide variety of musical numbers too – rather than focusing on putting every hit of 2017 in there, the songs are appropriate, relevant and they fit. From Rather Be to Just Dance to Unchained Melody. The script offered some original content, too, while some renowned gags felt all shiny and new due to their superb execution. For example, the Twelve Days of Christmas had me doubled up with laughter and I’ve seen that done countless times before. It goes to prove that the perfect combination of performers makes all the difference.

The auditorium was rocking, I was itching to give a standing ovation and it’s one of the first pantomimes I’ve felt I could return to watch again and again. Well done Wolverhampton – you’ve got a winner on your hands!

 

Footloose ~ Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Footloose stays at Belgrade Theatre until Saturday 17 June then continues on UK tour: Footloose Tickets – Belgrade Theatre

Star rating: *****

Footloose as an individual track is a tune I have been familiar with and known the words to since I can remember. Footloose as a show with a full range of foot-tapping musical numbers (which I could now listen to on repeat) I was not at all familiar with, however the incarnation of the show which is currently playing at Coventry Belgrade Theatre, is now rooted as a firm favourite. Not least because this version is an actor/musician production which is no mean feat.

A scene from this must-see musical

Popular hits such as Let’s Hear It For The Boy, Holding Out For a Hero and Almost Paradise filled the auditorium and naturally, the title track had the place rocking. A personal highlight was Somebody’s Eyes which was a haunting yet catchy recurring theme and I have to give a mention to Learning To Be Silent as the harmonies were spectacular (kudos to Maureen Nolan, Lindsay Goodhand and Hannah Price).

The story is straight forward, teenage lad’s father does a runner, leaving him and his mum in the lurch. They move in with a kind uncle who lives in a small town with ridiculous rules. No dancing being one of the outlandish regulations. The tragic reason behind the town’s strict defences? A fatal car accident which resulted in the deaths of four youths, one of whom is significant to the plot. A Preacher is at the centre of the town’s inflexibility, and his wayward daughter is desperate to get out and rebel.

 

Maureen Nolan, she’s still a versatile actor and singer

Joshua Dowen as the iconic character (and young new boy in town who wants to challenge the no dancing rule) Ren McCormack, blew Kevin Bacon’s performance out of the water. A more versatile performer at the helm I couldn’t have imagined, he completely made the role his own. Hannah Price as Ariel Moore (the Preacher’s trouble-seeking daughter) was a superb match for him and I was impressed with her seamless interchanges between instruments and the heart of the action. Gareth Gates was a revelation as Willard, for more reasons than one! I expected an amazing vocal performance from him, however as an actor he surpassed himself. His characterisation was nothing short of incredible. Maureen Nolan is another performer whom I had preconceived ideas about, Vi (Ariel’s mum) was a perfect fit for Nolan and her vocal ability remains incomparable. Reuven Gershon gave a strong and extremely notable performance as Rev Shaw Moore, his solo performance in act two was another highlight. I am also delighted to have been introduced to the extraordinary talent of Lindsay Goodhand. Not only did she take on three very different roles (Ethel McCormack, Betty and Coach Dunbar) and play each one brilliantly, but I was blown away with her singing voice. When she wasn’t acting, singing or roller skating(!) she had an instrument to play.

Lindsay Goodhand, a multi-talented performer!

The set was multi-purpose and lent itself to the instruments that were an integral part of the scenery. The few scene changes required were seamless and there were a few hidden surprises too.

An audience collectively on their feet and boogeying as one to a finale mash-up, coupled with whoops, cheers and my own personal feeling that I could watch it again, again and again – is a winning combination. I needed more than one pair of eyes to watch this energetic and stellar cast giving one of the most joyous theatrical experiences. Don’t miss this show, it’s the ultimate feel-good musical and you won’t be able to stop smiling!

For Photo Credits: http://footloose-musical.com/ and you can find all tour dates and further information here, too as well as book tickets.

Gareth Gates on Footloose ~ Syndicated Interview

Following an acclaimed 2016 UK Tour, worldwide smash hit musical Footloose: The Musical will burst back onto the stage in 2017 starring Gareth Gates and Maureen Nolan, playing at the Belgrade Theatre from Tues 13 to Sat 17 June.

Book Tickets here: Footloose

Here’s an interview with star of the show himself, Gareth Gates…

When did you first start to sing?

I was eight years old when I first realised I could sing. It was at my first school where they were putting on a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. I was fairly young so I can’t remember too much about it, but I remember it being liberating. Years later I was asked by Andrew Lloyd Webber to play Joseph in the West End and I jumped at the chance. It just hasn’t stopped since!

Did you know Footloose before joining this production?

I am a big fan of the film. It was released the year I was born in 1984 and I remember watching it quite a bit growing up. It’s a classic. I actively went after this job; the role really appealed to me. I’m playing the comedy role which is a type of character that I’ve never played before, and it’s great.

Tell us about the role you’re playing.

I’m playing Willard, who is the character who can’t dance. To be honest, that suits me down to the ground! He’s a cowboy from Beaumont. It’s a really small town in the United Stated where everybody knows everybody’s business, and dancing is banned. Ren arrives in Beaumont and shakes everything up;  he teaches Willard how to dance. Willard is a goofy character, and this is brand new for me. I am really enjoying playing someone completely different. I like to challenge myself.

We hear you have to wear gold hotpants in one scene?

I’ve actually been driving to every city on tour so I can take my weights bench with me! If I’m going to be half naked on stage, I need to be pumped up!

What is your favourite musical?

That’s a really tough one. I absolutely loved the 25th Anniversary production of Les Miserables which toured a few years back.  It was stunning. The cast were incredible and the venues just huge. I learnt my craft on that job, from the best.  We even got to take the show to Paris, which was obviously incredible.

Your newest venture is a range of coconut teas. What has the reaction been to creating Cuppanut Tea?

During a period of enforced voice rest at home I came up with the idea.  I can’t drink caffeine as I get migraines, so I created a drink I wanted to drink.  I love coconut.  The response has been amazing, from family and friends, to celebs I’ve asked to support me on social media – to the retailers, who have all been very keen.  I’ve just done a deal with Holland and Barrett so you’ll be seeing it in their stores very soon!

Thanks to Belgrade Theatre for allowing us to publish this excellent interview with Mr Gates, can’t wait to see the show!

Photo Credits: David Ellis

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