Aladdin ~ Malvern Theatres

Star rating: *****

Pantomime season is in full swing and there’s no denying that Malvern have the right recipe for family entertainment in UK Productions’ Aladdin. It was a Boxing Day treat indeed with a cast de force and a superb mixture of toe-tapping music too.

The show stars the inimitable Mark James, who has become a regular for Malvern Theatres (he’s already cast for next year’s production of Peter Pan!), with Jamie Steen as the most resplendent Widow Twankey and John Challis (Boycie!) as Abanazar. Audience participation was encouraged and embraced, the story was told articulately and it was traditional in the extreme which is just what I like.

There was not one weak link in the talented cast and the vocal ability of all who performed the cornucopia of well-chosen songs, was extraordinary. At times I felt as though I was watching a west end musical cast for all the right reasons.

Aaron Jenson was wonderfully engaging in the title role, he had notable chemistry with Joely Barbour as Princess Jasmine. Jacob Morris entertained as Genie of the Lamp and Loula Geater wowed as the Spirit of the Ring, comedic as well as a sparkling presence. I enjoyed Danny Rogers’ performance as the hilarious PC Pong and Gary Davis made the role of the Emperor his own, little nuances here and there transformed the part. Jamie Steen is by far one of the best Dames I’ve seen and he suited the role of Widow Twankey wonderfully. John Challis was pretty fearsome as Abanazar while Mark James as Wishee Washee had the audience on side with every appearance ‘where’s me mates?’ Brilliant!

There is still plenty of time to book your seats and I promise you won’t regret it. Oh no you won’t!

Aladdin tickets

Photo credits: Lisa Roberts photography

Dear Santa Live!

Star writing: *****

One of Rod Campbell’s classic tales is brought magically to life in festive style and you simply must catch it on tour this Christmas.

The story which undoubtedly captivated the imagination of children of all ages (even big kids!) centres around a very moralistic little girl called Sarah. Whilst decorating her Christmas tree she decides that she should write a letter to Santa. Does she ask for lots of toys? Surprisingly, no she doesn’t. Instead, in an unusual move, she asks for nothing and would prefer Santa to give her share of toys to children less fortunate than her.

There’s plenty of fun to be had with Santa’s Elf who gets the audience in an excitable mood ready for the arrival of Santa Claus. It’s packed with audience participation opportunities and lots of Christmas songs to be joined in with too.

The overall message is quite touching and Santa’s choice to give Sarah a very special present bears its own meaning too. It’s the perfect way to start Christmas and the kids can meet Santa and get a present too!

Book now: Dear Santa Live!

Dick Whittington ~ Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Star rating: ****

Panto season has well and truly started in the midlands, oh yes it has! What better way to kick off the festivities than with a trip to the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre on the theatre’s 125th birthday?

Starting Coronation Street’s Ryan Thomas in the title role, the show is jam-packed with all the old favourite pantomime traditions. It’s a fast-paced cornucopia of jokes for all ages, engaging choreography and songs that haven’t been plucked directly from the top 40, which we all appreciated in our little party.

Ian Adams (writer, director and Dame) should be glowing with pride at such a spectacular triumph. He’s a seasoned pantomime performer which shines through, however the talent he clearly possesses as far as writing and direction is concerned was not lost on me. Aaron James was on top comedy form as Jack, his impersonations alone were outstanding. Jeffrey Holland was a perfect choice for Alderman Fitzwarren, bringing his usual exceptional stage presence to the role. His energy is incredible and did cause me to wonder if he might still be able to play the Dame, a character I know he has played wonderfully many times in the past. It’s undeniable that the effervescent and incomparable Su Pollard stole the show as Queen Rat. What vocal ability! I loved her comedic take on the villainous character, she remains a force to be reckoned with for all the right reasons. As a Hi De Hi! fan myself, the reference to the show (which was fitting given both Pollard and Holland’s presence in the cast) made my night.

The special guest appearance made by Jimmy Tarbuck delighted the audience. What a superb treat! Due to the Grand Theatre’s big birthday, Tarbuck played the role of the Sultan. There were a few puzzled youngsters who wondered why there were two Sultans, as Tom Roberts actually plays the role and came on after him to carry on with the show after the special interlude. The adults in the packed auditorium were all in raptures though.

At this time of year it’s inevitable that the dreaded ‘lurgy’ will do the rounds and it does seem to be making itself known. However, this is a fabulously strong cast who gave their all, oh yes they did!

Book your tickets now: Dick Whittington

Images: Tim Thursfield – Express & Star

Six ~ Malvern Theatres

Star rating: *****

Welcome to the show to the historemix! What an inspired musical Six is! It is easy to see why it is an award winning piece of theatre and a sell out to boot.

It reminded me of a history lesson combined with the feistiness of the characters in the West End hit ‘Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour’ mixed with the vibe of The Spice Girls. Something for everyone? Most definitely and possibly a good way to introduce younger audiences to theatre too.

There was enough sequins to make the Strictly Come Dancing costumes look plain, the backing band wouldn’t have looked out of place with Robert Palmer and the cast had all the right credentials for a successful girl band line up!

Every tune was catchy and every girl had an amazing singing voice. Lauren Drew was exceptional as Catherine of Aragon, Maddison Bulleyment shone as Anne Boleyn, bold and ballsy lass indeed! Lauren Byrne provided stark contrast as the meeker Jane Seymour, Shekinah McFarlane was fierce as Anne of Cleves. Jodie Steele’s vocals were incredible as she rocked the role of Katherine Howard and Athena Collins gave a memorable portrayal of Catherine Parr the sixth wife.

You’d have to be as mad as Henry VIII to miss this lesson in history and life! Go, watch, enjoy and watch out for ‘Don’t Lose Ur Head’ that was my favourite. Book now:

Six tickets

Reviewed by Jen Franklin

Disney on Ice ~ Arena Birmingham

Star rating *****

Disney is one of my families absolute passions, we are all nuts about Mickey and Minnie Mouse, couldn’t wait for Toy Story 4 to be released earlier this year and our home is filled to the brim with Disneyana. Disney on Ice remains one of our top highlights of the year, it’s always a must-see and this autumn’s magical spectacular at Arena Birmingham has proved to be no exception. Celebrating 100 years of magic in wondrous style.

As usual, Mickey and Minnie were at the helm, together with Goofy and Donald they led a packed and excitable arena through every glorious setting and Disney movie. There were short excerpts and longer pieces which gave a good all-round showcase of the classic and more modern day films.

Forky’s brilliant performance in the Toy Story section was our son’s favourite. If I had to choose I would pick out the beautiful dances performed by the various Princes and Princesses. My husband loved the Aladdin scene where the ever-effervescent Genie took the lead and multiplied!

All of the dancers are magnificent skaters and it can be no mean feat to skate and perform in some of those costumes. The attention to detail is always on point and the fact that these popular characters are gracing the ice for all their fans, be they kids or big kids is the most wonderful sight.

Disney on Ice is a fabulous pre-Christmas treat for all the family so get your tickets now and enjoy the magic: Disney on Ice Tickets

Coventry Comic Con (Covcon)

Our favourite convention of the calendar year took place on Saturday 28th September and it was yet another triumph for the fantastic organisers.

Coventry Comic Con or Covcon as it has recently been rebranded is one of the best comic cons for first timers with its well considered spacing, good number of famous faces and panels plus plenty of merchandise too. This year saw an incredible Quadrophenia cast reunion, two recognisable faces from the original Dad’s Army (don’t tell them Pike!) and the ever-popular Gladiators amongst many other much-loved faces from small and large screen.

Davros Skaro

If you need a reason to book your tickets to the next event in 2020 here are my highlights from a top day out:

– The venue ~ Sports Connexion in Ryton offers space for the perfect comic con layout. It’s an easily accessible venue too with plenty of parking and the overflow was handled brilliantly. We always enjoy the food from the upstairs cafe bar too and this time was no exception. The cheeky half didn’t go amiss in the bar, either!

– Guests ~ there was a fantastic array of famous faces to meet, get a selfie with, book a photo opportunity for or who’s autograph you could take home (for a few). What was noticeable was the number of guests happy to chat if their queues weren’t over-flowing.

– Heather Ripley ~ she is instantly recognisable to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang fans as Jemima. Even though she’s no longer a child! A very pleasant woman to chat to and my five year old son was keen to have a photo with her until his nerves got the better of him. She was so understanding though and we are hoping to get that selfie one day.

– Merchandise ~ there was a great mixture of merchandise for enthusiasts of all genre of movies and tv. My boy came away with a bag full of Disney figures and we could easily have spent a fortune on all the appealing merch on offer. From handmade to official, it was all there and easy to look at too.

Props ~ the scenes set up with famous movie props went down a storm and immediately attracted all of us. The youngest member of the party got in on the Star Wars and Monsters University sets and was quite overwhelmed.

Photo opps ~ not something we took advantage of this time, however the queuing system worked well and was kept well out of the way of the rest of the fun too. Some though had obviously gone into it and it looked like a problem free system. The appearance of it has tempted us to get some photos opps next year.

Cosplay ~ the cosplay costumes were quite something, the sheer effort that these talented individuals put into every detail of their costume does not go unnoticed by me. Davros Skaro was a hit with my son!

Family fun ~ it’s fun for all the family and you can make of it what you will. Depending on your interests it can be a full day’s worth of entertainment or a few hours. Seasonal germs meant we didn’t stay the full day but we had an enjoyable and memorable time and can’t wait for next year!

Visit the website to book for 2020: Covcon tickets

Calendar Girls The Musical ~ Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Star rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Sunflowers were out in full force as Calendar Girls The Musical landed at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre last night and brought the full house to tears and to their feet with Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s stunning piece of musical theatre.

The show tells the true story of a Women’s Institute in Yorkshire who made waves with a nude calendar instead of their usual conventional offering. The idea is the brainchild of ‘Chris’ (played by Rebecca Storm) when she dares her fellow members to bare all behind a current bun to raise money for a new sofa for the relatives room at their local hospital. Chris’s Friend ‘Annie’ (Sarah Jane Buckley) loses her husband John (Phil Corbitt) to blood cancer and it’s her experience of the hard wooden chairs in the room she spends much of her time in that makes Chris so determined to be helpful. Albeit helpful in a way that shocks her fellow W.I. members and enrages the snooty Chairwoman, Mari (Judy Holt). It’s a rollercoaster journey for all the characters which ultimately sees an ordinary group of ladies face their fears and triumph. A more heartwarming and heartbreaking story you won’t find – I’ve never before experienced a musical that makes me cry so hard and laugh so uncontrollably in equal measure and in quick succession.

Rebecca Storm is a marvel in the role of Chris, the rule-breaking florist who’s trying so desperately to keep a handle on her teenage son whilst being a rock to her best friend and pushing her unconventional idea forward. Storm’s rendition of the musical number ‘Sunflower’ is show-stopping. Lisa Maxwell shines as Celia, the grounded air hostess who is struggling to fit in at her husband’s golf club. Her solo number ‘So I’ve Had A Little Work Done’ is one of the highlights of the show. Sue Devaney is perfect casting for Cora and her performance of ‘Silent Night’ is joyful, she’s such an engaging performer and a game girl too! Julia Hills is a revelation (in more ways than one!) as Ruth, she gives a very physical performance which enhances all of Ruth’s character traits. The scene in which she sings ‘My Russian Friend and I’ is both hilarious and sorrowful and her singing voice is powerful too. Pauline Daniels is playing the role of retired Headmistress, Jessie (Ruth Madoc is still out of action at the moment) and much as I am aware of Madoc’s talents, I admit I have fallen in love with Daniels’ portrayal of Jessie. She teases out every quality in the pinnacle role and her performance of ‘What Age Expects’ brought the house down. What an amazing vocalist she is.

Sarah Jane Buckley is playing the part I have no doubt she was born to play. She gives a measured, intelligent performance as Annie with a good dose of mischievous fun into the bargain and astonishing vocal ability to boot which lends itself to all of her musical numbers. ‘Scarborough’ gives the audience an insight into Annie and John’s lives and a snapshot of what life would be like without John. ‘Kilimanjaro’ raises the roof, Buckley puts all the pent up emotion into this beautifully crafted song. That moment will resonate with me for some time.

There are also superb performances from younger members of the cast, including; Isabel Caswell as Jenny, Tyler Dobbs as Tommo and Danny Howker as Danny. The entire ensemble are a strong, solid unit though and there is not one weak link nor a performer amongst them who didn’t attract my attention for all the right reasons.

From the opening scene to the magical moments when the calendar is being made – I was unwaveringly emotionally invested in the story and the people. It’s a production not to be missed!

Go and see my favourite musical for yourselves: Calendar Girls tickets

Come From Away ~ Phoenix Theatre

I’m an islander! How could I not be after such a fabulous show? Come From Away is a stunning piece of musical theatre, simply done with maximum effect and another visit is definitely in order.

The story centres around the grounded plane which landed in Canada following the 9/11 terror attacks. The very small community in Newfoundland welcomed some 7000 passengers into their lives.

The musical maps the incredible transition undertaken by every individual as lives intertwines and hope and love are the overriding themes. The musical numbers punctuating the tale are beautifully constructed with care and detail by Irene Sankoff and David Hein. ‘Welcome to the farthest place you’ll get from Disneyland’ is such a poignant and scene-setting lyric in the upbeat number ‘Welcome to the rock’.

The cast is compiled of a strong, talented ensemble of triple threat performers who each bring the various real-life characters to the fore in a caring, almost affectionate manner. It’s clear that the cast are affected by the story and keen to tell it and portray it to the best of their ability. Notable performers in an altogether flawless company include; Jenna Boyd, Helen Hobson, Robert Hands and Rachel Tucker.

It’s no wonder the show boasts four Olivier Awards, go and see it if for no other reason than it’s a wonderfully heartening experience at a time when everything else in the world feels so uncertain.

Book now: Come From Away tickets

On Your Feet ~ Birmingham Hippodrome

Guest Reviewer: Claire & Anthony Sidebottom

Star rating: ****

As a married couple, we arrived at the Hippodrome with one of us having loved Gloria Estefan when younger, and one who said he didn’t know her or her music, so it was going to be interesting to see how the two different ends of the spectrum felt about the new musical ‘On Your Feet’ which is the story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan’s life.

The music started straight away, and everyone’s toes started tapping! It was amazing to see that the band would be on the stage instead of in the normal orchestral pit, it highlighted from the get go that music was at the heart of their story. 

There was a good flow back and forth to give some depth to the story; however my husband felt it was disjointed in areas, with no idea they were now married, or suddenly had a 10 year old son. 

After just a couple of songs it was soon apparent that my husband knew more Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine songs than he realised, and the music taking you into the interval left you on a real high. 

During the interval it was plain that we both felt the dancing was absolute perfection. None of the dancers were even a second out. It was fast, synchronised, graceful, sexy, all at the same time, nothing else could be said but just absolute amazing dancers. You could tell the cast hadn’t just been picked as ensembles who may have danced before, this ensemble were exceptional dancers first who also happened to have great singing voices.

With the first half leaving you with Gloria at the peak of her career, the second half went on to the difficult time of a terrible coach crash that her and her family were involved in and the aftermath of such a dreadful accident. I recognised how the story reflected that the public very often see the star but don’t realise that fame is not everything, and the effects fame can have on family life. For example the strain it put on her relationship with her mother was a very sad side line.

Gloria’s Mother , Gloria Fajardo was played by Madalena Alberto and was a strong depiction of traditional approaches and how past disappointments can impact so many lives going forward. Although for some reason both of us felt that the mother’s image and attitude somehow reminded us of the Mother Gothel character fromDisney’s Rapunzel!

Of course the main outstanding performance was that of Philippa Stefani portraying the superstar Gloria herself. Her voice was absolutely perfect; you can see why Gloria Estefan herself picked Philippa to represent her in telling the world her story. Emilio Estefan, Gloria’s husband and musical soul mate through the story was played by George Ioannides and even though his acting and singing were faultless, with Emilio’s character bringing some humour to scenes with his language difficulties and a pair of very short shorts, somehow the chemistry between the Gloria and Emilio characters, somehow didn’t quite work for both my husband and I. The love story didn’t feel as sincere as I undoubtedly think it is in real life, especially as not many relationships face the test of time in the music industry! It was only at the end when the encore began that I felt a spark between the two characters. 

The strongest love that came shining through with the characters was that between Gloria and her Grandmother Consuelo played by Karen Mann. She was absolutely a stand out character and this was even more obvious when she received the loudest applause of the evening, aside from ‘Gloria‘. This could be contributed to Karen’s vast theatrical experience, because the pure love for Gloria that ran through her performance seemed effortless, and she brought such comedy timing to the show every time she stepped on the stage.

The set design seemed to change effortlessly, through large screens, changing of lights, and the sliding partitions, taking you from a bedroom to a rehearsal or stage scene. The sliding portions of window shutters really worked well to take you from different centuries, along with the costumes which were beautifully synced with the different eras portrayed throughout the show.

The final vote upon leaving the theatre was that the show is a hit and we doubt anyone could watch that show without starting to move to the beat, the rhythm really is going to get you! We were humming the songs all the way home, and I am playing the greatest hits while writing this review, which means its taking me longer than expected because I’m dancing around instead of concentrating! That naughty Dr Beat!

So as it resulted in us both enjoining the show and highly rating both the music and especially the dancing that featured, it turns out you do not need to have been an EsteFAN in the 80s and 90s to go and see the show, because the music and storyline is pure entertainment which is made even stronger by the fact it is a true story about a real superstar.

Book your tickets now: On Your Feet tickets

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