Claire Richards ~ Town Hall, Birmingham

Star rating: *****

Claire Richards has long been my best-loved member of of pop band Steps, her vocal ability is so extraordinary that waiting for her signature ‘belt’ to make an appearance in the back catalogue of Steps hits has become rather customary. When I knew she was planning to go solo it was quite a moment, I was so excited to hear her album and the tour has been on my hit-list since back in the summer. The album ‘My Wildest Dreams‘ has been delayed until 1 February 2019, but she promises it will be worth the wait – and from the sound of the various numbers the singer treated us to during her solo gig, it definitely will be worth the wait!

Looking the epitome of chic elegance, Claire sang us through numerous songs from her album, some I was familiar with and already love listening to and the others that were new to my ears I already know I will want to play over and over. This incredible lady has created a perfect first solo album in my humble opinion. She was nervous, at least that’s what she told the audience, but she’s the master of hiding nerves if she truly felt that way! As one number rolled into another the atmosphere buzzed and every member of the crowd was on her side willing her to be as brilliant as she absolutely was.

With Christmas just around the corner, ‘My Heart Is Heading Home (This Christmas)’ was a welcome choice on the set list, you can download that ready for the festive season too – I highly recommend you do. ‘End Before We Start’ which already has an official video was sensational live, ‘On My Own’ is equally moving and I feel it represents the star’s solo journey. The title track ‘My Wildest Dreams’ is also lyrically heartfelt and yet another song which was performed beautifully live. ‘Deep Waters’ is gloriously upbeat and upped the vibe in the venue. ‘Brave’ is the only self-penned tune and possibly one of my overall favourites, I can identify with the message and it’s a fitting tribute to her children and to motherhood.

Of course there was a nod towards Claire’s ‘day job’ as a member of Steps with stripped back versions of ‘Deeper Shade of Blue’ and ‘One for Sorrow’ which were a welcome addition to the set. However, it was her performance of Ike and Tina Turner’s ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ which was the biggest revelation of the night and rocked Town Hall, Birmingham.

If you have the chance to see Claire Richards performing her solo gig, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend that you go. It was an amazing evening of wonderful music and there’s no doubt that this path is right for her, it’s about time!

Check out Claire Richards’ website for all the latest news: Claire Richards Website

Pre-order the album ‘My Wildest Dreams’ here, just click the image:

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An Evening with Brian Blessed ~ Town Hall, Birmingham

Star rating: *****

My first experience of the ginormous, booming personality that is Brian Blessed OBE involved him dressed as a rotund, fluffy cat! Old Deuteronomy in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats was the show he was appearing in and I don’t think anybody else has been able to touch the paw print he has made on the role. I’ve also read numerous articles about his mountaineering exploits and as a mother, I am familiar with his voicing of Grampy Rabbit in Peppa Pig and Eduardo Enormomonster in Henry Hugglemonster for Disney Junior.

An evening with this extraordinary gentleman promised to be informative, fascinating and barmy! It was all of those things and more. It’s difficult to believe that he is 82 years old! The energy and joie de vivre he brought to the stage was immense. Peppered with the odd expletive and belch, we were taken on a journey through Blessed life and career, and it was one hell of a ride.

Blessed has one of the most unique and easily identifiable voices, it lends itself to storytelling like no other and he drew the audience in. There were times when you could almost hear a pin drop. It was a joy to hear about his childhood, growing up with Sir Patrick Stewart whom he does a remarkable impersonation of. Equally fascinating to learn of his first encounter with Coronation Street legend, Bill Roache, who was renowned in the repertory company where Blessed was a member, Roache was in fact renowned for not being able to act! Add his unwavering teasing of Sir John Gielgud to the mix and I could barely contain my mirth.

It was certainly an evening well spent in the company of a truly marvellous multi-talented man, and in case you’re wondering, there’s not long to wait until he shouts out the much anticipated line “Gordon’s Alive!!!”.

 

 

Bing Live! ~ Town Hall, Birmingham

Bing Live! continues its tour of the UK, check out all the dates and buy tickets here: Bing Live!

Star rating: *****

Bing Live! has long been a favourite of my four year old son, Cbeebies being his channel of choice and the young bunny having been a frequent ‘visitor’ in our living room over the past few years.

Seeing the rabbit himself come to life by way of innovative puppetry in a live show full of fun, frolics and Bing thing antics was a treat from beginning to end. Naturally, Flop was on hand to guide Bing as he met up with his usual circle of friends (Sula, Coco and Pando) to play dress up and be creative.

The toilet train is a prominent feature of course, and there’s a 15 minute interval to allow the smaller members of the audience to take a toilet train and refreshment break. In fact for the youngsters of all ages, the timing of the show is perfect. It’s just long enough to capture their imaginations and hold their attention.

Audience participation is encouraged and there are plenty of opportunities for everybody to get involved with singing and dancing. The puppeteers are highly skilled and talented individuals and it’s easy to forget they’re there as they subtly operate the television favourites.

There’s a vibrant set to engage the small ones too, with lots to see and a great view to be had from any seat in Town Hall, Birmingham. Highly recommended for little kids and big kids alike, this is one of the best shows for the tiny theatre-goer that we’ve seen.

Justin’s Band ~ Town Hall, Birmingham

Star rating: *****

Justin Fletcher who is also better known as Mr Tumble to tots all over the country, has a new show on tour and it’s a glorious party for pre-schoolers and early years children.

The popular children’s entertainer who is the face of Cbeebies was on fine form as he held the Town Hall in Birmingham to rapt attention with an educational show about musical instruments. Indeed, the first half was very much centred around teaching the young audience about the different instruments that they too can learn to play. Peppered with well loved songs to help the education along.

As Justin built his band and introduced each musician to his fans, the show steered steadily towards party time and which saw the excited youngsters jumping, clapping and singing. The venue was packed to the rafters with joy and I can’t commend Fletcher highly enough on a show which is just the right format for the target audience. His backing dancers and singers were also equally engaging entertainers, excellent all-round performers.

The Hello song and the Goodbye song both featured as well as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Hands Up. There was no need to encourage participation because the interaction was instantaneous thanks to the man of the moment.

My little boy hasn’t stopped talking about the show and he wants to play every instrument he was introduced to. His imagination has been well and truly captured.

Catch the show on tour, you won’t regret it – check out this Facebook page link to find out where Justin will be stopping off next: Justin’s Band

The Rat Pack 20th Anniversary Tour ~ Town Hall, Birmingham

The Rat Pack 20th Anniversary Show is currently on UK tour, you can find out venue information and details of how to book tickets here:

The Rat Pack 20th Anniversary Show

Star rating: ****

I was brought up on the music of The Rat Pack and I’ve rarely been in attendance at a show where I have known every song word for word. The spectacular Vegas-style show which is currently touring the UK and is now in it’s 20th year provided a superb evening’s entertainment.

The Rat Pack is of course formed of Frank Sinatra (David Alacey), Sammy Davis Junior (Des Coleman) and Dean Martin (Paul Drakeley) and a tribute show to the popular late trio wouldn’t be a tribute show without a big band. In this case the three extremely versatile performers were backed by the Buddy Greco Orchestra who were phenomenal.

As Sinatra, Alacey was everything that you would expect Sinatra to be, he sounded so much like the legend himself – I closed my eyes and I could have been listening to Sinatra himself. He gave a flawless impersonation yet is also a fantastic singer in his own right. As Sammy Davis Junior, Coleman gave a lively, enthusiastic portrayal and his soft shoe shuffle was excellent. As Dean Martin, Drakeley gave the expected ‘inebriated’ performance (Dean Martin always had a drink and a fag in his hand when he was on stage) and did tremendous justice to the late singer and actor.

The three of them bantered easily between themselves  and engaged the audience regularly, encouraging them to suggest songs they’d like to hear. It was a pity that the auditorium wasn’t as full as the show deserved it to be. The songs themselves are classics and have stood the test of time and when delivered with such precision, they’re a joy to re-visit.

Highlights included the Sinatra and Greco ‘duet’ courtesy of a recording of the late Buddy Greco and the vocal talent of David Alacey. Mac The Knife and Fly Me To the Moon were also my personal favourites and a rousing rendition of New York topped off the evening in style.

Kenny Lynch guest starred and he may be slightly limited by age but his stage presence lacked none of the Kenny we know of old. His ability to tell gags and sing classic hits never waivered – when it comes to talent, he still has it in abundance.

This is a company who all have mutual respect for one another and it shines through which was as delightful to watch as the show itself. Catch it on tour at a venue near you!

Guest review by Garry McWilliams

The Scarecrows’ Wedding ~ Town Hall, Birmingham

The Scarecrows’ Wedding is on at Town Hall, Birmingham again on Saturday 15 April before continuing it’s UK tour – visit the link to see the list of venues and to book tickets: The Scarecrows’ Wedding

Star rating: ***

The Scarecrows’ Wedding is one of Julia Donaldson’s popular children’s stories, with engaging characters, it’s bags of fun and takes the reader on a quest for the best wedding yet. There are pros and cons to the stage version by Scamp Theatre, musically it’s a strong production but visually it lacked the stimuli to hold my toddler’s attention and the same could be said for fellow pre-school theatre-goers sitting in the stalls.

The concept of the story is a touching one, and incorporates many quirky characters which capture the imagination. This piece is performed as a three-hander with Joanna Brown playing Betty the scarecrow, Sam Heron playing Harry the scarecrow, these scarecrows love each other and they decide to get married. They make a list of must-haves for their big day and acquire help from various creatures to assist them in ticking off everything on their list. Mark Kane plays the Farmer and all of the other characters, from a snail to a crab to a French scarecrow – his ability to vocalise each role with a different accent is remarkable. All three members of the cast are talented musicians and make good use of this throughout each of the catchy musical numbers.

The set and props, although slightly tired-looking, possessed redeeming qualities such as an armchair that turned into a motor car, however from row J of the stalls it was not always easy to see the hillside in the background. There were also other elements of the scenery which were lost on my Son because the set didn’t appear to lend itself to the space. Perhaps more of a nod towards the fact that Betty and Harry are scarecrows wouldn’t have gone amiss, either – although I am aware that the characters in the book don’t entirely resemble scarecrows in a typical way, they are somewhat humanised in the illustrations.

Overall if your child is a fan of the book I think it’s worth a watch, I was aware of some young patrons who could quote along with the show. The audience engagement at the beginning was a great gimmick and the sheer variety of instruments that the cast were able to switch between was impressive in itself. You can catch the show on UK tour throughout 2017.

 

 

 

 

Billy Ocean Tour ~ Town Hall, Birmingham

Reviewed by Helen McWilliams

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It’s been my past experience that ‘Love Really Hurts Without You’ or ‘When The Going Gets Tough’ fill a dance floor like no other, therefore Billy Ocean’s latest tour promised to be an evening of feel-good music providing the opportunity for a good ‘bop’. This was most certainly the case, with Mr Ocean proving that he still has ‘it’ after all these years in the business. His voice is still outstanding in tone and volume and he delighted fans with impressive dance moves, too – not bad for a man in his sixties!

Not only were the audience entertained with a string of hits from Ocean’s back catalogue, including ‘Love Zone’, ‘Red Light Spells Danger’ and ‘Stay the Night’, as well as ballads ‘Suddenly’ and ‘There’ll Be Sad Songs’ – but also some of his own favourite songs from other artists. Participation from the eager crowd was actively encouraged, with the house lights also illuminating us so that a ‘connection’ could be established, which made all the difference. A particular highlight was the chance to sing along with ‘The Colour of Love’, lucky members of the audience also received ‘shout out’s’ and birthday wishes from the man himself.

The band and backing singers all blended in well and the saxophonist was especially notable, however they all complimented the quality of Ocean’s performance, and didn’t merely sink into obscurity in the background. For a good evening’s entertainment listening to songs that ‘take you back’, this concert has something for everyone, whether you are a fan or simply enjoy the hits from the 70s and 80s that are still so popular, today.

Go and see this musical legend, if you can, remaining tour dates are here: http://www.billyocean.com/ and there are all details of the festivals that he is set to play at this year, too.

 

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