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

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

Jersey Boys ~ Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Jersey Boys stays at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until Saturday 8 September so book your tickets to catch it: Jersey Boys Tickets

Star rating: *****

This musical was adored by a late, great friend of mine so watching Jersey Boys for the first time, at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre last night was an emotional experience even before curtain up. Everything from the impressive back catalogue of The Four Seasons hits to the exceptional vocal ability of the main cast and ensemble to the sheer energy and vibe of the production was top class.

If you’re unfamiliar with the story of the original line up – the show walks you seamlessly through it step by step. From Tommy DeVito’s (Simon Bailey) brainchild and mentoring of a teenage Frankie Valli (James Alexander Gibbs) to the dodgy lifestyle choices which led to prison sentences for DeVito and Nick Massi (Lewis Griffiths) to the introduction of their very own ‘genius’, Bob Gaudio (Declan Egan). There’s superb backing from the female ensemble members who play love interests and singers. Mark Heenehan was a subtle yet imposing presence as Gyp DeCario, the go-to man (I’m familiar with Heenehan as Peron in Evita, he’s an engaging performer).

JERSEY BOYS UK Tour 2017/2018

As the hits start rolling for the group and they establish themselves as The Four Seasons, the audience are treated to a cornucopia of blasts from the past which remain popular today. From ‘Sherry’ to ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ to ‘Walk Like A Man’. Each musical number sounded as though it was being performed by the band themselves, the cast’s voices are so in tune with the original sound we have come to know. James Alexander Gibbs is extraordinary as the main man, Frankie Valli – a ‘character’ who’s home life was complicated and tinged with tragedy. Simon Bailey is perfectly cast as Tommy DeVito, oozing ‘cocky’ DeVito style confidence and a stage presence that shines from the outset. Declan Egan also made his mark as Bob Gaudio, Gaudio’s slightly lacking in confidence and not so easy in the limelight yet brimming with love for music and overflowing with talent – a complex man indeed. Lewis Griffiths completes the picture as Nick Massi, a guy who’s cool, calm and collected until he has to room share with Tommy! The bass vocals that Griffiths offers are pure velvet, he’s one to watch in the future.

The set gives the audience enough to know when the venue has changed, however it doesn’t detract from the music and the story – which are at the heart of the musical. An over the top backdrop would have been too showy and unnecessary. The choreography by Sergio Trujillo is eye-catching and fits perfectly.

Odds on you’ll be up on your feet dancing to popular hits such as ‘December 1963 (Oh What a Night)’ and you’ll probably feel like I do, one trip to see this show isn’t enough! I’d rather not say ‘bye bye baby’ and be ‘beggin’ for another ticket instead.

Photo Credits: Brinkhoff & Mogenburg

Ladies Day ~ Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Star rating: ***

A comedy-drama set in Wolverhampton, the perfect choice for Wolverhampton Grand’s own production. Written by Amanda Whittington and directed by Jason Capewell and Alasdair Harvey – notably, Harvey has directed this particular piece before.

The tale revolves around working class ladies who work at a fish processing factory. With the imminent retirement of Pearl (Deena Payne), it’s decided that the gang of workmates will attend Ladies Day at Wolverhampton Racecourse. Each lady has a story to tell, Jan (Cheryl Fergison) was abandoned by her husband, left with a child to raise and has little life to speak of, although she has enjoyed a few clandestine moments with their boss, Joe (Sean McKenzie, who goes on to play all of the male characters). Pearl has spent the past seven years enjoying an extra-marital affair with a Bookie she’d met at her colleague’s wedding reception. Shelley (Emma Rigby) is a wannabe Kardashian and in so much debt she has bailiffs knocking at the door. Linda (Roisin O’Neill) has a fly-by-night mother who turns up like the proverbial wrecking ball to stay with her timid daughter, taking her bed and stealing her money. Her coping mechanism is her obsession with singer, Tony Christie – she’s a member of his fan club and intent on choosing horses in the races who have names reflecting anything related to the man himself.

The gimmick with this production is that Tony Christie appears in person, singing his way through the show. Almost angel-like in his presence as he follows the action at various intervals throughout. The four ladies have a good chemistry between them and there is a feeling of solidarity between the characters. Wolverhampton accents aren’t always sustained though, I often noted a natural accent filtering through. There are also a few moments, particularly in the second half where the ladies’ lives began to unravel, which didn’t resonate as much as I would have expected. It was humorous to feature Sean McKenzie in all of the male roles, especially as one of the roles he played was a jockey who was just over 8 stone in weight. The irony wasn’t lost and McKenzie made the most of it, with the audience instantly in on the joke too.

The set was subtle, giving the ‘feel’ of a racecourse without detracting from the strong performances, although a few sound effects to add atmosphere may have lifted some of the ensemble scenes.

Cheryl Fergison as Jan gave the most memorable performance of the night, coming into her own all the more when she wound up inebriated and talking a mixture of gibberish and sense in the second half. Her physical comedy stole the show and earned an ovation from the enthusiastic audience.

If you’re looking for a local production set locally with live music from Tony Christie (you can’t not sing along to ‘Amarillo’!) then you’ve got until 28 July to get yourself a ticket! Book here: Ladies Day Tickets

 

 

Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em ~ Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em stays at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until Saturday 19 May – to book tickets follow the link: Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Star rating: ****

Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em was a television favourite of mine and I admire the work of both Michael Crawford and Michele Dotrice, therefore the idea of a new cast in a stage version was one I struggled with. However, I was certainly willing to watch the show with an open mind and with Joe Pasquale at the helm as Frank, I felt it might just work.

I’m happy to report that I enjoyed a thoroughly entertaining evening at the theatre, it’s a laugh-a-minute comedy bonanza with innovative staging which almost steals the show by itself.

Guy Unsworth has written the ‘new’ script and based it on the original scripts by Raymond Allen, so there are elements of the famous television episodes peppered with new material. Joe Pasquale looks the part with the trench coat and beret, his mannerisms are similar to those associated with the original Frank, however he puts his own stamp on the role. The fact that Pasquale is an established comedian enhanced his characterisation and he even attempted a stunt or two, without the signature black gloves which Crawford was renowned for!

The story follows Betty’s (Sarah Earnshaw) discovery that she’s expecting a baby, Frank’s unemployed again and the local Vicar (David Shaw-Parker), Betty’s mum (Susie Blake) and her new chap, David Worthington (Moray Treadwell) are all on the scene too. The Vicar is permanently baffled, as most are in the company of Frank. Betty’s mum Barbara is getting stuck into Frank’s late mum’s homemade wine, while her new man is of particular interest to Frank because he’s a Bank Manager! With the added excitement of an impending visit from the BBC who intend to film the Spencers for a forthcoming talent show, the chaos, mayhem and sheer madness is overt and thoroughly slapstick from the outset.

The entire cast are a tight knit unit who each support one another superbly as the set is literally falling down around them. In particular, there is a stand-out performance from Susie Blake as Barbara, her facial expressions alone had me weeping tears of laughter. Blake’s physical comedy ability was a match for Pasquale’s too which was an inspired combination in the scenes they had together.

Does this work as a stage show? A resounding yes, the story lends itself to the stage and has been cleverly and intricately written. It’s also notable that Joe Pasquale is not trying to impersonate Michael Crawford, therefore it was engaging to watch a fresh take on a much-loved character. At times it seemed like some of the easy chemistry I’d expect to see between Frank and Betty was lacking, perhaps this is where my knowledge of the television version was a hindrance for me personally as a viewer. However on the whole I thoroughly enjoyed a good belly-laugh courtesy of a classic piece of comedy.

Photo Credits: Scott Rylander

Blood Brothers ~ Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Blood Brothers is on UK tour, check out the remaining dates and book tickets here: Blood Brothers

Star rating: *****

Blood Brothers is my all-time favourite musical and it was a delight to see the show at one of my local theatres and with a brand new Narrator on board.

The story of the Johnstone twins is at the heart of the tale, separated at birth because their mother, Mrs Johnstone (Lyn Paul) doesn’t know how she will feed two extra, hungry mouths. She’s also at risk of some of her kids being taken into care, which she regales to her employer, the sympathetic yet calculating Mrs Lyons (Sarah Jane Buckley). She and Mr Lyons (Tim Churchill) have been unable to conceive and it’s obviously a heartbreaking secret that Mrs Lyons is  not living with very successfully, hence her lightbulb moment – give one of the twins to her. Once the deal is done, both women are hounded by the Narrator (Matthew Craig) who is all encompassing and an intimidating presence representing their respective consciences and the devil, in my opinion. As we follow the lives of the Johnstone twins from birth to age seven (nearly eight) and through their teenage years, with Sean Jones as Mickey and Mark Hutchinson as Eddie playing the boys brilliantly well through all stages of life, it becomes clear that the ever-present shadow of the narrator is forecasting a gloomy finale.

With popular musical numbers such as ‘Marilyn Monroe’, ‘My Child’, ‘Easy Terms’ and ‘Tell Me Its Not True’ punctuating the action-packed rollercoaster, it’s an emotional, believable tale packed with as many laughter-inducing moment as tear-jerking ones.

Lyn Paul is one of the ultimate Mrs Johnstones, she brings heart, grit and intricacy to the role. Sean Jones is my favourite Mickey, I feel he has the highest mountain to descend as he spirals downwards from a carefree child to the depths of what life has to throw at him once he hits adulthood, prematurely. Mark Hutchinson is a fantastic contrast as Eddie, from his posh tone of voice to the kooky ways he tries to mimic Mickey, he’s a complex character, too. Sarah-Jane Buckley never fails to astound me as Mrs Lyons, she finds fresh nuances in the character every time I see her in the role and her vocal ability is exceptionally stunning. Tim Churchill does an amazing job of playing multiple roles, each of them notable in their own right – from Mr Lyons, to the Milkman or is it the Gynaecologist? He even plays one of the young kids playing out on the street. Similarly Graham Martin plays his multiple roles superbly, from Mr Johnstone, to the Policeman to the randy old Judge – his capabilities are boundless. Danielle Corlass draws me in as Linda, she’s quirky and girlie as the seven year old and grows magnificently into the beautiful woman who causes the twins to be at loggerheads. Matthew Craig is an imposing presence as the Narrator, he’s really made the role his own. A special mention must also go to Amy-Jane Ollies who stepped in to play ALL the other female characters as well as Donna-Marie, her usual role. A truly talented performer who shone in every part she played.

The production has most certainly stood the test of time and I can always find something different and ‘new’ in each performance. The production boasts an inviting set which provides a convincing backdrop, Liverpool was definitely ‘in’ Wolverhampton last night! From the back to back houses to the sparkling street lights, it’s what I believe to be a truthful insight into life in the city. Class difference is also highlighted throughout, subtly until it builds to the tragic crescendo we’re faced with at the beginning of the musical.

Go and see Blood Brothers for yourself, it’ll challenge your way of thinking, make you want to sing along, have you crying with laughter and sobbing with heartbreak. An extraordinarily timeless piece of theatre.

 

Peppa Pig’s Adventure! ~ Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Peppa Pig’s Adventure! is on UK tour, check out all the tour dates and book tickets here: Peppa Pig Live

Star rating: ****

Peppa Pig’s Adventure! What a fantastic opportunity to introduce young ones to the theatre and to pay a return visit to the theatre with your little ones who may already be seasoned theatre-goers, like the young critic we have here at Entertainment Views!

Peppa Pig remains such a popular television programme for children of varying ages, that the live show has something for everyone, from a tiny age to school age and beyond. There are well-known songs and some that were new to my son and I, all of which we enthusiastically joined in with. The characters are portrayed by multi-talented puppeteers and costumed actors all of whom seamlessly pulled off a thoroughly convincing ‘episode’ of the show. It took me some time to realise that the cast were using their own voices to voice the characters and that it wasn’t being done with pre-recordings, that’s how accurate they are. Kudos to Stephanie Houtman (Peppa Pig), Maryann O’Brien (George), Eleanor Aldridge (Mummy Pig/Madam Gazelle), David Sandham (Daddy Pig/Pedro Pony), Sarah Barbet (Suzy Sheep), Matthew Brock (Gerald Giraffe) and Bronte Tadman, who played a ‘human’ character, Daisy.

The characters go on a camping adventure with their school, the bus is of course driven by Daddy Pig and Madam Gazelle is at the helm. The Bing Bong Song has made it to the live show and the theatre was rocking with it!

If your kids love Peppa Pig, they will find this magical, seeing their favourites come to life before their eyes will doubtless be a special moment for them. It’s a great family day out too, even older children may well be fascinated by the portrayal of the characters even if they’ve outgrown the show itself. My one complaint is that a number of the popular characters were missing. I appreciate the reasons why all of them can’t be present, however my little lad was bereft at the lack of Miss Rabbit, even though I was delighted that Madam Gazelle was included (unashamedly naming her as my favourite character!!).

Go and see it, you’ll be sorry to miss this – from scenery to the atmosphere in the theatre, all absolutely brilliant.

 

Mamma Mia ~ Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Mamma Mia stays at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until 24th February, book your tickets here: Wolverhampton Grand Theatre Box Office

Star rating: *****

Mamma Mia here I go again an it is glorious, I’m a huge fan of the show and indeed of Abba’s music and this exceptional piece of musical theatre ticks every box for me. It’s got a cast de force, a list of musical numbers which are instantly recognisable and have my feet tapping and lips synching. Plus with a basic set and a few trucks, we’re transported to Greece – what’s not to love? There’s eye-catching choreography which showcases a talented ensemble too.

The story follows a character called Sophie (played by the excellent triple threat, Lucy May Barker) who is on a mission to find her biological father having been raised by her mum, Donna (Helen Hobson). The reason for tracking down daddy? She’s getting married to the love of her life, Sky (Phillip Ryan) and wants the her father to walk her down the aisle. However, her mother’s diary from around the time of supposed conception cites that one of three men could be responsible for fathering the curious ‘child’. Therefore, Sophie resolves to invite Sam Carmichael (Jon Boydon), Harry Bright (Jamie Hogarth) and Bill Austin (Christopher Hollis) to her wedding in the hope of uncovering which one is the right candidate!

Cue much madcap hilarity as Sophie is reunited with her best friends and bridesmaids, Ali (Fia Houston-Hamilton) and Lisa (Blaise Colangelo) both of whom she reveals her plan to. Donna also has her best friends flying over for the occasion; man-eater Tanya (Emma Clifford) and Rosie (Rebecca Seale) who are just the sort of supportive friends you need when three of your ex fellars are suddenly staying in your Taverna. It’s an interesting journey to the altar, punctuated with classic and well-timed Abba hits, from ‘One of Us’ to ‘Dancing Queen’ to a trippy rendition of ‘Under Attack’ and there’s also my personal favourite ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’.

Helen Hobson is resplendent as Donna, she’s maternal, skittish, witty and game for a laugh – has excellent rapport with her mates and extremely believable chemistry with Sam. Emma Clifford is a laugh a minute as Tanya, she’s elegant then she’s throwing herself into silly antics with gay abandon and ‘Does Your Mamma Know’ was one of the many highlights of the show. A standing ovation must go to Rebecca Seale who stepped in to understudy the role of Rosie, she brought great life and soul to the life and soul of the party, stunning vocal ability from Seale too. Jamie Hogarth made me smile as the somewhat uptight Harry, his strong vocals lent themselves superbly to the hits and he brought a wonderfully awkward quality to the character too. Christopher Hollis was equally engaging as Aussie Bill Austin, his scenes with Rosie were brilliant, a superb pairing. Jon Boydon put real heart into the role of Sam, the feelings the character has for Donna were palpable. All three dads were notably exceptional with effortlessly natural vocals which never waivered.

If you’ve seen it before, go again, if you’ve never seen it… GO! It’s the ultimate feel-good musical and you I know you won’t be disappointed, I do, I do, I do, I do, I do!

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!

 

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