Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen

30/08/2016

Footloose The Musical


Review by: Paul Towers, 30 August 2016
Footloose The Musical by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie
Produced by Sell A Door Theatre Company & Runaway Entertainment
Curve 29 Aug to 3 September

“Holding out for …?.”

In recent years there has been a trend for adapting popular films into stage musicals. Often it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
Footloose, the 1984 film, is the archetypal date movie; a romantic, good out of towner versus bigoted small towner, with a soundtrack of poppy 1980’s hits. The stage version should be an ideal girls-night-out fun show that you come away from humming the tunes and feeling all warm inside.
The story is fairly slight, a boy and his mother move from Chicago to Bomont, a fly spot on the map of America’s mid west. There they are stunned to find that dancing is forbidden and the boy sets about overturning this archaic law. On the way he discovers love.
So where does it all go so horribly wrong?
This mish mash of a catastrophe takes all the good bits from the film and dilutes them with down beat, dirges of ballads and a storyline of domestic violence and good ole southern bible bashing. The whole thing lurches from high to low like a pedestrian roller coaster. It was a good 20 minutes into the production that it livened up even a little.
As is so often the case with modern musicals the cast are expected to sing, dance and play instruments. In Footloose The Musical the talented cast do all three to the best of their ability with the material they are given but most of the songs only elicited a barely polite round of applause. The exceptions were the known numbers from the film, Footloose, Holding Out For a Hero and Let’s Hear it For The Boy.
As the plot stumbles from one dirge to another there are thankfully small comedic moments from a surprising source. Gareth Gates, he of Pop Idol fame, lurches on, zombie-like and overacting like mad, as the local dumb yokel who befriends newcomer Ren McCormack, ably played by Luke Baker, shows a nicely developing sense of comedy with some amusing self deprecating lines about speech impediments.  However these occasional bright spots, like glimpses of blue sky amongst the storm clouds of an autumn day, were never enough to lift the tone.
As the second half wended its weary way towards the end there was one final obstacle for us, the patient audience, to overcome. Just as the finale built to its limp crescendo a technical fault prevented the front cloth from rising on cue. I felt it may very well have been divine intervention and someone somewhere was trying to tell us to go home before depression set in or maybe the mechanics had just died of embarrassment. But then, after a 5 minute break, the lights went back down, the music started again, the curtain behaved itself and we were finally into the home stretch. At last there was life in the audience as the medley of the memorable hits signalled the final bows and we could at last escape, never to recapture those lost hours.

First published in Western Gazette

24/08/2016

Bugsy Malone


Review by: Paul Towers, 24 August 2016
Bugsy Malone by Alan Parker and Paul Williams
A Curve Community Production
Curve 19 – 28 August

“wondrously fun night out”

Where to begin? This has to be one of the funniest, energetic, feel good shows on any stage any time.
With a cast that is only aged 12 to 17, with the exception of  9yr old Amica Kuroda, the talent is unbelievable. Every single one of them sings, dances and acts their socks off.
Bugsy Malone is inspired by the antics of one Al Capone and Bugs Moran, notorious gangsters of 1920’s New York. Written in 1976 by Alan Parker, who went on to carve out a very successful career as a director of such seminal films as Midnight Cowboy, Fame and The Commitments, this proves that early on in his career that he could do musicals as well as heavy dramatic stories. His collaboration with renowned songwriter Paul Williams produced a hugely enjoyable show which still fills theatres after 40 years.
As he wanted specifically to cast teenagers for all the roles, thus adding a surreal element to the ‘blood and gore’, he had to find a way to sanitise the violence. This was achieved by the invention of ‘splurge guns’ which fired lethal doses of custard alongside the obligatory standard custard pies in lieu of bullets.
Under the direction of Curve’s Nick Winston we have a large cast of hugely talented local young performers filling a cleverly designed set by David Woodhead with the two gangs of old school villains vying for power in the city.
A slight storyline never gets in the way of great dance routines, hilarious one liners and an ultimately beautiful  love story between Bugsy and dancer Blousey.
If you manage to get a ticket before Sunday be warned that copious amounts of ‘custard’ end up on audience members throughout the stalls and you may even end up as part of the finale on stage in Fat Sam’s Grand Slam club
14 year old Joel Fossard-Jones is superb as Bugsy, while 15 year old Maeve Wood as Blousey  torch sings her way through the story.
The set is a series of gantries and stairs which, thanks to lighting designer Ben Cracknell, provides every backdrop the story needs. A huge  Japanese style framework provides a proscenium arch and front cloth upon which is projected all sorts of locations and animations. The onstage band, ranged round the back of the set, gives a depth to the sound which would be hard to replicate if it were in a pit.
All in all this is a wondrously fun night out that will leave you humming the songs as you walk home.

First published in Western Gazette

22/08/2016

Curve's Autumn/Winter 2016 Launch


Review by: Paul Towers, 24/8/2015
Curve Season Launch Autumn/Winter 2016
Curve Monday 22 August 2016

“Curve is a resounding sucess.”

With great fanfare and squatting on the Bugsy Malone set, Chris Stafford and Nikolai Foster were introduced onstage by local radio DJ Jim Davis (no, not THAT one!) who compered the event. With a huge TV screen above them showing promotional videos of some of the shows we can enjoy the two driving forces of Curve outlined their vision for the coming season and introduced us to all of the shows for this autumn and winter.
The proceedings opened with a number from Grease, this year’s big Christmas musical, sung by Cassie Compton who will be starring in next year’s first big musical, The Wedding Singer. Grease runs from 26 November to 14th January.
Next up was a discussion about the in house production of The Importance of Being Earnest running from 6th October to 29th October. This co-production with regular collaborators Birmingham Rep stars the awesome Cathy Tyson who was last in Leicester for She Called Me Mother at Upstairs at the Western in October last year. Ms Tyson came on stage for what was supposed to be an interview about her portrayal of Lady Bracknell but actually turned into a monologue master class on finding a character through rehearsal.
The next production to be discussed was the rock ‘n’ roll story of how four of the genre’s giants turned up at a studio by accident and spent a day making historic music. Million Dollar Quartet, narrated by Jason Donovan, runs from 14 to 24th September.
After the outstanding success of last year’s Roald Dahl’s The Witches, Curve is flicking through his canon again and serving up his The Twits for this years Christmas offering for all those who are young or at least young at heart. The Twits, again adapted by David Wood, runs from 10 December to 15 January.
Stopping off on its nationwide tour is perennial favourite Footloose which is on from 29 August til 3 September. Starring Gareth Gates and Maureen Nolan this an especial favourite for girls’ nights out.
Another touring production which will be well worth seeing is The Shawshank Redemption running from 3 to 8 October.
If you are in a romantic mood Pride and Prejudice runs from 18 – 22 October starring Mathew Kelly (yes, him off the telly) and Felicity Montague (yes, also off the telly) in a contemporary take on a classic but still of the period.
In between all these shows that run for more than a couple of days there is a myriad of one nighters from visiting artistes including stand ups, singers and, patriotically, a celebration of Her Majesty’s 90th birthday called Happy and Glorious on Sunday 2nd October
And of course we mustn’t forget the current Curve Community production Bugsy Malone running from 19 – 28 August in the main theatre.
We also had the pleasure of a performance of one of the stand out songs from Footloose by Luke Baker who plays Ren in the show
Chris Stafford, Chief Executive of Curve, proudly informed us that the theatre runs at an average of 80% capacity. That means that, on average, only 20% of seats remain unsold. A very creditable boast in the current economic climate. The other thing well worth boasting about is that in 2015 Curve touring productions played to an additional 250,000 people out on the road.
Curve has always prided itself on premiering shows like Breakfast at Tiffaney’s, Finding Neverland and The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole. This autumn it has been chosen to launch Burning Doors, an expose of Belarus’s appalling suppression of artistic freedom. Burning Doors is on from 23 – 27 August and we were treated to an interview with its director.
All in all Messrs Stafford and Foster can justifiably pat themselves on the back for not only attracting world class touring shows to Leicester but also for putting on so many productions that actually put bums on seats. Their first year in charge has proved a resounding success and long may their creative partnership continue.
Tickets for all shows can be found at http://www.curveonline.co.uk/whats-on/shows/
First published in Western Gazette

17/08/2016

Spring Awakening


Review by: Paul Towers, 17 August 2016
Spring Awakening by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik
Curve and National Youth Music Theatre production
Curve – 17–20 August 2016

“classy production”

Spring Awakening is based on the original 1891 book of the same name by Frank Wedekind. Set in late 19th century Germany this musical version by Sater & Sheik had a long and troubled gestation from the late 90’s until it finally burst onto Broadway in 2006 in full Tony-winning form and also won an Olivier in London’s West in 2009.
The show highlights many of the pitfalls of adolescence that are still valid to this day. Along the way it points the finger at a lack of parental instruction leading to unwanted pregnancies and wild misconceptions about the biological workings of teenage bodies.
There are two basic storylines running through the show; Melchior and Wendla’s blossoming romance leading to an unwanted pregnancy and Melchior’s incarceration in a reform school, unaware that he has a child coming with Wendla who dies after a botched abortion. Parallel to this is Melchior’s best friend, Moritz, whose vivid wet dreams are keeping him up all night and impacting on his school work. Failing his exams and feeling rejected by his family Moritz allows his depression to swamp him and shoots himself.
On a more positive note there are also a couple of nice little relationships that develop and blossom almost incidentally.
Once again Curve has teamed up with the National Youth Music Theatre to bring us a hugely talented bunch of young performers in a far from average production. With our very own Nikolai Foster directing, Takis designing and Lee Proud choreographing this was always going to be a classy production.
A quirky, sloped stage is reverse mirrored above by an offset gantry which is used to great effect to give the impression of various roofs and skies. A back wall of graffiti emphasises the impression given by the subliminal background noises of children playing out of social housing.
While the entire cast is spot on especial mention has to be made of  Toby Turpin as Moritz Stiefel and Nathanael Landskroner as Melchior Gabor. Both of these performers are to be watched and will, I guarantee, turn up on a West End stage very soon.
The songs, which invariably move the story along, are not the ‘hard’ rock I was expecting, many of the ballads reminding me of Boy George’s Taboo soundtrack, melodic and poignant. The singing was accompanied by a lively band of six up on the mezzanine of Curve’s Studio, augmented by another six of the onstage actors who also played instruments, a multi-talent that seems to be becoming a requisite in musicals these days.
It is so gratifying to see that there is a wealth of talent emerging from the various drama schools, colleges and universities around the country. Long may it continue
Spring Awakening is on at Curve until Saturday 20th August
First published on Western Gazette


11/08/2016

Sister Act - The Tour


Review by: Paul Towers, 11/08/16
Sister Act by Alan Menken, Glenn Slater and Cheri & Bill Steinkellner
A Curve and Jamie Wilson Co-production, directed by Craig Revel Horwood
Curve 30th July to 13 August 2016

“hosanna your way to a hugely enjoyable evening’s entertainment”

Once again Curve has cemented its growing reputation for producing great touring shows that premier here in Leicester.
Of course this is not a brand new show, it was premiered in 2006 in America, having been inspired by the 1992 film starring Whoopi Goldberg who also produced the London production in 2009.
Broadly following the plot of the film Deloris Van Cartier, a Vegas saloon singer with aspirations beyond her talent, witnesses a gangland killing by her abusive boyfriend and goes into a Police Protection programme. This entails her being secreted in a convent, much to the chagrin of the Mother Superior. Bored out her mind and causing havoc Deloris is put in charge of the abysmal church choir which she whips into nationally acclaimed shape. Thus bringing her to the attention of her erstwhile boyfriend who comes looking for her to silence her. Of course it all works out in the end; Deloris ends up with her dependable childhood sweetheart, the church is restored and the congregation swells to breaking point.
This show is almost fool-proof and virtually unbreakable so long as the cast can sing. Craig Revel Horwood, he of Strictly fame, has assembled a very talented cast who, mostly, sing, dance, act, do comedy and play instruments. Horwood signature is having instrumentalists on stage as part of the ensemble. In this case most of the main cast can play as well.
The set is a vast cloistered reception room that easily portrays the church and convent as well as various rooms.
All this would be for nothing, aesthetic as it is, if the main characters weren’t  strong enough and in Alexandra Burke as Deloris and Karen Mann as Mother Superior Revel Horwood has two very capable performers who match each other for comedy, pathos and great singing. Burke especially has a voice that will raise any church roof and propel it well up to its maker.
Sometimes when a comedy film is adapted for the stage the laughs are watered down but this production has every comedy line and moment from the beloved film and a whole lot more. Much is also made of the fact that the story is set in 1977. This allows some nice digs at the awful haircuts and fashions of the era as well as the dances. Poor John Travolta’s Saturday Night Fever is a particular target.
In the unlikely event that you can get a ticket before it moves on, grab it and hosanna your way to a hugely enjoyable evening’s entertainment in the arms of our Lord.
Failing that make a special trip to see it on tour. Details at www.sisteractuktour.co.uk/

First published on Western Gazette