REVIEW: Chicago – “Sophie Carmen Jones and Hayley Tamaddon deliver a masterclass in sharing the spotlight”

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Its sometimes inevitable that when a stage show that has been turned into a film comes back around on tour again, it can become a little stale. But, not all stage shows are Chicago.

With a score to die for (no pun intended) by Kander and Ebb, the 1920s prison-set story of the all-singing, all-dancing murderesses, Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, who get banged up for offing their blokes, is timeless.

The staging was unsettling at first. Having the orchestra on stage instead of in the pit is a unique take on the show and I initially thought it would be a distraction. But, as in most shows, the musicians are the real stars and huddled on stage like a jazz club ensemble, they end up blending right in.

This show relies on strong performances from its two leading ladies.

Hayley Tamaddon hams it up as Roxie. A more comedic take on the character than I’ve seen before, she shows real skill; I couldn’t help but imagine her as an Elle Woods in Legally Blonde (which she would SLAY) or Guys and Dolls’ Adelaide. Although I would have liked to have seen a more dramatic side to the character and her take can sometimes be borderline slapstick, Tamaddon’s singing can’t be faulted. She shines brightest during Funny Honey and Me and My Baby, and whenever she is opposite her Velma.

The lady in question is played by Sophie Carmen Jones, who is a force to be reckoned with as Ms Kelly. Killer moves (again, no pun intended) and a classic, sultry voice of yesteryear, like a Judy or a Liza, she makes a big impression right from the opening bars of All That Jazz. Seductively prowling around stage and hitting her mark every time to perfection, when she takes to the stand she brings the house down. Her duet with Roxie in the finale, Hot Honey Rag, is a masterclass from both in sharing the spotlight.

Cell Block Tango with the chorus girls is always a highlight and these ladies, thankfully, didn’t disappoint. Sophie Carmen-Jones, Lindsey Tierney, Ellie Mitchell, Nicola Coates, Frances Dee and Chelsea Labadini join Tammadon and Carmen Jones in their guilty lament and show wonderful team work and deliciously evil characteristics.

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John Partridge, perhaps best known to television fans as an Eastenders star but in fact a stage veteran of shows like A Chorus Line and Cats, delivers a confident, assured take on greasy lawyer Billy Flynn. He is slick, smooth and in great voice. His ‘exit music’ All I Care About is a big number to tackle and he does it with ease.

After Jesssie Wallace took her final bow at the weekend, it was up with 90s soul diva Mica Paris to fill Mama Morton’s formidable shoes. But, rich and booming as her voice is, her acting chops are not up to scratch and strong vocals don’t make up for her lacklustre, and at times lazy, turn. Mama should be sexy and sleazy and Paris just doesn’t turn it in.

Neil Ditt, on the other hand, puts in a perfectly passive performance as Roxie’s downtrodden husband Amos. His Mr Cellophane earned him a rapturous applause and hearty sympathy in equal measure.

All That Jazz is the musical’s showstopping moment and thankfully, this production is all that and more. A few offences committed, but not enough to throw the book at it. The cast and orchestra give enough Razzle Dazzle to ensure this classic show isn’t going down yet.

Chicago is at the Sunderland Empire until December 3. For tickets and more information, click here

Photos: Catherine Ashmore

INTERVIEW: PlastiQ on pretending to be Lady Gaga, going “totally off the rails” and gracing the stage at the O2 Academy

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Newcastle DJ and cabaret performer PlastiQ is on the bill of what promises to be one of the most exciting shows of the year for drag fans. Stars from mega hit US TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race, as well as home grown talent and the odd living legend, will be taking to the stage at the O2 Academy Newcastle next month for the Klub Kids Comedy Christmas Extravaganza.

And looking at the now polished performer who is quickly becoming one of the best-known faces in North East drag, she’s certainly come a long way from once being described by Boulevard’s Miss Rory as “a little bit sloppy and a little bit messy.”

“I first got into drag for a talent competition back when I was a member of the youth Parliament (really) in 2010,” she tells me. “It wasn’t really drag – I was pretty much a boy in a lace jumpsuit and blonde wig dancing around the stage pretending to be Lady Gaga.”

Donning wigs and commanding an audience would become more prominent in her life when she entered Drag Idol, an X Factor-style contest for amateur drag queens, last year, which she describes as her “first true attempt” at drag. 

“My make-up was shocking but my outfit was cute.”

Each week in the competition, much like The X Factor, the performers take on a theme as they are eliminated one by one before taking to the grand stage at Boulevard in the final. Although there was no backstabbing or Showgirls-style sabotage in the race for the crown. “Drag Idol never felt like a competition. I feel we had a really strong year and it gave birth to a lot of the new drag queens that have become regular faces on the Newcastle scene,” she says, with a flip of Marilyn-esque blonde hair. “But everyone was really good friends and we all wanted to see each other succeed.

I was happy with my experience and owe my entire career to it.”

She came third in the contest and went out on a high, with praise from the judges and local press, although the good times didn’t last for long. “After Drag Idol, if I’m 100 per cent honest I totally went off the rails. The popularity of the competition opened me up to a lot of people who were poisonous to my life without me realising. I fell into the wrong crowds and doing things I really shouldn’t have been and it wasn’t until months afterwards I started getting my life together. I have no regrets when it comes to the decisions I made following the competition, I’m just glad I learnt from them.”

Weeding out said ‘poisonous’ influences allowed PlastiQ to kick start her career properly. “When I finally sorted myself out I started working for Project:Homo in Sunderland. Then around Newcastle and I think I’ve worked everywhere now!

In January, I had the pleasure of performing in an interim show at Funny Girls in Blackpool and hosted the main stage at Newcastle Pride with the fabulous Gloria Hole.”

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Above: Hosting the main stage at Newcastle Pride with Gloria Hole

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The Christmas Comedy Extravaganza, which will play host to Drag Race alum like Alaska and Willam, as well as legendary drag queen Lady Bunny and Newcastle’s own Miss Rory, is being produced by Klub Kids. The alternative club promoters, headed up by DJ and businessman Andrew Hoyle and inspired by the cult film Party Monster, has become one of the most popular outlets for more left-of-field performers. What do you expect from a company whose newest club night is called Hooker Knees?

“Klub Kids has opened a lot of opportunities for me, including the Christmas Comedy show. It was a really exciting opportunity for me and obviously I jumped at the chance,” she says, adding that she is most excited to see ‘legendary’ drag queen Lady Bunny perform. “I’m looking forward to it as it’ll give people an opportunity to see me in a different light as most people aren’t aware that I do stand-up as they’re so used to seeing me in a DJ box.”

And after the show is over?

“I’ve loads of things in the pipeline. I’m going to continue working with Gloria and Anna (Morphic, another Newcastle queen) on our shows. I’m also working on producing a solo show that I hope to debut next year at some point. It’ll be a good mix of cabaret and stand-up. Well that’s the hope!

I have a lot of TV stuff that I wish I could say more about but I’m sworn to secrecy. But it’s all very exciting!”

She may have lost the Drag Idol competition but she won a host of fans, and in bagging high profile gigs, she’s proving all that glitters isn’t always gold…sometimes it’s PlastiQ.

Klub Kids Newcastle presents…Comedy Christmas Extravaganza is at the O2 Academy on December 11. For tickets, call the box office on 0844 477 2000 or online here

Photos: LAH Photography, Louise Crosby and Junkyard Studios

WATCH: NBC’s Hairspray Live! releases first trailer and it’s MAJOR

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We’ve been treated to clips of rehearsals and interviews with the star-studded cast but now the first trailer for NBC’s upcoming TV spectacle Hairspray Live! and it’s pretty great.

The trailer shows the cast, which is headed up by newcomer Maddie Baillio and star of the original Broadway show, Harvey Fierstein, singing and dancing to the inimitable score Marc Shaiman and Scott Witman. The musical, which is following in the footsteps of other televised live musicals like Fox’s Grease Live and the UK’s attempt at The Sound of Music on ITV, will also feature Derek Hough, Jennifer Hudson, Kristin Chenoweth, Ariana Grande and a host of others.

The show has been written by Fierstein and original choreographer Jerry Mitchell is also on board.

The musical airs in the States on December 7 but a UK airing date has yet to be announced.

Watch the trailer below:

Meet the cast in the video below:

Photo/Videos: NBC

 

REVIEW: The Lady in the Van – “Anne Cater delivers one of the best performances I have ever seen on the stage.”

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It is a story that has intrigued me ever since I first heard it a few years back when it was being made into a film starring Maggie Smith, the star of the original play. Beguiling and bonkers, Alan Bennett’s play about his encounter with a homeless stranger that lasted almost two decades is sounds too good to be true. But it is.

The play tells the bizarre story of Bennett’s friendship with Miss Mary Shepherd, a homeless woman and one of life’s great eccentrics, a friendship that lead to Bennett allowing her to park her van in his driveway and live there for 15 years.

“No one knew her well. Even I didn’t know her well. But I knew what she was like.” That was the playwright describing the eponymous lady after her death. On this basis, it seems inaccurate to call this a story of friendship, as the two were seemingly never close enough to be considered friends, but more so neighbours, whether Bennett liked it or not. “One seldom was able to do her a good turn without some thoughts of strangulation.” Quite.

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Anne Cater played the role in the last staging of the play in Newcastle in 2007 (still the only North East production prior to this one) and her performance was described as ‘startlingly good’ by The Journal. Not having been witness to that turn, I have nothing to compare Cater to on this occasion but I can certainly see why the press fawned over her. She is captivating in the part. It would have been easy, and undeniably humorous, to make a caricature of Mary for cheap laughs. Mary is, without a doubt, a comic character at times; she compares herself to St Bernadette and implies she should be canonized. But, she is much more than that: an elderly woman in ill health, a feisty battle axe who likens herself to the Iron Lady, a woman who has lived a very full life, and a tragic heroine. One story about her mistreatment at the hands of some nasty nuns brought a lump to my throat. At times it could be Dame Maggie on stage; whether or not that is a good thing is up for debate, whether Cater’s performance is a straight copy of the film or whether that is just what is required for the character. In my opinion, it is the latter and Cater delivers one of the best performances I have ever seen on the stage.

Bennett himself is played by two actors, who bicker throughout over the mixed feelings he has for the woman who plonked her mobile home outside of his house and refused to leave. Sean Burnside and Ian Willis play the two sides of the man brilliantly, with great contrast. I originally thought I would enjoy more the performance of the shorter, more stout and more obviously comedic Willis, who represents Bennett’s inner thoughts but Burnside, as the man himself, creates ample laughs and really shares the limelight with Cater. One of the final scenes where Bennett pushes Miss Shepherd round in her wheelchair is a sheer delight and a wonderful moment shared between Burnside and Cater.

A touching lament of how friendship, or something near enough, comes in all shapes and sizes (and lasts longer than one may originally think or hope) the play has heart in abundance and shows us again how one, as cliché as it may be, should never judge a book by its cover. Or a lady by the van she may or may not live in.

The Lady In The Van is running until Saturday November 19. Tickets start from £11 and are available in person at the box office, by calling 0191 265 5020 or by visiting their website here

Photo: Dianne Edwards

REVIEW: Il Tabarro/Suor Angelica, Theatre Royal – “brimming with the attributes one hears so much about and anticipates so greatly. High drama, personified.”

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I’d heard so much about Leeds-based company Opera North before attending one of their productions, that I forgot this was actually my first opera – ever. In a sea of fur coats and suited gents shouting ‘brava!’ I wondered whether they could make it accessible to me.

Part of their current season, this double bill – Puccini’s Il Tabarro and Suor Angelica – proved the perfect introduction to the art form for an opera newbie in that both shows were only one act each. Both were brimming with the attributes one hears so much about and anticipates so greatly; drama, affairs of the heart, murder and the longing for forbidden love, if you plan on seeing the production when it moves to Salford, Nottingham or Edinburgh, you’re in for quite a treat.

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Il Tabarro began the night’s performances. Set on a docked barge, we are introduced to Michele, his wife Giorgetta and a band of men who work for them. We soon learn that Giorgetta and worker Luigi are in the throes of a passionate affair, one that has not gone unnoticed by Michele. Luigi tells Michele that he wishes to leave the barge, but Michele persuades him to stay. When he learns of Luigi’s reasoning, that he can no longer bear the thought of sharing her with someone else, he seizes Michele and forces him to confess – resulting in Michele gruesomely murdering his love rival and hiding his body beneath his cloak. Giorgetta, after being reminded of the love she has for her husband, returns to Luigi and begs to be enfolded once more in his cloak. Luigi then opens the garment to reveal her lover’s corpse.

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Ivan Inverardi and Giselle Allen are a dynamic match as Michele and Giorgetta. He is brooding and overbearing from the start, whereas her vulnerability and longing to be loved is the perfect contradiction. David Butt Philip brings great masculinity to his role as Luigi and anchors the piece, flitting between interaction with the other two. All three, along with the rest of the company, deliver stunning vocal performances – the beautiful singing heightens the eerie setting of the barge further, especially during the dance scene at the beginning of the piece. The finale atop of the boat is menacing and upsetting in equal measure and the grand reveal of Luigi’s dead body by Michele is everything you would expect from the piece – high drama, personified.

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Suor Angelica takes us on a more traditional journey. Set in a convent, Sister Angelica is in inner turmoil over the child she gave up years earlier. She wishes for nothing more than news from home, which she finally gets from visiting aunt, the Princess. She has come to inform Angelica that her sister is to be married and also, with reluctance, reveals that the child Angelica gave up has died. Alone and devastated, she prepares a fatal potion and as she takes her own life, she prays for mercy.

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In my opinion the superior of the two pieces, Suor Angelica was stunning. Made up of an all-female company, led fiercely by Anne-Sophie Duprels, it felt more like what I was expecting from my first foray into opera. Duprels’ innocence at the beginning, followed by her strength, or arguably weakness, as she kills herself had me in her grip throughout. The finale, as she walks naked towards her child in heaven, was emotional if a somewhat bizarrely modern contrast to the otherwise simplistic production. Soraya Mafi as Sister Genoveva and Louise Collett as the Monitor Sister were other standouts, although the whole cavalry of nuns could not be faulted. Like in Il Tabarro, the convent setting was used sufficiently and provided context for the stripped back simplicity of the nuns’ existence.

Conducted by Jac Van Steen and Anthony Kraus, the orchestra was lovely, although I wish I could have heard them a little clearer. They seemed somewhat restrained and therefore didn’t fill the entire theatre like one would expect from such a large band.

Opera North has made a new fan in me. Murder, love triangles and nuns in despair – what’s not to like? Add to that a gaggle of homegrown performers, as well as fantastic international talent, and you have an irresistible show. By the end, I found myself wanting to join in with the chorus of ‘brava!’ and next time, I think I just might. (Editor’s note: no fur coat needed.)

Opera North will continue their season in Salford, Nottingham and Edinburgh. For tickets and more details, click here

WATCH: Gal Gadot slays in new Wonder Woman trailer

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The word fierce has never applied so much than it does to the latest trailer for upcoming superhero flick, Wonder Woman.

In the clip, released yesterday, Amazonian warrior Diana Prince (played by Israeli actress Gal Gadot) is shown defending her homeland against attackers. It doesn’t give too much away about the film’s plot but it looks pretty stunning. It opens with our heroine saying, “I used to want to save the world. This beautiful place. But the closer you get, the more you see the great darkness within.” All the feels.

Wonder Woman is the latest D.C comics adaptation to hit the big screen. The film, also starring Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright and David Thewlis, is out next year.