REVIEW: Betty Blue Eyes, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

This review was originally written for and published by The Public Reviews. The original post is available here.
For one week only, in the intimacy of the Chandler Studio Theatre within the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, the future faces of musical theatre are treating audiences to their wonderful performances of Betty Blue Eyes.
A musical that is both uplifting and sorrowful, Betty Blue Eyes is based on the 1984 film A Private Function by Alan Bennett. Set in 1947, the aftermath of the war has left Northern England in tatters with rationing pushing citizens to their limit. With the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip fast approaching, a buzz of excitement fills the small town’s air as the upper classes begin to plan a feast to celebrate the wedding. Gilbert Chilvers (Lawrence Libor) is the town’s chiropodist and, as he dreams of owning a shop of his own, his wife Joyce (Lucie Thaxter) dreams of being “somebody.” However both dreams are dashed by the upper class and, in desperation,  the Chilver’s find themselves in the middle of a “pignapping.”  With a food demanding mother (Eve Niker) and the town’s council hot on their heels, the Chilvers have a lot to answer for as the wedding date grows nearer and nearer.
This production has been laced together with care, each fine detail contributes to the retelling of the story of 1940’s Britain; the past truly comes to life in front of the audience’s eyes from the moment the show begins, transporting them to the small Northern town with eccentric characters and songs you’ll sing all the way home.
The cast consists of the Conservatoire’s extremely strong third cohort BA Musical Theatre students who are excellent performers that are full of talent, promise and determination. Together, they are dazzling, their voices blending into one and effortlessly filling the small theatre. With each individual having their own chance to shine, it is clear that this cast are wonderful performers, all of whom I believe will go far in the future. The dance routines, choreographed by Emily-Jane Boyle, are executed with precision. Libor creates a truthful and lovable Gilbert and Thaxter portrays Joyce with great emotion and vocal power. Niker is consistently perfect as Joyce’s mother, her antics gaining plenty of laughs from the audience. It must be stressed that each member of the cast are of an exceedingly high standard with some members playing up to five characters in the show.
Anyone who missed Betty Blue Eyes during its short run on the West End should take the opportunity to catch the show at the Royal Conservatoire. Although billed as an amateur production, it possesses all of the qualities of a professional company, promising an enjoyable evening of spam, history and blue eyed pigs.

REVIEW: Peter Panto and the Incredible Stinkerbell, Tron Theatre

Fresh from the success of their production of Blithe Spirit in Perth, Johnny McKnight and Kenny Miller front the creative team behind this year’s Tron theatre pantomime: Peter Panto and the Incredible Stinkerbell; a show of fun, fairies and flatulence.
Peter Panto is a boy from Riverland. One evening he accidentally loses his shadow. He later returns to the Darling’s household, with his best friend Stinkerbell in tow, to collect his shadow and is helped by Wendy, the eldest of the Darling’s three darlings. He soon convinces Wendy to travel to Riverland where we meet his long time enemy Captain New Look and her (yes, her) sidekick Chai Thai. In true panto style, mayhem follows. There’s poison, knives and looks that could kill all night long, providing a night of laughter and great entertainment.
Johnny McKnight has written yet another panto that’s brimming with local humour, a fantastic set of songs and a wonderful cast. The script includes playful references to the King’s Theatre, Karen Dunbar and even Janette Krankie. Of course, panto lovers can expect the traditional aspects of pantomime such as cast members playing multiple roles, an altered plot line to suit the location of the show (who knew pirates hung out at the Blue Lagoon?) and, of course, audience participation. Not only has McKnight included all of the familiar traits of panto, he has created a modern show that appeals to all age ranges. Ross Brown has written an all-new set of songs for Peter Panto, all of which are catchy and show off the abilities of those on stage.
Peter Panto marks the return of several Tron panto veterans: Darren Brownlie, Sally Reid, Anita Vettesse and Helen McAlpine and, of course, there are also some new faces in the form of Louise McCarthy and Laura Szalecki. Together they form a very strong cast that are oozing with talent.
Reid gives a wonderful performance as Stinkerbell, Peter’s loving sidekick who can never quite admit her true feelings. She engages well with the audience, instantly pulling us into the show and getting lots of laughs for her elaborate descriptions of the flatulence that makes her so proud.  McAlpine is Peter Panto, the boy who never grows up. She possesses an attractive singing voice although it must be admitted that her enthusiastic shouts to the audience may have been a tad too loud from time to time. With this small issue aside, McAlpine delves into the role of Peter and gives it all she’s got. She also briefly plays the unenthusiastic Nana in act one, the Darling’s small and furry maid and babysitter who truly believes she’s seen better times in her career. Tron newcomer McCarthy provides a hilarious “West End” Wendy and fits in perfectly amongst her cast mates, her accent gaining more and more laughs as the night advanced. This ballet loving Wendy is full of energy and also brings a very sweet singing voice to the show. Brownlie, the only male in this cast, briefly plays Mr Darling and then, once we have been transported to Riverland, he becomes the hilarious and down to earth Chai Thai who provides plenty of one liners and Glaswegian slang. Not only a great performer, Brownlie is the choreographer for the show and stands out during many dance routines, dancing in heels with ease as he blends into the almost all female cast. The performance of the night was from Anita Vettesse who shines equally bright as Mrs Darling and Captain New Look. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of this year’s Tron panto is that the villainous role of Captain Hook we are all familiar with has been transformed and glamorised into a female role that Vettesse thrives in. Both her speaking and singing voices are strong and unique; Vettesse is instantly likable. It’s unusual to see a villain get such a large cheer at the curtain call and this actress certainly deserves all the praise she receives.
Grab your tickets, some wings and your eye patch whilst you still can – I predict a sell out show!

REVIEW: Blithe Spirit, Perth Theatre

“One rap for yes, two raps for no”
Blithe Spirit is a rapturous success!
With a beautiful Art Deco set and extravagant costumes Blithe Spirit is visual splendour, transporting the audience to 1940’s Perthshire where struggling writer Charles and his second wife Ruth hold a seance led by Madame Arcati – the local medium who’s not quite as in touch with the spirit world as she thinks she is. Arcati contacts Elvira, Charles’ first wife, and brings her back to haunt the house where she once lived and of course, Elvira being her twisted self, she is only too happy to cause a little havoc.
Having heard that the setting of this production had been relocated to Perthshire, I had my doubts. Could this show possibly meet the standard of the 1945 film version of Blithe Spiritthat I was so fond of? The moment I entered the curtainless theatre I was greeted with the gorgeous set and several cast members busying themselves on stage – in character – as they prepared for the evening’s entertainment. Any worries were immediately cast aside: this show was already a hit in my book.
Anita Vettesse provided a truthful, powerful and sometimes hilarious portrayal of Ruth. Suddenly, the dull character that I found forgettable in the film became the interesting and exceedingly memorable character I was rooting for as I watched the plot develop on stage. Drew Cain was an excellent Charles, the man stuck between his two wives. Again, I found myself becoming fonder of Charles as the story advanced. Sally Reid starred as the mischievous Elvira, the role that is easily the most memorable for anyone who has seen the film. Reid’s performance on occasion echoed that of Kay Hammond, the original Elvira of both stage and screen, but she also made the role her own – it’s safe to say the audience enjoyed her portrayal of Charles’ ghostly first wife. Anne Lacey provided a barrel of laughs as the hilarious yet serious Madame Arcati. From her wacky costumes to her haunting rhymes, Lacey embodied Arcati in every way. A special mention must go out to Scarlett Mack who had the audience giggling before the show even started as the goofy, clumsy and loveable maid, Edith.
Johnny McKnight, the director of Blithe Spirit has, along with Kenny Miller’s designs and Kevin Treacy’s lighting, created a wonderful production of the Noël Coward classic that I will cherish for many years to come.
I may have travelled 120 miles to see this show but the glamour, the laughter, the talent and the wonderful experience has convinced me to return to the show for its penultimate performance on the afternoon of 16th November.
If you live in Scotland and are looking for a fantastic night of laughter, splendour and ghostly goings on then Perth Theatre is the place to be!

REVIEW: Ghost the Musical, King’s Theatre

In 1990 Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore starred in the tear-jerking romantic fantasy movieGhost. The successful movie gathered 17 awards including two Academy Awards and is remembered for its powerful love story, haunting soundtrack and that iconic pottery scene…
Over twenty years later Ghost the Musical has arrived to capture the hearts of another generation with its timeless tale of love, loss and heartache. Ghost the Musical has enjoyed time on the West End and on Broadway and has now set out on its first ever UK tour. With a book and lyrics by Bruce Joel Rubin (the screenwriter behind the movie) and music and lyrics by Glen Ballard and Dave Stewart (one half of the successful pop duo Eurythmics) this show promises to be a night of laughter, tears and excellent music.
For the benefit of the rare person who is not familiar with the plot of Ghost, it centres around young lovers Sam Wheat and Molly Jensen who have just moved into their first apartment together, helped by Sam’s close friend and fellow banker, Carl Bruner. On their way home one evening Sam and Molly discuss getting married even though he struggles to say the three little words Molly yearns to hear him speak. They are attacked at gun point during their journey home and Sam is shot and killed. Sam is unable to pass through to the next world, determined to protect Molly after discovering that she is in extreme danger. Sam must try to persuade Oda Mae Brown, a fraud medium who is not as fake as she thinks she is, to help him save Molly from a fate similar to his own.
Stewart Clarke shines as Sam Wheat. His vocals are strong and full of passion, providing the audience with a very convincing and lovable Sam. His determination to protect Molly is apparent throughout and his chemistry with Rebecca Trehearn (who portrays Molly Jensen) is fantastically convincing from the first scene till the last. Trehearn provides unique and clear vocals that are full of emotion, as does David Roberts who was wonderful as the somewhat suspicious Carl Bruner. Wendy Mae Brown as Oda Mae Brown brings the comedy relief required in this powerful and emotional show, channeling Whoopi Goldberg all the way. The acting by all on stage is of a very natural and realistic nature which, from the moment the Overture fades, instantly grabs your attention and pulls you in to the iconic story line. I believe that these performers provided some of the strongest and most convincing portrayals that I have ever seen, making this one of the most moving and memorable shows around. The only fault I could find in this production was that, on several occasions, I felt the vocals were being drowned out by the orchestra. This was obvious during the musical numbers More and Are You A Believer? But it did not take anything away from this excellent show.
Visually, the tour’s set is (from the production shots I have seen) identical to the West End production. Around the stage there are large screens that helped to create illusions such as a subway train and often helped to set the scene. Although I felt these screens were overused in the first ten or so minutes of the show, their use was afterwards balanced and effective, giving Ghost the Musical a very modern edge. This modern feel was continued by the musical numbers, often upbeat, catchy and sometimes haunting.
It would be impossible to write about Ghost the Musical without mentioning the special effects, designed by illusionist Paul Kieve. Eye-catching, clever and moving, these illusions are the icing on the cake and help to make Ghost the Musical the phenomenal production that it is.
If you have the opportunity to see this show then I highly recommend it. Remember your tissues – you’ll need them! It seems appropriate to end this review with the word most commonly associated to Ghost the Musical: Believe.

REVIEW: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, King’s Theatre

For two weeks only, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s touring musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is residing in Glasgow’s King’s Theatre. Starring a cast of eighteen members include a very strong ensemble, Joseph transports the audience “way way back, many centuries ago” and tells the iconic biblical story of Joseph, his adoring father and eleven jealous brothers.
Ian H Watkins, best known as H in the successful band of the late 1990s and early 2000s Steps is featured in many advertising campaigns for this tour of Joseph and indeed is the star of the show. No matter if he is sporting some rags, a coat of many colours or simply a loin cloth, Watkins looks like he is having the time of his life playing the role of his dreams. His vocals are surprisingly strong and clear, his rendition of Close Every Door being a stand out moment of the show that promises to raise more than a few goosebumps towards the climax of the well known song. 
Jennifer Potts was far from the vocally powerful actress required for the role of the Narrator. Her voice was lost among the harmonising choir of children thus most of the storyline drifted over the audience’s head, the essential lyrical guide to the musical completely drowned out. This makes Joseph a very hard show to watch, it is near impossible to relax and simply enjoy the show, even for those familiar with the biblical story. When Potts could be heard, her voice was not pleasant to the ear, making her a curious choice for the character that must carry the show.
However, it must be acknowledged that the rest of the company were of an excellent standard. Go Go Go Joseph soloists Meg Astin and Sackie Osakonor provided some of the best vocals of the night. The choreography by Henry Metcalfe is a delight to watch, another stand out moment being the Parisian dance during Those Canaan Days. 
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a feel good show that doesn’t quite reach the heights it has the potential to reach due to unfortunate casting. A mishap with Joseph’s multicoloured coat resulted in a somewhat tangled mess that was no where near the impressive fan effect usually seen in promotional shots for the show – another disappointment to add to the collection.
If you are a fan of Steps then it is worth a trip to see Ian H Watkin’s fantastic portrayal of Joseph. If you are a fan of the show then perhaps it is better to steer clear of this production of the show.

REVIEW: Three Phantoms, Theatre Royal

For any fan of musical theatre, Three Phantoms is an exceedingly enjoyable night of glamour with vocal and visual splendour. The source of the songs performed vary from Kiss Me Kate to Spamalot and Wicked to West Side Story. The small cast – consisting of three male leads, a female lead, three experienced

and respected backing singers and only two members of an orchestra playing the piano and a cello named Simba – flow seemlessly from song to song, remaining in character and making this concert an absolute treat to witness.

During the Three Phantoms‘ Summer UK Tour, the three leading men were Earl Carpenter, Matthew Cammelle and Stephen John Davis. As suggested by the title of the show, all three west end performers have played the Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera at some point in their career. Throughout the show, all three performers gave a little insight to their experiences as the Phantom by telling various anecdotes of their time in Phantom and performed a harmonised version of Music of the Night at the end of the concert. All three men, and everyone else on the stage, had also performed in Les Misérables, a fact that came in very handy during their five song tribute to the show which included an incredible version of One Day More which left the audience with goosebumps on their arms and shivers down their spines.
Leading lady of the night, Rebecca Caine, is no stranger to the stage. She originated the role of Cosette in Les Misérables in the West End twenty seven years ago and also played the role of Christine in Phantom of the Opera opposite Michael Crawford, Dave Willetts and Colm Wilkinson. Her soprano voice has also taken her to the world of opera where she has performed in Lulu, Hamlet and La Boheme to name only a few. Head to toe in sequins for Act One, Caine brought glamour and style to the show as she swept across the stage singing songs from Into the Woods, My Fair Lady and was even joined by the two female backing singers, Annette Yeo and Mandy Watsham Dunstall to perform Make Him Mine from The Witches of Eastwick. A highlight of the show was Caine’s rendition of Think of Me. Still performing the same choreography she learned over twenty years ago, Caine dazzled as her voice soared higher and higher during the famous cadenza towards the end of the number making Think of Me one of the most memorable songs of the evening.
A special mention must go out to Alistair Barron, the only male backing singer who, after an entire act of being ‘bullied’ by the cast, finally got his chance to shine during an impressive performance of the Four Seasons song Big Girls Don’t Cry. I take my hat off to Ben Cracknell, the lighting designer. Never before have I been struck by the beauty of lighting. Cracknell’s dramatic designs added to the excitement and, in my personal opinion, was the icing on the cake, giving the show just that extra bit of oomph.
If you’re a theatre regular or a quiet admirer from afar this show is guaranteed to delight you.Three Phantoms takes off on their Autumn tour (with a new Phantom – Glyn Kerslake) in September 2013. Do not miss this wonderful production!

REVIEW: Evita, King’s Theatre

For two weeks only Glasgow is being treated to superb performances of the iconic Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical Evita! A touring production that was last seen in Glasgow only two years ago, this show has not lost any of its sparkle and is drawing audiences from all over (at the Saturday evening show I was sat beside a group of English ladies and an American couple along side the usual Glasgow punters). 
Based on real events, Evita tells the story of the bold young Eva Duarte who, determined to become a star, travels to Buenos Aires and begins her astonishing climb from the “sticks” to the powerful status of First Lady of Argentina. As Eva Peron, she dazzles and seduces the nation, make her one of the most loved – and hated – women of all time. No expense is spared to portray the contrasting lives of the young, lower class Eva and her extravagant lifestyle as she reaches the peak of her fame and power. The set, lighting and costumes are of excellent quality and as a fashion enthusiast, I thoroughly enjoyed admiring the 1940s fashionable glamour featured in the show, the climax of such glamour being successfully reached during the highly anticipated “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina.” A finger must also be pointed to the lighting, designed by Mark Howett, complimenting both the performers and the set, dramatising some scenes and creating shivers in others.
Portuguese powerhouse Madalena Alberto stars as Evita, charming her audience and transporting us back in time to the days of Peronism. It is evident from the beginning of the show that Alberto is an extremely talented actress; her “Buenos Aires” contains so much energy and enthusiasm that it would simply be impossible to disbelieve anything that she says. One of many highlights of Alberto’s outstanding vocals would have to be “Rainbow High,” a song that challenges most performers and this one certainly showed no signs of being phased by the many challenges laid out in front of her as she tackles one of the most talked about roles in musical theatre. She is accompanied by Glaswegian Marti Pellow, the lead singer of band Wet Wet Wet. As Che, Pellow acts as the narrator of the show with amusing asides and entertaining antics. Whilst he may not be the strongest singer to take on the role of Che, Pellow puts his heart and soul into his performance and is embraced warmly by the Glasgow audience. Mark Heenehan once again reprises the role of Peron, one he has been playing on and off for the past seven years and is supported by two returnees, Nic Gibney as tango singer Magaldi and Sarah McNicholas as Peron’s young mistress, providing a beautiful version of the song “Another Suitcase in Another Hall.” The ensemble, like their predecessors in the 2011 Evita tour, are excellent, portraying both the descamisados and the oligarch with ease, their vocals and dance moves thrilling the audience. 
Evita is a masterpiece, providing joy and jerking tears along the way. With a strong cast and an impressive production, this tour should not be missed!