Brett Herriot Review

Anything Goes, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh Review:

“Sumptuous and Glorious, sparkling with joy!“

***** 5 Stars

Cole Porter’s classic musical is approaching its 88th year since its debut at the Alvin Theatre (now the Neil Simon) on Broadway in 1934 and holds a unique record of having four different librettos, the original 1934 version, the 1962 off Broadway revival, the 1987 revival libretto and the 2011 revival on which this production is based.

It is the critically acclaimed 2021 Barbican London production which has sailed into the Festival theatre for a limited run prior to the show returning to London’s west end later in the summer and this is truly a sumptuous and glorious production that sparkles with joy.

Telling the story of a voyage on the SS America in the mid 1930’s as the ship sails from New York to London we meet Business Mogul and millionaire Elisha Whitney (Clive Hayward stepping in for the indisposed Simon Callow) his assistant Billy Crocker (Samuel Edwards), Mother and Daughter Mrs Evangeline Harcourt and Hope Harcourt (Bonnie Langford and Nicole-Lily Baisden)Ship singer Reno Sweeny (Kerry Ellis) and criminal gangster Moonface Martin ( Denis Lawson) and a large ensemble who bring to life the many characters drawn together on the ship that see’s misunderstandings aplenty, love blossoming and truths being revealed. All this wrapped up in some of the best tunes in musical theatre its everything a classic musical should be and more.

Performances are universally excellent with Denis Lawson being the first of the stand outs; his comedy timing and characterisation are utterly faultless. The same is true of west end veteran Bonnie Langford who still Razzle dazzles and her energy floats across the foot lights. Kerry Ellis delivers in spades and shows her voice is up to the job and delivers a Reno that’s totally fresh yet every inch the classic 1930’s leading lady.

Director and Choreographer Kathleen Marshall has created a masterpiece on stage, blending the comedy with show stopping numbers and dance pieces are pure Busby Berkley  and receive sustain ovations from the rapt audience in the Festival theatre . Derek Lane’s set design was nominated for an Olivier award and rightly so it’s magnificent and lush, no expense has been spared and brings an epic cruise liner to live on stage including taking the audience inside the cabins which vary from the Brig to 1st Class. Jon Morrell’s costume design brings 1930’s flapper culture to life and makes the show sparkles almost as brightly as Hugh Vanstone’s lighting design that’s so opulent it knocks the eye out.

This production features a 15 strong orchestra under the baton of Musical Director Mark Aspinall which see’s classic songs “It’s De Lovely”, “Anything Goes” and “Blow, Gabriel Blow” amongst other sounding magnificent  and rich it’s impossible not to smile at the joy of seeing musical theatre on this scale done right.

Anything goes remains timeless and it’s easy to see why this most recent production wowed the west audiences as it’s just a fabulous production at heart, a set that’s sumptuous as it is unique, costumes to die for, performances that are stellar, dance that brings the house down truly everything that’s needed for a pure five star night of musical theatre.

Get to the Festival theatre before the SS America sets sail for London’s Barbican once more.

Anything Goes, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh runs until Sunday 15th May for tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/anything-goes

Brett Herriot Review

Rock of Ages, Playhouse Theatre, Edinburgh Review:

“Still Rocking at Heart

*** 3 Stars

It’s hard to believe that  its now 17 years since the 80’s Rock jukebox musical Rock of Ages made its debut performances in Los Angeles  in 2005. Following an all star film adaptation in 2012 and various productions around the globe including Broadway and London’s west end. The show returns for a new UK tour and proves it’s still rocking at heart.

Rock of Ages, with book by Chris D’Arienzo tells the story of the Bourbon Club in 1987 Hollywood and the lives of those who work there, those who protest at the perceived sexual filth that goes on in there and of the German redevelopers who see only the value of the property and want to knock down the club along with the dreams, hopes and wishes it holds for so many with it.

A comedy pastiche that features the breaking of the fourth wall often plus a slew of 80’s rock classics including Feel the noise, We built this city, The Final Countdown, I can’t fight this feeling anymore and Don’t Stop Believing amongst the 29 songs featured in the show it’s a solid jukebox musical for the masses.

This is a real feel good and fun night of musical theatre and performances on the whole are delivered well. West end veteran Kevin Kennedy returns to the role of Dennis Dupree and is spot on the money especially opposite Joe Gash as Lonny who delivers a high energy performance as the shows narrator who engages with the audience to great effect, although a little more diction is need to understand all he is saying and his accent has a tendency to slip but the joy of his performance is the laughter he brings from the audience.

Sam Turrel as Drew delivers well as the male love interest and his rich voice fills the giant Playhouse with ease. Gabriella Williams as Sherrie gives a heartfelt performance but there are pitchy moments in the vocal delivery which she overcomes especially on the big numbers.  Rounding out the principals is x factor winner Matt Terry as Stacee Jaxx who is never over used and brings a rich tenor rock sound and some real camp sass to the rock world of the Bourbon. The production has a talented 13 strong ensemble bringing to life the myriad of characters we see across the show.

Director and Choreographer Nick Winston has truly got the best from his cast and produces a solid show that’s enhanced by Morgan Large’s stunning Set and 80’s Costume design. The set is very much a testament to the stadium rock concerts of the 80’s and it’s simply beautifully lit by Ben Cracknell who has brought real rock power to the lighting. Where it’s not so strong is Ben Harrison’s sound design which surprisingly for a rock show has the volume set low, even the hope of rocking out in the curtain call doesn’t see the volume lift and it’s a wasted opportunity.  Hopefully it’s just bedding in issues and they crank up the volume for those rock numbers.

The story line originally showcases diversity with a gay coupling sharing an onstage kiss alongside the central heterosexual storyline; this production omits that and uses comedy to send up the gay coupling and relies on stereotyping of homosexuality that belongs in the 80’s but given where the show is set its actually a wry choice.

Rock of Ages does everything it should, laughs a plenty, and a slew of Rock anthems we all love and it does deliver value for money making it a worthy night of rollicking musical theatre, so pop along to the playhouse, bandana in hand and find out for yourself that you just can’t stop this feeling anymore!

Rock of Ages, Edinburgh Playhouse, runs until Saturday 14th May for tickets go to: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/rock-of-ages/edinburgh-playhouse/

The production visits Eden Court Theatre Inverness from 23rd August and King’s Theatre, Glasgow from 30th August.

Brett Herriot Review

The Drowsy Chaperone, Church Hill Theatre, Edinburgh Review:

“A Comedy Musical Triumph!

**** 4 Stars

Local company Edinburgh Music Theatre mark there return to the stage after a 3 year pandemic gap with an inspired choice of production in “The Drowsy Chaperone” and the company deliver a comedy musical triumph.

For a piece set in 1928 it’s a modern show having originated in 1998 it went on to Tony award winning success in 2006, However the transfer to London wasn’t quite as successful running for less than 100 performances in 2007. It’s since gone on to be popular amongst local companies for its large cast of comedy characters.

With music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Bob Morrison and book by Bob Morrison and Don McKellar, Drowsy Chaperone is a show with in a show and is a passionate play on the love of musical theatre. Focusing on the Narrator “Man In Chair” played by the utterly sublime  Ian Fallon he takes us into his new York apartment and explains his love of musical theatre and in particular the 1928 recording of the Drowsy Chaperone. Playing the record the show comes to life on stage before us with added observations, asides, comedic brilliance and on occasion truthful human emotion from the “Man in Chair”

This is a  production filled with comedy joy de verve,  Director Jo Heinemeier has succeeded in blurring the lines of the two worlds and created a joyous over arching performance from her talented cast aided by Ashleigh Le Cras’s big, bold and brashy Choreography that goes from Chorus line high kicks to tap dancing with equal aplomb.

EMT’s 25 strong cast deliver in spades but special mention must go to the Lead Ian Fallon, his ability to deliver comedy with pitch perfect timing is only outshone in the most emotional and human of scenes in act two as we realise whilst we can escape from feeling blue into the world of the musicals we must all come back to reality no matter how that reality hurts his performance is nothing short of west end worthy. The same is true of Andrew Hally’s over the top “Aldolpho” whilst pure vaudeville camp he delivers it with complete conviction.  In a remarkable feat Chloe Anderson took over the role of Janet Van De Graaff just a week prior to opening and my word did she deliver, a true credit to herself and the company.

Production wise the show almost equally delivers, Mathew McDiarmid’s Set design adds the right layers and space to shift easily between the two worlds of the apartment and the Chaperones theatre. George Cort’s lighting design is simply wonderful moving from intensely intimate moments to full on Busby Berkley Razzle dazzle that pops the eye and adds that magical quality to the show and ensures Lauren McAnna’s wardrobe selections sparkle.

The only real area lacking is sound, it’s just not where it needs to be,  during the musical numbers especially, Musical director Matthew Brown’s stellar 6 piece pit band simply over powers the entire company on stage making lyrics difficult to hear. There was a lot of popping during the first act, mic’s coming on late or too low even some audio from back stage made it through the audience.

EMT were shrewd in choosing the Drowsy Chaperone a true love letter to the theatre and their passion combined with talent ensured the audience rose to their feet for a standing ovation having got there monies worth.  

There are a few last minute tickets still remaining so pop along to the Church Hill for an evening of laughter, music and the dazzling talents of Edinburgh Music Theatre.

EMT Presents, the Drowsy Chaperone, Church Hill Theatre Edinburgh; Runs until Saturday 23rd April, for tickets go to: https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/5185889

Brett Herriot Review

Orphans, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

“Truly magical, wonderful and inspiring “

**** 4 Stars

Peter Mullan’s pitch black comedy “Orphans” came to the screen in 1998 and won over audiences and critics alike with its humour and stark honesty telling the story of the Flynn family whose Mother Rose has just died leaving 3 sons and a daughter behind, set across one drawn out night in Glasgow they embark on a journey of virtue and sin and discover the unbreakable bond of love that will carry them forward.

Nearly a quarter of a century later and with Mullan’s blessing the Flynn family are back in musical adaptation as the latest offering from the National Theatre of Scotland. The pitch black comedy remains intact as does the films plot line which is expanded more fully.

This production is shining example of wonderful performances delivered by a top drawer ensemble of character actors at the top of their game. Special mention must go to Robert Florence as Thomas the eldest brother who wrestles with doing right by his mammy but also his sense of loss, it’s a beguiling performance from start to finish.  Same is true of the simply wonderful Louise McCarthy in the role of Mrs Hanson, her ability to play multiple characters and imbue each and everyone with a uniqueness all of their own is testament to her talents. The trickiest role in the show is “Sheila” played with astonishing grace by Amy Conachan. The movie version of Sheila was almost mute where as Conachan has a delivered a fully rounded character that takes the audience beyond disability into the heart of girl who just wants to be heard. She has a stunning voice to boot!

Across the entire 15 strong company there is not a single weak performance, perfectly judged comedy acting, sparkling vocals combine to get every inch of truth from Douglas Maxwell’s Book along with Tommy Reilly and Roddy Harts music and lyrics.

The music has a rich pop but also Scottish flavour to it and leaves catchy Rhythms in the head, and while there is no live band it’s a fresh sound with permeates the Kings.

Where the show doesn’t work so well is its excessive length, the original movie was 1 hour and 42 minutes, this musical runs over the 3 hour mark and by the end the audience are feeling the pace especially due the set from designer Emily James which looms large over a highly raised King’s stage, it’s very clunky with technicians often coming into view to solve issues or give the tenements a good shove.  The additional seconds it takes for this soon mount up adding to the already long run time.

It clear Director Cora Bissett assisted by Niloo Far Khan have illicit stunning performances from the cast that shine across the footlights flowing from dark humour, to laugh out loud comedy moments to deep pathos draw from human emotion at its rawest. It’s truly magical, wonderful and inspiring in equal measure.

Technically Emily James Set and costume design is stunning visually and inspiring it its ability to open up the Glasgow world the orphans inhabit, but if the set changes could be smoother or indeed simplified it would bolster the production no end.  Lizzie Powell’s lighting design is magnificent taking us through the darkness of a stormy night to the daylight of dawn its incredible evocative. The same is true of Pippa Murphy’s sound design.

Orphans come to Edinburgh following a run at the SEC Armadillo in Glasgow and its clear this production pushes the King’s to its absolute limits.

Orphans continues to hold a unique place in the heart of Scottish arts and this production truly showcases the National Theatre of Scotland at what it does best, delivering unforgettable theatre that makes Scotland proud. If the transitions could be smoother and the run time brought down a true 5 star piece of musical theatre is in this production.

For an epic night of musical theatre the King’s Edinburgh is the place to be this week so grab those tickets now!

National Theatre of Scotland presents Orphans, King’s Theatre Edinburgh; Runs until Saturday 16th April, Then Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, for tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/nts-orphans

Brett Herriot Review

Dreamgirls, The Edinburgh Playhouse, Review

***** 5 Stars

“A Dream Musical with Heart! “

It’s hard to believe it’s 40 years since Dreamgirls made its Broadway debut in 1981 at the Imperial Theatre with book and lyrics by Tom Eyen and Music by Henry Krieger and originally directed and choregraphed by the late and legendary Michael Bennett. A film adaptation followed in 2006 and finally 35 years later the show came to London’s west end in 2016 at the Savoy Theartre. It’s that production which has now hit the road around the UK and calls in to the Edinburgh Playhouse for an extended stay and what a production it is!

Loosely based on the real-life story of Diana Ross and the Supremes from there discovery in the early 1960’s to the height of their fame in the 70’s, we meet Effie White (a sublime in every sense Nicole Raquel Dennis), Denna Jones (Natalie Kassanga) and Lorell Robinson (Paige Peddie) a fledgeling trio who find initial fame as backing singers for Jimmy Early (an on fire Brandon Lee Sears). Then enters Curtis Taylor Jr (Dom Hartley Harris) a manager who will stop at nothing to see the group succeed especially Deena Jones who becomes lead singer and his wife along the way. What follows is a rollercoaster of friendships broken, families torn apart, corruption, abuse and the redeeming power of love all blended with a terrific pop/soul/rock fusion score.

This production is a Dream musical with heart and its down to the outstanding west end cast who give it everything. They totally inhibit the world of the “Dreams” with the ensemble being equally as excellent as the principals. Special mention must go to Brandon Lee Sears as Jimmy Early his is a performance that defies expectations, with raw energy and shrewd judgement. 

Dreamgirls is literally the only musical where two leading ladies share the spotlight and while Natalie Kassanga’s “Deena Jones” delivers on every level its undoubtedly Nicole Raquel Dennis’s “Effie White” who steals this show with a performance soaked in raw emotions, unmatched vocal power and prowess. The great ladies of theatre have played “Effie”, but Dennis is in league of her own. The closing of act 1 to “And I am Telling You “Deserved the standing ovation it received, musical theatre doesn’t get any better than this!

Production wise the best of the Savoy production has been brought on the road with Tim Hatley’s Set and Costume design sparkling under Hugh Vanstone’s excellent lighting design. The only negative is Richard Brooker’s sound design, it’s not up to the power needed in such a large theatre as the Playhouse, with the cast too often being too quiet to be heard clearly, especially against Musical Director Simona Budd’s first class 10 strong orchestra.  It’s an issue of balance and it’s the only aspect of this wonderful production that takes the sparkle off, however the performances ensure it retains its 5-star quality. 

Director and Choreographer Casey Nicholaw has created musical magic with this production, clear concise storytelling, evocative choreography, wonderful music and performances the define the power of the theatre. It’s truly engaging from the off, if the issue on sound can be fixed then this production will be unmatched.

So, hurry along to the Playhouse and book those tickets and get ready to dream the biggest of dreams in this most thrilling and emotional of musicals.

Dreamgirls, The Edinburgh Playhouse, runs until Saturday 16th April, for tickets go to: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/dreamgirls/edinburgh-playhouse/