Flashdance Review

Bristol Hippodrome – until 30th June 2018

Reviewed by Lucy Hitchcock

3***

What a feeling? What a Finale!

The 1983 film has been transformed into a dynamic stage show that will leave you wanting to dance.

The show opens with a simple set, but is frequently changed and created into different scenes and parts of the life of Alex, our main role. She is a welder, who desperately wants to dance and so we embark upon her journey of fulfilling her dream.

Joanne Clifton bring Alex to life, with warmth and integrity. There is no doubting that her dancing is impeccable and she truly showcased her talents in this area. Her dancing was solid and she carried the role of Alex very well. There was a certain ‘Calamity Jane’ feel about her portrayal of Alex; She was very independent and strong. With a few major solos throughout the show, Joanne did very well as holding her character even when the notes where clearly out of range. Her voice is strong, but did not fit the Musical Theatre genre as well as it does a pop voice. However, Joanne’s dancing was a real showstopper.

Ben Adams portrayed Nick Hurley, the villainous boss whom we grow to love. Ben was also solid throughout the production, showing some beautiful chemistry with Joanne. Both characters worked brilliantly together and conveyed a true love onstage. The harmonies during ‘Here and Now’ filled the auditorium with passion and energy that lingered until the very end. Ben had a ‘Danny Zucko’ vibe about him, he was confident and loving with a hint of rebellion.

The ensemble carried the show amazingly through the brilliant choreography of Matt Cole. Most of the routines were perfectly synchronised however, there were a few sections that were slightly out of time. Regardless of this, the dancing was fluid and smooth and was the real head turner of the production.

The costume and music was relevant to the time period and worked to create a feel good show!

Despite the minor criticisms I found, this was an upbeat show and will leave you smiling. The finale has definitely got the wow factor, with high speed and intense dance consisting of the whole ensemble, songs that are known by all ages and lights to dazzle and excite you!

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Full cast announced for new play Early Birds, by Birds of a Feather writers Gran and Marks, Edinburgh Festival Fringe 3 – 27 August

Full cast announced for new play Early Birds

by Birds of a Feather writers Maurice Gran and Laurence Marks

The incredible yet true story behind one of the nation’s favourite sitcoms

Edinburgh Festival Fringe – PQA VENUES @Riddle’s Court, 3 – 27 August

The new play Early Birds, from the writers of Birds of a Feather, Maurice Gran and Laurence Marks, which tells the incredible yet true story of the birth of one of the nation’s favourite sit-coms, will play at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival at PQA VENUES @Riddle’s Court (venue 277) from 3 – 27 August (excl. 8, 15, 22) at 18:00.

Early Birds starts with a chance encounter in a West End hotel, and ends with a show considered so saucy it was nearly cancelled two weeks into its run, yet which is about to enter its thirtieth year as a TV comedy classic.

The cast will be comprised of members of the Q Productions Rep Company: Sue Appleby as Lesley/Dorien, Katriona Perrett as Linda/Tracey, Harriet Watson as Pauline/Sharon, Samuel Haughton as Chris/Trix/Gareth, Nick Howden-Seenstra as Laurence, Michael Larcombe as DG/Barman/ Flight Attendant/Tailor, Christopher Lowry as Daryl/Darren/Jonathon, Alastair Natkiel as Maurice Gran, Declan Perring as Cover and Charlie Quirke as Allen/Mr Timms/Eamon. Charlie also plays Travis Stubbs in Birds of a Feather acting alongside his mother Pauline Quirke.

Alongside Birds of a Feather, writers Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran are perhaps best-known for their television classics Shine on Harvey Moon, The New Statesman and Goodnight Sweetheart. Theatre writing credits include Dreamboats and Petticoats, Save The Last Dance For Me and Dreamboats and Miniskirts.

Early Birds will be directed by Alexandra Sumner-Hughes, with sound and light design by Dickson Cossar. It is produced by Q Productions.

To book tickets for Early Birds visit: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/early-birds

LISTINGS

Title: Early Birds

Category: Theatre (comedy, new writing)

Dates: 3 – 27 August 2018 (excl. 8, 15, 22)

Time: 18:00 (50 minutes)

Venue: PQA VENUES @Riddle’s Court (venue 277) – PQA One

Box office: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/early-birds

Tickets: 3 and 4 August: £9.00 (£6.50 concs); 5 – 27 August: £11.50 (£9.50/£8.50 concs). 2 for 1 deal on 6 and 7 August.

Suitability: 12+

Access: Wheelchair Access, Wheelchair Accessible Toilets

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Mazz Murray Joins Martin Kemp in CHICAGO, With New Booking Period Announced

MAZZ MURRAY TO STAR AS MAMA MORTON WITH MARTIN KEMP AS BILLY FLYNN IN CHICAGO AT THE PHOENIX THEATRE, LONDON

FROM MONDAY 2 JULY 2018

NEW BOOKING PERIOD OPENS TODAY, 26 JUNE 2018

FOR PERFORMANCES FROM 8 OCTOBER 2018 TO 5 JANUARY 2019

Mazz Murray will join the West End cast of CHICAGO at the Phoenix Theatre, playing the title role of Mama Morton from Monday 2 July.  Also joining the cast on 2 July will be the previously announced Martin Kemp as Billy Flynn.  They will join Sarah Soetaert, Josefina Gabrielle and Paul Rider as Roxie Hart, Velma Kelly and Amos Hart respectively.

Martin Kemp will be staying in the London production of CHICAGO until 2 September 2018, with Sarah Soetaert, Josefina Gabrielle, Mazz Murray and Paul Rider staying until 11 August 2018.

A new booking period opens today, Tuesday 26 June, with tickets available for performances from Monday 8 October to Saturday 5 January 2019.

Mazz Murray’s previous theatre credits include nine years as Killer Queen in We Will Rock You (Dominion Theatre), Tanya in Mamma Mia! (Novello Theatre), Mabel in Fame (Victoria Palace), Grandma Bertha in Pippin (Bridewell Theatre) and Dusty Springfield in A Girl Called Dusty (Duke of York’s Theatre).  On television, she has appeared in EastEnders and Footballers’ Wives, and on film in John Boorman’s Hope & Glory and the soon-to-be-released Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.  She has toured with Earth Wind & Fire and Billy Ocean as part of the band Woman the Band, and with Il Divo as a solo artist.  Her debut solo album, Midnight Mazz, was released earlier this year.

 

The multi award-winning Kander & Ebb musical CHICAGO, winner of six Tony Awards, two Olivier Awards and a Grammy, returned to London’s West End on Monday 26 March, with a press night on Wednesday 11 April at the Phoenix Theatre in London.

 

CHICAGO originally ran in London for 15 years, making it the West End’s longest running revival.  It first opened at the Adelphi Theatre on 18 November 1997 to rave reviews and immediately became a sell-out hit.  CHICAGO won the 1998 Laurence Olivier Award for ‘Outstanding Musical Production’ as well as the 1998 Critics Circle Drama Award for ‘Best Musical’.  CHICAGO transferred from the Adelphi Theatre to the Cambridge Theatre in April 2006, where it ran for five years until 27 August 2011.  The show then opened at the Garrick Theatre on 7 November 2011, where it ran until 1 September 2012.

Since it opened in New York in 1996, CHICAGO has played in 36 countries worldwide, and been performed in English, Dutch, German, Swedish, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Italian, French, Danish, Japanese and Korean.  It has grossed over $1.5 billion worldwide and has played over 32,500 performances worldwide, with an estimated 31 million people around the world having seen CHICAGO.  CHICAGO continues to play on Broadway, where it celebrated its 21st birthday last year, and around the world in multiple languages.  It is the world’s longest running American musical.

CHICAGO, which is based on the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins, has a book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb.  The 1996 Broadway revival of CHICAGO was choreographed by Ann Reinking in the style of Bob Fosse, directed by Walter Bobbie, and produced by Barry and Fran Weissler.

LISTINGS INFORMATION

Phoenix Theatre

110 Charing Cross Road

London WC2H 0JP

Box Office: 0844 871 7629 / www.atgtickets.com/shows/chicago/phoenix-theatre

Ticket Prices: From £20.00

Performances: Monday-Saturday 8pm to 23 June, 7.30pm from 25 June, Wednesday & Saturday 3pm

Booking Period:  Booking Until 5 January 2019

Running Time:  2 hours, 25 minutes (with interval)

Website: ChicagoWestEnd.com

Twitter: @ChicagoOnStage

Christmas 2018/19 Performance Schedule

 

Monday 24 December        NO PERFORMANCE

Tuesday 25 December       NO PERFORMANCE

Wednesday 26 December  7.30pm

Thursday 27 December      2.30pm and 7.30pm

Friday 28 December           2.30pm and 7.30pm

Saturday 29 December       2.30pm and 7.30pm

Monday 3December        2.30pm

Tuesday 1 January 2019    7.30pm

Wednesday 2 January        2.30pm and 7.30pm

Thursday 3 January            2.30pm and 7.30pm

Friday 4 January                 7.30pm

Saturday 5 January             2.30pm and 7.30pm

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This is Elvis Review

Darlington Hippodrome – until 30 June 2018

3***

Bill Kenwright’s latest offering is This is Elvis – A New Musical.  Currently touring the UK starring international award winning tribute artist Steve Michaels as Elvis.

This is a show of two halves.  The first half has a semblance of a story line with Elvis performing his 1968 NBC music spectacular, his relationships with his – all unseen – manager, Colonel Parker; his wife Priscilla and baby daughter Lisa Marie.  His reliance on his friends to keep him grounded, his grief for his long dead mother and his love of music.

The second half is a concert style re-enactment of his 1969 triumphant return to Vegas at the International Hotel.

Michaels looks and sounds the part, his ability to ad lib with the audience and to perform in black leather in the sweltering heat were quite impressive.  The audience clearly loved him – with many cries of “We love you Elvis” during the 2nd half concert.

The band were incredibly talented, lead by Steve Geere on Keyboard and aided by the phenomenal Billy Stookes on drums.  But sometimes the band were so loud they drowned out the vocals.

The show did manage to deliver the full range of Elvis’s vocals with gospel, rock and roll, a tribute to the Beatles and Simon and Garfunkle and all his many hits – the second half alone contains over 20 of his hits.

Elvis famously never performed in the UK, so this is a perfect chance for the Elvis fans to have their own recreation of what he might have performed.  If you love Elvis then you will love this show

In Darlington until Saturday on tour around the UK

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Belly of the Whale Review

Greenwich Festival 23rd & 24th June

Review by Heather Chalkley 

5*****

This award winning troupe gave a magical, lyrical, physical performance, with an innocence that belies the expertise and complexity of what they are doing. Belly of the Whale is about our relationship with self and a journey of trust with others to a point where you know they’ve got your back.

The whole performance was centred on and around the rhythm and flow of the rocking set, a spectacular impression of being on a boat inside a whale’s belly, just like Pinocchio! Tina Koch and her creatives have designed a unique piece of equipment and directed an equally unique piece of circus drama. The music underpinned the whole performance, determining the pace of the action and infusing humour at tense moments.

In this mainly non verbal act, the performers, Amanda Homa, Nathan Johnston and Stefano di Renzo used facial expression to great effect, portraying different emotions. This was reflected in their physicality as they moved about the epic set. The opening scene with Johnston’s childlike play on the structure was gentle and fun. Homa’s scene of turbulence was full of grace and jeopardy. Di Renzo was able to combine humour and trepidation with his scenes on the ropes, with flashes of annoyance at Johnston making the audience laugh out loud. Johnston made the final trust scene, with bodies flying everywhere, extra special with his poetry in motion. The distinct characters of each player shone through.

This is a circus performance like no other – I definitely want to see it again!

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Renaming and New Season

Renaming and New Season, 22nd June 2018

Leeds Playhouse

Feature by Dawn Smallwood

22nd June 2018 is a significant day for the West Yorkshire Playhouse when it announced that it will change its name to Leeds Playhouse. The theatre was originally known as this name when it first opened in 1970 following a successful campaign that started back in 1964. The theatre hasn’t looked back since and has now revolutionised the theatre industry and is renowned for its widest award winning engagement of arts in the community.

The Playhouse will close its doors after Searching For The Heart of Leeds in June and begin its exciting redevelopment and transformation programme soon after. In the interim, during the 2018/19 season, it will host a Pop-Up theatre programme on the existing site and across local venues and the Playhouse will have an ensemble company of 10 actors which will deliver the full programme of productions.

Jim Cartwright’s Road (5th to 29th September) will begin proceedings and is about everyday lives centring on a forgotten northern street through the medium of poetry. The popular Furnace Festival returns with Selina Thompson’s Salt (2nd to 3rd October) and Charley Miles’ Blackthorn (4th to 6th October) and then there is Leeds Playhouse production of Europe (12th October to 3rd November), written by David Greig and directed by James Brining. Leeds College of Music, The Leeds Library and the Howard Assembly Room will play host to Kash Arshad’s Airplays (23rd to 27th October), Emma Adams’ The Things We Wouldn’t Otherwise Find (6th to 17th November) and Jessica Walker’s Not Such Quiet Girls (29th November to 1st December) respectively. Leeds Schools and the Bradford Alhambra as well as the Pop-Up theatre will look forward to Nick Ahad’s Partition (6th to 10th November).

Christmas will see Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol (20th November to 13th January), a joint Leeds Playhouse production with Hull Truck Theatre. Ahead of its National Tour Barry Hines’ Kes (25th January to 16th February) returns to The Playhouse in the New Year. There is Debbie Tucker Green’s powerful random and the intergenerational Dinner 18:55 (22nd to 23rd February) which is part of the theatre’s older and youth programmes. One of new season’s highlight must be Leeds Playhouse’s production of Hamlet (1st to 30th March) starring Tessa Parr in the title role and is directed by Amy Leach. During Easter the Pop-Up site and community venues will feature Phileas Fogg Around the World in 80 Days (9th to 28th April) and the season will conclude with Amanda Whittington’s Be My Baby (11th May to 1st June) which is set in the 1960 and explores attitudes around teenage pregnancy and female friendships at the time.

The Leeds Playhouse offers, as before, an exciting season of varied and diverse productions which will appeal to many and address many issues that are so relevant today in many livelihoods and their communities.

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All of Us Together Celebration Event

All of Us Together Celebration Event, 22nd June 2018

Leeds Playhouse

Feature by Dawn Smallwood

This was a special event where many had or has an association with the West Yorkshire Playhouse over the last 50 years. There are many stories to be told and West Yorkshire Playhouse (now the Leeds Playhouse) is reputed for sharing such.

Robin Hawkes, Executive Director, opened proceedings and James Brining, Artistic Director, reaffirmed the Playhouse have been “a place of stories”. The Playhouse is to close its doors for its redevelopment works during the 2018/19 season.

Afresh from the announcement of the renaming of the theatre at the press launch earlier on in the day, Leeds Playhouse will continue its exciting journey from its humble beginnings back in 1964 when a new committee, led by Doreen Newlyn, proposed a campaign for Leeds to have a producing theatre. She proudly shared this journey via a video link how she started the journey by firstly contacting Yorkshire Evening Post to state those intentions. She stated how important it is to “understand life” and “think about serious things” but in an “entertaining way”.

Key guests, in person and via video link, included Reece Dinsdale, Sheila Howarth, Chris Atkinson, Nicola Walls (lead architectural consultant for the redevelopment programme), Maxine Peake, Ian McKellan and Tessa Parr. They all shared positive experiences they had at the Playhouse and how this helped their professional journeys over the years. Howarth in particular felt that her feelings from going to the theatre moved her to give something back to the community. This is evident with her involvement with the Carnival Messiah productions and is currently in the current production, Searching For The Heart of Leeds. She concludes, “This is my heart…If the theatre stop, I stop”.

All the guests echoed similar experiences which confirms the positive vibes the Playhouse thrives on and how, under the new naming, will continue reaching out to everyone in the community during the 2018/19 season. Amy Leach, Associate Director, gave an overview of the new exciting Pop-Up season at its temporary space on the site and at local venues. The spirit of the programme will “embrace the city far and wide, hopes and fears shared” and most of the productions will be performed by a dedicated ensemble company of 10 Northern actors.

In conclusion a video was presented and emphasised that everyone is “One of us” and the Playhouse certainly lives up to “More than a theatre”. Brining and Hawkes thanked everyone for coming to the celebration event. Speeches by different members of the theatre’s Board of Trustees and also key contacts involved with the redevelopment programme followed afterwards.

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Searching For The Heart of Leeds Review

Leeds Playhouse – until Saturday 23rd June 2018

Reviewed By Dawn Smallwood

4.5 ****.5

Searching For The Heart of Leeds is the final production before the Playhouse closes its door for its capital redevelopment programme which will take place over 2018/19 season. The production could not come at a better time when the theatre is celebrating 50 years of its existence and it was announced earlier in the day that theatre will revert to being called Leeds Playhouse – its original name.

Written by Mark Catley and directed by Alexander Ferris Searching For The Heart of Leeds is about stories within a story. Catley, with the help from the theatre’s award-winning Creative Engagement Team, looked at many stories from a cross-section of many communities across Leeds and chose a kaleidoscope of stories that make Leeds what it is. 70 local people were selected through open auditions and applications to perform their inspiring and moving stories on stage.

The performer, Hopi Gavin-Allen, is tasked to find stories and establish what the heart of Leeds is for a community play. She goes about asking a number of passer-bys across the city and listens to stories old and new which are shared from a wide diverse background – no story is the same but there is a lot in common with its shared industrial and social history, the nostalgia and modernism and issues that many have to face. Such issues include increased cost of living, mental health issues, homelessness, loneliness and social isolation, prejudices and so on.

Such stories are shared via different mediums individually and collectively through music, voice, song, dance and movement. The cast is accompanied by the live band on stage who plays the music and sing songs by Leeds musicians including Soft Cell and Chumbawamba and the local performers are supported by Charis Charles from Phoenix Dance Theatre and Christella Litras for movement and music respectively. A number of local choirs are also engaged in the production from the city’s cross section of the community.

Katie Scott’s simplistic stage, supported with David Bennion-Pedley’s lighting and Rob Landells’ sound, is ideal and not distracting for a community play which focuses on the heart of the performers’ stories.

The stories that are shared sum up the Heart of Leeds and the city continues to welcome change, social and urban landscapes that keep on evolving, and people in general are proud of their city. There will always be life challenges but there are people out there who are passionate about the city and making a difference in the community such as welcoming asylum seekers and refugees at English conversation clubs. There are also many communities’ events such as the long running of the West Indian Carnival and currently the Great Get Togethers that are happening in Leeds and beyond that will promote community cohesion and intergeneration.

It is the people that make the heart of Leeds as Gavin Allen concludes that she has seen her personal journey from being anti-social and frustrated to positive social and it is the people now and not then. This is the spirit the Leeds Playhouse is achieving with the theatre being a place of stories and the heart of Leeds. Their forthcoming redevelopment project will cement more this positive spirit and it become more than just a theatre.

Searching For The Heart of Leeds is an excellent production and is delivered by passionate performers who care about Leeds and the communities they live in. They are supported well with the creative and backstage team.

 

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Stepping Out Review

Jack Studio Theatre – until 7 July

Reviewed by Claire Roderick

4****

The Mavis Turner Tappers are guaranteed to bring a smile to your face in Richard Harris’ bittersweet comedy. Set in a North London church hall, ex-professional dancer Mavis (Christina Meehan) doggedly attempts to teach simple routines to her adult students at the weekly tap classes. The characters are all broadly drawn, enabling instant recognition, but as the play progresses each character’s reasons for attending are gradually revealed, creating greater depth and emotions, but never getting in the way of the laughs.

Loud, confident Maxine (Lynn Beaumont), Rose (Monica Leighton) and Sylvia (Jessica Brady) are never slow to give their opinions, while young nurse Lynne (Gabrielle Sabel) does her best to keep the peace and look out for Dorothy (Ceris Hine) who is always one step behind in the dance and in life. Shy and uptight Andy (Emily Sitch) and Geoffrey (Sean McDowell), and compulsive cleaner and busybody Vera (Helen Jeckells) complete the class, with stern and sour Mrs Fraser (Harriet Earle) accompanying on the piano.

Christina Meehan gives a strong performance as Mavis – the usually calm centre of the tapping storm, while Ceris Hine, Helen Jeckells and Jessica Brady steal the show, making each line and movement comedy gold. The snippets of the characters’ everyday lives make it clear that these weekly lessons, and drinks afterwards, are an escape, and Mavis’ frustrations at their limitations are always outweighed by the joy of seeing their enjoyment. There is no deep insight into their lives, or any tying up of loose ends and issues, but this feels in keeping with the setting. How well do you actually know the people you meet at such classes?

The main message is the love and passion the class discover in dance. The cast perform the dreadful practice routines brilliantly – it takes a lot of talent to look that bad as an ensemble and not maim each other – and director David Ball hasn’t made it easy for them with his choreography on such a small stage. Stepping Out is a joyful, uplifting and laugh-out-loud funny treat.

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Jersey Boys Review

Sheffield Lyceum – until 30 June

Reviewed by: Lottie Davis-Browne

5*****

It’s hard to believe that “Jersey Boys” – a jukebox musical done in documentary style, is thirteen years old, yet it feels as fresh as when it first opened in the West End in 2008, following a successful run on Broadway. The story of four young lads from the wrong side of the tracks who found fame and fortune in a true life rags-to-riches tale.

With music by Bob Gaudio, lyrics by Bob Crewe and book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, Jersey Boys, in a documentary style, dramatises the formation, success and eventual break-up of the 1960s rock n roll group The Four Seasons.

The story opens with the song “Ces’ Soirées-lå – a modern pop/rap song released in 2000, introduced by Tommy DeVito (Simon Bailey), whom after introducing himself explains “That’s our song” – a cover of The Four Seasons hit “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night), the song he claims put Jersey “on the map”. Tommy goes on to explain that it was himself who formed the band, along with brother Nick DeVito (who didn’t last long as a band member, after landing himself in jail) plus friend Nick Massi – performing as trio “The Variety Trio” before discovering teenager Frankie Castelluccio, taking him under his wing, teaching him everything he knew and producing hit after hit.

Starting in Spring the story moves through the four seasons, each season being narrated by a different band member who gives their own perspective of the bands history. It highlights their highs and lows – from their rise to fame and making it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, to stints in prison, and the tragic death of Frankie’s daughter Francine.

Admittedly the first couple of times I saw Jersey Boys, I failed to warm to it, mainly struggling with the format and the often fast paced dialogue. But this evening I went with a different perspective, erasing previous experiences, excited at the return of cast member Lewis Griffiths in the role of Nick Massi and the prospect of hearing the many classics by The Four Seasons. Where I have usually failed to connect or “get” any of the characters before, this evening it didn’t take long for me to warm to the four main characters, and where in the past I have switched off during the dialogue, tonight was the first time that didn’t happen and I was gripped from start to finish. Finally this penultimate cast have turned my loathing of Jersey Boys to absolutely loving! I entered in anticipation but left the theatre grinning from ear to ear, the music firmly stuck in my head the following 24 hours.

Inevitably it is Frankie Valli who became the most popular band member probably due to his short stature and high-pitched voice. Michael Watson certainly did not fail on this part tonight – flawlessly hitting all those super high notes. He plays homage to those difficult to reach trousers-too-tight notes in iconic songs such as “Walk Like a Man”, “Beggin’”, “Sherry” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry”. Simon Bailey was show stealer for me this evening, perfectly portraying the somewhat arrogant over confident guy who saw potential in Frankie but later went on to fall out with and was noted as unbearable roommate in hotels for allegedly urinating in the sink. Equally all four lead men gave faultless outstanding performance but it was Simon’s character I warmed to the quickest. The stage set remains pretty much the same as previous productions of the tour and West End shows, with a live band on stage and an industrial feel to it with metal “cages” and a bridge which work flawlessly to create a variety of settings from The Silhouette Club where the guys perform to hotel rooms and recording studios. The costumes remain the same, with the iconic red blazers – the outfits used in various promotional shots for the production.

Michael Watson absolutely smashed it in the leading role of Frankie Valli, by far my favourite actor to perform this diverse and challenging role. The ticket sales and audience reaction prove that this show will be around for decades to come, and for once I can honestly say I cannot wait to return to New Jersey, I’m practically beggin’ for another instalment from The Four Seasons!

 

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