Saturday, 20 January 2018

Review: Hamilton (West End)

Hey readers!
It's time for my review of Hamilton.
As those of you that have followed my blog since 2015 will know, Hamilton is my favourite show of all time. Through very lucky circumstances, I have been fortunate enough to see Hamilton twice in New York and once in Chicago. I honestly cannot get enough of Hamilton. The thing that makes it so special is that every aspect of it is outstanding. Every part of Hamilton is done to utter perfection. I booked to see Hamilton in London over a year ago when the first batch of tickets were released and ever since then I have been anxiously waiting to see how the West End transfer compared to the Broadway production.

Hamilton tells the story of the American founding father and scrappy young immigrant who forever changed America: Alexander Hamilton. The musical follows him from young orphan to George Washington's right hand man and sees him journey from rebel to war hero. As he climbs up the political ladder we see how he goes from being a loving husband caught in the country's first sex scandal, to Treasury head who made an untrusting world believe in the American economy. I personally find Hamilton's story to be very inspiring. It teaches us to rise up and fight for our beliefs, compromise with others for the best possible outcome, forgive others and not let hate fester. Alexander Hamilton is such a fascinating historical figure and there is no denying what an impact he had on the United States of America. The story is told through a total of 47 songs, with the whole show being sung through from beginning to end. The score features a wide range of genres, including rap, hip-hop, pop, among others. There are some beautiful melodies within the show and every single song is highly memorable. The lyrics are cleverly written in a way that tells the story very effectively. Lin-Manuel Miranda must be one of the best composers of all time. As demonstrated by this, and his earlier work In the Heights, he is extraordinarily talented and hopefully one day he will write another hit musical.

Creatively, Hamilton shines! The lighting design is the best I have seen for any show. Hamilton uses lighting in a way that no other show has done before, helping to make it even more special than it already is. The costumes are outstanding and the attention to detail is particularly significant. The set design is fairly minimalistic, however it works to a great effect. My favourite aspect of the set is the revolving stage, which works very well in showing us the busy streets of New York City. The choreography is truly like nothing else. During the course of the show, you can often find the characters using modern movement to tell different aspects of the story, which I personally think is highly effectual.

Now for my thoughts on Hamilton's West End cast; who for the most part, were excellent!...

Jamael Westman as Alexander Hamilton
Jamael Westman gives the best portrayal of Alexander Hamilton that I have seen since Lin-Manuel Miranda. He really masters the role and truly makes it his own, and by doing so gives us a very special performance. Westman's acting is flawless and he portrays Hamilton exactly how I imagine he would have been in real life. I particularly liked the humour that he added to the role, which is something that I had not previously seen with the other Hamilton's. Westman has a beautiful singing voice, and just to top it all off, he is also an excellent rapper!

Giles Terera as Aaron Burr
Aaron Burr is usually one of my favourite roles in Hamilton, however I was not overly keen on the way Giles Terera chose to play the character. In past performances of Burr, the character has been portrayed as being full of ambition, something that I felt was lacking in Terera's performance. Having said all of this, it was by no means a bad performance and I thought that his rendition of 'Wait For It' was to a very high standard.

Rachelle Ann Go as Eliza Hamilton
Whilst Rachelle Ann Go has a beautiful singing voice, I was left somewhat disappointed by her overall performance. Her diction was not always clear and I personally believed that she lacked the passion that Eliza is usually filled with. Others may have different interpretations of Eliza, but I think it works better when Eliza is portrayed as a strong individual, something which I did not see in Go's performance. Although, as I mentioned earlier, her voice is wonderful and her performance of the song 'Burn' was very good.

Obioma Ugoala as George Washington
To date, Obiama Ugoala gives the best performance of George Washington I have ever seen. So far, I have liked every single portrayal of George Washington, but Obioma Ugaola is something else. Ugoala has an extremely powerful stage presence, which worked very well for what I imagined Washington to be like; a strong army general and a commanding force. This role has been cast so well, as Ugoala seems to suit the role perfectly. If this wasn't enough, Ugoala also has a phenomenal voice and every song that he performed left a lasting impression.

Rachel John as Angelica Schuyler
A year and a half ago, I saw Rachel John in 'The Bodyguard' and after the show I met her at stagedoor and said "You would make a really great Angelica in Hamilton!". 18 months later, here we are, and it turns out I was right; she really does make a great Angelica! I would even go as far to say that she gives the best portrayal of Angelica I have ever seen. As Angelica, she is full of confidence, sassiness and pride. She had absolutely everything needed to play Angelica convincingly. Her rendition of Satisfied, was a real 'wow moment' and was one of my favourite moments of the entire show.

Jason Pennycooke as Marquis de Lafayette / Thomas Jefferson
I had seen Jason in both 'Memphis' and 'Guys and Dolls' and I had absolutely loved his performances in both of these shows. However, when I heard he was cast in Hamilton, I really wasn't too sure what his performance would be like. Luckily, it turned out to be inspired casting! Both of these roles are unbelievably hard to master and, prior to Pennycooke, the only person I thought had been exceptional in this dual-role was Daveed Diggs. I am thrilled to say that Jason was a worthy successor to Daveed Diggs and excelled in both of these roles. Whilst his Lafayette was brilliant, it was his performance of Jefferson that made him stand out above other cast members. He nails every single line ofThomas Jefferson's, delivering every word perfectly. He was utterly hilarious and such a joy to watch. His performance was one of the highlights of the show and I am so pleased he was cast in this production.

Cleve September as John Laurens / Philip Hamilton
I had previously seen Cleve September in 'In the Heights', where he gave an outstanding performance. Funnily enough, I had a feeling when I first saw him perform that he would end up being cast in the West End production of Hamilton. Cleve September gives a fantastic and all-round great performance in the dual role of John Laurens and Philip Hamilton. He performed both roles excellently and was a great addition to the cast.

Tarinn Callender as Hercules Mulligan / James Madison
Tarinn Callender is making his professional debut in these two roles, and I congratulate him for making such a great start to his career! Whilst both Mulligan and Madison do not get as much stage time as other characters, Tarinn was flawless as both of these characters, also giving an all-round brilliant performance.

Christine Allado as Peggy Schuyler / Maria Reynolds
Whilst Christine Allado was very good in the role of Peggy, she really came into her element when she performed as Maria Reynolds. Allado has an outstanding voice, as well as having a really big presence on stage. If I had been casting the show, I actually would have cast Christine Allado in the role of Eliza, as I think she would have been really good for that role. Maybe one day we will see her grace the stage as Eliza Hamilton!

And last but not least: Michael Jibson as King George III
King George III can be a difficult role to play, as you only have 9 minutes of stage time to try and leave a lasting impression on the audience. Fortunately, Michael Jibson pulls it off successfully. Jibson delivered all three of his songs to perfection and made for a fantastic King George!

The featured star of Hamilton is, drum roll please... JAMAEL WESTMAN!

Featured star is a tough competition between Jamael Westman, Obioma Ugoala, Rachel John and Jason Pennycooke, but eventually I decided to award it to Jamael! Alexander Hamilton is an extremely demanding role and it requires a lot from the performer, and yet Jamael was so flawless. There is nothing about his performance that can be faulted; he was excellent. I really hope he receives an Olivier Award for his portrayal of Alexander Hamilton, as he more than deserves it.

Now for my final verdict on Hamilton. I give Hamilton...

I hope those reading this will clearly see why Hamilton is fully deserving of its 5 star rating. It is a show like no other and excels in every aspect. Hamilton is revolutionary and I hope we see shows similar to it in the near future!

Agree with my rating? Think it should have got a lower rating? If so comment below.

Thanks for reading!

-The Reviewer

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Review: Dick Whittington

Hey readers!
It's time for my review of Dick Whittington!
This is the second year in a row that I have been fortunate enough to see the pantomime at the London Palladium; a pantomime which I would call the biggest panto in all of London! I have seen other pantomimes in London, but there is truly nothing that compares to the panto's put on at the London Palladium.

This production of Dick Whittington pulls out all the stops to be the perfect panto, but there is one key element which it just wouldn't be the same without... Julian Clary, who is performing in the role of 'Spirit of the Bells'. This is only the second time I have seen Julian Clary perform (the other being last year's pantomime at the London Palladium), and yet I am confident in saying that he must be the best comedian I have ever seen. Every single word he uttered had me in stitches. His delivery was perfect and I honestly cannot imagine enjoying another pantomime so much that does not star Julian Clary. West End and Broadway legend Elaine Paige has been cast in the role of Queen Rat, and she had an absolutely beautiful voice, delivering some wonderful numbers. However, the only issue I had with her performance is that it was difficult to despise her, and therefore perhaps she wasn't quite right to be a 'villain'. I personally would have preferred Elaine Paige to have been cast as one of the protagonists. For the majority of the run, Ashley Banjo had been performing as The Sultan, however he was absent for the performance I had attended, so Diversity member Warren Russell made his debut in the role. Despite it only being his first performance as The Sultan, Warren Russell performed very well and did a fantastic job! As for Diversity, who were 'The Sultan's Special Advisors', they performed some amazing dance routines and it is a shame that we didn't get to see more of them. All of their routines were excellently choreographed! Paul Zerdin as Idle Jack alongside his dummy Sam, who has returned from last year's pantomime, was brilliant and even funnier than he was last year! My only critique for his performance was that he recycled a few of last year's lines, and it would have been better if he had written some more new material for this year. Nigel Havers in the role of Captain Nigel, who has also returned from last year, was extremely amusing to watch, and similar to Zerdin, I also found him funnier than last year! Gary Wilmot, who portrays Sarah Fitzwarren, gives a generally good performance, but there is a certain stunning moment in the show where Wilmot truly comes into his element. In act two, Wilmot performs an exceptional musical number where he lists every single train station in London (and there's hundreds of them!). This was a big highlight of the whole show and absolutely brought the house down! Charlie Stemp, in the title role of Dick Whittington, gave an all round outstanding performance, showcasing that he is an excellent dancer, singer and actor. He was the perfect choice for Dick Whittington and was a pleasure to watch onstage! By his side was Emma Williams in the role of Alice Fitzwarren, who brings an enormous amount of energy to the stage! She too is a great actress, singer and dancer.

Creatively, Dick Whittington is stunning. All of the costumes in the show, particularly Julian Clary's are truly magnificent! They really have put their all into designing these amazing costumes. The special effects in the show were also wonderful, with the stand-out effect being the London bus which flies above the audience at the end of act one. The bus was like nothing I had ever seen before!

The featured star of Dick Whittington is, drum roll please... JULIAN CLARY!

As you can tell by the amount I said about the cast, the actors and actresses in Dick Whittington are extraordinary talented! However, it is Julian Clary that steals the show. I never wanted Julian Clary to leave the stage; every moment he was there was utterly hilarious! I really hope that the producers of next year's London Palladium pantomime choose to bring him back, as it just would not be the same without him.

Now for my final verdict on Dick Whittington. I give Dick Whittington...

Dick Whittington is one of the best pantomimes I had ever seen; it was glorious! I cannot wait for next year's pantomime at the London Palladium and I'm sure it will be just as amazing as the past two have been!

Think it should have got a higher rating? Agree with my rating? Think it should have got a lower rating? If so comment below.

Thanks for reading!

-The Reviewer

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Review: The Grinning Man

Hey readers!
It's time for my review of The Grinning Man.
From the long list of the theatre shows that I had compiled to try and see over the Christmas holiday, The Grinning Man definitely stood out above the rest as a 'must-see'. It is a brand new original musical, which used to be a rarity for the West End, and the trailer of it made my desire to see it even larger.

There are many impressive things about this musical that I admire, however at the top of the list is The Grinning Man's extraordinary score, composed by Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler. Within this score, there are many hauntingly beautiful melodies, some of which have remained in my mind several days after seeing the show. My personal highlights from the score are 'Beauty and the Beast' and 'Labyrinth'. Sadly, an original cast album has not been released yet, however I hope one is recorded in the near future, as I would love to once again listen to these songs. I would happily listen to this score over and over again; it was beyond unique.

The Grinning Man's cast is led by Louis Maskell, in the role of Grinpayne, who gives a very heartfelt performance. The way Maskell chooses to portray Grinpayne makes it impossible for the audience not to feel empathetic towards the character. It's an extremely convincing portrayal and Louis Maskell gives it his all. If that wasn't enough, he also has a great voice which suits the score perfectly. Playing opposite Maskell's Grinpayne is Sanne Den Besten, as Dea, his blind love interest. Sanne Den Besten had a truly outstanding vocal ability; all of the songs which she performed were delightful. Additionally, she too gives a flawless acting performance. In the role of Barkilphedro, the royal jester, Julian Bleach adds something very special to The Grinning Man. With a role similar to the Emcee in Cabaret, Barkilphedro is a wicked character brining comedic relief to the audience during  the show. Julian Bleach was perfectly cast in this role. Whenever Bleach enters the stage, he is totally transfixing. There was never a dull moment with him onstage. Another cast member who stood out for me was Mark Anderson, as Dirry-Moir, the young and foolish son of the King. Anderson had barrels of energy,  and  gave an outstanding performance. Needless to say, the entire cast of The Grinning Man are spectacular and all play a part in making this the spellbinding show that it is.

The storyline of The Grinning Man is loosely based off of Victor Hugo's 'The Man Who Laughs'. It follows the aftermath of the King's death in 18th Century London, but by the looks of things, no one really cares that the King is gone. A strange new act has arrived at the fair in the centre of the capital, a grotesque oasis of entertainment. Soon everyone from the gutter-rats to the new queen has fallen for the hand-made freak Grinpayne and his hideously beautiful face. But who is he really? And how did he come to be so marked? Together with an old man, a blind girl and wolf, he has a story to tell. A tale so tragic and so strange that not even he can guess how it will end. It was a fun storyline to follow and I found it to be utterly gripping throughout. There were a few plot holes, however I was enjoying it so much that I was quite happy to suspend disbelief.

The set design, which has been created by Jon Bausor, was magical. The whole theatre has been decorated as a large old fashioned circus, transporting its audience into 18th Century London. It felt like such an immersive experience, which is furthered by the cast frequently coming out into the audience and performing in the aisles. It was a rather remarkable experience. As for the set design on the stage, despite not have a large stage, the set is not prohibited by this and works excellently. I also loved the lighting design, which I thought worked to great effect.

As I'm sure many of you can imagine, there is something very special about this show; it really is like no other. However, there is even more to it than I have already stated... The Grinning Man also makes use of puppetry. Majestic puppetry is used to portray a wolf onstage, as well as young children. The puppetry is so life-like and really believable; it was carried out very well, leading to a fantastic result.

The featured star of The Grinning Man is, drum roll please... JULIAN BLEACH!

As I stated earlier on, there are many stand-out performances within the cast. However, it is Julian Bleach that steals the show. Everything about his performance is so perfect: his voice, his physicality, his delivery of lines, the list goes on and on. The character of Barkliphedro is wicked and does terrible things, and yet you just want to watch more and more of him. Julian Bleach is phenomenal in this role and I can't imagine anyone giving quite as good a performance in the role as he does. 

Now for my final verdict on The Grinning Man. I give The Grinning Man...

The storyline may have had its flaws, but The Grinning Man is an extraordinary show and nothing can take that away from it. For that reason, I have awarded this brand new musical 4 stars!

Think it should have got a higher rating? Agree with my rating? Think it should have got a lower rating? If so comment below.

Thanks for reading!

-The Reviewer

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Review: Follies

Hey readers!
It's time for my review of Follies.
Stephen Sondheim is one of my favourite composers of all time, which made this revival of his musical 'Follies' a must-see. However, this production sold out very quickly, so I did not think I would actually get the chance to see it. I was very lucky though, as I was able to find a few returns online for the New Years Day performance! Therefore, Follies became the first show of 2018, and it was a magnificent way to start the year!

Creatively, this revival of Follies is stunning. This production excels in all of the creative and design aspects. The costumes that feature in Follies are glorious! They perfectly fit the time period in which the play is set in and show us how glamorous those days were. There is a clear attention to detail in these costumes, which have been masterfully created by Vicki Mortimer. Vicki Mortimer is also responsible for creating the grand set design, which looks amazing onstage. There is only one major set piece, however a revolving stage is used, so that different areas of the building where Follies is set can be shown. The lighting design was also extremely impressive, and it was clear that a lot of thought had gone into it. The choreography was outstanding throughout the whole show and it was an absolute joy to watch. The direction and staging of this production, by Dominic Cooke, is particularly noteworthy. The stage is gigantic, but Cooke has used the space very well. It seems Cooke has directed this show excellently, putting together a truly wonderful revival.

Follies features four lead characters, and in this production they are portrayed by Imelda Staunton, Janie Dee, Phillip Quast and Peter Forbes. Imelda Staunton, who portrays Sally Durant Plummer, is a very gifted and unique actress. She is so perfect for the role of Sally and was extremely convincing. In addition to her brilliant acting skills, Staunton is also a very talented singer. Her rendition of 'Losing My Mind' was one of the show's best moments. Janie Dee, performing the role of Phyllis Rogers Stone, is a triple threat; a phenomenal actress, singer and dancer. The role of Phyllis is perfect for Janie Dee to showcase all of her talents, and this is demonstrated during the musical number 'The Story of Lucy and Jessie'. Phillip Quast gave a superb performance as Benjamin Stone. He was well suited to the part, as well as being very believable. Peter Forbes, who portrays Buddy Plummer, was excellent throughout the whole show, however there is a particular number where he really shines. Forbes seems to really be in his element when he performs 'Buddy's Blues', which is another of the show's many 'wow moments'. Throughout the show, the four leads are shadowed by their younger selves, performed by Alex Young, Zizi Strallen, Adam Rhys-Charles and Fred Haig. These four younger cast members were also outstanding performers. There is also another stand out performance, and that was Tracie Bennett, in the role of Carlotta Campion. Tracie Bennett has a phenomenal voice and her solo 'I'm Still Here' was one of the best songs in the show. Bennett also provides great comic relief to the show, delivering every single line perfectly.

The storyline of Follies follows a party on the stage of the Weismann Theatre. Tomorrow the iconic building will be demolished. Thirty years after their final performance, the Follies girls gather to have a few drinks, sing a few songs and lie about themselves. It was an exceedingly interesting story, which explored many different themes such as youthful love, regrets in later life and letting go of the past. As per usual, Stephen Sondheim's music never fails to please, as this score is terrific! Both the music and lyrics are exceptionally well written, producing many wonderful songs.

This is a brilliant production and such a joy to watch. It is 2 hours and 10 minutes (with no interval), and yet the time flew by. I enjoyed every minute! Sadly, this revival of Follies ends today (3rd of January), but it has had a great run! I hope that a cast recording is released in the near future.

The featured star of Follies is, drum roll please... IMELDA STAUNTON!

All four leads would have been worthy for the featured star title, with each of them delivering phenomenal and memorable performances. There is an argument to be made for each of the four leads, however in the end I chose Imelda Staunton. Staunton is captivating to watch when onstage. She is always full of life and energy, putting her all in to every single performance. She's a real star!

Now for my final verdict on Follies. I give Follies...

It was very hard to choose between a four and a five star rating for Follies. If I had half star rating, this would definitely get four and a half stars. However, I eventually decided to award Follies 4 stars.

Think it should have got a higher rating? Agree with my rating? Think it should have got a lower rating? If so comment below.

Thanks for reading!

-The Reviewer