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Nicky’s Showbiz Diary: It’s been an unusual few months

I’ve got a bit out of the habit of writing these, so for fans of them, I apologise. It’s amazing how you focus on the necessities of work and life when you’re busy and extra things just fall by the wayside. Anyway, I’m going to make a concerted effort to write a diary every week from now on.

It’s been an unusual few months, which has involved me moving house at both ends of the country (in with my wonderful parents in Devon and my awesome best mates in London), a new job and a lot of new compromises in life.

My job in London is more demanding than ever before, with a fab new contract for the Weekender titles in south London giving me a great deal of pleasure. The publications are really good and the team I’m working with is absolutely brilliant. It’s also meant I’ve been able to enjoy Greenwich a lot more, with invites to some great shows and some lovely restaurants.

I’ve been very fortunate that a lot of the PR companies that I’ve built up good relationships with have stuck by me and I’ve still been able to watch some fab West End shows and chat to the stars for both my own website and for my slot on BBC Radio Kent.

A real highlight was seeing Andrew Scott in Hamlet. Now, I don’t pretend to be a fan of straight plays or Shakespeare (I generally prefer jazz hands and vibrato singing), but the production at the Harold Pinter Theatre is one of the best things I’ve seen this year. I also adored Bat Out of Hell (and the leading pair made for a delightful interview) and Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill with the fabulous Audra McDonald.

The Wind in the Willows at the London Palladium was good (and really didn’t deserve some of the harsh criticism it received, in my opinion) and Yank! at the Charing Cross theatre is a beautiful show.

I have become slightly obsessed with the soundtrack of Bonnie and Clyde after watching a workshop of the musical at The Other Palace and I’ve even started to listen to a bit of Little Mix (I know right! I think I’ve regressed) after seeing them perform as part of Greenwich Music Time.

I’ve interviewed my fave West End star, Kerry Ellis, the lovely Velma Celli and a whole host of friendly and not so friendly theatrical types (one playwright had prepared a statement and refused to actually answer any questions!).

Anyway, this week is also pretty packed. I’m having a tour of the Bob Hope Theatre in Eltham – which is home to an extremely talented amdram group – before I attend a rehearsal for the new production of Flashdance The Musical, starring Strictly’s Joanne Clifton and A1’s Ben Adams, as well as popping along to the Hippodrome for a lively night of music from the Blues Brothers.

You can follow me on Twitter @NickySweetland for regular news.

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MAMMA MIA! star Tyler Kennington takes our Sugar Rush Quiz

Tyler Kennington first entered the world of show business at the tender age of two. The son of an acclaimed stunt coordinator the young star went on to work onstage with the likes of Jodie Prenger, Kerry Ellis and Griff Rhys Jones in the revival of Oliver! at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and in the television series Camelot alongside Joseph Fiennes.

Tyler has recently returned to the West End as part of the new cast of MAMMA MIA! at the Novello Theatre and took some time off to take our Sugar Rush Quiz.

What are you currently working on?

MAMMA MIA!

Tyler Kennington (in purple) with the MAMMA MIA! London Cast 2017/2018. Photo by Brinkhoff & Mögenburg

What is the one thing that has helped you to become successful? 

Support from my family

What is your favourite Book?

Cell By Steven King

What are you currently watching on TV? 

I’ve just finished watching Riverdale on Netflix

Would you choose the cinema, theatre or a restaurant for a night out? 

Theatre

What’s your favourite sweet? 

Bubblegum bottles or fizzy laces

What did you want to be when you were a child? 

A stuntman like my dad

What was the naughtiest thing you did when you were a child? 

I sprayed fire extinguishers around the building when I was at Italia Conti. That was quite naughty!

What is your proudest achievement to date? 

Getting the role in MAMMA MIA!

What’s next? 

I’m training to do stunt work. There are six skills that you have to be able to do semi-professionally, so I’ve set my goal to do that and I’m learning kung Fu. I’d also love to do another show. I’m not sure what, but maybe The Book of Mormon.

MAMMA MIA! is running at the Novello Theatre 

“A good suggestion is like a big wave; you just want to ride it and you don’t have to work that hard to make it fun.” We talk to Abandoman’s Rob Broderick

Known for creating hilarious songs and sketches at lightening speed, Abandoman have become one of the must see acts at Edinburgh this year, writes Nicky Sweetland.

In fact, the musical comedy duo performed to over 10,000 at lasts year’s festival and will return with a brand new show, which this year has been semi-written.

Winners of the Hackney Empire New Act of the Year, Musical Comedy Awards and the Adelaide Fringe Festival, Abandoman is made up of musician Sam Wilson and comedy Hip-hop artist Rob Broderick, who told me, “I think it’s going to be very cool and a lot of fun. It’s a nice healthy mix of written and freestyle stuff with some animation and it’s a way of bringing quite a surreal world to life.”

Following their appearance in Edinburgh, the pair – who are currently the resident band for Alan Carr’s Happy Hour (Channel 4) – will take their new show Life + Rhymes to the Soho Theatre.

“It’s a fictional biopic, but it’s fully freestyled. We’ve been doing freestyled songs for a long time and we got really excited about the audience making up part of the story with their characters.”

Rob explained that the show spans twenty years of the duo’s attempt to “make it” as a band and that the audience will not only witness the highs, lows and scandals, but they will form the supporting cast every night. “It’s set in the 90s in Ireland and the idea is that everyone who’s in the room was there at a moment of our journey in Hip-hop. Irish Hip-hop is pitched as a very dangerous world and it’s very silly. I wanted to create an hour show in which the crowd gets to go on a journey, not just within each song, but an overall journey.”

The improv double act has an enviable reputation in the world of comedy, with Rob’s absolute commitment to the rap being of the highest competence. He studied Hip-hop and came upon the comedy side of the art by accident, when he realised that his improvised raps were always a bit more comical than other performers.

Rob told me, “Standup and Hip-hop are my two loves and so naturally my freestyling somehow had a sillier slant”

His onstage partner, Sam has the amazing ability to layer sounds and make the music appear as if it has been prerecorded, so when the two play together, the quality of the Hip-hop is beyond reproach, something, which is very important to both performers.

“Myself and Sam take the music and the rapping incredibly seriously. It’s not one of those things where a comedy act thought hip hop would be a good way to get success”

When mixed with suggestions from the on-looking audience, the result is an exciting and extremely amusing hour of entertainment.

“We ask people for bespoke moments or bespoke opinions of their lives, but every opinion has more weight because it’s actually happened. We’re asking them for a minor irk they went through or rule they broke and when those things are good or really interesting, the room really gets behind it and it makes freestyling much easier.”

Rob explains, “It’s like if you’re a surfer. A good suggestion is like a big wave; you just want to ride it and you don’t have to work that hard to make it fun.”

Abandoman will perform Life + Rhymes at the Soho Theatre from 14th-16th September

 

Lions and Tigers and Bares, Oh My!

The popular charity show West End Bares has ‘revealed’ this year’s theme for their night of fundraising frivolity.

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Now in its eighth year as the West End’s hottest annual fundraiser, fans are asked to join the cast of WEST END BARES as they strip off to see the Wizard in WEST END BARES: RUBY STRIPPERS at The Novello Theatre on Sunday 29 October with performances at 7.00pm and 9.30pm.

You can join the much-loved characters of Oz for an extraordinary night at WEST END BARES: RUBY STRIPPERS, which will see over 100 of the hottest performers from the West End stage and beyond, along with an array of celebrity hosts as they take to the stage to combine the naughtiness of burlesque with the magic of the West End. All monies raised will go to The Make A Difference Trust to fund HIV and AIDS projects that raise awareness, educate and provide care and support in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Directed by David Grewcock with choreography from Racky Plews (American Idiot; Footloose; Heaven on Earth),Ashley Nottingham (Thoroughly Modern Millie; Dance Mums; Disaster!), Will Lucas (Cats; Wicked), Joanna Goodwin (Barnum; Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; Sunset Boulevard), Aaron Renfree (X Factor; The Saturdays), Simone Mistry-Palmer (Motown; Dirty Dancing), Jaye Elster (Singin’ In The Rain; Half A Sixpence), Ashley Jordan-Packer(Cats; Thriller Live), Fletcher Dobinson (Cats; West Side Story), Chris Whittaker (Blondel; Judy!), and James Wilson(Strictly Come Dancing; The Voice)

Opening the show in style, WEST END BARES: RUBY STRIPPERS is delighted to welcome Olivier Award winner Rebecca Trehearn (Showboat, City of Angels, Ghost), who will perform a brand-new track written for the occasion by Mark Anderson (The Book Of Mormon, Legally Blonde) and Luke di Somma (That Bloody Woman [composer], 21 Chump Street).

Award winning director and choreographer, Jerry Mitchell, creator of the original concept ‘Broadway Bares’, the inspiration behind West End Bares, said: “Lions and tigers and BARES, oh my! I can’t wait to see the eighth edition of West End Bares in London and what a perfect theme to go full out and celebrate LIFE.  We need to keep up the fight against HIV and AIDS and by doing what we love or by buying a ticket and supporting this incredible night, you can be part of something HUGE that will change people’s lives – and you get to watch the hottest dancers in London strip, so it’s a no brainer!

Melanie Tranter, Co-Founder, Chair and Trustee of The Make A Difference Trust said: “Who can resist an amazing night of witches, lions and scarecrows combined with the magic that is West End Bares? I can’t believe that this is the eighth year of this amazing show. Sparkly shoes take over from the legends of Camelot, as David Grewcock and the amazing team behind last year’s EXCALIBARE, bring you Ruby Strippers. Every single ticket sold means that the Make A Difference Trust can continue our work towards a world free of HIV and AIDS. Together we can make a difference. So buy your tickets, get your MAD money, and enjoy one of the sexiest, most fun evenings you can have in a theatre!  I can’t wait to see you there!”

The Make A Difference Trust is a UK based charity with a vision of a world free from HIV and AIDS. Building on the legacy of 25 years of fundraising by the Theatre industry, they continue to make the vision a reality having distributed over £1.6million in grants to support individuals experiencing hardship across the UK as well as over £1million to support projects with their UK and international partners. For further information about the Make A Difference Trust please visit  www.madtrust.org.uk

Tickets for WEST END BARES are now on sale and are priced at £15 – £100.

Tickets are available from www.delfontmackintosh.co.uk

Photos by Darren Bell

The Cunning Little Vixen comes to the Arcola Theatre

Director Guido Martin-Brandis will bring an innovative new production of Janácek’s The Cunning Little Vixen to the Arcola Theatre as part of the Grimeborn Festival 2017.

Guido Martin-Brandis will be joined by veteran theatre maker Alexander McPherson, who was head of design at the Bristol Old Vic, and Theatre Royal and has designed shows for the Welsh National Opera, Opera North and Scottish Opera. The pair join forces again after the success of their 2016 collaboration for BBC Young Musician of the Year winner, Grace Evangeline Mason’s debut opera The Yellow Wallpaper.

The Cunning Little Vixen is the story of a young Vixen growing up in the parallel worlds of animals and humans, after having been brought home by a forester. Featuring dance, masks and puppetry and video projections to depict the animal world, this show will mix art forms to reach new opera audiences, young and old.

Sung in English with a brand new chamber arrangement, the cast features some of the UK’s most promising young artists, including Alison Rose, who in June 2017 made her Garsington debut and will debut at the ENO next season, having sung as a soloist in the Last Night of the Proms 2016 and recently sponsored by the Glyndebourne New Generation Programme at the National Opera Studio.

Guido Martin-Brandis, director, said:

“We couldn’t be more thrilled to be launching our new Opera company, aptly named The Opera Company, with which we plan to produce shows at the very highest level of what fringe opera can achieve.The Cunning Little Vixen is not only a delightful opera with strong storytelling elements and stunning music, it’s also given the entire cast plenty of scope to explore working with the Meisner technique, physical theatre, choreographers, dancers and puppets. It’s been a thrill to work with Alexander McPherson who brings so much experience to the project. On a personal note, I’m also eager to join the Grimeborn festival as a director, having worked as an assistant the previous two seasons and have always admired the high quality of work they produce.”

The Cunning Little Vixen will be at the Arcola Theatre on 31st July, 1st, 3rd, 4th August 2017 

Are you the next Michael Jackson or Stevie Wonder? Motown the Musical wants to hear from you

The West End production of Motown the Musical is looking for some new young stars to join the cast. The show will celebrate its third year in London and Motown will celebrate sixty years since the record company was founded, with news that booking has been extended to 2019.

With just $800 borrowed from his family, Motown founder Berry Gordy, goes from featherweight boxer to heavyweight music mogul, discovering and launching the careers of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and many more.  Motown the Musical uncovers the true story of the legendary record label that changed music history and created the soundtrack of a generation.  

Next month, on Saturday 19 August, Motown the Musical will hold children’s open auditions for the role of Young Michael Jackson, Berry Gordy and Stevie Wonder.  Registration will be at 9.15am, taking place at the Brixton Community Base, Talma Road, London SW2 1AS.  For more information please visit http://motownthemusical.co.uk/childrens-auditions/

Photo by Tristram Kenton

Rhys Ifans will play Scrooge at the Old Vic this Christmas

Rhys Ifans will star in the Charles Dickens’ timeless classic A Christmas Carol at the Old Vic. The new adaptation by Jack Thorne will be directed by Matthew Warchus and open at the South London theatre on 29 November.

On a bitter Christmas Eve night a cold-hearted miser is visited by four ghosts. Transported to worlds past, present and future, Ebenezer Scrooge witnesses what a lifetime of fear and selfishness has led to and sees with fresh eyes the lonely life he has built for himself. Can Ebenezer be saved before it’s too late?

Rhys Ifans’ work as an actor encompasses stage, television and film. His theatre credits include King Lear (The Old Vic), Protest Song, Volpone and Under Milk Wood (National Theatre), Don Juan in Soho, Accidental Death of an Anarchist and Bad Finger (Donmar Warehouse) and Beautiful Thing (Duke of York Theatre). Film includes Snowdon, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Dominion, Len and Company, Under Milk Wood, The Replacements, Notting Hill (BAFTA nominated) and he will be appearing in The Parting Glass later in 2017. Television includes Berlin Station, Not Only But Always (BAFTA Award for Best Actor) and Shakespeare Shorts.

Rhys Ifans performed opposite Glenda Jackson in King Lear at the Old Vic

A Christmas Carol will begin previews at the Old Vic Theatre on 18 November and run until 20 January 2018

We talk to the Blues Brothers about their party at the Hippodrome Casino this summer

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Back in 1978 Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi founded a revivalist band as part of their Saturday Night Live sketch show, writes Nicky Sweetland.

Called the Blues Brothers, the band went on to achieve huge success with the release of several albums and a critically acclaimed film, which reignited the careers of soul stars like Aretha Franklin and James Brown.

Led by a couple of colourful characters called Jake and Elwood (who were played by Aykroyd and Belushi) the band attracted a cult following. The popularity of the group inspired a tribute show, which has returned to the capital for the summer to play a limited run at the Hippodrome Casino.

Along with a gathering of celebrated blues and soul musicians, Joshua Mumby and David Krisptopher-Brown portray the delightfully devilish duo and I caught up with them during a rehearsal.

Joshua told me, “Jake and Elwood Blues are putting on their summer special at the Hippodrome casino. They’ve got together their band and their singers and are putting on a show for the people of London.”

The show – which Joshua tells me is a mixture between a concert and a musical – was first performed in Edinburgh in 2012 and enjoyed a celebrated run at the Arts Theatre with a Christmas special in 2015.

With its intimate atmosphere the Hippodrome in Leicester Square, somehow feels like a much more apt performance space for the Blues Brothers and Joshua said, “It’s exactly the sort of place that the real Blues Brothers would have played, so it’s really cool.”

Rather than feeling the pressure of playing such a famous pair, the actors are thriving on bringing the sound of the Blues Brothers to a new audience and Joshua said, “It’s wonderful to be able to continue what Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi did originally and try to bring this music to the masses. It’s great to be able to step into their shoes and the character’s shoes and lift that a little bit further.”

“They’ve been loving it.” David adds, “People are absolutely crazy for these characters and we want to do a great service to what they know already, but the characters are so good and so well written.”

The show is in residence at the salubrious central London venue until the end of August and the stars of the show are looking forward to sharing the fun.

“It’s all really good fun and it’s about entering into their world and having a good night.” Joshua said.

David explained, “It will be the biggest party they will ever attend. The musicians are ridiculously good. We love doing this show, we love performing the music and we cant wait to share it with everyone.”

The Blues Brothers – Summer special is at the Hippodrome Casino until 26 August 

Photos by Darren Bell

Casting news: Stephanie Clift takes over from Lucie Jones in The Wedding Singer

Actress and singer Stephanie Clift joins the cast of The Wedding Singer, (the hilarious musical based on the hit Adam Sandler film) as Holly, taking over from Lucie Jones in Bromley for the remainder of the 2017 UK tour.

Stephanie trained at the Arts Educational Schools, London where she gained her BA Hons in Musical Theatre graduating in 2013. Straight out of college she secured the role of Lisa in Mamma Mia at the Novello Theatre, London. She played Susan in the UK tour of Crush and most recently, Audrey in the UK tour of Little Shop of Horrors. She has also appeared in series 2 of Broadchurch for ITV and BBC’s Christmas special of Call the Midwife.

It’s 1985. Hair is huge, greed is good and rock-star wannabe Robbie Hart is New Jersey’s favourite wedding singer. When his own fiancée dumps him at the altar a seriously bummed out Robbie makes every wedding as disastrous as his own.

Can sweet natured Julia and her best friend Holly lure Robbie out of the dumpster and back into the limelight?  Or is he going to see her head off down the aisle with Wall Street bad boy Glen. Only Grandma Rosie seems to be able to see that Robbie and Julia are the couple that are meant to be.

Starring alongside Stephanie is West End and Musical Theatre star Jon Robyns who plays Robbie Hart. Most recently he starred in Legally Blonde as Emmett Forrest and in Sister Act as Eddie Souther; other theatre credits include Enjolras in Les MisérablesSpamalotMemphis and Avenue Q.

He is joined by British singer-songwriter Ray Quinn as Glen who shot to fame as the runner-up in ITV1’s The X Factorin 2006 and as champion of Dancing on Ice in 2009. In 2014 he won Dancing on Ice: Champion of Champions. His theatre credits include Danny Zuko in Grease (West End), Dirty Dancing (West End) and Legally Blonde (UK Tour).

West End leading lady and X Factor finalist Cassie Compton plays Julia; her roles include Jean in American Psycho(Almeida, London) and Eponine in Les Misérables.

Comedy veteran Ruth Madoc stars as Grandma Rosie. Ruth became a household name in the Eighties when she played Gladys Pugh in BBC comedy series Hi-De-Hi! More recently we’ve seen her on screen in ITV’s BenidormMount Pleasant (Sky) and Stella (Sky).

Samuel Holmes (Mrs Henderson Presents, West End) plays George. Tara Verloop (Charlie and the Chocolate Factoryand Dirty Dancing in the West End) plays Linda. Paris Green, Hannah Jay-Allen, Susie Fenwick, Helen Walsh, Eamonn Cox, Simon Anthony, Ainsley Hall-Ricketts, Andrew Carthy, Mark Pearce, Ryan-Lee Seager and Erin Bell complete the cast.

http://theweddingsingermusical.co.uk

Blues Brother Joshua Mumby takes our Sugar Rush Quiz

Trafalgar Square was rockin’ last month when the Blues Brothers took to the stage for West End Live. The show has returned to London for a summer special at the Hippodrome Casino and with its acclaimed band led by Jake and Elwood, audiences are in for a real treat.

Joshua Mumby plays Elwood in the musical spectacular, which features a whole host of soul classics including ‘Dancing in the Street’, ‘Soul Man’ and the song synonymous with the Blues Brothers, ‘Everybody Needs Somebody to Love’.

Joshua took some time off from rehearsals to take our Sugar Rush Quiz.

What are you currently working on?

The Blues Brothers Summer Special

What is the one thing that has helped you to become successful? 

Hard Work

What is your favourite Book?

Judy Dench’s autobiography

What are you currently watching on TV? 

Game of Thrones

Would you choose the cinema, theatre or a restaurant for a night out? 

Theatre

What’s your favourite sweet? 

Crunchie

What did you want to be when you were a child? 

An Actor

 What was the naughtiest thing you did when you were a child? 

That’s’ a really hard one. I don’t’ think I was a very naughty child but I guess annoying my sisters was probably the naughtiest thing I did.

What is your proudest achievement to date? 

Performing at West End Live

What’s next? 

A holiday and then a pantomime. I’m playing Aladdin in Aladdin at Bradford Playhouse.

Blues Brothers – Summer Special runs at the Hippodrome Leicester Square until 26 August.