Paul Merton as Widow Twankey and Pete Firman as Wishee Washee. Credit Craig Sugden

REVIEW: “Another dazzling success” ★★★★ Aladdin, New Wimbledon Theatre

Like many people, the local pantomime was my first foray into the world of theatre and it’s a yearly tradition I’ve always tried to maintain. As the New Wimbledon is now my home theatre, it seemed only right to make this my first of the season.

They have a reputation for providing locals with celebrity filled Christmas extravaganzas and this year’s production of Aladdin is no different. Think dazzling sets, stunning costumes and even some amazing 3D imagery and you’ll be on the right track.

The star turns this year are a mixed bag with comedian Paul Merton, really just playing himself, but with notable expertise at hiding the grown-up jokes amongst the silliness. He is joined by recent Strictly Come Dancing contestant and boy band star Lee Ryan, whose portrayal of the eponymous hero is rather stiff. You get a feeling he’s not entirely solid with his lines, lyrics and dance moves for the most part. They are both completely over shadowed by the excellent Pete Firman as Wishy Washy, whose grasp of the genre is in every way a masterclass. His engagement with both young and old is beyond reproach and his natural delivery is in equal parts heartwarming and hilarious.

They are well supported by Linda John-Pierre as the Empress (stunning vocals), the Genie of the ring played by Cassandra McCowen and the delightful Lauren Chia as Jasmine, but the girls are really put in the background in this production. That is until the end when Jasmine proves she’s no pushover in a lovely modern twist on the story.

Special mention must also go to the thunderous Adam Pearce, whose Abanazer is a real ruthless treat.

This is another dazzling success from The New Wimbledon Theatre and a must for those young and old to see in the area over the festive period.

Aladdin is running at the New Wimbledon Theatre until 6 January. 

Photo by Craig Sugden.

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REVIEW: A “cheesy dance-fest” ★★ Dirty Dancing, The New Wimbledon Theatre

I must one of the few people who grew up in the 80s to have never watched Dirty Dancing all the way through. I’ve tried to a couple of times because when you say you haven’t a collective gasp rings around a room, but the action has never managed to engage me for more than about 10 minutes. The live stage show would be different though right? Sadly not. It turns out that the reason I’ve never been able to engage with this widely beloved story is because it’s really quite naff! The current touring production, which is running at the New Wimbledon Theatre this week blatantly highlights the huge gaps in the plot of this cheesy dance-fest, while bizarrely trying to replicate the movie’s most famed scenes.

It’s a strange one; electric dance routines expertly performed by an exuberant cast, but woven together with some of the most awful script, direction and acting I’ve seen on a professional stage. I can only assume that the huge cardboard set, which enables the strange inclusion of the log scene is just to tick a box for fans because it does nothing to help drive the dreary story.

There are some good performances and both lead singers (who I can’t name check, because they aren’t credited properly in the programme) show some real flair, while Jonny and Baby, AKA Michael O’Reilly and Kira Malou, gallop through their numbers with verve, until eventually you get to the bit the audience has all been waiting for, the “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life” lifting part. It’s only then that the auditorium really comes alive having been in that unfortunate position for much the previous two hours of not knowing if they are meant to be laughing at or with the cast.

I guess this show is for fans of the film and those who are looking for their favourite bits recreated on stage will get them. But if you’re after high quality musical theatre, you need to look elsewhere.

Dirty Dancing is running at the New Wimbledon Theatre until Saturday 24 November. 

Review: A “humorous historical harem” ★★★★★ Six at the Arts Theatre

I’ll be honest, the premise of this musical really didn’t grab me. A pop concert style show about the six wives of Henry VIII? I mean how is that going to work? Well all I can say is that it not only works but it is one of my new favourites.

Originally written as a student show by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, we are drawn in to a reality tv style competition between the “Six” to decide which one was dealt the worst hand.

We rock through Catherine, Anne, Jane, Anne Catherine and Catherine’s tumultuous lives with the legendary king, while the audience is given some educational vignettes by the humorous historical harem.

It’s an absolute blast with funny and yet well crafted songs, performed with vigour by an ultra talented cast. Rock ballads and high tempo original pop songs are woven into a show, which eventually becomes a modern rallying call for feminism as the woman realise they are only famous because of their association with the infamous king.

This is one of those shows that will leave you uplifted and invigorated an absolute must see this autumn.

Six is running at The Arts Theatre until 14 October.

Photo by Idil Sukan

REVIEW: ‘No oomph behind the comedy’ ★★ Legally Blonde, New Wimbledon Theatre

There’s something so joyful about American teen musicals. And with the huge success of Mean Girls on Broadway and Heathers here in London, the fun & frothy musicals with a strong female protagonist at their centre are back with a bang.

But there’s one that helped to forge the genre forward when it first hit the stage back in 2007 and that’s Legally Blonde. The musical, based on the novel and 2001 film, became both a cult and commercial success and has continued to enthrall audiences on the amateur circuit. But there was still a hunger for another professional production, and with the UK tour in full flight and conveniently landing in Wimbledon, I thought I’d see if this hilarious girly musical still had what it takes to stand up with the new pretenders.

But unfortunately, with this production at least, Legally Blonde just isn’t in the same league.

The music, by Laurence O’Keefe, who also composed the score for Heathers, is catchy and lyrically hilarious, but there’s just no oomph behind the comedy in this production and the action feels far too slow and lazy. The cast are of a decent standard and Lucie Jones as the heroine Elle Woods is vocally superb, but without the pacy comedy aspect fully explored, it all feels too forced.

And the set design is of such a poor standard, you would be forgiven for thinking you are at a village panto; it’s all badly painted backdrops and clunky set pieces which further slows the pace.

Perhaps if you don’t know the show and are looking on this production with fresh eyes you will be mildly impressed, but I was just left with a feeling of disappointment.

Legally Blonde is at the New Wimbledon Theatre until 23 June.

REVIEW: ‘An absolute masterwork of drama’ ★★★★★ Pressure, Ambassadors Theatre

Now look, I’m going to be honest and tell you that when I first heard the concept for David Haig’s new West End play Pressure, it didn’t immediately grasp me. An adaptation of a true story about a weatherman in world war two didn’t sound like the type of thing that would get my stagey juices flowing.

But I’m happy to admit I was wrong. Haig’s play is an absolute masterwork of drama, with lovable characters, humour, and a really heart-warming storyline running throughout.

Set just before the D-day landings, we are flung into the planning centre for the invasions, which it is hoped will end World War II. The only problem is that the British weather, as usual is so unpredictable, it could be the difference between success and failure and the lives of thousands of service personnel.

So, General Eisenhower (played with absolute aplomb by Malcolm Sinclair) enlists a weather expert in the shape of Group Captain James Stagg, played by Haig; an intense, somewhat gruff perfectionists, who is determined that his theories are correct. They are assisted by general dogs body, but all-round wonder woman Kay Summersby, played by Laura Rogers, who as well as being a dab hand as a mechanic, provides succour for Eisenhour in an electric relationship. Rogers is a bit of a scene-stealer at times, so good is her portrayal of this strong woman, who yearns for the affection of her superior.

The story really is absolutely fascinating and I found myself gripped from beginning to end. Couple that with some outstanding writing by Haig, which brings out every ounce of humour and some truly stunning performances from the lead cast and you’ve got a winner with this one. Highly recommended.

Pressure is running at the Ambassadors Theatre until 1 September. 

the best man

REVIEW: ★★★★ ‘Thought-provoking and thrilling’ The Best Man, The Playhouse Theatre

We seem to have resigned ourselves to the fact that using drama is the only way to fully explore our feelings about politics these days. In fact within dramatisations you can often find a seemingly more politically stable world.

That’s certainly the case with The Best Man by Gore Vidal, which premiered on Broadway in 1960 and opened at the Playhouse Theatre in the West End last week.

The play, which boasts an all-star cast, provides an interesting insight into the American political process and despite being written over 50 years ago, it feels like a contemporary and hugely cynical comment.

Set in a Philadelphia hotel room, the play follows two candidates battling to gain the presidential nomination, with Bill Russell – played by Martin Shaw – the apparent front-runner. Shaw plays the smooth and sophisticated politician with aplomb and glides through the silky dialogue utilising the infamous rule of three.

His opponent is a much more brash and obstinate self-made man, played with grit by Jeff Fahey. The pair makes an interesting match and their dubious morals and political tactics feel frighteningly realistic. As do their first ladies – the stiff and distant Alice Russell (Glynis Barber) and the noisy Mabel Cantwell (Honeysuckle Weeks) – who the chaps only really seem to consider as mandatory accouterments.

Their only real moral guidance comes from the outgoing president, played with real class by Jack Shepherd and the forthright committee chair, who is given an abundance of perfectly timed caustic wit by Maureen Lipman.

Writer Gore Vidal, who stood twice for office himself, is acutely perceptive about the dog-eat-dog world of politics and The Best Man feels like an accurate representation, with just enough artistic license to make a thought-provoking and thrilling stage show.

The Best Man is running at the Playhouse Theatre until 12 May.

Review: “An outstanding theatrical concoction with all the right ingredients”★★★★★ John Partridge Stripped

Taking to the stage on your own at an intimate venue is no mean feat. But performing a self penned show about your life, your accomplishments and your heart-breaks to an audience within touching distance is a very brave move and one only attempted by someone at the very top of their game.

And that is where John Partridge is, despite a year filled with tragedy and torment, right up there, at the top of his game.

John was first inspired to write the show entitled Stripped following the death of his mother and he has taken all of his emotion and wrapped it up into an outstanding piece of theatre, which I can honestly say is one of the best solo shows I have ever seen.

I say theatre, because like Tony Award winner Frances Ruffelle, who is world renowned for her solo shows, John Partridge doesn’t perform a mere cabaret, he takes you on a roller coaster journey through story and song, which will have you crying with laughter one minute and sobbing the next.

But it’s not just the writing and production of the show, which is of the highest quality, John Partridge also proves that there are few ahead of him when it comes to performance.

Accompanied by a two-piece band and with excellent vocal support from Emma Linders, John performs standards including “Truly Somebody” and “I Am a Chandelier” and gives a masterclass in acting through song keeping the audience completely captivated.

There is a wonderful short film to add another dimension to the piece too, which charts aspects of his life from when he first went to the Royal Ballet School as a nine-year-old and finishes with what he hopes to become as a mature man.

And his newfound sobriety is also openly talked about, but not dwelled upon. When John performs a song he wrote for his mother, it is a heart-breaking moment, but that’s what makes the intimacy of the show all the more poignant. You are invited to join John for a celebration and with some hilarious moments and uplifting song and dance numbers also included, Stripped is an outstanding theatrical concoction with all the right ingredients.

Review: “This adventure makes a perfect night out” ★★★★★ Alice’s Adventures Underground

The Vaults at Waterloo are an unusual and pretty spooky venue and as such provide the perfect backdrop for an adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, writes Nicky Sweetland.

Carroll’s beloved tale itself blends the fantastical with the sinister and Les Enfants Terribles’ Alice’s Adventures Underground goes even further to establish a world where you don’t ever feel quite comfortable but at the same time totally exhilarated.

First performed at The Vaults back in 2015 the Olivier Award nominated immersive experience has received an overhaul and introduced 10 new characters and a different layout in order to make audiences feel completely submerged within the fairytale world from the very first moment they enter.

The bar area alone is a work of art, with a black and white forest and multilevel lounge area where you can sup on one of the specially designed cocktails. In fact, you can even buy edible cocktails if you are feeling more of an ‘eat me’ rather ‘drink me’ vibe going on.

Your penchant for consuming either liquid or solid is eventually how you choose your path around the myriad of tunnels and fascinating subterranean hallways, as after a brief mooch around the study – which is filled with so much detail you could spend hours pouring over the intricate design – you are invited to fall down the rabbit hole and select your pathway into Wonderland.

The experience you then receive is a mixture of theatrical performances, theme park fun and circus tricks, but all in perfect measure, so as to ensure the pace is always maintained and the 90 minutes flies by.

You can even join in with some crazy speed dating or have a game of Flamingo croquet in the bar afterwards to make the adventure last a bit longer.

Beautifully designed and wonderfully performed this adventure makes a perfect night out.

Alice’s Adventures Underground is at The Vaults until 23 September 

Dreamgirls Original London Cast Recording set to be released

Following celebrated wins at the 2017 Olivier Awards this week: Best Actress in a Musical for Amber Riley (Effie White); and Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical for Adam J Bernard (Jimmy Early), Sonia Friedman Productions is delighted to confirm that the highly anticipated Dreamgirls Original London Cast Recording will be released by Sony Masterworks Broadway on Friday 12 May 2017 via Amazon, iTunes, and all usual channels.

This brand new live recording of hit West End musical Dreamgirls , is currently available to pre-order via Amazon .

For all digital pre-orders, one track – ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’ – will be made available as an exclusive early digital download on Friday 21 April, three weeks ahead of the album release date. Amber Riley’s show-stopping performance of this song at the Olivier Awards ceremony was broadcast on ITV1 on Tuesday 11 April and is currently available to view via itvplayer.

It has also been confirmed that ‘ Listen’, taken from the Original London Cast Recording and performed by Amber Riley and Liisi LaFontaine, will be released as a single on Friday 28 April.

Featuring iconic songs from the musical including, ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’ ‘ Listen’, ‘ I Am Changing’, ‘ One Night Only’, ‘Steppin To The Bad Side’, ‘ Move’ and title track ‘Dreamgirls’, this double-album was recorded live over four performances at the Savoy Theatre in February 2017. With no additional studio re-recordings or musical overdubs it captures the on-stage exhilaration of the Dreamgirls original London cast, 14 piece band and the audience thus retaining the live in-theatre integrity of these special performances.

Produced by Henry Krieger and mixed by Andy Bradfield, the Dreamgirls Original London Cast Recording features Olivier Award-winner Amber Riley (Best Actress in a Musical) as Effie White, Liisi LaFontaine as Deena Jones and Ibinabo Jack as Lorrell Robinson – making up the soulful singing trio ‘The Dreams’. Joe Aaron Reid plays Curtis Taylor Jr, Adam J. Bernard plays Jimmy Early (a role for which he won the Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical), Tyrone Huntley plays C.C. White, Nicholas Bailey plays Marty and Lily Frazer plays Michelle Morris. Further cast includes Michael Afemaré, Jocasta Almgill, Callum Aylott, Hugo Batista, Samara Casteallo, Chloe Chambers, Carly Mercedes Dyer, Joelle Dyson, Kimmy Edwards, Candace Furbert, Nathan Graham, Ashley Luke Lloyd, Gabriel Mokake, Siân Nathaniel-James, Sean Parkins, Kirk Patterson, Ryan Reid, Rohan Richards, Noel Samuels, Durone Stokes and Tosh Wanogho-Maud.

Henry Krieger says of the Original London Cast Recording: “It is my great pleasure to share this ‘alive’ live recording of the West End production of Dreamgirls. Producing this recording and working with our brilliant Musical Supervisor Nick Finlow and studio pros Andy Bradfield and Tris Penna, has been a dream come true. I am thrilled to share the Dreamgirls Original London Cast Recording with those who have loved the production for 35 years as well as with those who are just discovering it now.”

The long-awaited UK premiere of Dreamgirls opened in December 2016 to widespread critical acclaim, 35 years after originally opening on Broadway, and is playing to sold out houses and standing ovations every night at the Savoy Theatre, London. Dreamgirls is Directed and Choreographed by Olivier and Tony Award®-winning Casey Nicholaw ( The Book of Mormon, Disney’s Aladdin and Something Rotten!), with Set Design by Tim Hatley, Costume Design by Gregg Barnes, Lighting Design by Hugh Vanstone, Sound Design by Richard Brooker and Hair Design by Josh Marquette. The Musical Supervisor is Nick Finlow, the Orchestrator is Harold Wheeler, with Additional Material by Willie Reale.

Swarovski is delighted to be the Set and Costume Design partner for Dreamgirls , bringing to life the incredible visions of Tim Hatley and Gregg Barnes. Over one million Swarovski crystals have been incorporated into the production, adorning 275 costumes and 3 crystal curtains.

Dreamgirls transports you to a revolutionary time in American music history. Dreamgirls charts the tumultuous journey of a young female singing trio from Chicago, Illinois called ‘The Dreams’, as they learn the hard lesson that show business is as tough as it is fabulous.

With Book and Lyrics by Tom Eyen and Music by Henry Krieger, the original Broadway production ofDreamgirls , Directed and Choreographed by Michael Bennett, opened in 1981 and subsequently won six Tony Awards®. The original cast recording won two Grammy awards for Best Musical Album and Best Vocal Performance for Jennifer Holliday’s ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.’ In 2006 it was adapted into an Oscar winning motion picture starring Beyoncé Knowles, Jennifer Hudson, Eddie Murphy and Jamie Foxx.

‘Listen’ is written by Scott Cutler, Henry Krieger, Anne Preven, Beyoncé Knowles.