Well hello fellow Theatre lovers! I hope you are all well on what, certainly in Birmingham, is a very beautiful April afternoon!
If you have been following my tweets and recent posts, you will know that I was recently in London for a West End break which I called my 8 DAYS OF HEAVEN! That’s right, I was seeing 10 shows in 8 days – and I still, even over a week after coming home, can’t wipe the smile off my face when I think about it!
It was one of, if not the best trip I have ever had to London. Whether it was the length of time I was there, or just the experiences that I had, there was definitely something special about this trip!
It all started – and would you expect any less – with a visit to my spiritual home, Her Majesty’s Theatre, to see The Phantom of the Opera.
Since discovering the phenomenal talent and all round wonderfulness that is Marcus Lovett (more on him later!), it has been a personal mission of mine to see him perform on stage with the breathtakingly talented Anna O’Byrne (who recently sat down for an interview with me which you can read here.) Everyone I had spoken to who had seen them together had told me how utterly sensational they were as a pairing and I thought that tonight would finally be the night that I could witness this for myself!
Sadly this was not to be the case as Marcus was on holiday! Never mind – just another reason for a yet another visit! Anyway, what it meant was that I would have the privilege and honour of seeing three new performers in the lead roles for the very first time: –
I always relish the chance to see how different performers interpret the characters that I have come to love so much – and the fact that I would finally see Anna perform live after hearing her on my Love Never Dies DVD SO MANY times was just the icing on the cake!
My view from the Dress Circle
And I have to say that not only was I blown away by the whole show – no surprise there! – I was so impressed by all three leads. Simon Shorten was such a unique Phantom. He was able to mix the powerful nature of the deformed composer with the touching and emotional side of a lost soul with great ease – I am not ashamed to say that his Final Lair had me in tears! It was also astonishing to discover later on, through the wonder of Twitter, that Simon’s performances over that week had been his first in 8 months as the Phantom – WOW! This guy has got some talent!
It was also the first time I would be seeing Simon Thomas as Raoul. His performance was very good – and he was able to match Simon Shorten in vocal ability at every point of this wonderful score (something that for me is essential in a good Raoul!) He complimented his on-stage arch enemy and love interest really well, as he performed with power, precision and a command over the stage.
Then there was the majestic Anna O’Byrne – what can I say about this beautiful lady? Her performance as Christine was nothing short of absolute perfection for me! I had chills down my spine every time she sang – and in particular, her “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” made the hairs on my arms stand on end, and brought tears to my eyes! Just beautiful! One of the things that I admire about Anna, from an acting perspective too, is that even when she was not the focus of a scene, she would still be fully in the moment. Whether it was the way she stood, or the facial expression she used, you totally believed that she was in the middle of this tormented relationship between the Phantom and Raoul. If you have not seen this lady perform, you are missing out on an absolute sensation! Get down to Her Majesty’s NOW!!
Can you believe this was only Day 1? 🙂
Two very diverse shows would make up my second day in the Capital. Firstly, a new theatre and a new show for me, as I headed to the Apollo Theatre to see the National Theatre production of “Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time“
The only previous NT production I have had the privilege of seeing was the beautiful “War Horse” – but this production fascinated me! I had read the book quite a while back and found it to be one of the most unique books I had ever come across. A young autistic boy tells us of his journey from finding his neighbour’s dead dog in the garden, to shocking revelations about his family that would change his life forever. I won’t lie, it was a difficult read – but I was still totally fascinated and engrossed by the story.
I had also heard from fabulous Twitter pal Sophie Waghorn, who had seen the production before it transferred to the Apollo, how brilliant this version of the story was. My curiosity definitely got the better of me, and so my ticket was booked. The biggest question I had was how could the producers of this show take a totally unique story such as Curious Incident and transfer it to the stage without losing the impact of the original?
When I took my seat, I was greeted by the first part of my answer to this question.
A very “straight” set but also a simple one. Little to no props, with a series of small blocks being all that was used to distinguish between different places in the story at the start. My first thought – “is that all they are going to use?”
But as the play progressed, things became a lot clearer! We also discovered that the screen at the back could also be used in a number of ways, including as a chalk-board and a set of escalators on the London Underground! A number of doors in the sides of the set also allowed additional props to be used, and we even had the front of the stage “disappear” for one of the more dramatic moments in the play.
I can honestly say this is one of the cleverest plays I have ever seen! From start to finish, as with the book, I felt totally involved in the story and the way in which such a small ensemble (who sat on the side of the stage throughout the show, while also acting as stage crew and “flying” assistants) and a couple of furry friends managed to present such a heart warming story was truly a special thing to witness!
A huge mention and special shout out must go to Luke Treadaway in the lead role. I can’t imagine the preparation he must have gone through to prepare for a role such as this, but his performance was outstanding! Never once did he even blink or breathe out of place as he commanded the stage and the attention of everyone in the theatre – watch out for this guy, he’s going to be a MAJOR star!!
After leaving the Apollo, I met up with my wonderful friend Ali – and we headed over to The Strand to visit the Adelphi Theatre for the evening performance of The Bodyguard.
The Adelphi seems to be a regular hang-out for me and Ali as the last time we were here, it was to see the brilliant Sweeney Todd. However The Bodyguard was definitely a million miles away from that Demon Barber! I must say a huge thank you to Ali as she was kind enough to go and get us day-seats to this show, which meant we would be sitting FRONT ROW, right in front of the central walkway!
I can’t recommend The Bodyguard enough – what a brilliant show! And you must not think that you have to be a Whitney fan to enjoy this performance! The whole cast performs with such passion and power that there is no way that you can not enjoy yourself. The amount of talent you see in front of you is second to none and you are certainly taken on an emotional rollercoaster before reaching the feel-good finale!
I was very lucky, and quite frankly hugely honoured, to be able to see Heather Headley at this performance. I had heard so much about her talent since the show opened at the end of 2012, as well as seeing her on a number of TV shows, but to see her LIVE was something that was truly sensational. She has some of the greatest vocals I have EVER heard and she sings with such emotion and power, that she had moved me to absolute floods of tears by the end of Act One. And when she started to sing “I Will Always Love You”? WOW, just WOW! You haven’t lived until you have heard Heather sing it – better than Whitney? Quite possibly!!!
Lloyd Owen was totally well suited to the part of Frank Farmer (aka The Bodyguard) and his on-stage chemistry with Heather is absolute magic. As an audience member, you really want to see them together and are willing them on through their many ups and downs. Lloyd also isn’t too bad of a “singer” either – watch out for his special tribute to the country version of the show’s signature song!
An added bonus of sitting front and centre was definitely that I was able to sing with Heather Headley during the Finale – now that was definitely a moment I will remember for many years to come! I won’t say how I did it, as I don’t want to ruin the surprise!! Heather even said, when I met her at Stage Door post show that I did really well with my singing! (Although I don’t think I will give up my day job JUST yet – ha ha!)
With Heather Headley (top) and Lloyd Owen (bottom)
Adelphi Stage Door
After a very manic first two days, day 3 of my trip was set to be even more special than the first two! I had been invited by Katy Treharne to come down and write an exclusive backstage feature about my day at her charity concert West End Has Faith (which you can read here) It was a truly special day for me, as it allowed me to do something I had never done before while also experiencing such a truly heart-warming event. Look out for more of these wonderful events in future @WestEndHasFaith
Day 4 – and it was time to ROCK!!!
I love this show so much – if you want a fun, silly night out with some great music and a very talented cast, you can’t go wrong with Rock of Ages! I had seen the show twice before, but there many different factors for me on this visit. A new theatre – I had previously seen the show up at The Shaftesbury and this would be my first visit to the Garrick. A new cast – on my previous visits, I had been very lucky to see the original cast of the show, but since my last visit, Cast Change had bought many new faces onto the Sunset Strip, as well as keeping hold of some old faces too!
I was also bringing a friend with me who had never seen the show before – so I had everything crossed that she would like it! (Bless her, before we went, she said to me “Will you take me to Stage Door after to meet the cast? Like you always do!” Don’t have to ask me twice – ha ha!)
As we took our seats, it was my first chance to take a look at a very familiar set in a brand new auditorium.
I had been made aware by friends of some changes to the set-up of key scenes, such as Regina’s roof-top protest and the glitter cannon during the Finale, and I assumed this had to be due to the smaller venue. But for me, the show lost none of it’s sparkle as a result!
Rock of Ages was as good as I remembered it – and then some! This show has a way of making me smile like a Cheshire Cat and this evening was no different. Tim Driesen (Drew) and Cordelia Farnworth (Sherrie) lead the cast – and considering they were both understudies/alternates, absolutely blew me away with their phenomenal voices. Simon Lipkin (Lonny) continues to be an absolute genius in his narrator extraordinaire role, and his interactions with new Dennis Dan Fletcher were some of the big highlights for me. I must also mention the truly marvellous Sandy Moffat, who steals the show as Franz for me. That man is just so funny and you totally feel for him in all the interactions with his strict father Hertz (played once again superbly by Rohan Tickell). I defy you NOT to be laughing your socks off by the end of “Hit Me With Your Best Shot!”
Me with Tim Driesen (Drew)
The Garrick Theatre Stage Door
In fact, the whole cast, from leads right through the Ensemble, are one of the most talented groups I have ever seen perform on a West End Stage. They sing, dance, jump around, and change costumes what seems like every 30 seconds – and they don’t miss a beat when performing a kick-ass rock song! Much love to them all!
And you’ll all be pleased to know that my friend – a first time ROAdie absolutely LOVED it! She couldn’t stop laughing, sang along to most of the words, and was dancing away with me during the Finale. I made sure she also had the full Stage Door experience – and I must thank all the cats members who signed her programme and took photos with her – she was a very happy girl!!!
Day 5 – and I was over halfway through my trip – BOO!!!!!!!!!!! But I decided to console myself with a very classy day, starting over at the Aldwych Theatre with “Top Hat.” I must praise this show for being one of a very small number to do Tuesday matinees! I had originally thought I wouldn’t be able to see this show during this trip until I found this out!
Yet again, I was seeing a new cast compared to my last visit to the show – and as I arrived in the foyer, I was VERY pleased to see that the full cast would be performing that afternoon – YAY!
And yet again (sorry to repeat myself!), I was very lucky to be sitting on the Front Row!
The thing I love about this show so much is how “classy” it is! My Nan – who is now well into her 80s – used to make me watch a lot of Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musicals when I was younger, so songs such as “Puttin On the Ritz” and “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” have been a part of my life for as long as I could remember! I first saw the show last year when the cast was lead by the very talented Tom Chambers and just adored the whole show! I am so pleased to say though that this new cast made me fall in love with the show EVEN MORE!!!
Gavin Lee (Jerry) has all the talent needed to step into the shoes of the legend that is Fred Astaire. He oozes charisma, and performs with such finesse and style that it is hard not to fall in love with his performance. That smile could charm any woman’s heart – it certainly did mine 🙂 Kristen Beth Williams is also stunningly beautiful in the role of Dale. She is more than a match for Gavin Lee’s Jerry and the chemistry that they have together is just dynamite!
I must give a special shout-out though to the extremely talented and versatile Alex Gaumond. I have been a HUGE supporter of Alex ever since I first saw him on the original UK Tour of We Will Rock You here in Birmingham. I have gone on to see him in Legally Blonde and the London production of We Will Rock You, as well as performing his own material as part of Ramin Karimloo’s 2012 UK Tour. But his performance as Alberto Beddini was just genius! He was so funny in this role, one that was so different for him, and he did it with style! His interactions with Gavin and Kristen were also just brilliant!
Me with Alex Gaumond (top) and Gavin Lee (bottom)
Aldwych Theatre Stage Door
As with all the shows I have mentioned so far, “Top Hat” is also a show that I would highly recommend for a day out, or glamorous evening in London.
So that’s Part 1 of my amazing trip – mad, isn’t it?
Still to come in Part 2 – Singin in the Rain, A Chorus Line, my new love for Once, a brief chat with marvellous Marcus Lovett, James McAvoy takes on Shakespeare, a chance meeting with the lovely Gary Albert Hughes and Les Mis brings the curtain down on my amazing trip!
Signing off for now,
Blue Eyed Girl Xxx