Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Wednesday 26th June 2013

(Picture from ellefield.blogspot.com)
 

The eagerly anticipated arrival of the Roald Dahl classic to the stage seemed to have engulfed the West End, and everybody in it, within recent months. How on earth would legendary director Sam Mendes possibly bring what many consider to be one of Roald Dahl’s greatest stories to life on stage? Well, it was my job to go and find out!

For the first time in a while, I found myself overcome with excitement ahead of my visit to the Theatre Royal Drury LaneI literally couldn’t wait to get there! But it made me think about why that was! I mean every time I go and see a show – I am always excited  – but with Charlie, there was something different!

Then I realised – I had no idea of what I was going to see!

Yes of course I knew the story, I knew the characters and I knew how things were going to work out in the end – but that was it! The production team over at Charlie had done a phenomenal job of ensuring that many of their show secrets – including Oompa Loompas, Squirrels, Elevators, and Chocolate Rooms amongst many others had not left the doors of the theatre, except in the minds of those lucky people who attended the previews.

Even on the day of Press Night itself, the official Twitter feed read: –

“The Chocolate Garden is preened and the Oompa Loompas are . . . well, wait and see!”
 
The suspense was killing me!
 
On arrival at the theatre, the atmosphere continued to build! Surrounded by hundreds of people – both young and oldin a sea of bright, in your face colours – and this was only the foyer! As I travelled further into the theatre, I took my seats (which were centre front row) and was greeted by a very simple image – a single chocolate bean, presented in a golden box. I was still none the wiser about what I was going to see!
 
What happened in the next 2 and a half hours though, was truly one of the most magical, uplifting, enchanting journeys I have ever been on! This show was definitely a case of unlocking your inner child and just enjoying the ride! Even now, four days since my visit, I still break out into a Cheshire Cat type smile every time I think about that amazing evening!
 
Now you may be expecting to tell you about my highlights and stand out moments from the show – right? WRONG!
 
For me, part of the magic of the evening was not knowing precisely what I was going to see or how these amazing visuals would be portrayed on stage. And for me to sit here now and tell you about every single moment of the show would totally ruin the joy and uplifting nature of the show for anyone who may not have seen it yet!
 
There are a couple of things that I CAN tell you though – that won’t ruin a single thing!
 
The visuals are simply stunning and the set/scenery that is used is some of the most spectacular I have ever seen on the West End stage – Charlie’s first appearance and the set that surrounds him is quite something to be seen, as well as the way that the other Golden Ticket winners are introduced – just superb! A special mention must also go out to the bed shared by Charlie’s grandparentsa stroke of genius!
 
The music – despite only maintaining one song from the original films (more on that later!) fits to each scene like a glove! I have read many reviews that have tried to compare these songs to the superb creations of Tim Minchin that are used in another Dahl smash hit “Matilda.” For me, you can’t compare the two! Yes, they are both based on Dahl stories, and the principal members of the cast are children – but the writers and aims of both shows are very different! The Charlie music team have put their own stamp on their score, just in the way that Tim Minchin did with “Matilda” – and for this Blue Eyed Girl, I am still humming several of the songs even now!
 
One final mention must go to – what for me is the person who is one of the stand out parts of the show . . .
 
(Photo from digitalspy.co.uk)
 
Douglas Hodge, for me, is one of the most brilliant parts of the show – as he has Willy Wonka down to a tee! He is just the right balance of his film predecessors Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp and commands the stage every time he steps on to it – I guess what I simply want to say is he is just phenomenal!
 
His first appearance just before the interval during “It Must Be Believed to be Seen” is absolutely captivating and from then on, you just can’t take your eyes off him until his “magical” disappearance at the end of the show! A particular highlight for me was the super speedy “Strike That! Reverse It!” where Hodge, along with fellow stand out Nigel Planer (as Grandpa Joe) more than keep up with their younger counterparts as they are introduced to the ways of the factory in a very fast manner!
 
I couldn’t end this review without mentioning the inclusion of the classic “Pure Imagination.” I was so happy to discover that this beautiful song had been kept as part of this wonderful story – and the sequence that accompanies it in the show totally sums up what the whole performance is about – magic and enchantment!
 
So I guess all I can say in the words of Mr Wonka himself is: –
 
“Hold your breath, make a wish, count to three. . . Come with me and you’ll be in a world of Pure Imagination. Take a look, and you’ll see into your imagination!”
 
Get yourself down to the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane for a one of a kind of experience that I guarantee will leave you smiling from ear to ear!
 
Signing off for now,
 
Blue Eyed Girl Xxx
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Blue Eyed Girl interviews . . . West End Fests winner Aidan Banyard

When Aidan Banyard was announced as one of the winners of the recent West End Fests competition – where participants were asked to send in videos of themselves performing in order to win the chance to perform with one of the stars at the Festival itself – a few people were left scratching their heads, myself included!

Wherever you looked on the Internet, nothing was known about this ridiculously talented man! That was until yours truly looked him up on that social marvel that is Twitter. Having just finished his HND in acting and soon to be moving to London to finish his degree – Aidan is an amateur theatre performer in every sense of the word! But this is the wonderful element of the West End Fest competition – giving new undiscovered talent the chance to share the stage with an amazing array of established stars!

I sat down with Aidan to find out more about the man behind the amazing voice . . .

Tell us a little known fact about yourself – something we wouldn’t know by looking at you.

 
Good grief! I imagine the fact I’m a wizard isn’t common knowledge 😉 No, maybe something like having studied pure acting, I have decided musical theatre isn’t the only aspect of theatre I want to do and classical theatre has really ignited my desire to do some – dare I say it – ‘serious‘ acting (having just played Aufidius in Coriolanus and not really thought this was something I’d be interested in).

How did you first become interested in the acting profession?
 
It used to be a hobby because coming from Worksop (East Midlands), the arts aren’t as strong culturally as they are down south, so I never really thought I stood a chance. It was only after a god awful job in a call centre that I figured out there wasn’t much else I could do well so I should try and make a go of it. And look where it’s got me!

Who are your favourite actors/musical theatre performers?
 
I have to say Michael Ball as a performer. He has so much charisma and his vocal control, timbre and tone is something that I aspire to. The likes of Ian Mckellen and his generation also because of their versatility and longevity of career. I also think of his ilk because of their ideologies with regards to training and repertory theatre. I have tried as much as I can to create myself a little rep theatre with regards to getting myself involved with as many performances as I can simply to build my stamina and hone my craft as much as I can without the training at the likes of RADA or ‘drama schools’ as such.

What would be your dream role to play?

Musical Theatre? Jean Valjean without a doubt. Drama? I adore the works of Pinter. In my training, I did extensive work on his ‘The Caretaker’ and absolutely adored the role of Aston so that springs to mind. But having said that, since childhood and seeing ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ I always wanted to be the Beast. To conclude… way too many to choose!

How did it feel to be chosen from so many entries to be the winner of the West End Fests competition?

Incredible! It was obviously a massive ego boost and the rush was awesome. Now having time to realise that I am in fact the only non professional that is going to be a part of the evening, I am absolutely terrified and I just hope to God I will be able to stand my ground in the performance.

What are you most looking forward to about performing at the event? And what made you choose the delightful Lauren Varnham as your duet partner?

Obviously I am looking forward to performing. But for me, the chance to be able to work with the professionals and get the chance to learn different approaches to vocal work and technique down to little tips of the trade…I simply cannot wait! I chose Lauren because of her vocal quality and the fact that I think it will suit the song. It came down to this because I was like a child in a sweet shop. I simply could not choose.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
 
I am a great proponent of my tutor at college, Andrew Proctor, who is an absolute genius! He has taught me an incredible amount and I am really searching for some amazing, philosophical piece of advice that he has given me but I think it comes down to what my whole family, from my late grandmother to my mother and aunt and my dad and my sister and brother tell me and exemplify. As long as you work your hardest, persevere your longest and put everything you have into anything that comes your way, you can’t far go wrong!

You can see Aidan and fellow competition winner Rosie Ladkin (read my interview with Rosie here) perform with the likes of Scott Garnham, Lauren Varnham, Craig Mather, Jordan Lee Davies, Sabrina Aloueche, Niamh Perry, Jamie Muscato, Katie Bernstein and many more at West End Fests which takes place on Sunday 14th July at St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden. There are tickets still available at http://www.seetickets.com/Tour/WESTENDFEST – so get buying now to ensure you don’t miss out on this spectacular event!

Signing off for now

Blue Eyed Girl Xxx

NEW ALBUM REVIEW – "Astonishing" by Lauren Varnham

I recently featured an interview with the truly marvellous Lauren Varnham. Best known for her amazing performances in “We Will Rock You“, Lauren has recently finished a run in the Chichester Festival smash hit “The Pajama Game“, alongside Hadley Fraser, Joanna Riding and Eugene McCoy.
 
One of the most exciting things to come out of Lauren’s interview – which you can read in full here – was the announcement that she would be releasing her very first Musical Theatre CD, with the support and in aid of Peterson’s Fund for Children. So needless to say, when a copy of the CD fell onto my doormat – I couldn’t wait to listen to see what Lauren and her many famous and super talented friends had come up with.
 
 
I could not think of an album that has a more appropriate name – as Lauren’s debut CD is nothing short of “Astonishing!” Lauren has truly shared a piece of her own heart on this CD, choosing songs that she loves and, with the help of MD extraordinaires Scott Morgan and Alex Parker, puts her own unique take on them in order to make them her own.
 
The choice of tracks is as varied as you could possibly imagine! However it seems very fitting that the CD should open with Queen’s “Somebody to Love” – the song that bought Lauren to the attention of many theatre fans. She performs it with such power and strength that you would think she has been a leading lady for many, many years!
 
The track listing goes on to include the brilliant “How ‘Bout A Dance” from “Bonnie and Clyde”, the classic “Someone To Watch Over Me” from “Crazy for You”, the stunning “It’s All About Me” from “The Green Room” and the breath-taking bonus track “I Was Here.”
 
For me, however, Lauren’s vocals excel when she needs to evoke powerful emotions in a listener – something which in a theatre she would be able to do by sight and sound, but here, she loses the visual aspect. Despite this, she performs with such enchanting grace and haunting beauty on title track “Astonishing” and “Send in the Clowns“, while the Scott Alan classic “Always” – performed with a little help from friends Sabrina Aloueche, Jennifer Tierney, and Rebecca Trehearn – is one of the most beautiful versions of that song I have ever heard. I only hope the man himself gets to hear what these four ridiculously talented ladies can do!
 
My personal favourite though has to be “High Enough” – her duet with the fantastic Ross Hunter. I love “Rock of Ages” – it is such a fun loving show! Having heard their version of this song many times, I can honestly say that Lauren’s vocals here blow all others out of the water! Such power, emotion and soul – I dare you not to be moved by her vocals which so beautifully match Ross Hunters’ too! Could we see Lauren at the Bourbon Room soon? I think it would suit her down to the ground!!
 
Add in absolutely phenomenal renditions of musical theatre classics “On My Own” and “Defying Gravity” – and you have a must buy album that I guarantee, you will not regret buying!
 
TRACK LISTING
1 – Somebody to Love
2 – How ‘Bout A Dance?
3 – Astonishing
4 – Somebody to Watch Over Me.
5 – On My Own
6 – Always (with Jennifer Tierney, Sabrina Aloueche and Rebecca Trehearn)
7 – Defying Gravity
8 – It’s All About Me
9 – High Enough (with Ross Hunter)
10 – Send in the Clowns
11 – Breathe
12 – I Was Here (Bonus Track)
 
Lauren is such a talented performer – she can sing, she can dance and she has one of the kindest hearts you will ever come across!
You can buy “Astonishing” from iTunes or through the charities website – http://www.petersonsfundforchildren.org/Support-Us.aspx?r=94
 
Signing off for now,
 
Blue Eyed Girl Xxx

Blue Eyed Girl interviews . . . Sofia Escobar

(Photo courtesy of www.ladyghost.com)
 

Sofia Escobar was born in Portugal and has lived in London for the past four years. She trained at the Conservatorio de Musica do Porto in Oporto and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

She has played a variety of roles in both theatre and on TV, which include Hanna Gzelak in “Scents of Light“, Professor Olivia Matos in “Morangos Com Acucar“, the Portugese voice over for Princess Jasmine in Disney’s “Aladdin” and her WhatsOnStage and Olivier Award-winning performance as Maria in “West Side Story”

However, Sofia is most recognised for her role as Christine Daae in the brilliant “Phantom of the Opera.”

I sat down with Sofia to discuss her career highlights, her personal music tastes and her ideal performance partners . . .


Tell us a little known fact about yourself – something we wouldn’t know by looking at you.

I don’t like the taste of alcohol, so I’ve never been drunk in my life! This is a very unknown fact about me 🙂

What has been the highlight of your career so far? (If you could choose just one!)

Being nominated for an Olivier award for my performance as Maria in West Side Story.

As Christine in “Phantom of the Opera” (Photo from www.lastminutetheatretickets.com)
You are best known in the UK for your award winning performances as Christine in “Phantom of the Opera” – what is the best thing about being part of such an iconic show?

It’s one of the most challenging parts in musical theatre in my opinion and at the same time, one of the most rewarding. I’ve been playing the part for almost 3 years now and the music still sends shivers up my spine. It’s an honour to be part of this show.

Are there any musical theatre performers that you haven’t worked with yet that you would like to?

So many! Can’t possibly name them all!
 
With current Phantom Marcus Lovett after their performance at the Olivier Awards 2013.
Who is your favourite artist/group outside of musical theatre to listen to and why?

It’s hard to say, I have a very diverse taste in music and listen to a bit of everything according to my mood. At the moment I’m enjoying listening to Muse, David Bowie and Loreena McKennitt.

Despite your very busy schedule, are there any shows currently in the West End that are on your MUST-SEE list?

I’m looking forward to seeing The Book of Mormon, haven’t managed to see it yet!

What advice would you give to young and upcoming theatre performers who are trying to break into the industry?

First invest in your training, its a solid base for your future career. I still go and see my teacher and I will continue to do so forever. One is always learning and improving! And then never give up, it’s a tough industry and rejection is a big part of our lives, but one has to keep trying, eventually things happen! Best of luck!

For more details about the show, as well as to purchase tickets, please visit www.thephantomoftheopera.com

Thank you so much to Sofia for taking the time to answer my questions – I can’t tell you how grateful I am!

Signing off for now,

Blue Eyed Girl Xxx
 

May Madness PHOTO BLOG – Merrily, Once, Les Mis and the Pajama Game

After another fabulous few days, I thought I would take a slightly different approach to this review. So welcome to my first ever PHOTO Blog, showing you the sights of my most recent trip to “Heaven“!
 
 

Didn’t know what to expect from “Merrily We Roll Along” but it was a really good show! It is not one I feel I need to see again – but I am glad I went to see it and would suggest you all do the same! Loved the way they put the story together – but it may have been confusing if you weren’t paying attention! Loved the songs though!


The Book of Mormon Lottery was being announced as I walked past the Prince of Wales Theatre! Absolute madness – but brilliant to watch! Can’t believe I am finally going to see this show in August!!!


GOD I LOVE THIS SHOW! Even having the understudies on for BOTH Guy and Girl – the simplistic beauty of this show absolutely shone through! Special mention to Stuart Ward who was just stunning as Guy! If you haven’t seen ONCE – get down there NOW! I enjoyed it so much that I am hoping to GO BACK this Saturday!!


Was great to finally see the new Les Mis artwork up close! Just a small part of the most brilliant day that I spent with my darling Emily Northcouldn’t ask for a better friend!


And since we were already there, we stayed at Queens for the evening show too! Sensational as always – a lot of love for this cast! Will be sad to see some of them go at June’s Cast Change!

Saturday signalled the part of the trip I was MOST EXCITED about! I was off to Chichester with lots of lovely friends to see The Pajama Game! It was such a feel good show – and I had a brilliant seat! One of the most refreshing things was to see the divine Hadley Fraser in such a different role – the last thing I saw him do on stage in-character was Javert in Les Mis! Believe me – the role of Sid Sorokin couldn’t have been more different – but it suited him down to the ground! (But more on this in my next post!!)
I hope you enjoyed just a small taste of what were a very EPIC few days! I will be posting a more detailed review of “The Pajama Gamevery soon so keep your eyes out for that too!

Signing off for now,

Blue Eyed Girl Xxx