REVIEW: ‘The King and I’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, March 2020

 

Something wonderful is happening at Milton Keynes Theatre: audiences are getting to know The King and I thanks to a sumptuous revival by The Lincoln Center Theater.

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s glorious golden age musical first opened on Broadway in 1951 and has been whistling its own happy tune ever since.

Many people have experienced this classic story of contrasting cultures through the 1956 film. Broadway star Yul Brynner played the wilful monarch and actress Deborah Kerr — assisted by ghost singer Marni Nixon — was Anna, a widowed English schoolteacher summoned to Siam (now Thailand) in the early 1860s to tutor his harem of wives and many children.

Even if you have never seen the film, you will recognise the songs. ‘I Whistle a Happy Tune’, ‘Getting to Know You’ and ‘Shall We Dance?’ are just a few of the toe-tapping tunes you can expect to find yourself humming after the show. Perfectly pitched for musical storytelling, their melodies and lyrics are thoroughly entertaining while delivering profound insights into the characters and events.

The Lincoln Center Theater production of The King and I has four Tony Awards to its name and is touring the UK following a sell-out season at the London Palladium. It is directed by Bartlett Sher, who sensitively handles the monumental clash of cultures at the heart of this period piece.

His revival stays faithful to the dated narrative of ancient royal protocol and imperial mentality. But it somehow feels timeless. And this is probably because it uses old-fashioned glamour, light humour and an operatic quality to emphasise the enduring themes of power, tolerance and progress.

 

The King and I. Bartlett Sher’s interpretation of Rodgers’ & Hammerstein’s classic

 

View Post

REVIEW: ‘Once’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, February 2020

 

Whatever your current relationship status is, winsome musical Once appealingly arranges all the right notes to remind you of everyday romance.

The show, currently engaged in its first major UK tour, is based on Irish writer-director John Carney’s critically acclaimed 2007 micro-budget indie film.

A folk-rock fairy tale, Carney’s super simple story focuses on the unlikely relationship between a heartbroken Dublin busker and a young Czech single mother. Their names are never revealed but these two unassuming characters are united by an overwhelming passion for music. They click personally and professionally, ultimately restoring each other’s faith in the power of love.

Years ago, an editor who knows her rock from her roll and was hooked on the Once soundtrack lent me the DVD. Shot in a casual, mock-documentary style, with all the heartfelt music played in situ, the film was truthful and tuneful. The cash-strapped but resolute characters, homespun quality and evocative soundtrack created a genuinely uplifting viewing experience.

It felt very real. Candid. I watched that DVD just the one time but Once seen, never forgotten. It left a lasting impression. So much so, I wondered whether this straightforward — albeit spellbinding — screenplay would adapt to the stage.

Short answer? It does.

 

Once the musical. Emma Lucia as Girl and Daniel Healy as Guy.

 

View Post

REVIEW: ‘Motown the Musical’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, July 2019

 

Dancing in your seat is unavoidable when watching Motown the Musical so prepare to be up on your feet bopping along by the end!

The performers in this exuberant jukebox musical are currently showcasing fancy footwork and versatile vocals in a two-week run at Milton Keynes Theatre. Their efforts result in an entertaining show that delivers a heartfelt tribute to Motown and everything that the revolutionary record label represented.

Detroit songwriter Berry Gordy Jr founded the Motown Records label – named after the car manufacturing city’s ‘Motor Town’ moniker – with just $800 in 1959. The former car factory worker was keen to be the best version of himself that he could be, while helping others to do the same. Accordingly, he resolved to invest in atypical musical arrangements sung by black artists and promote them to mainstream (white) audiences.

This ground-breaking gamble launched the careers of Diana Ross and the Supremes, Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations and countless other legendary performers.

As the defining sound of the 1960s and 1970s, Motown moved the world with hit after glorious hit. Considering this impressive inventory of timeless tunes, Motown the Musical could have easily been a sweet soul sleepover. However, the two-act show powers through a hit parade of songs with purpose and pizzazz so there is no need for audience or cast members to pull an all-nighter.

 

Motown the Musical. Motown the Musical. Three women in pink dresses, performing as Diana Ross and The Supremes in the theatre production, Motown the Musical. Photo by Tristram Kenton.

 

View Post

REVIEW: ‘Fame the Musical’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, June 2019

 

Fame the Musical is lighting up the stage at Milton Keynes Theatre this week, delivering a high-energy burst of nostalgia for fans of the film and inspiring a brand new generation.

This revamped 30th anniversary production, directed and choreographed by Nick Winston, brings a fresh vibrancy to the original teen musical.

Long before Glee (2009 – 2015) and High School Musical (2006), Fame mixed an intoxicating cocktail of drama, music, singing and dancing to chronicle the lives of performing arts students mastering their craft in anticipation of a big break. The film was released in 1980 and swiftly became a sensation, generating a popular television show and a smash-hit stage musical.

Currently touring the UK, the latest rendering of Fame the Musical is entertaining audiences with dynamic dance and electrifying vocals. And THAT song; that triumphant theme tune you just can’t help but remember? Well, it doesn’t have its moment centre stage until the finale so I’m still humming it now!

 

Fame the Musical. 2018/2019 UK tour.

 

View Post

REVIEW: ‘Les Misérables’ – Milton Keynes Theatre, May 2019

 

The soul-stirring lyrics in musical phenomenon Les Misérables ask “do you hear the people sing?”. Without a doubt, appreciative audiences at Milton Keynes Theatre will be responding with an exhilarated ‘yes’ and a standing ovation for the entire four-week run of the tremendous touring production.

Theatregoers storm the barricades for tickets to this show. I dreamed a dream that I would be invited to join the revolution and found myself in my own castle on a cloud at Milton Keynes Theatre’s gala press night. The theatre is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year and boasts a team of staff who are justifiably thrilled to have secured such a lengthy visit from Les Misérables – everyone in the building seems to be in awe of this stage sensation.

As one of the lucky revolutionaries invited for bubbles before the show, I was fizzing in anticipation well before the drinks were poured. Les Misérables is the longest-running musical in the West End and is consistently named as a global favourite alongside Cats and The Phantom of the Opera. Although I’m familiar with Victor Hugo’s epic nineteenth-century novel, the blockbuster films, the classic soundtrack and amateur theatre interpretations, I have never seen the London production (it opened back in 1985, long before I was even a twinkle in my father’s eye!).

Having now seen the show performed on tour in all its glory, I can fully appreciate the scale of its success. But what can I possibly say that has not already been said over the last thirty-four years? At the end of the day, Les Misérables is musical theatre perfection.

 

Les Misérables

 

View Post