Madcap musical Wonderland is currently whisking visitors to Milton Keynes Theatre off on a magical adventure. Now, call me mad, but this contemporary creation – which reflects aspects of modern day life while cleverly capturing the peculiar charm of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass – managed to speak to both the girl I used to be and the woman I hope to become.

We all have days when thoughts of escaping the practicalities of living in the real world for a while consume us. We imagine how wonderful it would be to flee our humdrum existence, abandon our responsibilities and free ourselves from the shackles of expectation… Still, we don’t all cope with days like this by following a random rabbit and ending up in a kooky kingdom. Of course, as we all know, Alice does follow that rabbit. She follows him when he slips down a rabbit hole and finds herself visiting a realm which is home to the strangely talkative White Rabbit and a host of curious characters including the Mad Hatter, Caterpillar, Cheshire Cat, March Hare and the pompous Queen of Hearts.

An entertaining experience from the start, Wonderland irrefutably illustrates that every adventure requires a first step and insists we are all capable of taking that step – no matter who we are or how grown up we may consider ourselves to be. Starring West End sensation Kerry Ellis, it’s essentially a loud and proud exploration of who we are and who we want to be.

 

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Acclaimed choreographer and theatre/television director Dame Gillian Lynne is a legendary figure in the arts. With a career spanning more than 70 years, her achievements include being a ballerina with Sadler’s Wells Ballet (now The Royal Ballet), performing centre stage as the London Palladium’s lead dancer and choreographing some of the world’s most iconic musicals.

Georgina Butler made the most of an opportunity to converse with the multi-award-winning dance superstar…

 

Gillian Lynne is a household name – a VIP in the world of dance and theatre. Her CV is packed with soloist roles as a ballerina; guest appearances as a dancer on the stage and on television; and countless productions on which she has worked her magic as an internationally sought-after director and choreographer.

Joining the Ballet Guild in 1942, aged 16, marked the beginning of Gillian’s career as a professional dancer. By chance, Ninette de Valois, the founder of Sadler’s Wells Ballet (which later became The Royal Ballet), saw Gillian dancing as Odette in Ballet Guild’s production of Swan Lake and immediately decided she wanted the talented young artist in her company. When Gillian accepted this invitation, she was the first dancer to join Sadler’s Wells Ballet who had not studied at its prestigious feeder school (now The Royal Ballet School). Possessing a gift for dancing; a desire to follow her dreams; and a tenacious work ethic, Gillian flourished as a ballerina and was later an instant success at the London Palladium and in subsequent roles in the West End.

Perhaps most famous for her ground-breaking choreography in Cats and The Phantom of the Opera (both with Andrew Lloyd Webber), Gillian has choreographed or directed over 60 productions in the West End and on Broadway. These productions have won numerous accolades and Gillian has been presented with multiple awards, including two Olivier Awards – one an Award for Outstanding Achievement for her choreography of Cats in 1981, the other a Lifetime Achievement ‘Special’ Olivier presented to her in 2013.

 

 

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There is something about men in suits who sashay in sequence while belting out a parade of pop hits. Perhaps it is their “silhouettes” or each individual’s ability to “walk like a man”, but the quartet starring in Jersey Boys at Milton Keynes Theatre seem too good to be true as they side-step, sway and strut behind their microphone stands.

Jersey Boys has been seen by over 19 million people worldwide and is the winner of 55 major awards. Firmly established as one of the West End’s longest running and most popular shows, the original London production opened in 2008. Seven years on and it continues to play in the capital, currently raising the roof of The Piccadilly Theatre. Understandably, theatregoers have been clamouring for tickets to see the touring production during its current run here in the new city.

The jukebox musical is the true story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. The world loved their songs but, until this show, knew very little about the lives of the blue-collar lads who sang them. Divulging the secrets of a 40 year friendship, Jersey Boys recounts the experiences of four sons of Italian immigrants who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in New Jersey.

 

Jersey Boys

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FELINE FUN AT SMASH-HIT MUSICAL

 

Miaow! The claws were out when it was announced that record-breaking musical Cats would be stopping off at Milton Keynes Theatre on tour, with fans clamouring to book for the show. Fortunately, I got my paws on a ticket and – once seated in the auditorium – felt like the proverbial cat that got the cream.

This show combines words, music, dance, costumes and design for an evening of pure purrfection. Composed by musical theatre impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cats is based on ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’, a collection of light verse by T.S. Eliot (published in 1939). The show first opened in the West End in 1981 and enjoyed a phenomenal twenty-one year run (with a similarly impressive eighteen years on Broadway), smashing records and winning awards.

This remarkable musical tells the story of a tribe of felines, known as the ‘Jellicles’. We join them on the night of ‘the Jellicle choice’ – deciding which cat will rise to the Heaviside Layer to be reborn. The set throughout is a junkyard – a playground for the tribe. Instantly recognisable items spill over the side of the stage, including tin cans (Heinz Macaroni, Princes Peaches, Princes Prunes, Go Cat) and egg boxes.

 

 

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BIG HAIR, BIG HEART – This swinging ’60s show has it all

 

“If you can spray it and lock it, you can take off in a rocket” – trills an enigmatic TV host in the latest musical to take to the stage at MK Theatre – and Hairspray certainly delivers a powerful performance.

Amidst a stage bathed in a pink glow, we are welcomed to the ’60s (June 1962 to be precise) in Baltimore, Maryland.

Here, we follow the bold journey taken by a larger-than-life high school student whose sheer passion for dance sees her going all out to fulfil her dream to star on local teenage dance television programme, The Corny Collins Show (based on the real-life TV hit, The Buddy Deane Show).

The curtain rises as “pleasantly plump” Tracy Turnblad (Italia Conti graduate Freya Sutton, making her professional theatre debut) muses about her fondness for her hometown, her love of dancing and her desire to be famous.

Tracy is all about big – big hair, big personality and big heart – she is open to new ideas and new styles.

 

Hairspray 'Good Morning Baltimore'

 

At school she gets a warning about her inappropriate hair height and her openness to others sees her embrace everyone (from “the rats on the street” to “the flasher who lives next door” and “the bum on his bar room stool”).

She is the perfect heroine, then, for this musical.

Hairspray is a social commentary of the injustices of sections of American society in the 1960s. Through the toe-tapping song and dance numbers, the serious issues of racism, “size-ism” and difference are addressed.

The UK musical opened in the West End in October 2007, picking up a record-setting eleven Olivier Award nominations, winning Best Musical, as well as acting awards for Best Actor and Best Actress in a musical (Michael Ball as Edna and newcomer Leanne Jones as Tracy).

Now on its second national tour, Hairspray continues to draw in excited and enthusiastic audiences. The auditorium at Milton Keynes Theatre was entranced from the moment Act 1 began. View Post