30th Sep2015

Kinky Boots (Theatre)

by timbaros

Prod_12It’s a huge hit on Broadway and it’s now finally opened in London. ‘Kinky Boots’ is in the house!

If the name rings a bell, it’s because ‘Kinky Boots’ was a 2005 film about a struggling shoe factory about to go out of business until they change their product line and start making boots that are sexy, and, literally, not worn by the everyday woman. The musical version of ‘Kinky Boots’ follows the same story, but it’s got a book by Harvey Fierstein (Torch Song Trilogy and La Cage Aux Folles – books he also wrote), music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper (‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’), and choreography by Jerry Mitchell (The Full Monty and Hairspray). That’s a lot of power and muscle behind a show, and it works, to a degree. (The show won six Tony Awards).

Killian Donnelly (the breakout star of The Commitments and co-star of Memphis) easily and comfortably plays Charlie Price, whose late father leaves him his shoe factory in Northhampton. It’s losing money, and Price might be forced to close it down, something that would make his London-bound fiancee Nicola (Amy Ross) happy. By chance, he comes to the aid of a drag queen who is being beaten up in a park. The Drag queen, Lola, played very ably and loudly by Matt Henry, is grateful to Price for saving him. But their meeting turns into a business relationship where Lola plants the idea into Price’s head to have his factory make Kinky Boots – boots for him and his fellow drag queens – boots that are big, flashy and preferably red! And eventually Lola gives up her life (and leaves her fellow drag queens) in London to go up north to help in the factory to lead in the design of some Kinky Boots. But he’s not too accepted in a town and factory where no drag queen has walked in heels before. Even though he’s dressed as a man, some of the other workers make fun of him, especially Don (Jamie Braughan), who challenges Lola to a boxing match. Of course, conflict and arguments take place between Price and Lola, and Lola decides that she’s had enough of the northerners and heads back down to London. Meanwhile, Price is being wooed by one his employees – Lauren (Amy Lennox – wonderful) But it’s bad timing as Price is about to show his latest models of shoes at a Milan fashion show – he’s got no Lola, no models, and tons of shoes that need to be worn.

And you can only guess what will happen next. To say this show is predictable is an understatement. While there are no surprises in the plot, it’s the music that raises the show up a notch or two. Lauper has injected her personality into songs that only she can write – when all the actors sing ‘Everybody Say Yeah’ – it’s a song that will stick in your head for the rest of the night – in a good way. And of course each actor has their own song moment – Donnelly sings his heart out in ‘Soul of a Man’ while Lola is given ‘Hold Me In Your Heart’ – a song that highlights his very deep baritone voice in a soulful way (it sounds a bit like the song in Dreamgirls – ‘And I am Telling you I’m not Going.’ If there’s one person who steals the show it’s Lennox – she’s hysterical in the role of Price’s colleague who pines for him while he’s focused on keeping the business afloat. Production values are fine – the set morphs from factory to the fashion show. For me it’s the drag queens that make this show good – their sparkling clothing and sass and attitude and sequins are just right – for without them ‘Kinky Boots’ wouldn’t be so Kinky at all.

01st Nov2014

Memphis the Musical – Theatre

by timbaros

Memphis, 2014, Credit: Johan Persson/Memphis was the birthplace of, and a magnet for, so many world famous musicians and singers, including Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Percy Sledge and Wilson Pickett. It is also the place where Elvis Presley lived, and died. Memphis is so synonymous with music that it’s only fitting that a musical would come along with the same name – Memphis.

Just opened at the Shaftsbury Theatre in London’s West End, Memphis the Musical is a look at a time when Memphis the city was not what it is today – sixty years ago it was very very different. Blacks were still seen as second class citizens, nightclubs and cinemas were racially segregated, and inter-racial marriage was illegal. Radio stations also discriminated – each played music for a specific audience, and racial integration was purely not allowed. This is explored in Memphis the Musical when white musician Huey (Killian Donnelly) falls in love with black female singer Felicia (Beverly Knight).

Huey works as a stock boy in a department store. He visits Delray’s – a black rock and roll bar where he is the only white person – and falls in love with the music, as well as taking a shine to Felicia, who sings at the club her brother Delray (Rolan Bell) owns. Back at the store Huey asks his boss if he can play music over the store’s loudspeakers. His boss agrees, and soon enough customers like what they hear and buy the records in droves. But the boss doesn’t like the fact that Huey played black music, so he gets fired.

Having realized that he really loves this music, Huey applies for a job as a DJ at various radio stations in town but at one station he sneaks into the DJ booth and plays the music that he thinks people want to hear – the black music. The music, and him, are a hit, and his romance with Felicia heats up, much to the dismay of Delray, and Huey’s racist mother Gladys (Claire Machin).
Huey wants to play Felicia’s first song at his radio station, but before he is able to he gets into a row with his mom, and the record breaks, and Felicia runs out and they realize that keeping their relationship together is going to be difficult. Things get more complicated for them when they are seen kissing by a group of white men, who proceed to beat them up, rendering Felicia’s face very bloody. It’s expected that everything works out between them and they live happily ever after. But it’s the journey of getting to the expected that makes Memphis the Musical worth watching.

From the art deco department store to Huey’s living room, to the interiors of Delray’s to the lone radio DJ booth on stage – it’s a set that works very well on the small stage. The backup dancers do their damndest to entertain us – and they do. There’s lots of them on stage at the same time, and it’s amazing that they don’t hit each other while swinging their arms and legs. And it wouldn’t be a very good musical without the excellent music, done by Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan, who collaborated with Joe DiPietro. Both Bryan and DiPietro won Tony Awards for this show’s music when it premiered first on Broadway in 2010. However, it’s Knight who gets top billing, and she doesn’t disappoint. Knight, who last year starred in the West End’s Bodyguard, shows us here that she has perhaps found another calling – from being a top pop singer to being West End’s newest diva. This girl can sing! The stage is hers and hers alone. She is able to belt out blues, rock and gospel and still amaze. Donnelly, who was the only good thing in the very dull The Commitments, looks very comfortable in his role as Huey. But he appears to be just going through the motions. Sure he can sing the socks off of us, but he looks like he’s not making much of an effort. He’s a natural on stage but he needs to be more than that, he needs to take it a few notches higher. But at the end of the day it’s Knight’s show, so go see and hear the West End’s newest Diva – Beverly Knight – she’s fabulous.

28th Nov2013

The Commitments – Theatre

by timbaros

images-34First it was a book. Then it was a movie. Now The Commitments is a West End show.

At the illustrious and very central Palace Theatre, (former home to Les Miserables and Priscilla Queen of the Desert), the Commitment’s story is similar to the movie, but of course is confined to the stage. It is a very basic story at that: one man attempts to form a band, several characters audition, members are selected, various shows are performed, controversy erupts in the group when one member leaves, they form back together, and give one rousing performance at the end of the show. And that is pretty much it.

Working from a barely there book by Roddy Doyle, whose name is above the title, Jimmy (Denis Grindel, making his West End debut) is the impressario who gets the idea to form an all Irish band in 1980’s Dublin, a band to primarily sing soul music. He is lucky to find Deco (Killian Donnelly, who is an amazing singer), and then the rest of the members fall into place, including motorcycle riding ladies man Joey (a very witty and perfectly cast Ben Fox).

With great sets, including a two-story tenement house, good visuals (supermarket/launderette and Miami Vice Club signs, as well as the requisite strobe lighting effects), a young and energetic cast successfully sings soul music to the audience. Songs such as Papa Was a Rolling Stone, Knock on Wood, and I can’t get no Satisfaction are brought back to life on stage. But it is when Donnelly opens up his mouth and sings, the audience sits up and takes notice – they are mesmerized. He has a voice so unique and soulful that even when he is eating chips on  whilst singing at the same time it still sounds incredible. When Donnelly sings I’m a Midnight Mover, you wish that the show was all about him and him alone. Donnelly, whose previous theatre credits include Billy Elliott, Phantom of the Opera, and playing Combeferre in the Les Miserables film, is the true star of the show. While Grindel does a fine job in his debut, The Commitments belong to Donnelly. While the back up trio of female singers are quite good and pretty and bubbly, no one else, including Donnelly, in the band of 10, we really get to know. The cast is too big. And this is the problem with the Commitments – it has a weak storyline, some jokes that fall flat, and thinly drawn characters. And we have all seen it done before – the cast orders the audience to get on their feet at the end of the show for the last two numbers. A ploy for a sure thing standing ovation? Probably. It’s a gimmick that is all too common in the Jukebox style musicals now playing in the West End (The Bodyguard, Flashdance, even the dreadful Viva Forever). Is the Commitments recommended? Yes, purely to enjoy the soulful voice of Donnelly. His voice is absolutely amazing.

Review originally published by The American and copyright Blue Edge Publishing Ltd.