Amélie is a beautiful blend of melancholy and wistful dreams

Amélie The Musical at The Other Palace
9.7front row score

Amélie The Musical is a musical interpretation of the French Romantic-Comedy film of the same name from 2001.

The Other Palace is Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s newest London theatre, hidden round the back of Victoria just a couple of minutes walk from the commercial hype of Wicked and Hamilton.

You’re almost guaranteed to see something more authentic and deeply-connecting in this lesser-known hub of new musical theatre.

The story follows the life of Amélie Poulain; a sad and disconnected protagonist who yearns for meaningful connections, yet distances herself from them. A sad case of pushing and pulling.

Amélie is, however, a dreamer. Her story is charmingly optimistic once you break through the intial veneer of melancholic distance, created inadvertently by Amélie’s parents who homeschooled her.

Audrey Brisson (Amélie) is undeniably the star of the show! She performs her role so convincingly. It is impossible not to yearn with her, and believe in her dreams.

Brisson carries the comic elements of this musical rom-com so sensitively that she manages to keep the mood light and dreamy, without cheapening the tone.

The orchestration of the show has similarities with Come From Away in that every member of the cast also plays an instrument (or many) through the performance.

Director Michael Fentiman’s dynamic staging adds a real depth to the show, instruments building on the hustle and bustle of the busier scenes – additional cast members in their own rights!

Creatively, Madeleine Girling’s set and Dik Downey’s puppets are both well worth a mention. The set makes excellent use of the space and frames the production perfectly from any seat in the house. And Dik Downey’s puppets powerfully evoke strong emotions of sadness, sympathy and yearning, whilst in other scenes break the tension with a truly comic turn.

If there were to be any element of the show which didn’t quite hit the nail for me, it would be the accents of the ensemble. Unless Paris has moved to somewhere in Eastern Europe?!

Brisson’s French accent was great – though to be fair she has a head start, being French-Canadian! But other members of the cast were less convincing, and there were moments during the performance where I thought it would be less distracting if they had stuck to their natural accent, rather than a put-on, somewhat-foreign something.

The show isn’t on for long, and I believe the run is largely sold-out, but if you can get yourself a ticket I would recommend it. Especially if you’re a dreamer – there’s a lot to connect with in this show.

Click to listen to the full Original Broadway Cast soundtrack of Amélie – The Musical here.

This production of Amélie opened at The Other Palace on 29 November 2019 and closes on 1 February 2020.

Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes, with a 20 minute interval.

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The Boy Friend is a trip back in time at the Menier Chocolate Factory

The Boy Friend at the Menier Chocolate Factory
9front row score

The Menier Chocolate Factory, by London Bridge, is one of London’s most unique theatres – a studio crafted from an old chocolate factory. The current production of The Boy Friend takes you back to a time when this place was still making chocolate.

It’s the first time Sandy Wilson‘s musical comedy has made an appearance on the London stage in over 10 years, and it continues to shine a warm, nostalgic glow on the 1920s – now, remarkably, 100 years ago!

Set in the South of France at a Finishing School for fine and proper young ladies, the musical lightly flits between characters and their secret love interests.

The show has an old-fashioned charm to it, with characters launching into song, followed formulaicly by a dance break, then a false ending to allow for a round of applause, and then into a reprise.

The cast works well as an ensemble and Matthew White’s direction makes good use of the limited space in the studio.

Talking of the space, one man from the far bank of seats needed to leave midway through the first act and was forced to walk across the stage to get to the exit. None of the cast were phased at all, but I found it a little distracting for that moment…

The set design is fantastic for such a limited space, and each of the three scenes involves some quite substantial set changes – requiring the audience to vacate the studio in the first interval.

Neat white metal gates and railings shape the stage, which plays out to two banks of seating. The orchestra is masterfully worked into the space, in something of a beachside promenade bandstand in the corner.

Sandy Wilson‘s orginal score is very catchy and stays dancing around your head as you leave the theatre, especially the title track, which makes a few appearances through the show.

One of the extra touches that you can choose to enjoy at the Menier Chocolate Factory is a themed menu in their restaurant, before or after the show. On this occasion I would recommend it, as the menu wasn’t hugely exciting and the service was a little all over the place… but it’s good to know for the future!

This production of The Boy Friend opened at the Menier Chocolate Factory on 22 November 2019 and closed on 7 March 2020.

Running Time: 2 hours 25 minutes, including 2 intervals.

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Simply The Best show to discover Tina Turner’s real life story. Told through the inimitable music of the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

9front row score

Tina Turner’s eyes watch the audience shuffling to their seats from the Roy Lichtenstein-esque show cloth. Mirror balls are hanging from the Royal Circle, poised. It’s a Thursday matinee performance, and the Aldwych Theatre is packed.

I would usually be flicking through the programme in the 15 minutes before the curtain goes up, but Tina’s programme costs £12 (incidentally that’s £2 more than her 320-page autobiography – also for sale in the foyer). So instead I’m scanning the lighting grid for clues; six towers of blinders suspended above the proscenium arch, topped with a full-width LED screen suggest a concert is on the way.

Tina Turner’s story is bitter and gritty. The show opens in Nutbush – a small rural town in western Tennessee. Tina Turner – then known as Anna Mae Bullock – is a child, disliked by her mother who leaves her with her abusive father.

The musical tracks Tina Turner’s true story – raised by her grandmother before joining her (reluctant) mother and sister in St Louis. Turner is discovered by Ike Turner, who names her, marries her (forcefully), and abuses her for almost two decades.

Her story told through her own music, Tina is played today by Hannah Jay-Allan (Swing & Dance Captain), who hits the high notes and conveys the lowest of Tina’s low moments with equal conviction.

Ashley Zhangazha’s Ike Turner is unlikable and an insecure bully. Yet his contribution to Tina’s meteoric success cannot be overlooked.

However, save for her stage name and early music, the show highlights the important contributions of her subsequent two managers – Rhonda Graam (Francesca Jackson) and Roger Davies (Oscar Batterham).

Without her Australian novice, Roger Davies, Tina Turner would have been discarded in the dustbin of woulda-coulda music history. In debt to Ike, and trapped in Vegas: Private Dancer crossed with cleaning lady.

Without her fateful three-week trip to London, to record with a band cobbled together by Davies who had wanted Tina to record What’s Love Got To Do With It, Tina might never have hit the levels of superstardom for which she’s now known.

She would also have never met her now-husband Erwin Bach (Edward Bourne), who – though sixteen years her junior – has been Tina’s partner since the late 1980s.

Mark Thompson’s staging of Tina Turner’s life story makes clever use of the space. The exposed wood floor, with doors and walls that raise from the ground, and the full-wall screen upstage managed to turn the stage from small-town church to stadium and everything in-between.

Credit also goes to Anthony Van Laast and the dancers who perform his challenging and fast-faced choreography.

I just wish all members of the audience gave the cast, other audience members and indeed Tina herself, the respect that we all deserve. From my seat in row D, I can see at least phone screens through the performance.

As you enter the Aldwych auditorium, there are amusing signs that ask audience members not to sing or dance during the show. It’s a shame they clearly need to add no Facebook scrolling or WhatsApp messaging too.

If you love the music of the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll, then get yourself a seat at the Aldwych Theatre for this raw show, that leaves you feeling unbeatable by the end.

As an amusing aside, the production’s official website would like you to know that “Tina Turner will not be performing in this production” – I wonder how many people had to ask before that made it (in bold) to the booking page?!

This production of Tina – The Musical opened at the Aldwych Theatre on 17 April 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours 45 minutes, including one 20-minute interval

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History in the remaking. SIX is a new breed of pop musical that is getting new audiences excited about theatre and history.

8.7front row score

Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss‘ retelling of the old Divorced-Beheaded-Died-Devorced-Beheaded-Survived trope, shows the power of musical theatre in reframing a story we think we all know.

SIX is a 75-minute girl power concert that lets Henry VIII’s six wives tell their own stories for the first time.

The musical was originally written by Marolow and Moss for the Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society to take to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017.

It’s fair to say that it was seen by the right people, and it has absolutely taken off since then and is enjoying a sell-out run, a UK Tour as well as international runs in the States and Australia.

The music is distinctively poppy and I can see certain songs (such as Anne Boleyn’s Sorry, Not Sorry) becoming very successful outside of the show as well.

The six Queens were all extremely dynamic and the tempo continued to punch at full throttle for the whole “concert”.

Millie O’Connell (Anne Boleyn) caught my attention in particular; Boleyn is given some of the best moments in the show – probably warranted as she’s probably the most individually well-known of Henry’s wives.

Though, as Catherine Parr (Maiya Quansah-Breed) points out, whilst the premise of the show does without the King himself, no one would know who these six ladies were if it weren’t for him.

I saw Courtney Stapleton (Alternate Jane Seymour & Catherine Parr) as Jane Seymour and she was also very good.

Disappointingly, the Programme (which costs in the region of £1 a page…), is not up to date so the actress who performed the role of Anna of Cleves does not get a mention.

The show is turning out to be one of the Arts Theatre’s most successful productions and they keep extending the current run.

The theatre matches the show really well; Emma Bailey’s pop-rock concert staging fits the space and gives the Queens enough space to strut their stuff, whilst keeping the energy from leaking away.

And credit is most certainly due to Carrie-Anne Ingrouille for her hip and snappy choreography – she gives the Queens their own personal sass and style, whilst nailing the ensemble pieces, effectively emulating the huge arena concerts of the Spice Girls.

The result is a punchy pop concert that is both educational and entertaining in equal measures.

Thank goodness Kenny Wax, Andy & Wendy Barnes and George Stiles (Producers) decided to throw their expertise and weight behind this rule-breaking student show – it deserves every success!

This production of SIX opened at the Norwich Playhouse on 11th July 2018. SIX is currently playing at the Arts Theatre until 5th July 2020.

Running Time: 75 minutes, without an interval.

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