Posts Tagged ‘Empire Theatre’

Review – Anything Goes – Sheffield Theaters at New Wimbledon Theater

February 6, 2015

There was little to excite me about the revival of Anything Goes that was wending its way to the New Wimbledon theater for a late winter run. I’ve seen so much watery tat on stage there that, despite the fact it’s closer to my flat than any other full size house, I just automatically assume that anything they have there is going to be poor. I mean, it’s like they don’t really use a quality filter before they accept a booking (Russian State Ballet’s Swan Lake?), as if they think that living in Wimbledon kills people’s critical faculties and all they need to do is stick stuff on a stage and people will come look. You wonder, really, in the age of movie and TVs, how this could possibly work as a business model, but for profit theater is a bit of a mystery to me.

But then a sneaky thing happened, with word of mouth creeping in to change my mind. First, I got a direct, personal recommendation from TootingGareth, then PaulinLondon and JohnnyFox gave it a raving AudioBoo. I really trust these guys’ judgments, and Gareth apparently has a solid understanding of what I like from my musical theater: excellent productions with great dancing and songs you sing as you walk out the door. And this, I’m pleased to say, is a musical that ticks everything on my list. The talent they’ve recruited are snappy and professional, the costumes and set design are swoony, and they just went wild with the choreography. I was unable to tear my eyes away from the juicy delights in front of me: it was like the most exquisite of buffets, with every table featuring a different collection of sweet or succulent dishes. And it wasn’t just the “main courses” (“Anything Goes,” “Blow Gabriel Blow”) that were good – the forgettable “side dishes” had been transformed into memorable, exciting numbers that did far more than provide filler between dialogue. I mean, every time I hear “Gypsy In Me” on my copy of the soundtrack, I cringe a little, but with a scene stealing comic as Sir Evelyn (Stephen Matthews) bullfighting with Reno Sweeney (Debbie Kurup), suddenly the whole number rose to a level I never thought possible. It was funny, it was clever, it was engaging, it wriggled and jiggled, it crackled and popped. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing: it was the National Gallery, it was Garbo’s salary, it was Ovaltine. And before it had always been filler. Wow.

I’m going to do my best to do a song my song review of this at some stage – oh, the yellow loungers the Sweeney girls reclined on while the crew danced the “Sailor’s Chanty!” – the pool the chorines “swam” out of on stage for the little dream ballet number! – but instead I’m going to pass on the great good news: this show is going on tour all over the UK, to Bristol, Torquay, Belfast, Cardiff, Aberdeen, and all sorts of different spots. It might even come back for a little time on the West End. And me, I’m going to make a road trip or two to see it, possibly to Southhampton and definitely to Woking. Yep, it’s that good. And if you like musicals, this is one production you won’t want to miss.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, February 4, 2015. It closes in Wimbledon on February 7. Tour dates follow.)

Anything Goes Tour Dates
9 – 14 February
Aylesbury Waterside Theatre
16 – 21 February
Regent Theatre, Stoke on Trent
23 – 28 February
The Churchill Theatre, Bromley
3 – 7 March
Alhambra Theatre, Bradford
9 – 14 March
New Theatre, Hull
16 – 21 March
Empire, Liverpool
23 – 28 March
Congress, Eastbourne
30 March – 4 April
Mayflower Theatre, Southampton
6 – 18 April
Opera House, Manchester
20 – 25 April
Kings theatre, Glasgow
27 April – 2 May
Orchard Theatre, Dartford
11 – 16 May
Royal & Derngate, Northampton
18 – 23 May
Swan Theatre, High Wycombe
25 – 30 May
Grand Opera House, Belfast
1 – 6 June
Grand Opera House, York
8 – 13 June
Theatre Royal Plymouth
15 – 20 June
Theatre Royal, Nottingham
22 – 27 June
Playhouse, Edinburgh
30 June – 4 July
Grand Theatre, Leeds
6 – 11 July
New Theatre, Cardiff
13 – 18 July
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton
20 – 25 July
His Majesty’s, Aberdeen
3 – 8 August
Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin
10 – 15 August
Princess Theatre, Torquay
17 – 22 August
Pavilion Theatre, Bournemouth
31 August – 5 September
New Victoria Theatre, Woking
7 – 12 September
New Theatre, Oxford
14 – 19 September
Hippodrome, Birmingham
21 – 26 September
Milton Keynes Theatre, Milton Keynes
28 September – 3 October
Empire, Sunderland
5 – 10 October
Hippodrome, Bristol

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Mini-review – Sleeping Beauty – Empire Theatre, Eden Court, Inverness

January 1, 2014

For those of you who know anything about my personal life, it’s no surprise that I went to Inverness over Christmas. Given the season, I was interested in seeing what was on at the Eden Court. To my pleasure, it was Sleeping Beauty, a panto I had never seen before. Hurray! Two tickets were secured for the Christmas Eve matinee (for under 15 quid each), and we were in!

Of all of the pantos I’ve seen this year, none of them compared to the glamor and glitz of the Eden Court’s show. The good fairy seemed sequined from head to toe in silk chiffon, the dame (Nanny Knot) must have had eight costume changes, all of which were fully developed and quite funny (the first one tartan with poofy sleeves shaped like bagpipes – hysterical!), and the sets may have had bright colors but they were very professionally done. My understanding is that Scotland goes for a lot more social and cultural investment than England does, and in this production you could see the money.

I didn’t have a feeling of the history of this show, like I do for Hackney Empire and for Greenwich, for the evolution of recurring cast members (and dancers growing up in the show) and the expectations of the audience, so my expectations may not have been set properly. But I was shocked at how unresponsive the audience was, at how hard it was to get them do callbacks, and how hard the cast was having to work to get barely a peep out of them. Now, mind, the (Inverness) Empire theater is a barn, and the first five rows of the stalls seemed to be exclusively filled with people of the silver haired persuation, but, come on, boys and girls, let’s make an effort!

As we are familiar with Cinderella, I’ll give you the panto add-ons: a goofy father who needs to hire a nanny to help him raise his daughter, Belle; an extraordinarily good looking Prince Valiant (a booted Leading Boy whose ponytail far outshone Belle’s hair and whose tunic was shorter than every other male member of the court); and a jester, Muddles, who is building a time machine that has a curious resemblance to a certain familiar telephone box. Extra special fun was brought by the inclusion of very young dancing girl fairies (for the “gift” scene), including one who looked to be about six and yet stole the show when she gave Belle her curse-breaking blessing; and the completely unnecessary scene in which Muddles, Valiant, and Nanny Box time travel to the swinging sixties in an attempt to wind up at the palace just when Belle needs to be kissed or die. (It was a great excuse to throw in a song from Hairspray.)

I have to say, though, I was feeling a bit panto-ed out the day I went. I adored the lead fairy’s melodious Scottish accent, the references to local business and Scottish politics, and I may be scarred for life by the cream pie scene that featured “sausages standing up” (Nanny: “You’re making your own jokes to this, aren’t you?”). There was a great transformation scene in which the scenery turned into a dragon (which the prince had to fight). But with the dead audience, no costumes in the world could plug the gap. This panto had all of the ingredients it needed to be a good time, but it just didn’t seem to be very appreciated, and that took away the fun for me. I hope maybe the day I went just represented a certain matinee group and not the general levels of enthusiasm, because if this is really how Inverness feels about panto, I’d pack it in and give them A Christmas Carol next year instead. Bah, humbug, indeed!

(This review is for the 1PM performance that took place December 24th, 2013. It continues through January 5th. Props to the guy who got on stage for the “Dad dancing” sequence – if only the rest of the audience had been that fun!)