Sep 052018
 

Duncan Harley reviews Cilla The Musical at His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen.

Cilla The Musical plays at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until Saturday 08 September 2018

Cilla the Musical is based on BAFTA-winning writer Jeff Pope’s 2014 ITV series and tells the story of Black’s meteoric rise from ambitious Cavern cloakroom girl to chart-topping mega-star.
Her sometimes turbulent relationships with Bobby Willis and the troubled Brian Epstein feature strongly alongside a no-holds-barred peek into Black’s less-savoury aspects.

At a not-too-long two hours and fifty minutes, including interval, the show celebrates the triumphs and the tribulations of one of Epstein’s many stars and covers the greats from the Cilla back catalogue along with tribute numbers from the bands from the heady days of the Black magic.

Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Mamas & the Papas and of course the Fab Four feature alongside a stream of biopics of the men behind the labels. Burt Bacharach, Ed Sullivan and Andrew Lancel’s splendidly vulnerable Brian Epstein feature alongside Alexander Patmore’s study of the dependably stoic Bobby Willis.

Scottie Road Songbird, Liverpudlian Diva, Mersey Beat Gracie Field, girl next door – call her what you will, she never diluted her accent and, although the early critics were sniffy, Epstein’s eye for a shed-load of talent launched her firmly into the hall of fame despite the crowded teeth.

She loved Rolls Royce’s and celebrated her poverty-stricken childhood in endless promotional interviews.

Kara Lily Hayworth’s Cilla is the undisputed star of the show. Picked from some 2,000 hopefuls she has, in the words of a fellow reviewer ‘Got it nailed!’.

From start to finish, Kara’s distinctive Liverpudlian tones – she is actually from Watford – and Cilla-like mannerisms capture the essence of the Black magic.

As she belts out one hit after the other it becomes obvious that she inhabits the role 100%. You’re My World, Anyone Who Had A Heart, Something Tells Me, Dancing In The Street, Alfie – they’re all there alongside some totally splendid tribute-band numbers from the early Beatles catalogue.

Both the singers and the songs are fab and Cilla The Musical is a good night out with the big plus that, alongside the bucketloads of nostalgia, the production delves deeply into the backstory which transformed a wee lass from a Liverpool backstreet into a national treasure.

Stars: 4/5

Directed by Bill Kenwright and Bob Tomson, Cilla The Musical plays at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until Saturday 08 September 2018

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122
Words © Duncan Harley, Images © HMT

Aug 212018
 

Duncan Harley reviews Jersey Boys at His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame arrives in Aberdeen this week in the form of the 1960s era, jukebox-laden musical Jersey Boys.

From curtain rise to curtain call this is a highly polished and electrifyingly energetic production features around 30 original Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons numbers.

With a pedigree of 27 Top 40 singles including Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk Like a Man and Rag Doll, the original Four Seasons’ tough-but-tender doo-wop harmonies continue to wow Rock ‘n’ Roll fans of all ages.

Add to the mix around 100 million record sales, and it’s difficult to see how Director Des McAnuff’s musical portrayal of the group’s often troubled rise and fall could fail to please the theatre audience.

In fact, this is one of those shows that should be seen again and again. I should know – to date I’ve seen this tribute show three times and given a whiff of a chance, I would go back at least one more time.

As always, casting makes or breaks a musical, and the choice of Michael Watson to play lead Frankie Valli is more than satisfying.

Bearing a passing resemblance to the younger Frankie, Michael’s stage presence and ferocious vocal range steal the show. Alongside the fast-paced numbers – Bye Bye Baby/Working My Way Back to You/Rag Doll – Michael’s mellow Can’t Take My Eyes Off You had the audience spellbound.

Peter Nash as the slightly dodgy Tommy De Vito, James Winter as Who Wears Shorts Shorts composer Bob Gaudio and Lewis Griffiths as the Ringo-like Nick Massi completed the band line-up and in numbers such as Sherry and Bye Bye Baby, the quartet’s performance bordered on the magical.

At times it was difficult to separate performance from reality. And don’t you just love those smart-smart red blazers!

The narrative is neatly subdivided Vivaldi-like into Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter, with each band member taking a turn to relate his own particular version of the band’s rise and fall.

As the rags-to-riches-to-rags story plays out and the discord between band members becomes unbearably raw, the musical score stays apace. Spring’s I Can’t Give you Anything But Love leads us on to Summer’s Oh What a Night. Fall’s Big Man in Town gives way to Winter’s Fallen Angel and Who Loves You.

This Vivaldi-esque approach inevitably elasticates the truth. The gang connections, for example, might be ever so slightly romanticised.

Two rather than just the one of Frankie Valli’s daughters actually died, one by apparent suicide and another by drug overdose. And perhaps inevitably, the genuine Tommy DeVito strenuously denied, in the Las Vegas Review, being the band-member who habitually peed in the sink:

“I was probably the cleanest guy there … I don’t even know how they come up with this kinda’ stuff.”

The storyline exists in an explosive bubble of doo-wop and aside from a reference to Bob Gaudio’s pre-Seasons chart-topping Short Shorts and some insight into buying airplay on prime-time radio, we are pretty much left in the dark about the general music scene in the far off 1960s.

Asides such as ‘come back when your black’ and ‘there are only two kinds of girl’ firmly set the general tone of the times. Suspend moral indignation mode prior to taking seat, might be good advice!

Choreography, lighting, sound and costumes were pin sharp and in all, Jersey Boys is a show well worth seeing.
Sit back and go on a roller coaster ride of some favourite songs and some great back-story from the 60’s and the 70’s. Oh what a night and what a well worked tale.

Stars: 4.5/5

Jersey Boys plays at HM Theatre Aberdeen until Saturday 25th August

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122
Words © Duncan Harley, Images © HMT

Jun 062018
 

Duncan Harley reviews Flashdance The Musical @ HMT Aberdeen

Flashdance The Musical plays at HMT Aberdeen until Saturday 09 June 2018.

It’s steel-town Pittsburgh Pennsylvania circa 1983 and, in this Billy Elliot come Rosie the Riveter aspirational tale, dance junkie Alex dreams of graduating top of the class from Shipley Dance Academy.

Played by Strictly Come Dancing Champion Joanne Clifton, our heroine is addicted to both welding-rods and rhythm, but not necessarily in that order.

Boiler-suited to the local steelworks by day, Alex twilights’ as an exotic dancer at the local night-club.

Pursued by Nick the factory boss’s son, she sticks to her career plan and eventually, following a series of set-backs, bags both the dancing career and the heir to the family fortune. It’s a familiar story-line.

This kick-ass juke box style musical has the verve to include the legendary Harry’s Bar – birthplace of the Bloody Mary – in the line-up but there is no sign of Hemmingway. And as the dedicated Alex struts her stuff a splendidly curmudgeonly club-owner in the shape of Harry, played by Rikki Chamberlain, provides a warm-hearted sanctuary to all and sundry.

Maniac, Steeltown Sky, Gloria, I Love Rock & Roll, Manhunt and of course that sensational What A Feeling title track inhabit this juke-box musical and a good few Brit-stars strut the stage.

Heart throb Ben Adams and Strictly Joanne Clifton certainly fulfill a promise or two and the band of course play on.
In the big-kickass scheme of things, despite the dazzling choreography and the explosive energy, Flashdance The Musical somehow hasn’t aged gracefully. There are occasional attempts at humour and the dialogue is well enough put together but the ‘Cinders makes good’ storyline has maybe been done to death over the decades.

It may have been Sondheim who mused on those heady production-lined musicals which, in the main, seem to follow the chemistry of old established fame:

If you emerged from the theatre humming all of the tunes, it’s probably because you entered the theatre humming all of the tunes”.

Go see this though. You won’t be disappointed; that is if you can bag a seat. It’s all in the best possible taste and it generally does pretty much what it says on the tin.

Five stars? Well maybe four. And, of course, I really enjoyed the nostalgia element of it all. But blown away? I’m not completely sure. What a Feeling.

Directed by Hannah Chissick with choreography by Matt Cole, Flashdance The Musical (A Selladoor Production) plays at HMT Aberdeen until Saturday 09 June 2018

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122

Words © Duncan Harley and Images © APA

May 312018
 

Duncan Harley reviews Sunshine on Leith @ HMT Aberdeen

A modicum of politics, a wee measure of Leith and a whole lot of heart inhabit this latest production of Sunshine on Leith.

The musical first saw light at Dundee Rep in far off 2003 following a review of the back catalogues of several Scottish bands by playwright Stephen Greenhorn.

Awaking from the whisky-fuelled review session, Stephen found a post-it note, written in his own hand-writing from the night before, with the words “Proclaimers musical?” written on it. Sunshine on Leith was born.

Since then the musical has morphed into film then back to stage again and now features around eighteen original Proclaimers songs from the day.

Director James Brining would go on to say that:

“One of the really interesting things about the Proclaimers as musicians and songwriters is the breadth of their influences. They’re political – they’re fiercely supportive of Scottish independence and they write about relationships with brutal honesty.”

With a central theme which can only be described as a search for belonging, Sunshine on Leith paints a sometimes-difficult portrait of Scottishness. Identity, sentimentality and relationships come under the spotlight as returning heroes Davy – Steven Miller – and Ally – Paul-James Corrigan –  struggle manfully to reintegrate following a tour of the Afghan battlefields and Davy’s dad Rab – Phil McKee – wrestles with truth, love and morality as he faces consequences of a long-forgotten affair.

The script seamlessly flits from the crisis-fuelled love lives of the ex-squaddies to the crisis-ridden events which emerge to challenge the community. A vicious bar-fight in a Hibs pub, a break-up or two and the emotional rollercoaster of that long-hidden affair inhabit this tale of ordinary folk facing ordinary challenges.

Indeed, the complete ordinariness of this storyline is its true strength. There are no high-kicking brashly dressed chorus-lines here.

The folk in Leith are only slightly caricaturised and, with a fluid set flitting from the familiar High Street to the local boozer, one could almost be forgiven for walking on-stage to mingle with the performers.

As for the songs, all of the big Proclaimers numbers are there. Sky Takes the Soul, Hate My Love for You and Letter from America are just for starters.

The musical numbers sit seamlessly within the dialogue and the band, who are onstage throughout the entire performance, wander amongst the actors sometimes as buskers more often simply as cast-members. Even the title lyrics:

“My heart was broken, my heart was broken; Sorrow, Sorrow, Sorrow, Sorrow.” are used with commendable restraint.

All in all, this is a splendid revival of a commendable classic.

Directed by James Brining with choreography by Emily-Jane Boyle, Sunshine on Leith plays at HMT Aberdeen until Saturday 02 June 2018

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122

Words © Duncan Harley and Images © APA

May 032018
 

Duncan Harley reviews Legally Blonde – The Musical @ HM Theatre Aberdeen

There’s a little bit of line-dancing, a couple of very camp cupids and a lot of pink in this musical and I mean a hell of a lot of pink!

In fact there’s enough pink to tempt Barbara Cartland back from the grave.

Indeed honey sweet romance, or at least the very prospect of it, is at the core of this tale of girl meets boy Hairspray styled musical.

Not that Legally Blonde lead Elle Woods in any way resembles the heavy set high-schooled Tracy Turnblad.

But the plot treads that familiar path of redemption in the face of adversity. Except of course that, in lieu of Hairspray’s ‘Corny Collins Show’, Legally Blonde – The Musical relies on the medium of a trad-clad Harvard Law School to get the message over.

And not that Legally Blonde takes itself too seriously. The opening line ‘OMG you guys, enjoy the show!’ pretty much sets the tone.

This is a show to enjoy and not one for deep analyses.

The sexual politics are perhaps somewhat dated and, although the pink-laden message of emancipation is central to the story, there is really nothing new here.

Splendidly camp lines such as “Is he gay or European” and “Depending on the time of day the French go either way” kind of give the game away.

The storyline pretty much follows that of the film of the book. Based on the 2001 movie, the plot convolutes around the downs and ups of Malibu blond Elle Woods who gets dumped by would-be senator boy-friend Sheridan Smith the third.

Smith is off to explore the ivy leagued portals of Harvard Law School. Against all the odds, and in a determined effort to stalk the poor man, Elle worms her way into the hallowed institution and takes up the cudgels of the law.

Along the way we meet Bruiser the Chihuahua, a lovable hairdresser called Paulette and Elle’s various Harvard classmates.

Cute Chihuahua’s aside, Lucie Jones’s Elle pretty much steals the show although soap veteran Rita Simons’ portrayal of the romantically downtrodden Paulette runs a pretty close second.

Paulette’s ‘Bend and Snap’ slapstick comedy turn with the hunky UPS man is pretty slick although the accompanying line dancing routines seemed somehow superfluous.

Male lead-wise, it’s pretty much a no-contest.

Bill Ward’s Prof Callahan dominates and commands the stage during both the Harvard and the courtroom scenes; that is of course until the courtroom escalates into a hilariously Cabaret themed farce.

The music and the lyrics are well delivered but are maybe not particularly memorable, relying perhaps a ‘tad’ much on OTT costumes and energetic choreography to woo the audience. However there are splendidly classic musical moments to be had. Watch out for Elle’s love-sweet duet with David Barrett’s Emmett.

As an all singing and all dancing musical, Legally Blonde is a whole lot of fun and if last night’s stand-up applause is anything to go by then the show delivers exactly what it says on the tin.

Choreographed and Directed by Anthony Williams. Musical Director James McCullagh, Legally Blonde – The Musical plays at HMT Aberdeen until Saturday May 5th 2018.

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122

Words © Duncan Harley and Images © Robert Workman

Apr 192018
 

Duncan Harley reviews Fittie Fittie Bang Bang @ HM Theatre Aberdeen.

Broad Street may not quite be on a par with Broadway, but if this year’s Aberdeen Student Charities Campaign production of the brand new musical Fittie Fittie Bang Bang is anything to go by, then theatre-wise at least, the Granite City is well on the way to becoming the Manhattan of the north.

Previous productions have included titles such as ‘An American in Powis’, ‘A Midstocket Night’s Scream’ and of course last year’s musical extravaganza ‘Michty Mia!’.

However, this year’s production of ‘Fittie Fittie Bang Bang’ must surely take the biscuit.

Bond writer Ian Fleming was a keen follower of motor racing and the original Chitty tale evolved from stories involving a series of monstrous aero-engined cars funded by the richly eccentric ‘Bentley Boy’ speed-king Count Louis Zborowski in those far off roaring twenties.

In the subsequent Hollywood production, the Chitty story involved one of Zborowski’s racing cars being rescued from the scrapyard by a gang of cheerily red-faced middle-class school-children.

Fast forward to this week’s student production of Fittie Fittie Bang Bang and a dastardly plot involving the consignment of Aberdeen’s old folk to the scrapyard takes to the HMT stage.

With electoral fraud firmly to the fore, Trump look-alike Lord Provost Dean Fine plans to revive the ailing fortunes of the Granite City using a series of sinister measures intended to clear the streets of the elderly inhabitants of the city.

A suitably evil ‘Grunny Catcher’, ably played by Callum Anderson, is set loose and before long the city’s OAP’s begin to disappear. Provost Fine, played by Reece James Duncan, announces plans to build a border wall around Torry while in far off Fittie the search begins for the missing old folk of Aberdeen.

Enter Bradley Phillips as Dick Van Dyce, Becky Hossick as Provost’s daughter Effie Fine and Victoria Barvinko as the Provost’s trophy wife Nadine Fine.

Will the red-haired Lord Provost succeed in his dastardly scheme? Or can Dick and his merry gang rescue the imprisoned OAP’s from a fate worse than death in Aberdeen’s Marischal College Premier Retirement Home.

Add in a flying fish-van plus some splendid musical numbers and, judging by last nights full-house, last years total of £92k raised for local charities looks likely to be well on the way to being exceeded.

A 5 Star must see!

Musical direction is by Matthew Rose with choreography by Sophie Hamilton Pike and stage management by Graeme Shepherd.

The musical, Fittie Fittie Bang Bang plays at HMT Aberdeen until Saturday 21 April 2018

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122
Words © Duncan Harley and Images © HMT Aberdeen

Dec 112017
 

Duncan Harley reviews Aladdin @ His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen.

Following a thrilling, but ultimately unsuccessful, swordfight arch-villain Abanazar is thrown upon the mercy of the audience.

“What shall we do with him now?” cries Widow Twankey.
A young voice from the front stalls cries out “Kill him! Chop off his head.”

Quick as a flash, Twankey replies “We can do pretty much anything in Panto, but the one thing we can’t do is kill Jimmy Osmond.”

Indeed, the Christmas Pantomime at His Majesty’s Theatre delivers everything from death defying stunts to innuendo laden humour and, of course, gloriously costumed entertainment suitable for children of all ages.

As the undoubted star of the show, Jimmy Osmond’s Abanazar exudes a suitable mixture of evil and cunning as he schemes to steal Aladdin’s magic lamp before, in the second act, delivering a stunning medley of familiar Osmond 70’s classics. As the show progressed the US born star dipped a brave tongue into the Doric, endured several inevitable references to his ‘Long-haired lover from Liverpool’ 1972 hit and generally endeared himself to the audience.

There were flying carpets galore, an impressive Bush-of-Truth stunt, a flying Jordan Young and, perhaps surprisingly, an ethereal appearance – as the Voice of the Genie – by Elaine C. Smith.

Costumes of course are at the core of Panto and although Alan McHugh’s Dame Twankey outfits outshone most in that department, Emperor Ming’s jewel-laden headgear really took the biscuit for ponderosity. Indeed, it’s a wonder that Billy Riddoch’s head remained upon his shoulders throughout the performance.

Irreverent humour is of course the mainstay of any Aberdeen Panto and inevitably both Trump and the Scottish Parliament took a bashing. The Trump reference took the form of a not-so subtle ‘trouser cough’.

As for ‘Hollyrude’, well it would be unfair of me to give away the punch-line but let’s just say that it involves the Bush-of-Truth.

Special effects are to the fore in this production and the overall entertainment quotient is a massive 5 stars.

Add in Jordan Young’s Aladdin on the Ladder sketch and a few comedic references to Echt, Tillydrone, Mintlaw, Balnagask, Ellon, Buchan, Tarves and Oldmeldrum and you have a winning combination of belly-laughs and completely splendid entertainment. Indeed, at the end of the night, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house and for all the right reasons.

I did wonder why Inverurie failed to get a mention though.

With the pupils of Aberdeen Academy of Dance, written by Alan McHugh and directed by Tony Cownie, Aladdin plays at HMT Aberdeen until January 7th.

Nov 232017
 

Duncan Harley reviews Hedda Gabler @ His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen.

A room, filled with other people’s flowers with a smoking gun-cabinet in the corner pretty much sums up the mood. A bored ‘proud daughter of a dead general’ pretty much sums up the heroine.

‘Life for Hedda is a farce which isn’t worth seeing through to the end’ pretty much sums up the plot.

Hedda and new husband Tesman have just returned from a six-month working honeymoon and clearly things are not fine in honey-land.

Finances are on a tight-rope and expectations are, not to put too fine a point on it, stretched. Hedda tries desperately to manipulate those around her as the world she thought she owned disintegrates with every passing breath.

A small cast work a simple set.

There are no Aspidistras here and certainly no inklings of a dusty bygone era; for this is a new production of the Ibsen classic brought to the Aberdeen stage by the National Theatre. Plastic paint-pots house the flowers and an anguished Hedda tries frantically to mark off her territory with a staple-gun before resorting to much more desperate measures.

There is no happy ending here, and this is a harrowing play make no mistake about it.

Bordering on the demonic at points and at others pathetically sad, Lizzy Watts’ extraordinary portrayal of the doomed Hedda reaches deeply into the heart of the matter. Hedda does not own Hedda. Only everyone else owns Hedda. And there is no escape route.

In this age of quickie-divorce, there are still plenty of Hedda’s around. Trapped behind closed doors in strangely loveless marriage, they still seek solace in the gun-cabinet. Ibsen may have penned Hedda Gabler in a previous century, but the issues exposed remain completely relevant to a modern audience.

By Henrik Ibsen in a new National Theatre version by Patrick Marber, Hedda Gabler plays at HMT Aberdeen until Saturday 25th November 2017.

Nov 082017
 

Sunset Boulevard @ HMT Aberdeen – A review by Duncan Harley.

Sunset Boulevard plays at His Majesty’s Theatre until Sat Nov 11.

A compelling study on how to grow old disgracefully this tale of manipulation, madness and obsession seems doomed from the start to have no happy ending.
As ageing silent-star Norma Desmond’s insanity blossoms, the tension builds to bursting-point whilst all around the gloomy interior of Sunset Boulevard the world moves on relentlessly to greater things.

Having failed to make the transition from silent-screen to talkies, Ria Jones’ Norma Desmond pens a clunker of a movie-script in anticipation of a return to those heady days of stardom.

Danny Mac’s Joe Gillis takes on the task of re-writing the ageing diva’s version of Salome. There are no renditions of ‘bring me the head of John the Baptist’ here though. Indeed, phrases such as ‘All right Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up’ might be mistaken nowadays as a prelude to an innuendo laden casting-couch moment, and Norma Desmond’s deadpan comment ‘I am big, it’s the pictures that got small!’ leaves little to the imagination.

Norma is of course ‘Mad about the boy’ – and where have we heard that before – in this case the boy is Joe. And, predictably perhaps, he is strung-along by mad Norma until he can take no more.

The tale is told from his viewpoint and his journey through Norma’s celluloid memories is at times a difficult watch.

Ria Jones’ powerful portrayal of Norma eclipses all on stage and rightly so. The deeply flawed Joe Gillis must come a close second. Danny Mac’s Joe is clearly on a treadmill to oblivion from scene one onwards and this portrayal of a kept-man on the road to nowhere leaves little to the imagination.

For my money though, Adam Pearce’s Vettriano-like singing butler, the scowling Max Von Meyerling, gets top marks. Suitably servile when it suits him, sternly efficient and quietly loyal to the very end; Adam’s Max lurks quietly in the shadows and perhaps his story, when finally revealed, is the saddest tear-jerker of them all.

Animal lovers might just shudder at the understated chimpanzee funeral but, in the big scheme of things, Sunset Boulevard presents as an entertaining and powerful musical melodrama graphically portraying the, sometimes wickedly distorted, dream-factory that is Hollywood.

Fast-paced throughout and with a wild car-chase worthy of no-glory San Francisco cop, lieutenant Frank Bullitt, this classic stage musical is well worth the seeing.

Directed by Nikolai Foster with Musical Direction by Adrian Kirk, Sunset Boulevard plays at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until Saturday November 11.

Sep 222017
 

Elizabeth Pittendrigh, Stewart Stevenson MSP and Therine Henderson at the Fraserburgh & District Older People’s stand.

With thanks to Banffshire & Buchan Coast SNP.

Banffshire & Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson was a guest speaker at the annual Celebrate the Difference event in Fraserburgh on Saturday.
The popular event which brings together the varied cultures and people who call Fraserburgh home and provides an afternoon of Music, Entertainment and Food as well as a showcase for the local voluntary and charitable organisations to meet with local residents.

Commenting Mr Stevenson said:

“I am delighted to have taken part in another successful Celebrate the Difference event at Fraserburgh College this weekend”

“It was good to meet people from around the world who chose to live in the Fraserburgh area and to learn a little about their heritage and culture, as well as our own. Events such as this show the fantastic community spirit we have in the North-east and I would like to thank Margaret Gault and all of the organisers who work tirelessly to make this annual event a success”

“As well the food song and dance, Celebrating the Difference provides many local organisations and voluntary groups an opportunity to highlight the important work and services they provide to the local community, after all when we celebrate the difference, we also make a difference.”

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