West Side Story Returns!

West Side Story

Regarded as perhaps one of the world’s favourite musicals, West Side Story is set to hit our stages again in a big way, after many years of film versions and amateur productions never quite capturing the magic that seems to surround the original version.

Originally directed and choreographed by the iconic Jerome Robbins, this particular staging of West Side Story for 2013 has been produced by BB Promotion in collaboration with Sundance Productions Inc., NY and Howard Panter for the Ambassador Theatre Group. West Side Story was last seen in the UK in 2008/09: 2013 will see the hit musical will begin its tour at the Liverpool Empire on September 24, before moving to venues including the Sunderland Empire, the New Wimbledon Theatre and the Milton Keynes Theatre. West Side Story is currently set to tour until June 2014, giving many audiences the chance to experience the fantastic musical, a modern day Romeo and Juliet. The show, directed and choreographed by Joey McKneely, will tour following its run at Sadler’s Wells, where it plays from August 7 until September 22.

Including songs such as Tonight, I Feel Pretty and I Like to be in America, West Side Story is thought to become as big a success as it always was, full of Spanish charm, American cool, and lots of character shoes and big dresses in between. Leonard Bernstein wrote the music for the show, which is accompanied by lyrics written by the legendary Stephen Sondheim. With a book by Arthur Laurents, West Side Story is sure to wow audiences time and time again through its tragic tale, beginning at Sadler’s Wells as the largest dance house in the UK, renowned for being dedicated to international dance and presenting a hugely varied programme to its audiences.

The Winners Of The What’s On Stage Awards 2013

What's On Stage Awards 2013

The winners of the What’s On Stage Awards were revealed on Sunday 17 February, the only major prize-giving for theatre voted for purely by audiences. Over 60,000 people took part in the voting for the 2013 Awards, which recognised the stage achievements of some of the biggest names in the worlds of theatre, film and music.

The Awards were announced at a star-studded concert ceremony at the West End’s historic Palace Theatre. Some of the award winners performed alongside other nominees and ‘stars of shows’, including The Bodyguard, Top Hat, Wicked, Spamalot and Soho Cinders.

In case you missed the results, here’s a quick recap of some of the winners:

The DIGITAL THEATRE Best Actress in a Play
Sheridan Smith – Hedda Gabler

The DIGITAL THEATRE Best Actor in a Play
Rupert Everett – The Judas Kiss

Best Supporting Actress in a Play
Natalie Casey – Abigail’s Party

Best Supporting Actor in a Play
Stephen Fry – Twelfth Night

The STAR Best Actress in a Musical
Imelda Staunton – Sweeney Todd

The THEATRE TOKENS Best Actor in a Musical
Michael Ball – Sweeney Todd

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical
Melanie C – Jesus Christ Superstar

The W&P LONGREACH Best Supporting Actor in a Musical
Tim Minchin – Jesus Christ Superstar

The JO HUTCHISON INTERNATIONAL Best Solo Performance
Idina Menzel – Idina Menzel

Best Takeover in a Role
Ramin Karimloo – Les Misérables

Best New Play
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Simon Stephens

Best New Musical
The Bodyguard by Alex Dinelaris

Best Play Revival
Abigail’s Party

The RADISSON BLU EDWARDIAN Best Musical Revival
Sweeney Todd

The TOTALLY THEATRE PRODUCTIONS Best Director
Jonathan Kent – Sweeney Todd

The FEAST Best Set Designer
Tom Scutt – The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe at Kensington Gardens & Constellations

The MADE Best Choreographer
Andrew Wright – Singin’ in the Rain

The DEWYNTERS London Newcomer of the Year
Will Young (actor) – Cabaret

The EQUITY Best West End Show
Les Misérables

The AKA Theatre Event of the Year
Danny Boyle’s Olympics Opening Ceremony

Singin’ In The Rain Set To Tour

Singing In The Rain

If you are busy this spring planning your summer theatre outings to London’s West End then make Singin’ in the Rain one show near the top of your list.

It has been announced that the West End show, on par with its 1952 MGM version of the musical, is set to close in August 2013. This will be ahead of a national tour of an all-singing, all-dancing troupe – complete with umbrellas – around the country in 2014, closing with a run in Chichester where the show originally played in July 2011. The UK-wide tour is understood to start in November 2013, with a proposed opening in Manchester after spending just eighteen months at the Palace Theatre in London.

2012/13 has already seen many productions join and leave the West End in quick succession, making theatre turnarounds very quick, with only just enough time to settle the tan tights and tap shoes before having to move on again. However, touring productions give theatre fanatics in other parts of the country, without the chance to journey to London to see huge shows such as Singin’ in the Rain, the opportunity to feast their eyes on an array of talent. Touring companies also provide many performing jobs for those who may struggle to secure roles in London, but who have no trouble taking to the road, performing whilst travelling.

The musical is directed by Jonathan Church, artistic director at Chichester Festival Theatre, and has choreography by Andrew Wright, who recently ‘Best Choreographer’ at the Whatsonstage Awards. Adam Cooper is currently playing Don Lockwood in the show, a role he has played since the production opened in Chichester, with Jennifer Ellison recently joining the cast as Lina Lamont.

Charlotte Wakefield – Star of Mamma Mia! The Musical

Charlotte Wakefield in Mamma Mia! The MusicalHaving broken box office records at its previous homes – the Prince Edward and Prince of Wales Theatre – Mamma Mia!, now in its 14th year in London, has continued to break box office records at the Novello Theatre. Mamma Mia! originally opened in London at the Prince Edward Theatre in April 1999, before transferring to the Prince of Wales Theatre in June 2004. The musical re-opened at the NovelloTheatre in September 2012.

To date Mamma Mia! has been seen by more than 50 million people in 37 productions in 14 different languages. Judy Craymer’s ingenious vision of staging the story-telling magic of ABBA’s timeless songs on a Greek island sees an enchanting tale of family and friendship unfolding on an apparent island paradise. From West End to global phenomenon, the London production Mamma Mia! has been seen by more than 1 in 10 of the entire UK population. It is also one of only five musicals to have run for more than 10 years both on Broadway and in the West End.

With Mothering Sunday coming up, what better way to get in the mood than to chat with Charlotte Wakefield who plays free spirited daughter Sophie Sheridan in the hit West End musical about training, life on tour, the London show and why Mamma Mia! is the best show to come and see as mother and daughter.

Charlotte, aged 22, is a mine of information, having started working in the industry aged 10.

“I haven’t actually trained professionally at all! I trained in dance from the age of 3 in classical ballet and tap, and then went on to attend Stagecoach classes at weekends. I got my first job through the agency when I was 10, and left Stagecoach when I was 18 when I was offered my first West End job.”

Charlotte made her West End debut in Spring Awakening and had already worked on television from an early age.

“I stuck at it and worked hard taking lots of classes, with my West End career starting at 18 despite the fact I worked professionally from 10 years old. It’s interesting as you could say I’ve done it the hard way: I just happened to get a break before I got to drama school. If I hadn’t have got the role in Spring Awakening I would definitely have applied to drama school, but I skipped that step!”

As a result, Charlotte’s experiences were a little different than those of typical drama school students, but she still feels as though she has learnt a lot from the way things have turned out.

“I didn’t manage to create a network of friends as you would at drama school, but I did make close friends with the people I worked with in Spring Awakening. We were all aged 16 to 25 and were starting out making our West End debuts, so we shared something special. I learnt a lot on the job, which is priceless, rather than learning at drama school, and experienced the industry first hand straight away. I feel I have become more of a ‘raw actor’ because of it, and have learnt different skills from other actors, and have been able to make my own choices.”

Whilst Charlotte’s journey into the theatrical industry may not be a typical one, she is now settled into life as Sophie as the leading female in Mamma Mia!.

“Half term meant we worked a 9 show week, adding in an extra matinee performance, but my day-to-day life is quite straight forward. At the moment I am auditioning during the day and having singing lessons, but I try not to push myself too hard through the week and make sure I chill out. The adrenaline from the evening shows means that I go to sleep around 1.30am, and try to sleep for a full 8 hours. During the day I usually have a singing lesson, a massage or an appointment with a physiotherapist and then leave for work at the theatre. We have a vocal and physical warm up and then I do my own stretching before getting ready for the performance.”

With a show that is as demanding as Mamma Mia! Charlotte has to work very hard, especially as her character Sophie is such a content-heavy role. Before securing Sophie in the West End, Charlotte also played the main character for a year on the International Tour.

“Touring is completely different to working in the West End! We did a worldwide tour of Mamma Mia! and spent about 2 weeks in each place. We were playing on a much bigger scale – the set was twice the size! – and sometimes played to arenas of around 5,000 people, which was a massive experience! The show atmosphere was very different, and we were able to go and visit places and explore during the day, which meant travelling to these amazing places was so much fun, while we were doing a job we loved.”

The bright lights of the West End have called Charlotte back, and now she has chance to reflect.

“I always wanted to play Sophie, and I got the chance to do it whilst travelling the world, as well as doing it here in London now – I was lucky to be cast again. I wanted to work in this industry for years! The West End seems like a dreamy place, but we have to work hard at our jobs. It’s taxing on our bodies with injuries and exhaustion, and performing is a dream for most people. There are lots of tough parts to doing your hobby professionally – your friends can be your competitors in auditions, and you need a lot of stamina, physically and mentally. But, once you get on stage you absolutely want to do it!”

The role of Sophie is a busy one for Charlotte, but she relishes in being able to give the audience something special, especially in a show that is as popular as Mamma Mia!.

“I haven’t got a favourite part of the show as the whole thing is so much fun. There’s a big finale which is a 7 minute long megamix of ABBA songs and lots of dancing. The audience can finally stand up and dance and sing too after itching to join in, and can let go and enjoy themselves! Sophie is a very hectic role, so if I ever come off stage it’s for a quick costume change and I’m back on – the whole show is one big scene for me!

Sophie’s relationships with the many characters are varied, but it seems none matches that with her free-spirited mother Donna, forming much of the dynamic within the show.

“Donna and Sophie are very close characters as they are both fairly free spirits. There is no husband/father figure as such in their lives and they have built up their existence on a Greek island on their own. Their relationship is quite casual, more friend-like than authoritative mother-daughter. Sophie is free too and is naive for that reason, and that’s what causes their fall-out. It’s an odd feeling as they are very similar, but the audiences love the characters and the relationship between them.”

With Mothering Sunday coming, the eternal relationship between Sophie and Donna is epitomised by mothers and daughters everywhere. Charlotte thinks seeing Mamma Mia! is the perfect mother and daughter outing, with now being an ideal time.

“Sophie putting on her wedding dress and getting married are just two lovely moments which make up the female-strong show. Slipping through my fingers is particularly moving song about mother-daughter relationships, as well as the friendships and girl power which make the show happy and uplifting for mothers and daughters watching. Mamma Mia! definitely gives something to share with mothers and daughters being together.

Coming to a close, Charlotte gives a few pointers and helpful advice for aspiring performers.

“Always remain positive. There is so much rejection in the industry that you have to keep trying, be strong willed and always accept criticism. Be over prepared for auditions and make sure that you really want to enter the industry, because if not there will always be someone who wants it more than you! Above all, it is the most fun job in the world but it is not easy. Work hard!”

Ruthie Henshall

Ruthie Henshall

Ruthie Henshall, with her multi-award winning career, has starred in some of the best-loved and popular musicals of the last twenty five years on both Broadway and London’s West End, donning character shoes, leotards and tights and tap shoes throughout. In addition to her tremendous success in plays, in concert and on television, Henshall has starred on stage in Cats, Miss Saigon, Crazy For You, She Loves Me, Marguerite, Oliver!, A Chorus Line, Les Misérables and Chicago. Quite the leading lady… not too mention her stint as a judge on TV show Dancing on Ice!

Following Henshall’s training at the prestigious vocational college Laine Theatre Arts, she went on to join the UK tour cast of A Chorus Line and consequently made her West End debut in Cats, having the chance to play Jemima, Demeter, Jellylorum, Griddlebone and Grizabella. Henshall’s comprehensive and arguably illustrious career has seen her become one of the most popular West End artists, having created roles, been nominated for and won Olivier Awards, and revisiting roles when asked to recreate them, such as Fantine for the tenth anniversary of Les Misérables.

Henshall is perhaps most well known, however, for shaking and shimmying in Chicago, firstly as one of the original London company members of the revival. Henshall has since gone on to play both leads (Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly) in London and on Broadway, spending three years in New York City. Aside from all-performing musicals Henshall has toured extensively in the UK, US and Australia, and is currently touring the UK in An Intimate Evening with Ruthie Henshall, providing audiences with snippets or career through songs and amusing anecdotes from her training and musical theatre days. Without a feather boa in sight Henshall provided a snapshot of her hectic yet completely rewarding schedule, and has eight dates to go!

The Post-Olympic West End

London's West End Theatre Scene

Despite much fear that the London 2012 Olympics would quash the West End during last summer, it has actually emerged that the West End not only survived, but broke all previous revenue records, despite business initially reducing by 9%. The West End went on to rectify this, with more shows set to open this year additionally as a result. It was discovered, for example, that The Lion King had its most successful year ever in the West End, grossing over £38.6 million, breaking its own record for the eighth consecutive year and again setting a new record for highest grossing year in West End theatre history.

The approximate 45 theatres open took £529,787,692 across last year, in comparison to the £528,375,874 taken in 2011. In addition there were 305 new productions over the year, whereas 2011 saw only 256. With the inundation of tappers, singers, high-kickers and soliloquy-ers, it is no wonder that theatre-land flourished and grew tremendously. Attendance for 2012 reached 13,992,773 from 13,915,185 the previous year, with the average ticket price reducing enabling more audiences to access some fantastic productions that are on offer in theatres. The unique experiences available, and new initiatives too, are helping to grow audiences and build an appetite for live theatre.

Theatres are now being booked up as far as the eye can see, with new productions ready to jump in, such as at the Wyndham’s Theatre and the Gielgud Theatre. As a result, any current show wishing to extend its run cannot do so unless it relocates to another theatre, which of course has its advantages and disadvantages. With such an array of productions audiences will have a fantastic choice, however show which are popular and successful will not have the luxury of ‘home’ as other long-running shows have in the West End. Currently, 18 of the West End’s 40 or so commercial venues are locked into long runs of a year or more.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The 2013 Theatre Scene

London's West End Theatre Scene

With a number of new productions hitting the stages of the West End in 2013, casting for roles has reached new appendages. Social media has been utilised more and more recently in order for performers to advertise their skills, recent work and aspirations, making the casting process for directors both easier and harder.

With all this toe-tapping talent on display, it may be easy to imagine that there is a lot of information to compare at the push of a few buttons. However, using social media in order to have an idea of casting for a new production may also mean that less and less talent is promoted, and more so an idealised version of the performer angling for work. Despite this, it is clear that social media platforms such as Twitter and YouTube are extremely useful in communicating messages about roles, rehearsal processes, and reviews, for example, but may not be as useful for other aspects of the production process.

The recently released cast list for the leg-warmer and leotard wearing A Chorus Line is just one of those emerging in 2013. The Broadway classic which is returning to the West End for the first time since it was first staged at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, shouts three leading ladies: Scarlett Strallen as Cassie, Leigh Zimmerman as Sheila, and Victoria Hamilton-Barritt as Diana. Other entries for 2013 are Book of Mormon, Dear World, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and tours such as The Full Monty, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Ghost and Wicked.

If the musical theatre scene was not enough to entice audiences, other names which will be appearing on London stages throughout 2013 are Dame Judi Dench, Helen Mirrren, Daniel Radcliffe, Jude Law, Rupert Everett, Felicity Kendal, Vanessa Redgrave, James McAvoy, Rowan Atkinson, Lee Evans, Zoe Wanamaker, and Sheila Hancock.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Diversity in 2013

Diversity Limitless

Dance troupe Diversity has announced a new touring show for 2013 – Diversity Limitless – which will be a 12 day UK tour taking place across three weeks in December next year. Diversity announced the news just a few days after their Royal Variety performance, with the tour following on from the release of their previous arena tour show on DVD, Diversity Digitized: Trapped In A Game.

There is currently nothing else known about the show Diversity Limitless, created by dance crew leader Ashley Banjo,  with other details about the show’s storyline yet to be revealed. However, dance fans and street dance fans everywhere should be confident that the show will be full of the crew’s charm and cheek, with some up-to-the-minute urban dancewear and tasty trainers thrown in to add to the flavour.

Since winning the popular TV show Britain’s Got Talent in 2009, Diversity went on to star in the film Street Dance 3D as a cameo appearance. Banjo was then recruited as a judge for Got to Dance on Sky1 and the group went on to release Diversity: Dance Fitness Fusion on DVD. Ahead of the crew’s Diversity: Digitized arena tour, Banjo also filmed a spin off Ashley Banjo’s Secret Street Crew. In addition to their hard work to date, a Diversity film has also been announced named Diversity Rise, set to be filmed in April 2013.

The show will be touring to:

  • Dublin O2 Arena (30 November),
  • Newcastle Metro Radio Arena (3 December),
  • Liverpool Echo Arena (4 December),
  • Nottingham capital FM Arena (6 December),
  • Bournemouth BIC (7 December),
  • Birmingham NIA (8 December),
  • Glasgow Hydro Arena (10 December),
  • Manchester Arena (11 December),
  • Sheffield Motorpoint Arena (12 December),
  • Cardiff Motorpoint Arena (14 December),
  • Brighton Centre (15 December),
  • London O2 Arena (16 December).

Hairspray the Musical on Tour!

Hairspray the Musica

Hairspray the musical, full of big hair and big laughs will be going on tour again in 2013, and the 60s dresses, the cans of hairspray and the loud-and-proud, rather catchy soundtrack, will all be going too.

Mark Benton will be playing the cross-dressing role of Edna Turnblad, with other casting to date including Lucy Benjamin (Lisa Fowler from EastEnders) playing Velma Von Tussle and Freya Sutton (who has recently graduated from Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts) playing Tracy Turnblad. The cast will be joined by X Factor finalist Marcus Collins as Seaweed Stubbs, Gemma Sutton as Amber Von Tussle, Lauren Hood as Penny Pingleton, Sandra Marvin as Motormouth Maybelle, Josh Piterman as Corny Collins and Paul Rider as Wilbur Turnblad. Link Larkin, Tracy’s squeeze, is yet to be cast but already the show looks like not one to be missed!

Hairspray is based on the 1988 film comedy starring Ricki Lake as Tracy. The musical takes place in 1962 with Baltimore’s Tracy Turnblad as a large girl with big hair and an even bigger heart who desperately wants to dance on The Corny Collins Show, sponsored by Ultra Clutch Hairspray. She wins a spot on the show which is a local television programme, and becomes a teenage celebrity overnight. This glory is faced with the indignation of the programme’s reigning princess Amber Von Tussle, complete with matching dress, shoes and handbag, whose overbearing mother Velma produces the show. The girl on the show who gets the highest popularity rating will be crowned Miss Teenage Hairspray – and Amber wants the crown that Tracy seems destined to win.

Hairspray will be touring to Salford, Sunderland, Bradford, Milton Keynes, Southampton, Liverpool, Glasgow, Birmingham, Belfast, Cardiff, Nottingham, Dublin, Bristol, Leeds, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Norwich from 11 February to 29 September 2013.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Flawless Set to Appear in Bristol Panto

Flawless

Flawless, famous by the hit TV show Britain’s Got Talent, is heading to Bristol on December 7 2012 to take part in Aladdin at the Hippodrome, pulling on their festive costumes and thinking ‘panto time’!

The street dance sensations will star alongside Carol McGiffin, Josie Gibson and Andy Ford in this family pantomime which will run from December 7 – January 6 2013, complete with all the audience’s favourite pantomime gags and a special injection of street dance talent from Flawless, starring as the Peking Police Squad.

The group shot to fame by competing in the third series of Britain’s Got Talent where they wowed both audiences and judges alike, even winning the notorious Simon Cowell over. Since then the eight members have rocketed to stardom having appeared in the popular StreetDance films and most recently headlined alongside Kylie Minogue at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert. In addition to this, the group featured in the Paralympic opening ceremony 2012 and will be making an appearance on an upcoming results show of this season’s Strictly Come Dancing.

Flawless has also collaborated with English National Ballet earlier this year on their production of Against Time – a fusion of street dance and ballet which dazzled audiences – as well as their own successful 110 date tour Chase the Dream. Aladdin at the Bristol Hippodrome will mark their pantomime debut.

Kevin Wood, Chief Executive of the pantomime producers First Family Entertainment said: “We are thrilled to have secured Flawless to join the cast of Aladdin and look forward to them adding a modern twist to our traditional family pantomime…we have worked extremely hard in securing the boys to give South West audiences the best show ever”.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.