Thriller Live’s Extension

Thriller LiveAlmost four years after his sudden death in 2009, the popular musical spectacular based on the hits of King of Pop Michael Jackson Thriller Live is set to carry on singing and dancing into 2014. Full of moon-walking, white gloves and grabbing of crotches, the musical has received a new extension to its run at the Lyric Theatre in London’s West End.

The show opened in January 2009, and is currently taking bookings until 16 March 2014. As a musical each performance showcases the iconic songs and fantastic, and equally iconic, dancing of the Michael Jackson legend and legacy, re-writing the rules of dance and consequently increasing its popularity.

In huge contrast to some of the story-telling book-based musicals that are also currently playing in the capital, Thriller Live conveys lots of high energy dance, eye-popping graphics, videos and songs in order to take audiences on a journey through the career and music of Jackson. The production is also regularly updated to keep the performances and the performers fresh, and has recently added an exciting new opening which some of its first audience members may not have seen. The show is now in its fifth year of existence and is an incredibly heart-warming experience for all those involved, making the musical very popular.

As a result of the announcement of the show’s extension, Thriller Live will be closing in on the record of the longest running show in the Lyric theatre’s 125-year history. The record is currently held by Five Guys Named Moe, which ran at the venue in the West End from December 1990 to March 1995.

Cats The Musical

Cats The MusicalSince Cats the musical opened on the West End stage in 1981 it has become one of the world’s best known and best loved musicals. Originally directed by Trevor Nunn, the show has since been presented in over 20 countries and in around 250 cities, including diverse destinations such as Buenos Aires, Seoul, Helsinki and Singapore, and has been translated into 10 languages for audiences all over the world. The show has translated into Japanese, German, (three versions for Germany, Austria and Switzerland), Hungarian, Norwegian, Finnish, Dutch, Swedish, French, Spanish (two versions for Mexico and Argentina) and Italian, with the Swiss production requiring a bilingual cast who performed in German and English on alternate nights

The original production opened at the New London Theatre in the West End on 11 May 1981: eight years later it celebrated its first important milestone and became the longest running musical in the history of the British theatre after 3,358 performances. Within two and half years of the London opening there were productions in New York, Tokyo, Budapest and Vienna, and the first of tour US touring productions had begun. Cats opened on Broadway in 1982 and ran until 2000, with 1997 seeing the show become the longest running musical on Broadway and 1991 marking Cats as the longest, continuously touring show in American theatre history.

In addition to the incredible dance and staging of the iconic production, the musical numbers of the show have also been hugely popular. “Memory” has been recorded by over 150 artists ranging from Barbra Streisand to Johnny Mathis, with Barry Manilow’s rendition was a top-40 hit in the U.S. The Original London Cast Recording of Cats also won the 1982 Grammy Award for Best Cast Album, in addition to a number of other awards over the years, and the following year the Original Broadway Cast Recording won the same award.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The 42nd Street Gala

42nd Street

100 of the best UK tappers – including So You Think You Can Dance winner Matt Flint – joined forces for a spectacular Gala performance in aid of the Caron Keating Foundation. The Caron Keating Foundation is a fund raising charity set up by Gloria Hunniford and her sons Paul and Michael in order to aid many cancer charities across the UK. The charity gala performance of the Broadway musical 42nd Street was held at the London Palladium on 17 March in aid of the Foundation. 

250 people both on and off stage gave up their time and services for free in order to generously to produce an uplifting and exciting evening. 100 dancers donning their tap shoes and tights, including part of the original 42nd Street production in Drury Lane in the 1980’s, gave some exciting performances which brought many standing ovations.

Also on stage were many well known names which included Brian Conley, Gary Wilmot, Summer Strallen, Gok Wan, Russell Grant, Gabby Roslin, Angela Rippon, Wayne Sleep, Louis Spence, Arlene Philips, Vanessa Feltz and many more, much to the delight of the audience. More bedazzling talent also appeared in the form of So You Think You Can Dance winner Matt Flint, a former pupil of Laine Theatre Arts, who choreographed several numbers for the show.

Next for the Caron Keating Foundation is the Night of 1000 Stars which is to be held at the Royal Albert Hall in May. This will be to celebrate Harold Prince, who some may argue is the King of Broadway, and his multi award-winning shows. Songs from West Side Story, Phantom of the Opera, Fiddler on the Roof, A Little Night Music, Sweeny Todd, Cabaret, She Loves Me and stars from both sides of the Atlantic will be included.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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

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

Sweeney Todd

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.