Funny Girl – Manchester Palace Theatre

Don’t tell me not to live
Just sit and Putter

Sheridan Smith’s interpretation of Fanny Brice’s rise from Brooklyn musical halls sparkles with energy. She easily handles the big numbers in this show, as well as the emotional depth of how she handles her personal life.

Life’s candy and the sun’s
A ball of butter

But then it is a piece from its own time, with some rather dated views on the roles of women and men within relationships, which are held up to be right and proper. But at least we establish that Fanny won’t let anyone rain on her parade.

Don’t bring around a cloud
To rain on my parade

I couldn’t work out how the set was moving until I saw this video (with the Orchestral Overture) of how it was built. Fascinating to watch for someone like me who belongs firmly in the audience.

Hair the Musical at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester

Prior to seeing this I knew that Hair was a 1970s musical that significantly changed the direction of musical theatre, but not the storyline or any of the songs. So seeing it was due to run in Manchester, I booked tickets to go with my Mum – who had been considered too young for even the LP when it first ran.

Set in a hippy community during the Vietnam war years, we were taken on a journey through anti-war, but mostly anti-draft protests, free love and drug usage. I was most drawn into that political debate on war and freedom – and how strong fears and passions merged with mob-like behaviour with the social norm becoming to refuse law whilst also (allegedly) refusing to harm others.

I was blown away by the score and the quality of the cast and music: helped by Hope Mill Theatre being a very intimate venue: with only around 100 seats and most of those only two rows deep, a lot of the time we were eye to eye with the actors and there’s nothing to make you feel part of the story than a moment with eye contact, linked hands and someone singing right to you.

The cast sang well and were convincing, and the music was rocking: my favourite part was at the end when we were all pulled up to dance on the performance area once the actors had all taken their bows.

Avenue Q – 2016 tour – Manchester

The sun is shining its a lovely day
The perfect morning for a kid to play
But you have lots of bills to pay
What can you do?

Finding ourselves entirely free on a Saturday evening, we browsed the local theatre listings, and realised that it was the last night of the Avenue Q run in Manchester. That was enough to have us at the box office, picking up a couple of the last tickets available.

We’d previously seen the first run of Avenue Q in London in around 2008, from West End “cheap” seats. But on tour, we were comfortably in the middle of the stalls, with leg room and a great view. I don’t know how much this contributed to it being much better than either of us remembered, making us both laugh at the puppets mocking their own fates. The characters are surprising convincing and empathetic, and I have several of the songs still in my head.

For a silly light-hearted musical, it is surprisingly deep in places. The more “adult” content did have me cringing in places though!

Phantom of the Opera

Turn your face away from the garish light of day

Turn your thoughts away from cold unfeeling light

And help me make the music of the niight

We saw the magnificent production of Phantom at Her Majesty’s Theatre in on the West End last night. The sets are fantastically luxurious, with the odd scene that was strongly reminiscent of 1980s music videos.

John Owen-Jones made a splendid Phantom, seductive with an edge of creepiness that gradually crept up to a murderous rage.

He contrasted well with Celinde Schoenmaker as Christine, who plausibly fell under his control, even as she fought him at every possible moment. She sang beautifully, with a convincing transformation from sweet-but-shy chorus girl to lead, and spellbinding performances as the story underwent transitions.

Rent in Concert

I need to mention that RENT was my very favourite musical when I was 15-17 (ish). I saw it 4 times in the Prince of Wales Theatre in London (whilst living in Lancashire) and still am word-perfect with the lyrics. So its no great surprise that I loved this.

Its still as raw and powerful as ever, and the basic set with musicians on stage added to that. I think there must have been a speck of dust in the auditorium because I had a tear in my eye by the end, then everyone was up on their feet for the finale and encore.

I do feel old now, just because aside from the film I haven’t seen this in a decade and it was so much of my life then.

The Book of Mormon (Musical)

A brilliantly funny (and very crude) musical which I got to on the West End see as my main birthday present. I was very impressed at how they balanced between making fun of Mormons who have gone out to Missions and treating those Mormons as good people who try to rationalise their own beliefs. Apparently they did this so well that the Church of Latter Day Saints actually likes the musical (and the program includes adverts for the actual Book of Mormon).

The music has good repeated themes throughout to tie the production together, as is sufficently catchy that when I hear “Hello” I now automatically follow it up in my head with “…my name is Elder Price”.