CALENDAR GIRLS - A DATE NOT TO BE MISSED

Sunflowers are blooming at the Grand Opera House Belfast this month, as the Calendar Girls are in town and the cast has brought the sunshine to the city!

Calendar Girls, The Musical is a new take on the well-known Calendar Girls’ story; a story of hope, friendship, bravery and love which began 20 years ago. This new musical by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth captures the essence of the original (and pretty sensational) news story but with a modern, musical feel. As well as beautiful, bright staging and costumes, the new production has risqué poses and big musical numbers, it is the perfect feel-good production for a night out - and I really enjoyed it.

If I’m honest though, it took me a little while to get into this production with the pace of first act being a teeny bit slow for me. I guess the producers were busy scene-setting, character building and establishing the quintessential Englishness of the large cast of characters (including Lisa Maxwell, Sue Devaney, Julia Hills and Rebecca Storm) which goes on to be shattered in the second act with their nudity.  

The story tells the tale of Annie (Sarah Jane Buckley) and her husband John (Phil Corbitt) who live and work in a closely-knit community in Yorkshire, but who unfortunately face tragedy when John is diagnosed with cancer and, [SPOILER ALERT!], subsequently passes away. What happens after is the stuff of legend. Or of many newspaper articles and now a show, anyway!

In the second act the story definitely moves up a notch in terms of pace, as the girls decide to throw caution (and all that stiff-upper-lip Englishness) to the wind to produce a fundraising calendar – a nude one – à la Pirelli – and it is here that the real humour of the show begins. The Grand Opera House audience lapped up every moment of the antics, with the cast seeming to grow in confidence at their reaction (although I imagine they get the same reaction everywhere they go, such is the warmth of the story). The talented and very brave actors shine, even Lesley Joseph (best known for her role as Doreen in Birds of a feather), who isn’t he strongest singer but delivers her solo numbers with gusto, singing from the heart and engaging many menopausal and post-menopausal women in the audience as she sings about the perils of growing old.

 As the show climaxes with the fantastically choreographed finale (which has to be seen to believed), you are left with a broad smile on your face,  (although I did shed a tear or two, truth be told) and feeling pride for the performers and for the original Calendar Girls who are still raising money for the Bloodwise charity to this day. And if that fact doesn’t uplift you, the emboldened and empowered flashes of fifty-something flesh certainly will!

Calendar Girls runs until Saturday 25 May tickets available at goh.co.uk.

CALENDAR GIRLS.jpg

FUN | KELLYS PORTRUSH CELEBRATES GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY

- “LIVE AT THE BEACH PORTRUSH”- KELLYS PORTRUSH CELEBRATES GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY YEAR WITH NORTHERN IRELAND’S BIGGEST EVER BEACH FESTIVAL!-

beach party.jpeg

 Northern Ireland’s biggest and best beach festival has just been announced to take place this summer as the world’s hottest DJs join the Ulster Orchestra to mark 50 years of partying in Portrush - all thanks to Kellys and Lush!

 Kellys Portrush/Lush! have announced plans for an all-new 12,000 capacity Beach Festival in their spiritual home of Portrush this summer and we can’t wait!
Following the overwhelming success of the sell-out Lush! Classical shows at the SSE Arena Belfast and Ebrington Square, Derry/Londonderry for the Clipper Yacht Race celebrations, Lush! are now taking things to the next level with their Biggest classical show to date...taking the ‘Lush Classical’ concept outdoors with the North Coast’s stunning coastline as its backdrop. The event is in celebration of Kellys 50th year providing top-class entertainment for music fans across Northern Ireland…bringing it home to Portrush… can you imagine a better Summer evening?!

Lush! Classical Live at the Beach will be staged on August 10, 2019, at Portrush’s famous East Strand and will feature some of the hottest dance acts on the planet collaborating with Northern Ireland's most accomplished classical musicians. The event is part of a three-day music festival event in partnership with LSFX Productions.

For generations of music-fans in Northern Ireland, Kellys in Portrush has always been synonymous with the biggest stars of the local and international dance scene filling the floors every weekend for the most enthusiastic revellers. We all remember uni nights spent dancing the night away in Kellys.

The newly revamped Kellys venue is also renowned for innovation and pushing the boundaries of genre, while pioneering new forms of dance music. 

 Despite the fact it’s celebrating 50 years providing top class entertainment, for 2019, the team at Kellys is planning the biggest and best celebration to date.

 The Lush! Classical Live at the Beach event will see a 55-piece Ulster Orchestra, produced by Kylie Minogue’s musical director Steve Anderson combined with the genius of DJ and musical producer, Dave Seaman and featuring ‘Ibiza’s favourite saxophone player’ Lovely Laura and Maria Nayler. The event has capacity for 12,000 music fans -making it the biggest ever outdoor Classical dance event in Northern Ireland estimated at contributing more than £1.8million to the local economy. 

 Special guests include Seb Fontaine, Tall Paul, K Klass, Ben Santiago, Dee Montero and Junior J and tickets are expected to sell out quickly for what’s set to be Northern Ireland’s biggest ever beach party.

 Peter Wilson (48) is the second generation of his family to take over running Kellys, originally set up by his late uncle James Kelly in 1969. 

What started as a cowshed for staging barn dances 50 years ago has developed into one of the best-known nightclubs in Europe and this summer’s event will the most ambitious to date.

“This is going to be a golden year for Kellys as we celebrate our 50th anniversary, so we really wanted to pull out all the stops and give our loyal fans the party of their life,” Peter said.

Beach Party .jpeg

Lush! Classical Live at the Beach will be staged on August 10, 2019, at Portrush’s East Strand from 5pm to 11pm. 
Tickets cost £35 and £50 (plus booking fees) for the VIP area (hosted by Ibiza’s Café Mambo) and can be purchased from the usual outlets. 

 

For more information go to www.liveatthebeach.co.uk. Note, this event is strictly over 18’s only. 

ALICE: THE MUSICAL AT THE LYRIC IS A TRULY WONDERFUL TAKE ON WONDERLAND

I didn’t see Paul Boyd’s Alice: The Musical at the Lyric twenty years ago, but I can’t imagine it was anywhere as camp and colourful as this year’s take on the original Lewis Carroll tale - which was my favourite theatre experience this Christmas - because after touring the world for two decades, I can only guess that this production gets better with every performance.

 Alice: The Musical tells the story of Alice’s adventures in Wonderland and her attempts to escape the clutches of the notorious Queen of Hearts (Allison Harding). Tumble down the rabbit hole with Alice (Ruby Campbell) in pursuit of the elusive White Rabbit (Christina Nelson), to discover a fantastic realm where nothing makes sense. On her journey Alice meets an assortment of strange characters, including the famous acting duo of Tweedledum (Rea Campbell-Hill ) and Tweedledee (Adam Dougal), the unpredictable and hilarious Caterpillar (Mark Dugdale), the Mad Hatter (Mark Dugdale), and members of his underground political movement the Tea Party including the March Hare (Adam Dougal) and the Dormouse (Rea Campbell-Hill), and the seriously mad inventor The White Knight (Adam Dougal) – overseen at all times by the enigmatic Cheshire Cat (Charlotte McCurry).

Just seven actors covered all the roles in this massive musical revival - and I have to compliment the nanosecond synchronicity in the choreography (well done Deborah Maguire)  as well as truly West End-worthy singing and acting across the board. And although Ruby Campbell’s Alice and the icy /slash bonkers Queen of Hearts played by Allison Harding were both amazing, it was Mark Dugdale’s Mad Hatter and his caterpillar which enthralled me most. Both were absolutely en pointe. Christina Nelson also delivered a brilliant White Rabbit too, along with a few other roles between costume changes.

 

And on that note - THE COSTUMES!! As a fashionista first and foremost, I totally loved Gillian Lennox and Erin Charteris’ interpretations of the original illustrations, with a bit of Studio 54/Rio carnival thrown in for good measure. Stuart Marshall’s set was pretty spectacular too, especially when you consider the same stage delivers the ‘grown up’ theatre performance Bah Humbug each night after Alice.

 

All in all this is a truly Broadway-standard production and the big number finish left me baying for more.

 

Alice: The Musical will run at Lyric Theatre 29 November – 5 January. Tickets prices are Children: £12.50 Adult: £17.50, Family: £55.00. Discounts available for school bookings. For more information and tickets visit:

ALICE - THE MUSICAL.jpg

HUMBUG IS HILARIOUS - THIS YEAR'S LYRIC THEATRE PRODUCTION IS FAB!

Grimes and McKee’s modern day Christmas Carol opening couldn’t have been more timely for me as, just weeks before, I had battled with my otherwise amazing other half because the last quarter of the year turns him completely business-obsessed and easily-impressed by the power of clients - some of whom are property moghuls who put profit before people.  All that ‘networking’ until 4am at the Merchant or Malmaison rather than coming home meant that Michael Condron’s Ebeneezer character touched quite  a sore nerve.

The story in brief is that Ebeneezer Scrooge (played fantastically by Condron) is the richest property developer in Belfast and, like in the original Dickens’ novel, he is visited by ghosts of the Christmas past, present and future in an effort to show him the error of his selfish, miserly and profit-focused ways and to encourage him to share his time and resources with those who matter.

Condron is brilliant as Scrooge - just as great on stage and in character as he had been earlier this year playing the twisted Pastor in Sinners. But each of the other actors (Grimes, McKee, Roisin Gallagher and Sophie Harkness ) was amazing in their myriad roles throughout the play, delivering script and form as varied as they come - and packed with jollity too.

In short, Ebenezer is a real Scrooge type whose only gods are money and success and who abandoned his only family (a niece borne of his beloved sister who died in childbirth) in favour of these. The same miserly figure treats his staff abysmally, and swans around the city in his brand new Range Rover not giving a proverbial f*%k about culture (there were some good Cathedral Quarter jibes in there which went down with the Lyric crowd).  The play tells the same story as the original, but with local relevance as well as a global (and important) message. There is plenty of great music too, with lots of rehashed classic Christmas songs and the odd 80s number. [And on this note, my only critique was the choice of the Conga as the whole ‘mood change’ music in the second act. It was kinda lost on me and I wished it had been different/better/something else, but that might have changed by the time Christmas comes around].   

Sometimes I get bored of Norn Iron humour - and not because I’m one of those snobby arts people, but I just think we can do better than the clichéd ‘aye right, love’ // ‘yer da, my ma’ kind of script. However when it’s done right, à la Jimmy Young in his 1970s peak, our humour is frickin’ hilarious and Bah Humbug sets this tone brilliantly.

Bah, Humbug! runs at Lyric Theatre Belfast from 17 Nov 2018 – 05 Jan 2019 8pm (17 & 18 Nov: £15).

Tickets: £22.50, Concessions (Students, Unemployed & Under 20’s): £15, over 65’s any matinee: £15.

For further information and bookings visit: www.lyrictheatre.co.uk

Bah-Humbug-Featured-1-1.jpg

THE GRAND OPERA HOUSE PANTO IS THE GRAND DAME OF CHRISTMAS THEATRE IN BELFAST… OH YES IT IS!

Jack and the Beanstalk at the Grand Opera House is so good I’ve seen it twice.
Jack and the Beanstalk is SO GOOD, I’m writing this twice!

328 Dame May Trot (May McFettridge).jpg

I’m literally just home from watching the Grand Opera House’s panto for the second  time in as many weeks and I was delighted to see many regulars from the GOH Panto stage take to the boards again this year. John Linehan’s May Trott character is of course the comedy hero - and this is his/her 29th consecutive panto. What a run! Joining May is the double Olivier award-winning actor David Bedella as pantomime’s ultimate baddie, and the giant’s henchman, Fleshcreep. David played the role of Captain Hook in Peter Pan last Christmas, seen by over 75,000 people during its six week run (and I loved the jovial jibes from May and co when she teased him as he sang ‘My Way’ just before his on-stage demise, saying he sang it last year). I cant fail to mention Paddy and Simon, also, who were both wonderfully present and very funny on stage too.

49 Simon Trot (Rikki Jay), Dame May Trot (May McFettridge), Bella the Cow.jpg

My six year old and friends absolutely LOVED the music - some Greatest Showman numbers mixed with the usual bouncy pop classics, perfect for kids full of delish Dale Farm ice cream and mums seeking a bit of nostalgia in the score. They also loved the characters, the lights, the sounds, the animals, the big choreography as well as the splashing and the audience cam.

But as a wordsmith by trade, I must say that it is very cleverly written too; my favourite part is the tongue-twisting dialogue about Susan (or was it Sharon?) selling Sushi on a Saturday, which makes no sense on its own, but which is woven into the script perfectly. As usual with panto, there are multiple levels of humour, plenty for the kids and some most definitely for just the grown-ups. And proper order too.  I also loved the totally slapstick ‘If I were not in Pantomine’ skit towards the end, again superbly well written and choreographed to nano-second-synchronicity. The kids sang it all the way home, adding in  their own future jobs with actions.

I shant say any more for fear of spoilers, but in short this is West End worthy theatre in the heart of Belfast - all wrapped up with pyrotechnics and a big chopper like I’ve not seen since Miss Saigon plus a wonderfully 3D scary giant who had little kids around us screaming.

As for me, I’m one of over 1000 people to have booked for December 2019’s Beauty and the Beast already. The Grand Opera House panto really kicks off Christmas for me and I hope it’s a tradition I never give up.

 Jack and the Beanstalk, sponsored by Dale Farm, runs from Saturday 1 December 2018 to Sunday 13 January 2019. Tickets can be booked at goh.co.uk.

FOLIO | FLASHDANCE FOR FUN!

Last night I was invited along to the UK Tour of hit musical Flashdance at the Grand Opera House, and was treated to a colourful array of 80s dance classics.

The Musical tells the inspiring and unforgettable story of 18-year-old Alex, an apprentice welder by day and ‘flashdancer’ by night, who dreams of going to the prestigious Shipley Dance Academy and becoming a professional dancer.  When a romance with the boss and background which isn’t straightforward  complicates her ambitions, she harnesses it to drive her dream. She is every bit the modern feminist, despite her dancing-for-bucks night job, or maybe because of it. The story is a tale of loyalty, love, jealousy and forgiveness as well as ambition and the timeless rich-versus-poor narrative - all peppered with catchy tunes and delivered by a fun cast.  

I enjoyed the energetic performances by leads Joanne Clifton and Ben Adams (both dancers on Strictly at various times, among other previous roles) and I got to meet them before the show as the team had organised a Flashdance masterclass at Auora dance studios in Belfast (not much fun for me in my worky LBD and a pair of spanx underneath, but hey!)    Notable solos also by the nurse (played by Sasha Latoya) and also by Colin Kiyani as Jimmy.   Having grown up in that era, I remember dancing to some of the faves, like Irene Cara’s ‘What a Feeling!’ in the kitchen as they blasted out on the radio. And I especially loved the finale sequence, which had the whole Opera House audience on its feet (and swinging hips too I might add).   Tickets available now at:   https://www.goh.co.uk/whats-on/flashdance-the-musical/  and the show runs until 25 August

I enjoyed the energetic performances by leads Joanne Clifton and Ben Adams (both dancers on Strictly at various times, among other previous roles) and I got to meet them before the show as the team had organised a Flashdance masterclass at Auora dance studios in Belfast (not much fun for me in my worky LBD and a pair of spanx underneath, but hey!) 

Notable solos also by the nurse (played by Sasha Latoya) and also by Colin Kiyani as Jimmy. 

Having grown up in that era, I remember dancing to some of the faves, like Irene Cara’s ‘What a Feeling!’ in the kitchen as they blasted out on the radio. And I especially loved the finale sequence, which had the whole Opera House audience on its feet (and swinging hips too I might add). 

Tickets available now at:  https://www.goh.co.uk/whats-on/flashdance-the-musical/ and the show runs until 25 August

2.png