Thank you for the music Birmingham Hippodrome!

Thank you for the music Birmingham Hippodrome!

The cast of MAMMA MIA! Photo: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

MAMMA Mia – here we go again. . . and again and again as far as I’m concerned!

Full disclosure – this is not my first visit to the world’s most famous fictional Greek taverna, so there were no surprises in store. But it was the first outside of the West End – and there were VERY high standards to maintain!

There’s good reason the smash hit musical marks its 23rd year in the UK, in fact 65 million of them – the number of people who have seen the show in more than 450 cities worldwide.

Mamma Mia, Birmingham Hippodrome, ABBA
James Willoughby Moore (Peppa), Helen Anker (Tanya) and the cast of MAMMA MIA! Photo: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

And for the next two weeks its Birmingham’s turn to delight audiences with producer Judy Craymer’s global phenomenon – a sunny, funny tale of a mother and daughter and three possible dads unfolding on a Greek island idyll.

Craymer’s MAMMA MIA! The Movie, also became the highest grossing live action musical film of all time upon its release in 2008 and MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN, opened in July 2018 and is the most successful live musical movie sequel of all time. How could it possible fail? (Despite Piece Brosnan’s vocal attempts to kill it!)

Helen Anker (Tanya), Sara Poyzer (Donna), Nicky Swift (Rosie) in MAMMA MIA! Photo: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

As a die-hard fan of ABBA’s music, any show that weaves its story around their back catalogue was not going to disappoint. But it’s important to say that this is so much more than a jukebox musical. Lashings of care have gone into the storyline and Mamma Mia stands on its own two feet as musical theatre of the highest calibre.

And, sometimes unusually for live theatre, touring versions away from the glitz of the West End, can lose a bit of their gloss. Not so here. This glitterball of a show shone bright from curtain up to lights down, skipping along, from one huge ABBA hit to the next with boundless energy.

It proves the perfect platform for Jena Pandya and Sara Poyzer, whose powerhouse performances as mother and daughter Sophie and Donna Sheridan are central to this show’s success. But they are more than ably supported by an ensemble of talented co-stars, including great comic performances by Helen Anker and Nicky Swift as Donna’s old friends Tanya and Rosie.

Mariella Mazzilli (Lisa), Jena Pandya (Sophie), Jasmine Shen (Ali) in MAMMA MIA! Photo: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

Fans of ABBA – or even just those affectionately familiar with their songs – will love every toe-tapping minute of this breathtaking rollercoaster ride through some of the iconic band’s MANY hits. It’s unashamedly saccharine and never sets out to be anything other than a feelgood cheese fest – but that’s exactly what last night’s sell-out audience demanded.

If you’re looking for Sondheim, stay away.

Mamma Mia is an effervescent celebration that had each and every one of us on our feet for the rousing finale. (It’s a physical impossibility to stay seated for Dancing Queen!)

Mamma Mia, Birmingham Hippodrome, ABBA
Toby MIles (Sky) and the cast of MAMMA MIA! Photo: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

So grab your lycra and platform boots and embrace your inner sequined soul, for this stunning romp of a show. I’ve paid to go and see it again next week!

Thank you for the Music – again!

It plays at The Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday, May 14th with limited tickets available at: https://www.birminghamhippodrome.com/

(Review) If you go down to The Hippodrome today. . .

(Review) If you go down to The Hippodrome today. . .

Goldilocks and The Three Bears, Birmingham Hippodrome, review
The cast of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Picture by Simon Hadley.

Review by Clare Brennan

THERE haven’t been many times in my life when a show has genuinely left me speechless, but Goldilocks and The Three Bears at the Birmingham Hippodrome is so good it’s almost difficult to put into words – oh yes it is. . .

For my family and I the magic started long before the curtain rose.  Being our first night out at the theatre in a very long time, just taking our seats in the auditorium was exciting enough. But our first glimpse of the set – a circus-themed kaleidoscope of colour and light – showed we were in for something rather special.

From the opening number, this show is an absolute delight. It’s two-and-a-half hours of colour, music and pure fun. Yes, it’s a panto, but it’s also so much more than that!

Goldilocks and The Three Bears, Birmingham Hippodrome, review
Andrew Ryan as Dame Betty Barnum in Goldilocks and the Three Bears. 20 September 2021. Picture by Simon Hadley.

There were showgirls, acrobats, circus performers, a magician and daredevil motorcycle stunt riders, who brought the audience to their feet for a standing ovation long before the final curtain.

The fun-filled story follows the adventures of Dame Betty Barnum (Andrew Ryan) and her daughter Goldilocks (Samantha Dorrance) whose circus is under threat from rival circus owner, the Evil Ringmaster (Jason Donovan). Cue a madcap mission to rescue their Big Top from ruin. Will they succeed? – Oh Yes they Will. . .

I cried laughing at Matt Slack, who was without doubt, the star of the show as Ringo The Ringmaster. His comic genius borrowed from some of the all-time greats of light entertainment was sometimes risque, but perfectly positioned for this family audience.

Former Neighbours actor and 80s heartthrob Jason Donovan was deliciously devilish, marking his pantomime debut as Count Ramsey of Erinsborough, and Andrew Ryan’s portrayal as the vibrant yet endearing Dame Betty Barnum was exquisite.

And if it’s tapdancing bears you’re after(!) The Brummie Bears trio of Ewan Goddard, Georgie Anderson and Jessica Daugirda is an irresistible delight. And Samantha Dorrance brings a fresh-faced charm to the iconic title role.

At just a couple of weeks shy of her fifth birthday my youngest daughter was perhaps a little young to enjoy it all, my eldest daughter, aged ten, was in her element – shouting out, singing and gasping in awe. It was wonderful to be able to share the joy of theatre with them both again.

You might be forgiven for thinking that the show’s description as ‘The Greatest Panto on Earth’ is a bold one – but the team behind this exceptional extravaganza have more than justified this billing.

This circus-themed spectacle proves to be a night of magnificent family fun we won’t forget in a hurry – and the perfect antidote to blowing away those post-Christmas – and pandemic – blues.

Goldilocks and The Bears runs at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Sunday, 30 January. For tickets call 0844 338 5000 or visit here.

Blood Brothers: Review

Blood Brothers: Review

Multi-award-winning play Blood Brothers has become one of the most popular British musicals of all time.

Set in post-war Liverpool in the 1960s, Willy Russell’s timeless tale tells the captivating, yet ultimately tragic, story of twin brothers separated at birth and growing up in contrasting worlds.

Blood Brothers, Birmingham Hippodrome, Lyn Paul

When Mrs Johnstone, a young mother, is deserted by her husband and left to her own devices to provide for seven hungry children she takes a job as a housekeeper in order to make ends meet. It is not long before her brittle world crashes around her when she discovers herself to be pregnant yet again – this time with twins! In a moment of weakness and desperation, she enters a secret pact with her employer which leads inexorably to the show’s shattering climax.

This touching tale of unconditional and instinctive brotherly love tarnished with an ever-present sense of impending tragedy – is narrated chillingly throughout the show by Robbie Scotcher. Scotcher was the perfect bridge from the dark to light shifts and between the characters and audience. Lit by a stark white light, he roamed the stage looming menacingly like a bad omen.

After more than 10,000 performances, Blood Brothers continues to stand the test of time – the opening night standing ovation following the heart-rending finale number Tell Me It’s Not True, stands as testament to that.

And its popularity is in no small part due to the beautifully crafted script and score that keeps die-hard fans including myself, returning time and time again.

Blood Brothers, Birmingham Hippodrome, Lyn Paul

Many of said fans will have recognised some of the faces too, among them Lyn Paul reprising the iconic role of Mrs Johnstone for her farewell tour, one she first made her own in London’s West End in 1997. It’s hard to believe Paul is 72 years young and still going strong in the role. A fantastically strong vocal presence too.

And Daniel Taylor returns as twin Mickey’s troublesome older brother Sammy in a role he seems to have made firmly his own.

Strong performances were turned in by Alexander Patmore as Mickey and, last night’s Eddie – Andy Owens. It didn’t take too long to get past their obvious lack of physical likeness (they are supposed to be believable as twins after all!) to buy into the relationship so central to the show.

As a longstanding Blood Brothers fan, I was delighted to be front and centre on its return to the Birmingham stage – and it didn’t disappoint. The production charts its tragic story so beautifully, tentatively, yet often comically and continues to be evergreen to theatre lovers.

In the final scene the tension within the auditorium was palpable (even when, like me, you know what’s coming!) – but was soon to be followed by a rousing ovation from an appreciative audience, for many of whom this marked a long-awaited return to live theatre. It was definitely worth the wait.

Blood Brothers plays at The Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday, November 13th. Tickets are available to purchase from the box office here

Make a date with the Calendar Girls – Review

Make a date with the Calendar Girls – Review

UNLESS you’ve been living in a bunker for the last 20 years, you’ll be familiar with the famous story this new musical is based upon.

Calendar Girls The Musical, Gary Barlow, Birmingham Hippodrome

But, for the benefit of those emerging from bunkers – this is the touching true tale of a group of ladies from a Yorkshire village who appeared naked for a WI calendar to raise funds for a settee for their local hospital following the death of one of their husbands.

It’s latest incarnation (it’s been a hugely successful play and film) had much to live up to. There was a lot riding on Gary Barlow’s musical score which, in his collaboration with the play’s original writer Tim Firth, had the potential to take the show to a new level.

And, I’m delighted to say, that it did.

It’s a delicate balance of emotions – there is the potential for tears of both laughter and sadness pretty much throughout the show (either way, that’s lots of tears!) –  and the subjects of love, loss, loneliness and friendship are captured most beautifully through Barlow’s numbers. It would have been easy to underline the script with a string of sad ballads – and there are its fair share of those – . but in fact, one walks away at the end of the evening feeling uplifted and ready to take on the world – whatever it might throw at us.

Calendar Girls The Musical, Birmingham Hippodrome, Gary Barlow, Tim Firth
The Calendar Girls cast with Gary Barlow and Tim Firth

For this is a show about an ordinary group of people with ordinary lives achieving quite extraordinary things. – Did you know the ladies upon which this story is inspired raised almost £5 million for blood cancer charity Bloodwise through their combined efforts? Quite right too then that their legacy should continue to live on through the arts.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not a show about grief, it’s a show about relationships and is more heartwarming than heartbreaking. The emotion is, at times, raw and you’ll have your share of wobbly lip moments (unless you’re made of stone) but, on the whole, it’s a celebration of endearment and emotional endurance (theirs and ours!) And as a show I believe it will also endure.

On its first UK tour following a stint in London’s West End, Calendar The Musical is in the hands of a most capable cast, many of whom are familiar faces from our TV screens.

Lesley Joseph of Birds of a Feather fame, Hollyoaks star Sarah Jane Buckley; Casualty actress Sue Devaney; Broadchurch star Julia Hills; Judy Holt of Cold Feet; Rebecca Storm from Les Miserables and ‘Loose Woman’ Lisa Maxwell make for a formidable acting line-up that handles everything thrown at them. And the heavy smattering of hysterical one-liners were fairly evenly distributed! The laugh-out-loud moments were among some of the funniest I’ve encountered in the theatre.

In a departure from the original script, Firth further explores the roles of the teenage characters and it’s a stroke of genius, adding more comedy gold to proceedings.

Calendar Girls The Musical, Birmingham Hippodrome

Act One at first seems to move quite slowly but, in fact, builds nicely towards a much-anticipated second act when the calendar photoshoot scenes for which the show is most famous, bring down the house.

There’s wonderful chemistry between these ladies who are clearly having an absolute ball getting their kit off night after night! And so were we.

Calendar Girls the Musical is raw, charming and uplifting and should not be missed. There’s plenty of time to still catch it locally as it runs at The Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday, June 8th.

Mamma Mia. . . Hippodrome is set to rock you!

Mamma Mia. . . Hippodrome is set to rock you!

THERE is exciting news for fans of Queen and Abba with the announcement that tickets soon go on sale for two blockbuster mega-musicals We Will Rock You (20 Apr – 2 May 2020) and MAMMA MIA! (12 -31 May 2020) at The Birmingham Hippodrome.

We Will Rock You returns to the Hippodrome next year.

Following triumphant 2009 and 2011 UK theatre tours and a 2013 10th anniversary world arena tour, the smash hit Queen and Ben Elton musical, We Will Rock You returns to Birmingham in a reimagined production.

Since 2002 over 15 million theatre-goers in 17 countries have been thrilled by the show’s awe-inspiring production showcasing a number of Queen’s finest hits, including We Are The Champions, Radio Ga Ga, Killer Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody, Another One Bites The Dust and, of course, We Will Rock You.

Producer of We Will Rock You, Phil McIntyre said: “We are really looking forward to bringing this true Rock Theatrical back to the Birmingham Hippodrome.  We had standing ovations night after night last time round, so we can’t wait to see that happen all over again.  May the Rhapsody play on forever!”

Mamma Mia
Mamma Mia.

The sensational feel-good musical MAMMA MIA! will return to Birmingham Hippodrome as part of a UK Tour celebrating 20 years since the record-breaking production premiered in London in April 1999.

From West End to global phenomenon, MAMMA MIA! is Judy Craymer’s ingenious vision of staging the story-telling magic of ABBA’s timeless songs with a sunny, funny tale of a mother, a daughter and three possible dads unfolding on a Greek island idyll. To date, it has been seen by over 60 million people in 50 productions in 16 different languages. 

Fiona Allan, Artistic Director and Chief Executive at Birmingham Hippodrome said: “The arrival of these two major musical juggernauts in 2020 continues Birmingham Hippodrome’s reputation for bringing the very best in theatre and live entertainment to Midlands audiences.

We Will Rock You (20th April – 2nd May 2020) and MAMMA MIA! (12th -31st May 2020) will go on sale to Hippodrome Friends and Patrons on 11th March, groups on 26th March and on general sale from 2nd April.