Last week, I returned to London for a two show day; this one full of Pajamas, Games and Bodyguards.
Firstly, I’d like to thank the staff at The Shaftesbury Theatre for being so kind and attentive towards us throughout our visit, especially when helping me negotiate what I now affectionately call the ‘death slides’. The Shaftesbury has two small sets of stairs that you’ll need to negotiate in order to get to your seats if you’re in Box F, like I was. The way around this is a portable ramp that is placed over said staircases. These are quite steep and a bit scary, but not for one moment did I feel unsafe thanks to incredibly one strong usher. Also, the seat has an AWESOME view for me in my wheelchair, so it was a win win situation all round!
As you might already know, I took a trip up to Chichester to see The Pajama Game in June last year, so I won’t be going into reams of detail about the plot of the show here. Suffice to say, it was an afternoon of sheer joy that I was so excited to repeat courtesy of the familiar Sleep Tite gang as well as some new faces! The main new face for me was leading man Michael Xavier, my overwhelming reaction towards him throughout the entirety of the show was: ‘my god. Why on earth have I not been in an audience watching him long before now?’ He bought a real loveable charm and sincerity to Sid that I adored, as well as a wonderful quiet intensity of vocal. I don’t mean in terms of volume, but just in terms of his style of singing. He didn’t spend ages trying to show off how brilliant his vocal range is (of course that’s already a given!) but instead focused more acting through the song and drawing the audience into Sid’s world, and I loved his commitment to the storytelling from start to finish. I was really grateful for my excellent seat throughout the show; every so often Michael would look up at me, and particularly during Hey There where this was coupled with a stunning rendition of said song, I’m not ashamed to admit I had chills and my heart skipped a little. I remember tweeting at the interval: ‘Little bit in love with @michaelxavierUK up here!’ which I like to think amused the man himself as when I checked my phone again shortly before the interval ended, he had favourited my tweet.
Having seen the show in Chichester, I did get a few of the inevitable and expected ‘did you miss Hadley as Sid?’ thrown at me, to which I can say with complete honesty: I didn’t in the slightest. I don’t think it’s really fair to compare the two interpretations as they are both very different from one another, and each bought something unique to the character that I loved, but I will say I found the chemistry between Michael & Joanna to be a lot more effortless than it was between her and Hadley, and were I felt a much better fit for one another. I especially enjoyed their renditions of There Once Was A Man and Small Talk, their energy really lit up the stage and left a huge smile on my face, as did the fact Michael lifted Joanna into his arms in order to kiss her, which happens a lot over the course of the show; it reminded me of ‘old school’ Hollywood movie kisses and was always really charming. Joanna has really grown in the role of Babe since I saw her in Chichester, it felt to me like she has settled and feels more comfortable playing someone who we can see is falling head over heels for a guy no matter how hard she tries to deny it, and as ever I thoroughly enjoyed her vocal.
I was overjoyed to see the pairing of Peter Polycarpou and Claire Machin back as Hines and Mabel, respectively. Mabel, Sid’s secretary, acts as Hines’s moral compass when he struggles to control his paranoia and jealousy when it comes to Gladys, whom he adores. I’ll Never Be Jealous Again was a highlight of the entire show for me as both Peter & Claire had me in stitches, and I’m really glad I managed to make a trip to see Peter in the role again before he leaves at end of May to go rehearse for Guys & Dolls. I hope Gary Wilmot, his successor, has as much fun in the role as Peter seems to be having right now!
As you know if you read my previous review of the show, you’ll see that I have a lot of love for Eugene McCoy as Prez, he’s just a wonderfully funny and loveable character that I feel fits Eugene like a glove. As such, one of my highlights of the Chichester production was Her Is, which I was so disappointed to see cut from this version. Eugene still shines, but I feel it’s missing a trick by not letting the man have his other big number!
Wonderful cast aside for a moment, I must compliment the work of Choreographer Stephen Mear, and Musical Supervisor/ Dance Arranger extraordinaire Gareth Valentine. I’d forgotten how much this show radiates with positive energy and sheer joy, and boy oh boy do these two know how to bring it out of their cast; there are times when said energy almost leaps off stage to grab you, and nowhere is this more pronounced for me than during Once A Year Day, which includes one of the most impressive ensemble dance numbers I’ve ever had the joy of watching. Special mention must go to Dan Burton’s Earl and Richard Jones as Frank here, they were doing some ridiculous lifts, mid air spins, slides and other such tricks that left me in awe; so much so another interval tweet of mine was: ‘Forgot how well @danburton22 & the guys could BUST A MOVE!’
Special mention to the ensemble ladies of the cast: Jennie Dale as Mae, Sharon Wattis as Poopsie, Keisha Amponsa Banson as Brenda, Lauren Varnham as Charlene, Helen Ternent as Martha and Jo Morris as Rita, I loved how they all worked together, especially complimenting Joanna’s Babe to great effect in She’s Not At All In Love, their enthusiasm was infectious and I really loved how playful they were in terms of teasing Babe and fawning over Sid.
One of the things that I did wonder about this production moving to London was how it would work on an actual stage, given that Chichester’s Minerva Theatre is essentially just this vast space. Kudos to the entire creative team for ensuring such a slick transition, my only suggestion would be to tone down the orchestra ever so slightly as it sometimes threatened to drown out the performers and made it difficult to understand what they were singing.
When I went, the show was still in previews, and I was bowled over by what I saw. It’s running for a limited season until September, and I would urge everyone to go and see it, the tunes are incredibly catchy and the cast amazingly talented… we all left the theatre smiling!
My thanks to Dan, Lauren, Michael & Peter for their time afterwards, your kindness, warmth & generosity made my afternoon!
After meeting some lovely gents and ladies of the Sleep Tite Pajama Factory, it was time to head to the Adelphi for our second visit to The Bodyguard. I remember when I settled in to see this show for the first time last November, I wasn’t sure what to expect; I hadn’t seen the film at the time and I confess I still haven’t, because I don’t feel like I need to and want to keep the memory of my cast fresh in my mind. As before, Beverley Knight was a complete revelation as Rachel Marron, I didn’t think it was possible that she could have gotten better vocally than last time, but she smashed my expectations once more and tore the roof off the theatre. I have still yet to experience the sheer ferocity and volume of applause we were giving her for any other female performer on the West End at the moment, and when Memphis takes up residence at the Shaftesbury later this year, I’ll be there with bells on.
Where I did notice another change in Beverley was in her non singing moments; it felt to me like she has really grown and become more comfortable in the role, her emotion felt more raw and believable, as did her initial distrust of Frank. Speaking of Tristan, I felt his portrayal of Frank has come on leaps and bounds since I last saw the show. I mentioned in my previous review how the role fascinates me as it relies a lot on body language and your eyes to tell the story. I felt Tristan has made this connection more strongly now, as his overall portrayal felt more self assured; I really felt the conviction of his emotions, his accent felt more polished as did his little moment of glory behind a microphone. I don’t care what he says, I still think he’s a better singer than he would have us believe!
Some new faces graced the stage that night- special mention to David O’ Mahoney, who was on for Ray, and my new Nicki Marron, Carole Stennett. I look forward to a visit to the show where I can see David as the ‘Stalker’, or even Frank as I enjoyed his take on Ray very much.
I think I may have seen Carole in The Lion King when it was on tour here in Bristol a few years back, so it was wonderful to see her in action again here. Carole’s take on Nicki was a lot more vulnerable and easily endeared to me than Debbie Kurup’s interpretation was, though I enjoyed both portrayals very much. Because she came across to me as more vulnerable and beautifully fragile in both her acting and vocal, I felt the connection between Nicki & Rachel to be more raw and intense, I really felt I believed how complicated their connection is supposed to be.
One of the things I love most about this show is its ability to shape and sustain atmosphere, the beginning still makes me jump even though I know what’s coming, there are murmurs of discontent whenever the Stalker arrives, and most importantly I have no voice by the end. Hey, you know you’ve had a great night when you’re leaving and the ushers say ‘we heard you sing!’ during the Finale, right? 😉
My thanks to Beverley & Tristan for their time and patience afterwards, it was a joy and an honour to finally meet you both!