Of Musings and Wonderings

00421667%20-%20449x485Last night, I went with my mum to see Blues Brothers: The Smash Hit. The show is a tribute act/review, dedicated to John Belushi’s and Dan Ackroyd’s characters Jake and Ellwood Blues. If you haven’t seen the film, go do it now because it’s brilliant.

You done? Good.

Okay so, this time, rather than being in the Upper Circle like we were for Save The Last Dance For Me, we down in the stalls. Yeah, posh! A good view, nice amount of room and we could have used the binoculars, if we so wished. I put on a nice top, Mum dressed smart, and we turned up and most people were wearing jeans and t-shirts, or shirts with hats and sunglasses.

You could tell this was going to be a good audience.

The show started with blue police lights, sirens and a voice-over from the film.

It worked really well to get the audience pumped up, as the band began to play Peter Gunn Theme. You could feel the energy in the room, could feel the audience getting pumped up as one of the cast, dressed as a policeman, pulled a tape across the stage. Brad Henshaw and Chris Chandler – Jake and Ellwood – appeared, and the audience burst into applause.

The two leads pulled off their parts brilliantly. You could tell that for them – and the rest of the cast – this was a pure labour of love, and I found myself wondering how often they must have watched the films to get so in character. The mannerisms worked well, and there felt like there was a real connection between the two. I saw one review mentioned that the fake Chicago accents were grating, but I didn’t feel they were. Admittedly, the American accents were pulled off better than in Save The Last Dance.

The band were brilliant, and entertaining, and it was fun to see them switch into different costumers. The Bluettes – the backing singers/dancers – were great, as was William Hazel, who in the programme is noted as ‘Understudy’ but on stage played a variety of roles. He performed a number of songs, including Cab Calloway’s Minnie The Moocher. He couldn’t quite match Calloway’s singing style, but he had the audience responding in all the right places and pulled off the moves very well.

Overall, it was a great show. We got to our feet when encouraged – some didn’t need that encouragement (I think alcohol was involved) – clapped and sang along, and a few rows in front of us was Cardiff’s very own dancing granny. (She was brilliant!) The crowd was a complete mix of ages, and everyone clearly enjoyed themselves. The cast were brilliant at encouraging everyone to join in, making everyone laugh and drilling up some sympathy when required. Plus, they threw in some nice Welsh-specific jokes too. (Mentioning Ely along with claiming Tom Jones’ It’s Not Unusual is the Welsh National Anthem. It’s not. That title goes to Delilah. But we let it slide.) It was overall a very fun experience, and I really hope they come back to Cardiff. I’d sure as hell go see it again.

Now, if you excuse me, I’m going to go watch The Voice.


{May 11, 2013}   Save The Last Dance For Me

11072_fullIf you can’t tell already, I love musicals. One of my favourite American Studies modules in Uni was The Hollywood Musical. Give me something where characters burst randomly into song, and I’m happy. Hence my love of Glee. And you know what? I’m glad that we have jukebox musicals. Mamma Mia, We Will Rock You, Rock of Ages…partly because it gives me hope that one day I might actually be able to write a musical, and not have to worry about the actual writing of songs part. (As a side note, I mentioned at the start of Year Twelve in school that I would only audition for a musical, which my school was very big on, if it was We Will Rock You. Guess what they announced for their musical. I can’t sing, I can just about dance, and I can barely act. But I had a hell of a lot of fun in the chorus.)

Anyway! Moving on.

Where I work, I pass the New Theatre in Cardiff, which means I usually see whatever they have playing from one week to the next. And Save The Last Dance practically forced me to walk in there during my lunch break and buy a ticket for me and my Mum.

And I am very glad I did.

Save The Last Dance For Me follows two sisters as they go on holiday without their parents. They meet an American, stationed at a nearby Air Force Base, and attend the dances put on by the military band. The songs are hits that anyone familiar with late 50s/early 60s pop will recognise, all written by the duo of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman. Of course one of the sisters – the younger – falls in love with one of the GIs, but, although they spend a lovely week together, (I love how fast things happen in musicals) he tries to push her away at the end, thinking that no one can accept a black man dating a white woman.

Among this, the older sister briefly dates another of the military men, before realising how much of a scumbag he is and going with the local ice cream man Carlo instead.

The plot is…sort of weak. The racism angle feels like it’s put in just to have a serious edge, and there’s the feeling of pointing at American and going “Oh! So racist,” while showing the British to be more tolerant. (Mum’s comment was, it wasn’t like that at all) The only character who does say something racist ends up being actually quite a nice guy who was only pulling Curtis’ leg, and he still gets the girl. (That’s Carlo, by the way) If her parents tried to stop their relationship because of race, and not just because they’re trying to protect their little girl from over sexed men, it’s not clear.

Weak plots are not a new thing in musical theatre. It’s nice when a musical does have a solid plot to carry through, but in the case of Save The Last Dance, it kind of doesn’t matter. It’s less about the plot and more about the music, and that’s okay. Not everything has to be a masterpiece. Yes, it had its flaws but they were pretty much the same flaws most musicals suffer from.

It was fun. And a nice way to spend the evening, a great treat for my mum, and the cast were brilliant.

With any jukebox musical – and any cover song – it’s difficult to get a balance between your own voice, and matching the original. Especially as these songs are the kind that are well known, and versions of them will be all too familiar to the audience. The cast were clearly more than up to it. Especially outside of the main two. Curtis and Marie were great, of course, but I think the rest of the cast really added to that more than if the leads had outshone everyone else. Milton (Lee Honey-Jones, by the way, from Swansea and was in Mamma Mia. Mum kept asking me “Which one’s the Welsh one who was in Mamma Mia?) had some great songs, including Here I Go Again (not the Whitesnake version), Surrender and Tell Her. His voice worked nicely with the song choices. The big surprise, however, was Carlo (Alan Howell who, judging by the program, has done absolutely everything) basically blew the rest of the cast away.

That guy has a seriously good voice. When he started with Be My Baby, I think I wasn’t the only one who had a serious case of jaw-drop. Every time he sang, both me and Mum would be leaning forward. And at the end, when he did Viva Las Vegas, it was just brilliant. Powerful, and even with that Elvis tinge to it.

The girls all played their parts perfectly, right from the slutty Doris to the innocent Marie, they all managed to make the songs their own while not making them too different. The dances were great, but I would have liked to have seen more. A lot more. It would have been great to see more of the 50s/60s style dances in there for some songs, rather than having half the cast sitting around and doing nothing.

Like I said, we had a brilliant time, and the cast looked like they did too. I think it’s the sign of a good production when the cast make it look easy and fun, and not like they’ve probably put in God knows how many hours into rehearsing. Yes, the plot was weak and a little rushed at times, but it’s not the kind of thing you go to for the plot.

If you get the chance, it’s really worth seeing. Especially if you’re a fan of that kind of music.

As a side-note, and I found this out from reading the program last night, Pomus suffered from polio as a child,  leaving him wheelchair bound in later life. He wrote Save The Last Dance – at first glance a happy, romantic song – after being unable to dance with his wife on their wedding day, and watching from the side-lines as she danced with others. The song takes on a whole new feeling once you know that.


{May 2, 2013}   A Very Busy May

Ah. May. The start of Summer. For the first time in three years, I haven’t spent April dreading May. I haven’t been kept up at night working hard on researching essays or stories for University. I haven’t been stressed. It’s a nice relief. Although I think I would trade in this non-stressed feeling for the chance to go back to Uni. Anyway! There’s also two bank holidays this month, one this coming Monday and one on 27th May. I booked a day off today – meant to go to the doctor’s but I ended up going last week so had a nice lie in and now working on my writing and catching up with other blogs.

As well as all this time off this month, I’ve got a busy few weeks at the end of the month. And I’m very excited for them.

Firstly, I’m going to see Blues Brothers in the theatre! I had a rough time back in February, and Mum asked me if I wanted to go see Blood Brothers. Of course I did! On my lunch break the next day, I eagerly headed to the theatre to get some tickets. Only problem was it was on the week after, and they had sold out. Before I went, I mentioned to the guys I work with I was going to get tickets for Blues Brothers. “That’s awesome!” one said, and I quickly corrected myself, adding, “Aw. Now I sort of wish it was Blues Brothers.”

When I got home that night, I mentioned that conversation to my mum and told her about the lack of tickets for Blood Brothers.

“I think Blues Brothers is on, too.”

Quick look on the internet proved she was right, and the next day I picked up two tickets for the show. Now, this was back in early March, so it felt like a long way away. But now, it’s three weeks from tomorrow and I cannot wait!

And if you do not love Blues Brothers, you simply have no soul.

I know what you’re thinking. That’s great. Really. But…well, that’s only one night, right?

Yeah, it is. And that Sunday, I get to spend the day with my brother (if I don’t end up killing him at some point) and going to see (drum roll, please)…



And Whitesnake.

All in one amazing, classic rock filled gig. Tickets were bloody expensive, but I brought one for me and one for my brother as a birthday present. As one of his mates commented this morning, “If he’s not there, there is something wrong with the world.” And it’s a Bank Holiday the day after, so I’ll have a full day to recover from the epic-ness. And it is going to be epic. I love my classic rock, and this gig has two of the biggest classic rock bands still going. So, yeah, should be good.

Only problem is…a few weeks ago, I spotted a picture online. For some reason, I got it in my head that the band referenced in this picture (along with my favourite TV show) were playing at the gig. I don’t know where this idea came from, but it rooted itself in my head and stuck there for ages, until I actually thought about it and realised, nope, they will not be playing. I was kind of disappointed. Then I put on my Journey/Whitesnake/Thunder playlist, rocked out for a bit and cheered up.

Still going to try to get this on a t-shirt.

Still going to try to get this on a t-shirt.

So yeah, not going to see Kansas. (Are they still around? Do they still gig? I really have no idea. My brain just really likes messing with me sometimes.)

That Monday, I expect I’m going to be knackered. Like, absolutely shattered. Having pernicious anaemia – which I am planning to blog about, eventually, and which I just spelled correctly! with no spell check or anything! go me! – most likely will not help with that. But I am due for my jab the week before so fingers crossed that will keep my energy levels high enough for all this awesomeness.

And then, ladies and gentlemen, I am heading back to Thorpe Park. This time, I’m going with a very good friend of mine. Heading to London on the Friday, staying at my brother’s flat before going to the theme park on the Saturday. We’re staying there overnight in their new Crash Pad, and have two days in the park. Not bad for about £100, including transport costs. I am very excited about this. I love roller coasters and they’ve added in a backwards row to Swarm, so I’ll get to experience that. Plus, well, a lot of the rides were closed when I went in October, so maybe they’ll be open this time.

Technically, Thorpe Park is in June, but we’re heading there on the last day of May so I’m including it in my busy month thing.

If you like roller coasters, and you ever get the chance, go to Thorpe Park. I went on my own and I had a brilliant time. I’m super excited to go again, and share the experience with my good friend. Plus, brand new Crash Pad! So look out for that blog.

So yeah, an exciting month ahead of me! What about you, dear reader? Any big plans for the summer?

This past weekend, I headed to London. Originally it was to go to Thorpe Park yesterday, as I managed to snag myself some free tickets from The Sun newspaper. Lucky for me, my brother lives there so I had somewhere to stay. And, as he was busy on the Saturday, I ended up going to see my first show in London (his girlfriend was part of the cast), an amateur dramatic production of the musical Footloose in the Putney Arts Theatre.

I haven’t seen much AmDram in the past, mainly just a play or two put on by the local group here. To be honest, they were dry and badly acted, and I suspect most towns across the UK may have the same level of productions put on by similar groups. AmDram tends to have a bad name, which is a shame, because given the right cast and the right show they can be done brilliantly. As you can suspect, I was pleasantly surprised by the production. One of the main things to judge any musical by is how it leaves you feeling. You can go back and watch a film, but with live theatre you only have the one experience, so the after effect is important. I personally left Putney with an urge to dance, and have had some of the songs from the show stuck in my head for two days. It did its job, basically.

The dancing itself was done, I thought, really well, though it would have been nice to see a little more from Ren himself. I kind of missed the whole ‘angry dance scene’ that really made the movie for me.  As well as that, the love triangle between Ren, Ariel and her ex was left in the air; in the 80s film, it comes to a head when the ex and Ren fight, in a brilliant scene where he uses his nimble dancing skills to outmatch the big, beefy guy. Considering it is a story about dancing and the need to dance, there just wasn’t enough of it. Still, what little there was, like I said, was done well, especially in the bigger numbers like Holding Out For A Hero.

Dancing as anger management

One thing I really enjoy about watching musicals live is the extended cast; in a film, usually the dancers and/or extras will drift in and out. On stage, you can really pick out certain people and see how they change for every scene. The main cast play the same characters throughout, and it’s interesting to see if the ensemble do the same. Of course, in some musicals they go from school-kids to dancers in a club etc. but in something set in a small town, with the exception of maybe one or two scenes, it’s good for the ensemble cast to maybe create their own characters, give them personalities so the audience will recognise them throughout. And for the most part, the ensemble in Footloose did a pretty good job. And, again, the dancing! God knows how they must have been feeling after, but most of the time people ignore how much the extended cast would put into a show like this, where they’re needed in almost every scene and even have to do push-ups to please the coach.

As for the show as a whole…there seemed to have been an attempt to modernise it. The problem with that is that there was really no need; Footloose has iconic 80s music, and although I’m all up for modernising settings and characters, it only works if it adds something. Watching the production, the only modern aspect I spotted was one of the ensemble using a mobile phone to film Ren dancing around. It kind of distracted from the musical itself; they would have been better off getting the cast to wear 80s style clothing and keep it set in that decade. For me, it would have hugely added to the production itself.

So now for the main cast. Ren’s dancing (what little there was, at times) was done really well, especially when taking a small group to a bar to allow them to dance outside the town. Considering it was the last performance, the energy levels were high, always important in musicals like this. His occasional quips had the whole audience laughing. But there wasn’t enough of the angry kid dragged into the town for me. Ren is supposed to be angry and bitter at the way the town is treating him, and the fact that his favourite pastime has been banned by the council. Instead, he just seems slightly bothered by it. There’s no feeling here of what he’s really fighting for, no feeling of the bigger picture and the fact that his father has just walked out on him and his mother. It’s conveyed in the film (yeah, I’m mentioning it again) brilliantly by Kevin Bacon’s angry dance. A little more anger from Ren in this one would have gone a long way.

Willard learns to dance again for the remake

Willard, on the other hand, was played brilliantly. Dumb and loveable, he was the source of some of the best comedic moments. The relationship between him and Rusty had me rooting for them more than Ren and Ariel, and he had some of the best moments. Let’s Hear It For The Boy showed him trying to dance, and it worked so well. Mama Says was, perhaps, one of my favourite songs in the show, as Willard tries to impart some of his mother’s wisdom on Ren. It was played with a fitting innocence to the character, and the accent was pulled off perfectly.

As for the girls, in the film I found Ariel just a bit too obnoxious and annoying, but she was stripped of that in the production. Her motives were clear, and she became a much better character. Her teenage anger was exactly what I would have liked to see more of in Ren, but there was still that ‘daddy’s girl’ feel to her that makes you realise how far her father has pushed her away. Rusty, as well, did an excellent job at all her parts, and with the other two girls, the four of them created some brilliant, witty scenes, with the kind of voices and, again, accents, perfect for their songs.

The girls – not just the main four – outshone the guys. Maybe, partly, because they had more chance to do so, but they just seemed to jump into the whole thing with a bit more than the guys.

For me, it was a great way to spend the evening, and like I said, I came out with my feet tapping and the songs stuck in my head. The whole cast pulled together well, especially for the last performance of the run and the second of the day. A great musical, well cast and done very well.

et cetera