BPREVIEW: Evita @ Birmingham Hippodrome 20-24.03.18

Evita @ Birmingham Hippodrome 20-24.03.18

Words by Ed King / Production shots by Pamela Raith

Evita runs at the Hippodrome from Tuesday 20th to Saturday 24th March – as produced by Bill Kenwright, with special arrangement from The Really Useful Group.

Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s long established musical comes to Birmingham following ‘smash hit runs’ in London and beyond. Evening performances will be held at 7:30pm every night from Tues 20th to Sat 24th. Matinee performances will be held at 2pm on Weds 21st and Thurs 22nd, with a further matinee scheduled at 2:30pm on Sat 24th.

Reflecting the Hippodrome’s wider programme, provisions have been made of those who are hearing or sight impaired at the following Evita performances: Weds 21st at 7:30pm (captioned), Thurs 22nd at 7:30pm (BSL interpreted), Sat 24th at 2:30pm (audio described).

Tickets are priced at £15-49, depending o the date/time of performance and positioning within the theatre. For direct show information, including a full breakdown of dates, times and online ticket purchasing, click here.

Gian Marco Schiaretti as 'Che' / Pamela Raith PhotographyOne of the century’s most recognised female public and political figures, Eva María Duarte de Perón climbed her way from a socially and fiscally forgotten childhood to become the First Lady of Argentina.

On the way up the ladder, she was also a revered actress, model and radio star – eventually becoming co-owner Argentina’s most prominent broadcaster, Radio El Mundo. And if cancer hadn’t taken Eva Perón at the young age of 33, she may well have become Vice President of Argentina – sitting in office alongside her husband and el predidente, Juan Perón.

Wildly popular with the working classes of Argentina, Eva Perón became to stand as a beacon of hope for the proletariat – having risen up the ranks herself, yet still mistrusted by the country’s political elite and social bourgeoisie. Many argue that it was Eva Perón, standing beside her husband at many a rally and public appearance, that cemented the political progress of Juan Perón from Minister to President. Madalena Alberto as 'Evita' and Jeremy Secomb as 'Juan Perón' / Pamela Raith Photography

But many also argue to the contrary, claiming the often contradictory administration – that would spawn the continuously contradictory political movement known as Perónism – was a merely a disguised dictatorship that only played ‘the people card’ for political gain and even personal glory. It is this dichotomy that Rice and Webber brought to the stage with their musical Evita, when they turned their rock opera album into a West End production in 1978. Forty years later and Evita is still touring the world, with its name sake still considered a ‘Spiritual Leader of the Nation’ after being officially awarded the title in 1952.

This current production of Evita sees Madalena Alberto return to the title role, after playing Eva Perón in the 2004 West End revival. The role of Che, who acts as the story’s narrator and filters into many supporting and ancillary roles, will be played by Gian Marco Schiaretti.

Evita @ Birmingham Hippodrome 20-24.03.18 (featured cast members may vary)

Evita runs at the Birmingham Hippodrome from Tuesday 20th to Saturday 24th March. For direct show information, including a full breakdown of dates, times and online ticket purchasing, visit www.birminghamhippodrome.com/calendar/evita

For more on the Birmingham Hippodrome, including venue details and further event listings, visit www.birminghamhippodrome.com

BREVIEW: West Side Story @ New Alexandra Theatre 23-26.08.17

West Side Story @ New Alexandra Theatre 23-26.08.17 / Courtesy of the New Alexandra Theatre

Words by Paul Gallear / Pics courtesy of the New Alexandra Theatre

It wasn’t new when Shakespeare wrote his version around 1591, and it wasn’t new when Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim debuted West Side Story on Broadway in 1957. It probably wasn’t even new when Masuccio Salernitano published Mariotto and Gianozza in 1476. But what is new tonight is the cast.

The New Alexandra Theatre (itself over 100 years old) runs an annual programme called Stage Experience, where fresh faced 9-24 year olds get to perform a full musical to a paying audience, taking advantage of all of the theatre’s facilities including their 19 piece orchestra.

Now in its 14th year, the Stage Experience for 2017 is West Side Story, with our young hopefuls taking on the acting and singing roles as well as the technical roles such as lighting and set design. And they only have two weeks to run lines, rehearse dances, and learn what it takes to tread the boards at a professional theatre company. No pressure then.

The auditorium tonight is largely full and the stage is crowded; these days I am more used to seeing a comparatively sparse set where a lot of the context is left to the audience’s imagination. But this time the crew has striven to West Side Story @ New Alexandra Theatre 23-26.08.17 / Courtesy of the New Alexandra Theatrecapture the iconography of 1950’s down town New York: Coca-Cola advertising, metal fire escapes, graffiti and barbed wire-topped chain-link fences.

Indeed, the barbed wire is separating the audience and the stage from the moment we enter, sending us a clear message about the social status of the characters and their delineation from society. The set is manipulated cleverly throughout, creating a range of scenes and scenarios, though I am sometimes distracted by the noisy and visually obvious way in which the set is moved around. Perhaps, with more time, this could have been better planned.

The set (despite being visually busy and sometimes noisy) is used creatively and energetically by the cast – climbing walls and fences, ducking down side streets and alleys. The dancing, especially during the fight scenes, has an almost balletic quality, and the actors interact with each other well even when the stage is crowded.

West Side Story @ New Alexandra Theatre 23-26.08.17 / Courtesy of the New Alexandra TheatreAt times it is joyous and exuberant, such as during the famous song ‘America’ or during the scene at the dance. But the stage feels too crowded at times, as though everyone who applied to Stage Experience (103, so we are told at the end) has been given at least a walk-on part at some point. During lively numbers, such as ‘Tonight’, the large cast does help to build the atmosphere but it isn’t always needed.

The professional orchestra, with whom the cast have the pleasure of working, are just that: professional. They do justice to the energetic score and to provide an ample framework around which the singing and the dancing can be hung.

The singing is well-performed throughout, though at times the annunciation is a little lost on my ears and some of the lines are hard to hear. It is also worth mentioning that there are occasionalWest Side Story @ New Alexandra Theatre 23-26.08.17 / Courtesy of the New Alexandra Theatre glitches from the radio mics worn by the cast – sometimes the audio is not picked up and, on one occasion, we hear audio from an off-stage cast member.

The audience is, I suspect, largely made up of the families and friends of the large cast. But I don’t think the enthusiasm they show for the performance is unjustified, especially given the mere two weeks of preparation that has gone into this production. The New Alexandra Theatre’s Stage Experience is meant to be a chance for young performers to hone their skills and demonstrate that they are faces to be looked out for in the future, and I think some of the actors tonight have certainly managed that.

Two in particular stood out for me: Leah Vassell with her strong and sassy portrayal of Anita, who was especially moving during ‘A Boy Like That’, and Elliot Gooch as the erstwhile Jets gang member, Tony. Gooch was the standout performer for me from this production; singing and acting with aplomb, West Side Story @ New Alexandra Theatre 23-26.08.17 / Courtesy of the New Alexandra Theatreespecially when he had the stage to himself during numbers such as ‘Maria’.

I did feel that more could have been done to contemporise this production and move it away from being a straight facsimile of the original stage show or film. It would have been interesting to find out how the young cast would have coped with a West Side Story adapted in a different way and to have tested their abilities.

Whilst there is nothing particularly new about such a well versed narrative, or stage production, there is again something new tonight – the actors. Many of whom may well be gracing the stage again, and perhaps the screen, very soon.

West Side Story runs at the New Alexandra Theatre until 26th August. For direct information, including venue details and online ticket sales, click here

For more from the New Alexandra Theatre, including full event listings and online sales, visit www.atgtickets.com/venues/new-alexandra-theatre-birmingham

BPREVIEW: West Side Story @ New Alexandra Theatre 23-26.08.17

West Side Story @ New Alexandra Theatre 23-26.08.17

Words by Paul Gallear

Running from Weds 23rd to Sat 26th Aug, the New Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham presents its annual Stage Experience production – West Side Story. For direct info, including venue details online ticket sales, click here.

Stage Experience is an opportunity for 9–24 year olds to spend two weeks of their summer mounting a full-scale production of a classic musical and then perform it to a paying audience.

A range of opportunities are open to applicants. As well as performing roles, lighting, sound, wardrobe, and stage management positions are all available for people to hone their talents. Previous productions include Grease in 2016, 42nd Street in 2015, and Footloose in 2014. This year it’s the Bernstein and ‎Sondheim adapted for stage classic, West Side Story, with just two week’s preparation until curtain-up.

The narrative of West Side Story, based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, is a well-known one: two street gangs in Upper West Side New York, both alike in infamy, is where we lay our scene . . . (okay, I’ll stop now). The Jets and The Sharks vie for control of dominance of a New York neighbourhood. Tony, former leader of The Jets, and Maria, sister to the leader of The Sharks, fall in love across the bounds of the rivalry. They plan to run away together. But can they escape the clutches of gang life, or the downward spiraling circumstances and rising levels of violence?

West Side Story is one of composer Leonard Bernstein’s and lyricist Stephen Sondheim’s most famous Broadway musicals. With the book by book by Arthur Laurents and the choreography by Jerome Robbins, West Side Story first hit the stage in 1957, winning critical acclaim and Tony Awards.

West Side Story @ New Alexandra Theatre 23-26.08.17It went on to make the transfer to the silver screen in 1961, winning a total of ten Academy Awards at the 1962 Oscars – including Best Picture and Best Director, a record for a musical. It will afford those who took part in this year’s Stage Experience the opportunity to tackle such well-known songs as ‘Maria’, ‘America’, and ‘I Feel Pretty’.

And for the audience, this could turn out to be a fantastic place to see the stars of tomorrow performing in their first role. But there are also lots of risks: with the short rehearsal time and the inexperienced nature of the cast, as well as West Side Story being such a well-known and well-liked musical, it is possible that the Stage Experience could fall short. But equally, the fresh talent could bring something exciting to a show now in its 60th year – a silver lining of many new cast productions. The joy, both on stage and off, is finding out.

Daily performances of West Side Story at the New Alexandra Theatre start at 19:30 with a 14:30 matinee on Saturday – running from Weds 23rd to Sat 26th Aug. Tickets will cost between £16.50 and £26.90 (though Theatre Card holders can get tickets for as little as £15.00) plus booking fees. For direct information, including venue details and online ticket sales, click here

For more from the New Alexandra Theatre, including full event listings and online sales, visit www.atgtickets.com/venues/new-alexandra-theatre-birmingham