REVIEW – Carole King musical at Birmingham Hippodrome truly is a ‘Beautiful’ production

I was bowled over by the premiere of this UK tour when I reviewed the opening night at Malvern back in May and thoroughly enjoyed seeing how it had matured after ‘four months on the road’ at the Hippodrome last night.

In 2013, the original show had mixed reactions on Broadway but this new version from Leicester’s exciting ‘Curve’ producing theatre is, as I predicted, running with much stronger legs and packing auditoria across the UK.

The action starts from the minute you enter the theatre. The rear of the stage is split into a recording studio control room and a drum booth where much is already happening. In front of these actors and musicians tune up, perform riffs and chat.

The stage is devoid of any curtaining front, back and above. Above it banks of lights gaze down like inquisitive eyes.

The lighting state changes and suddenly a grand piano is discovered, caught in an inverted pyramid of light from a spot way up in the Gods.

Everyone and everything else has disappeared like a conjuring trick and we are now in a giant concert hall circa 1971 where Carol King is introduced and we burst into spontaneous applause as she sings the first few bars of ‘So Far Away’.

Whilst we are still clapping the grand piano moves off and is replaced by a small upright in the 1958 home where a 15–year-old Carole is writing and singing encouraged by her mother.

In the blink of an eye we are transported again to Queen’s College in New York City where she meets her husband-to-be Gerry Goffin.

Carole is a mother at 16 and along with her husband, becomes a sort after songwriter by seventeen – and here we are barely a few minutes into the show, so fast does it all move.

Musically from ‘Oh Carol’ to ‘Natural Woman’ the hits just keep coming; after all she wrote and co-wrote over 120 of them, for a innumerable bevy of groups and solo artists until she turned the spotlight on herself.

‘Beautiful’ confines itself story wise to the earlier years of her life, up until a couple of years after her divorce from Goffin and her solo career as a performer heralds the next stage of her life.

Molly-Grace Cutler is simply sensational as Carole King, oozing charisma, credibility and vulnerability.

There are no passengers in this multi-talented cast; they all play a variety of instruments and multi-role as pop groups, solo artists, recording technicians and a myriad of others whilst moving the scenery to boot.

Tom Milner makes for a moody and tortured soul as Gerry Goffin; Jos Slovick piles on the Jewish humour as songwriter Barry Mann; Seren Sanham-Davies is a blonde bundle of talent as Barry’s wife and writing partner Cynthia Weil.

Garry Robson captures the madness of the 1960’s musical revolution as studio bigwig Donnie Kirshner.

Douglas McGrath’s book is sharp and crisp raising it above the common jukebox musical dialogue which is usually just a weak sandwich filling between the songs.

Nikolai Foster has directed with extraordinary passion and originality. Frankie Bradshaw’s stripped back, ever moving set is a triumphant clutter and Ben Cracknell’s lighting design cavernous and dazzling.

Understandably the first night sparkle wasn’t there this time around – nor was the unforgettable relief on the faces of the cast in the walkdown. They now just smile with the joy of another standing ovation.

‘Beautiful’ is beautiful both in name and practice; a joyous show not to be missed.

The show runs at the Hippodrome until Saturday, September 3.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.


Review by Euan Rose

Euan Rose Reviews

REVIEW – Six-country cast delivers empowering Counting and Cracking at Birmingham REP

Picture by Brett Boardman. s

DESPITE having some dear long standing friends who originate from Sri Lanka, I must confess to knowing very little about this small South Asian island.

As a young philatelist, I do remember that when it was formerly known as Ceylon it had some glorious stamps. Travel supplements also marvel at its beauty and offer it up as an on/off holiday destination – depending on what’s happening there politically and its many years of civil war which destabilised and isolated it .

Currently of course the latest Sri Lankan president has fled along with others, whilst locals apparently peacefully occupy his palace, taking turns to swim in his pool.

That being pretty much the sum of my knowledge, ‘Counting and Cracking’ at the REP was therefore a massive eye-opener on many levels.

This production has transferred straight from the Lyceum Theatre at the main Edinburgh Festival to be a major part of our own Birmingham 2022 Festival.

The play is semi-autobiographical and written by Sri Lankan/Australian S Shakthidharan who also associate directs alongside fellow Australian Eamon Flack.

Picture by Brett Boardman. s

Flack is Artistic Director at the renowned ‘Belvoir’ company in Sydney.

Counting and Cracking is more saga than a simple play – it follows four generations of one family over half a century from 1956 to 2004. It flits back and forth in time and place between Sydney, Australia and Colombo, Sri Lanka.

In fairness it could be said to be a bit of an endurance test too as it runs for three and a half hours – but in my opinion what it lacks in some judicious cutting, it more than makes up for in energy, as the talented cast from six different countries combine in one glorious company.

The pivotal character to the saga is Radha, the feisty grand-daughter of Apah, an important government minister. Radha is played magnificently by both the elder, Nadie Kammallaweera and Vaishnavi Suryaprakash as the younger woman.

Radha causes consternation in the family when she refuses an arranged marriage to another politician’s son, in order to follow her heart and marry his younger – and therefore less ‘important’ – brother

Prakash Belawadi plays Apah, with natural charisma and an air of dignity that is always compelling; especially so as we witness his authority falling apart in the final stages of the Tamil-Sinhalese disputes.

There are many layers and back stories but so cleverly are they entwined that it’s not a mind struggle to keep up.

The big contrast is between Radha’s life in Sri Lanka as a wealthy politician’s  daughter and as a pregnant refugee claiming asylum in Australia.

At the start of the play we meet her with her grown up son Siddhartha, (played with endearing vim and vigour by Shiv Palekar), as she coaxes him to perform a traditional sea ritual with his grandmother’s ashes.

Siddhartha lives a happy student life in Coogee, a beach town suburb of Sydney. Like us, he learns about his heritage piece-by-piece, when a phone call across continents brings history flooding back, culminating in meeting the father both he and his mother thought was long dead.

There is some imaginative lighting from Damien Cooper, which uses every available space both on and off stage at some point and a simple but effective set from Dale Ferguson that fits all places.

A trio plays an underscore in one corner of the stage throughout the show aiding the time and continent transformations – as does the incense clouds aroma that wafts across the stage intermittently.

Part of the reason for the length of the show is that it is in three languages at times, English, Tamil and Sinhalese.

Actors translate it at the sides of the stage acting like human subtitles and making us part of – rather than apart from – the action.

A line that constantly occurs from Apah is “Two languages, one country – one language, two countries.” That, it seems, is in essence what the blood has been tragically been spilt over in all these years.

I couldn’t help thinking that when this play finishes back in 2004, it was a time two decades ago when refugees were largely welcomed into Australia, unlike today when those that do make it are held in camps on remote islands out of public view.

In fact there are so many important topics covered in this ground-breaking piece of theatre that it deserves good audiences. Because of its curtain down time, late night public transport could be a problem; so my advice is not to be put off but drive or get someone to drive you, form a group or share a taxi.

I urge all theatre lovers to make the effort – this is a unique opportunity to be part of something very special – I feel wiser and quite empowered by the experience.

Counting and Cracking runs at Birmingham REP until Saturday, August 27. Click here for times, tickets and more information


Review by Euan Rose

Euan Rose reviews

REVIEW – Les Mis at Birmingham’s Hippodrome is ‘180 minutes of theatrical brilliance’

Les Misérables the musical is colloquially and affectionately known as Les Mis.  It is, of course, a legendary adaptation of Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel.

The original French musical by Claude–Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil premiered in Paris in 1980 and the English-language adaptation by producer Cameron Mackintosh opened in London five years later.

Initially Mackintosh’s show seemed to be more folly than fabulous as it garnered dire reviews from critics who said it was a night of doom and gloom that would disappear without trace.  Seems it was a five turkeys – not stars.

However the theatre going Brits love an underdog and went in their droves, adoring its songs and tale of ‘woe is me’.

Defying the critics, it has become the longest running musical in the West End.

For the few of you who may not know the story, it is set in early nineteenth century France in the period of the revolution and concerns one mans quest for redemption.

Jean Valjean is a convict released in 1815 after serving 19 years in jail for stealing a loaf of bread. He starts life anew but Javert, a police inspector, pursues him relentlessly with a personal mission to send him back to prison.

It’s really a battle of morality between a man who believes we can all change given the opportunity and one who thinks ‘once a crim, always a crim.’

I have seen Les Mis’ countless times including the West End original but never have I enjoyed it as much as this new version which is adapted and directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell.

The best way I can describe it, is that this genius pair have lifted the show from musical theatre into a new form of grand opera merged with the kind of special effects you would find in a movie.

My first shout out is for Mick Potter who has produced the best sound design I have heard on stage anywhere. You hear the subtlest vocal like a pin dropping and become immersed in the battles with bullets literally whistling all around you. I’d say Potter is the ‘George Lucas’ of the stage.

Paule Constable has designed a lighting plot that for most of the time reflects the darkness of the back stories – when the odd happier vignette occurs, Constable lets the stage explode in a bath of Technicolor.

Matt Kinley has designed a wall-to-wall set that provides a multitude of spaces from a triple-decker of moving balconies packed with ensemble to intimate areas of solitude.

There are stunning projections realised by Finn Ross, which merge seamlessly into the overall production  – not jarring as stand alones.

Ben Fergusson from a visible podium conducts a mighty orchestra doing full justice to the now classic score.

Cameron Mackintosh is known for filling his musical casts with amazing voices not soap stars and this assembly contains a mix of seasoned performers and worthy new talent.

Ian Hughes and Helen Walsh are magnificently despicable as the thieving and conniving Thénardiers.

Nathania Ong brings poignancy to the antihero Éponine and there is girl next-door naivety to the role of Cosette from Paige Blankson.

As to the two leads – Dean Chisnall as Jean Valjean and Nic Greenshields as Javert – a bouquet of salutes and bravos! They capture the characters and take us bedazzled with them on their respective journeys.

If you’ve never seen ‘Les Mis’ before then you’re in for a treat; if you have prepare to see it reborn. This is a hair-raising, jaw-dropping, heart tugging, tear drenching and uplifting 180 minutes of theatrical brilliance.

Les Mis runs at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday, August 27. Click here for times, tickets and more information.


Review by Euan Rose

Euan Rose Reviews

REVIEW – At Birmingham Hippodrome there’s Cher and Cher and Cher I like

‘The CHER Show’, with its  ‘A New Musical’ branding enjoyed a feverish reception from a packed house at the Birmingham Hippodrome press night.

Many were Cher fans,  there to pay homage to their diva-heroine as much as they were to see the show. Let’s face it – it’s been a long time coming as it closed on Broadway back in 2018 and hibernated through the Covid years.

Indeed it’s a glitzy business with a full throttle cast corralled to perfection by an all-star team of creatives.

Director Arlene Phillips combines with choreographer Oti Mabuse to raise the bar on the action, the neck hairs on the tunes and the sublime energy and downright raunchiness of the general bopping.

Add designer Tom Rogers imaginatively masterpiece of a set, equally the dazzling lighting by Ben Cracknell and wardrobe from Gabriella Slade and you have the ‘Avengers Assembled’.

Such is the awesomeness of the ‘Queen of Divas’ it takes three actors to fill her stilettos –  Debbie Kurrup, Danielle Steers and Millie O’ Connell each play Cher in three stages of her life, Babe (O’Connell), Lady (Steers) and Star (Kurrup). Each and every one of the trio are superb both individually and collectively.

Other principals include Lucas Rush as an endearing Sonny Bono and Jake Mitchell equally so as Bob Mackie. Sam Ferriday, multitasks as Greg Allman, Rob Camilletti, Phil Spector and John Southall.

A special shout out to Tori Scott as Georgia, Cher’s Mum.

There’s not a weak link in the hard working ‘entourage’ and the band under Rich Morris and soundman Dan Samson literally ‘Boom- Boom Shake The Room’.

Whilst everything about this show is high quality and high energy I found the book by Rick Elice a little lacking. That’s not to dispute his talents, after all this is the writer who gave us Jersey Boys and The Adams Family.

However In Jersey Boys he had the Mafia to boost the storyline – with the Addams Family it was awash with monsters, vampires and ghouls whilst Cher’s story is pretty ordinary really. Especially when people realise her first husband Sonny was quite a nice bloke and not to be confused with Tina’s wife beating husband Ike.

What Cher is all about apart from being an Icon with a capital I is a woman who wanted to do things on her own, not advised, cajoled or dictated to by men.

More empowerment seeking tweaks and less trivia in the script would add another layer  – after all unlike film, theatre is a continuous journey.

In fairness I believe this version to be far superior to the Broadway original and that the wonderful Arlene Phillips, has sprinkled her fairy dust all over it.

The walkdown is a party to which we were all invited and I left thinking not only could I watch this again – how delightful it would be to see the grand dame herself live! If she does another farewell tour – I’ll be there.

The Cher Show runs until Saturday, August 6. Click here for times, tickets and more information


Review by Euan Rose.

Euan Rose Reviews.