Pentatonix ~ Albert Hall, Manchester ~28.05.2016

As this was a surprise to me, courtesy of my sister and an upcoming birthday, I did no prep prior to this gig and had nothing to write notes on, so in terms of reviewing this won’t be the strongest.

I’ve long admired the work of Pentatonix since discovering their videos on YouTube. I’d never seen the US Reality Show which propelled them to fame, but their recreations of classic hits in their inimitable style has been something I’ve enjoyed watching for a few years.

Prior to the main event, we were entertained by husband-and-wife team Us The Duo – also known as multi-instrumentalists Michael and Carissa Alvarado. These two were amiable enough, playing a selection of instruments and singing well, but I wasn’t especially grabbed by the music itself. Nice enough to have in the background, but didn’t leave any lasting imprint in my mind.

Then it was time for good old PTX to take to the stage at the Albert Hall – which is a converted Wesleyan chapel and a phenomenal venue for a music gig. Beautiful structure and wonderful acoustics.

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For those who don’t know, Pentatonix are a five-piece a cappella band – a beatboxer, a bass and three additional singers who provide fantastic harmonies. They came to my attention through a series of intriguing cover versions they released on YouTube, most notably one entitled Evolution of Music, whereby they catalogued musical history from 11th Century Gregorian Chanting to the present day chart hits (admittedly they skate through the first few centuries pretty quickly!)

Whilst appreciating their talent, I haven’t much followed their own musical output so the evening was split pretty evenly for me in terms of entirely new music and some firm favourites, but the rest of the crowd appeared to be fully immersed in each number, singing along with the harmonies of the three main vocalists. Personally, the main draw for me is the combination of bass and beats – vocalist Avi Kaplan’s range is incredible, such a rich sound he produces. And Kevin Olusola’s beatboxing skills keep breathing life into the songs throughout the night.

Their Michael Jackson and Daft Punk medleys stormed the night, as one expected they would. Covering the entire career of an artist like MJ in a five minute segment is pretty impressive, but the stylistic delivery of his various musical changes throughout his life is equally wonderful. The Daft Punk medley is cleverly done, attributing vocal performances to electronic music is no mean feat, and they achieve a rich sound and give songs like Technologic a whole new feel.

For me, the highlight of the night was a pretty low key but special solo moment, where most of the band left the stage for a short break, leaving the group’s beatboxer Kevin Olusola to take centre stage with his cello for a rendition of the Prelude from Bach’s Cello Suite No.1. A single spotlight, a cello, and a beatboxer might not sound the most electrifying event but the atmosphere was incredible. Whilst initially providing an intimate contrast to preceding events, the piece built up to a thunderous applause at the finish. I could gladly listen to that over and again.

Pentatonix are currently continuing their tour around Europe throughout May and June, and will tour the USA from September.

 

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Singin’ In The Rain ~ Salisbury Playhouse ~ 14.05.2016

“Lina. She can’t act, she can’t sing, she can’t dance. A triple threat” drawls Christian Edwards’ Cosmo Brown in this revival of the Gene Kelly classic.

The entire cast, however, pose the more traditional theatrical ‘triple threat’ in that they excel in all areas. I’d even go as far as to call it a ‘quadruple threat’ as they act, sing and dance whilst playing their musical instruments. It’s an incredible feat and – with a small but perfectly-formed cast of 12 – such an innovative way to bring the full sound of the score to the stage whilst not losing anything in the staging of the big numbers.

I’d be lying if I said I’ve been a lifelong fan of Singin’ In The Rain. I first saw the film last year when the Prince Charles cinema had one of their retro nights and I was dragged along by a couple of fanatics. I didn’t dislike the film – large parts were very enjoyable. But I’ve not been in a rush to rewatch by any means. However, I was intrigued by the stage show, and couldn’t wait to see how some of the more famous moments were re-enacted on stage – namely the ‘Make ’em Laugh’ sequence (Cosmo Brown was my favourite character in the film) and, obviously, wondering how they would stage the title song.

From the moment the orchestra struck up the opening notes, I knew I was in for a treat. Having live music onstage rather than sat in the pit makes such a difference to the acoustics – and this, combined with elegant staging, immediately transported us back to late 1920s Hollywood, the silent film world and birth of the talkies, where the show is set.

It’s a pacey show, with the entire ensemble constantly rotating between musician, daner or acting duties – first sitting at the back of the stage with their instruments, then being actively involved in scene dialogue, or even combining playing of instruments and singing/dancing around the stage. With this regard, it makes it difficult to pick anyone out for extra applause as it’s clearly a highly talented and hardworking unit. However there are some fabulously noteworthy aspects of the show that do deserve recognition.

Matthew Croke and Eleanor Brown as Don Lockwood and Kathy Seldon combine to produce a highly likeable couple. It was very easy to warm to Croke’s performance of Lockwood, very charming and with smooth vocals to add to the mix. Brown’s portrayal of Miss Seldon was equally masterful, with enough attitude at the beginning, before showing a softer and more fun side. Her vocal performance was my favourite of the evening and I look forward to seeing her again in the future.

Croke also had chance to show a fine comic streak when he combined with Christian Edwards, whose energy in the role of Vaudevillian star Cosmo Brown keeps the show moving along at pace. I’ve been fortunate enough to see Edwards perform in a few roles now and his flair for the comedic is second to none. I don’t know how much he works at that or whether it just comes naturally, but it’s impressive either way. I’ve seen plenty of comic moments delivered by actors who don’t quite have the timing, so it’s a gift when such a great role as Cosmo Brown is performed by someone who gets it. I won’t spoil the moments for potential viewers by listing my favourite comic moments, but let’s just start by me advising you to pay attention to “Make ’em Laugh” as so much goes on there and it’s an absolute riot. The scenes with Don and Cosmo are generally wonderful – especially the montage at the start showcasing their career as a double act and the “Moses Supposes” piece, highlighting a strong partnership in tune with one another.

Special mention too to Sarah Vezmar as Lina Lamont. It can’t be easy to be cast to portray an unlikeable character as Lina undoubtedly is, especially when also asked to perform a musical number in the style of someone who cannot sing. But despite the nasal New York accent, she delivered a fabulously deadpan comic turn.

The tech team have done a fantastic job with the show too, the combination of projected film and live stage action works so well, especially when dealing with the world of silent film. And the design of the “rain area” was perfectly orchestrated – enough room for Matthew Croke to move around in, and plenty of water for him to splash around!

There are no weak moments in this tightly-knit production, and again applause to the entire ensemble for constantly being onstage in various guises. This is not a show where people get a lot of downtime in between scenes, but they all looked like they were having the time of their lives, dancing and singing in the rain.

From someone who was never overly mad on the film, consider me a convert to the story. I’d really like to see this show again during the run, it’s just realistically a question of whether I’ll be back in Manchester at any time during the Bolton dates. Here’s hoping!

Singin’ In The Rain is running at the Salisbury Playhouse until Saturday 28th May, before heading North to the Octagon Theatre in Bolton from Friday 3rd to Saturday 25th June, before finishing the run in Newcastle-under-Lyme’s New Vic Theatre from Thursday 30th June to Saturday 16th July.

 

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Holy Mackerel! ~ Key Theatre, Peterborough ~ 30.01.2016

As an antidote to Pantomime, the acclaimed Eastern Angles (from East Anglia, surprisingly enough) have teamed up with the Shanty Theatre Company (from Lyme Regis) to produce a musical farce based on the 1892 Newlyn Fishing Riots. As you do.

Now, you might be thinking that tensions over Victorian Fishing Laws can’t possibly produce a rich vein of comedy, but more fool you. Harry Long’s overly complex plot (it is a farce, after all – of course the plot is unnecessarily complicated!) focuses on the build up to the riots caused by the arrival of East Anglian fishermen to the peaceful and strictly religious town of Newlyn – and the problems caused when the newcomers failed to observe the Sabbath, as was tradition in their new hometown.

In a bid to try and appease both his boss (the strict overlord of the fishing boats, Brassy Balls), and the love of his life (the religious Kerra, who pleads with him to not fish on a Sunday) – the hero of the hour, the hapless Norman, builds his plans to keep his job and win his girl. If this happens to drag an entire community to the brink of war, cost a Harbourmaster his job, cast out some godly folk from the priest’s favour and accidentally be heralded as the chosen one and worshipped as a demi-God in the process, then that’s not entirely his fault.

The five-strong cast switch expertly between roles as they portray both the Cornwalian and East Anglian folk, with accents to match both sets of characters.

Holy Mackerel, in the style of many a pantomime, is a show that doesn’t take itself too seriously and regularly breaks the fourth wall to great comic effect. The lead villain, Brassy Balls – perfectly pitched by Christian Edwards, is an absolute riot. We could probably talk about building a spin-off around that character. Perhaps just unleash him on the unsuspecting public in a Trigger Happy TV style and film improvised segments.

Joining Christian Edwards is writer Harry Long, who himself plays our unlikely saviour Norman with just the perfect amount of innocence and determination. Daniel Copeland puts in a great turn in both his Vicar character (of course! Farce, remember!) and that of the Harbourmaster – whereby he is involved in a wonderful farcical mixup with Louise Callaghan’s Mags, who is in disguise herself as the Harbourmaster and Brassy Balls. Mabel Clements completes the lineup with perhaps the widest range in characterisation, going from the tender, God-fearing gentlewoman Kerra to psycho Alice – a member of the Newlyn Tourist Board kept on a tight leash (literally) for the safety of the public – in a blink of an eye.

Sadly, I saw this show on the final day of its run – it’s one I’d gladly see again it was that much fun. But in the meantime I would highly recommend you take a look at other work by both Shanty Theatre Company and Eastern Angles, and also keep an eye out for more appearances of the five very talented cast members involved.

 

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