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Review: Back to the Future – The Musical

I can remember the first time I heard those ticking clocks.

It was a friend’s birthday party at her house and we all sat round as the video was put on.

The excitement was real as those clocks ticked and the camera panned across the Doc’s home and workshop in a garage in the fictional Hill Valley.

Some 30 odd years later and those tick-tocks were back as we took our seats in the circle of the Opera House, Manchester, a countdown taking place on stage, the atmosphere feeling as electric as the currents that crackled above our heads.

And so for years and years my brother and I have been quoting lines from the Back to the Future (BTTF) trilogy (mostly the first two actually – Soz cowboy BTTF.

Run for it Marty!

Good night Future boy!

Well you’re right, Biff, you’re right!

Not too early, I sleep in Sundays

Joey just looooves being in his playpen

You’re my m…you’re my m….

Ha a a a a a a a a a a a a he always says that…

And so it was with intrigue, fear and nerves that I approached the concept that is BTTF the musical.

Full disclosure – I’ve never been the biggest fan of musicals. I can cast an objective eye towards them and recognise talent and what is good about them (I hope), but as a genre of entertainment they’re not necessarily my favourite.

Would it be all…(a 5,6,7,8)

🎶 Gigawatts! 1.21 Gigawatts! They are Gigawatts! And there are 1.21 of them, that’s 1.21 of them…

No matter. If BTTF is involved and importantly the original creatives, co-creators and producers Bobs Gale and Zemekis are on board, you go, go, go.

Robert Zemekis in rehearsals (pic credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes)

And blimey – I am so glad I did (we did need roads).

Bob Gale in rehearsals (pic credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes)

Starring Olly Dobson as Marty McFly and Roger Bart as The Doc, the show takes us through the first film and story in a way that is fully faithful, and abridged where necessary.

Olly Dobson and Roger Bart (pic credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes)

The dialogue is there as the actors riff on the old favourites, with lines delivered to cheers, laughter and the pure joy of recognition.

Olly Dobson and Hugh Coles (pic credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes)

This was never more the case than when loveable old George McFly (Hugh Coles) was on stage. The show didn’t necessarily demand carbon copy imitations of the characters, but boy did we all marvel with open-mouthed glee (picture what that looked like) as the loveable old and original ‘slacker’ manifested before our very eyes.

Olly Dobson and Rosanna Hyland (pic credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes)

And it was a very similar story with Rosanna Hyland as Lorraine, from the moment she poured out that vodka, through to pointing out her hope chest, to parking with a boy.

Olly Dobson took on the incredibly difficult task of asking us to imagine a Marty McFly who isn’t Michael J Fox (yes, I know, Eric Stolz for about 5 mins, fellow hardcore BTTF tribe members), and he smashed it.

(Pic credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes)

Darting, skateboarding, jamming his way round the stage in his life preserver, Dobson was a joy to watch down to the smallest of inflections – don’t get me wrong though, he made future boy his own.

We need to talk about the Doc, played by Roger Bart. I was never about to make like a tree and get outta there but for the opening strains of a song and dance routine as he shimmied round the DeLorean with his back up dancers, I was in a small state of shock.

Roger Bart (pic credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes)

But then, Great Scott, I got it. And it was everything.

Christopher Lloyd is the Doc, we all know this. But Roger Bart is musical Doc. A Doc that delivers the 1.21 gigawattsness with the same breathy, incredulity, but with a hammy quality and campness that is simply perfect.

If you’re gonna be musical Doc, go big, go extra, or go home (with the aid of a bolt of lightening, perhaps).

Glor.i.ous.

And so to our dear time machine, the DeLorean. There it was in all its glory. Forget Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, this car is its own star which brings me to the special effects which were out of this world.

Believe me, this pic does not do the sfx justice (credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes)

How do you demonstrate time travel on a lovely old theatre in the middle of Manchester? I don’t know but thanks to the genius of the special effects, they did, and then some in a way that got the heart rate racing upto 88mph.

With a musical score that was the perfect balance of the original and the new (with a healthy dose of Huey and his veritable News thrown in (nice nod, naming a new character after his Lewisness), it even got Miss ‘musicals aren’t necessarily my thing’ on her feet.

If you put your mind to it, you can indeed achieve anything. And blimey o’reilly, has the world premier outing of this show achieved everything.

Hugh Coles and Aidan Cutler (pic credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes)
What a voice – Cedric Neal (pic credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes)

Go, introduce your kids and bask in the brilliance of this new show. Buttheads.

Showing at the Opera House, Manchester, until 17 May 2020.

For further details and tickets, head to https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/back-to-the-future-the-musical/opera-house-manchester/

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Review: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the Opera House

I’m cough years old but a good pantomime won’t fail to touch even the most jadedcynical, grown up of adults. And this was no exception.

In fact, and at the risk of over-exuberance (although at the time of writing I’ve had a 12 hour cooling off period) I’d say this was the bar by which pantomimes should be set.

I know!

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (dwarves isn’t the plural of dwarf – who knew?) at the Opera House, Manchester, is quite simply a masterclass in panto.

Craig Revel Horwood as the Queen was truly Wicked in every sense of the word. Flamboyant, devilishly funny and quite simply screamingly fab-u-lous. What a set of lungs too. Oo-indeed-err.

The Strictly refs came thick and fast but each one landing perfectly (‘out of 10, I’d give him 1…’) and the charisma exuded by this evil queen (indeed) was second to none.

Eric Potts was the ultimate, ultimate Dame! From his cheeky look at the princes’s testimonials, there wasn’t a pun unchecked, a camp aside left unspoken or outrageous outfit left unworn.

Ben Nickless as Muddles barely drew breath during the entire performance and was a triumph as panto Master of Ceremonies.

From 0-100mph the second he took to the stage, the impressions (his Mark Owen just killed me) , cheeky gags, physical comedy and engagement with the audience was second to none. Variety, vaudeville, call it what you want, but it was bloody brilliant.

The three actors together had incredible chemistry and gave us some wonderful laugh out loud moments (I rarely laugh out loud, reader, even the mirthiest of moments will usually lead only to a weird expelling of breath) but I laughed until actual tears came down.

If you’re not belly laughing at the tongue-twister scene or the 12 days of Christmas skit, we cannot be friends.

Zoe George served up a simply perfect princess Snow White as did Joshua St Clair as Prince Harry – pitch perfect and leaving us believing in the love story.

The ‘Magnificent Seven’ had less stage time than expected, but made the most of their scenes, with enough ‘top bantz’ to make you hi-ho-ho-ho (yes, sorry…)

The script also gave great Manchester, with local references aplenty including some saucy refs to a cockatoo on canal street, with nothing in the wider stratosphere was off limits including Prince Andrew and Boris Johnson – the perfect balance of laughs for the kids and under the radar gags for the grown ups.

With such talented cast and performances, the show would be forgiven for resting on its laurels but the production values were spell binding.

The relatively simple sets complimented the magical costumes perfectly and with a couple of surprises literally springing out into the audience, the fourth wall was there to be broken both visually and in the knowing patter throughout.

I think I’ve waxed quite lyrically now and will go have a lie down.

Give yourself an early Christmas present and head to the Opera House immediately, if not sooner. And before Sunday 29 December, 2019.

For full details and tickets head to https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/snow-white/opera-house-manchester/

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Manchester Popular culture preview Preview/review The Arts Theatre

Theatre review – Sherlock Holmes – The Final Curtain at the Opera House

I’m going to start with a sincere apology to Liza Goddard.

She has such a wealth of stage experience behind her, that for me to bring up the Give Us a Clue theme tune seems very wrong.

I know I shouldn’t mention it but it’s like a scratch I have to itch. Please forgive me reader and theatre-goer (and do pity me with my full permission) but I’m afraid I’m unable to hear Liza Goddard’s name without the jazzy joy that was the intro music to charades based celebrity TV spectacle Give Us a Clue, bursting into life in my very soul.

Click here for perfection itself

Such is the mark on me, that I’m equally unable to hear Liza Goddard’s name without immediately thinking

and Lionel Blair!!!!

But to many this odd memory of mine is merely serving to delay the crux of the matter – the play that is Sherlock Holmes – The Final Curtain – showing at the Manchester Opera House until this Saturday 28 July, 2018.

Starring  the both immensely talented and respected Liza Goddard and Lionel Blair!  Robert Powell (I’ll spare him any clichéd reference to a specific role – again sorry Liza), the two actors have proven once again what a dream team they are, this being their third stage production together.

And so we move swiftly on from the strange word of my childhood TV memories and to, eventually, the infamous Baker Street in the post-war 1920s.

Simon Reade’s play introduces us to a Sherlock Holmes (Powell) who is now in his dotage and living in Eastbourne. It is somehow funnier than it should be that he has elected to evade detection of himself by declaring himself to be ‘Sherlock Smith’.

In the week where Manchester’s Bee in the City has seen lots of the little fellows popping up all over the centre, it is apt that bee-keeping is somewhat central to the plot.

The play certainly ticks all the Sherlock Holmes boxes:

Pipe ✅

Drugs ✅

Baker Street ✅

Numerous mentions of ‘arch-nemesis’ Moriarty ✅

Dr Watson ✅

In fact the latter, warmly and humorously depicted by Timothy Kightley is, in a sense, our narrator for the evening, embracing new technology and appearing on BBC radio to take listeners through one of Sherlock Holmes’s casebooks – the tale we then see unfold.

It is no spoiler that a dead body on Sherlock’s private beach (no less) kick starts matters and heralds the arrival of Watson’s now estranged wife Mary (Goddard) who commands the stage and indeed story with a certain authority.

Bringing tales of visions of the Watsons’ deceased son, James, into the mix, Holmes (or ‘Smith’) is encouraged by Mary to return to Baker Street where she and Dr Watson are now co-habiting – the latter having moved into psychoanalysis.

Scenes of a seance caused me a wry smile, given my attendance at one of Derek Acorah’s shows in this same theatre some years back.

Let’s say this show was more successful at ‘conjuring’ up the spirits than poor Derek that night.

The play doesn’t necessarily provide any stand-out moments. It ambles along and tells its tale, the actors delivering well the material in hand.

I was, however, fascinated by the role the ‘title’ player ‘the curtain’ holds throughout. As each time the curtain swept from stage left to right (and vice versa) the scenery and actors would have changed by the time it reached its destination.

In fact it became somewhat of a game for me to try and catch a glimpse of the sorcery going on behind (I managed one pair of feet – bravo all in involved!).

And so whilst I would say there is nothing here to astound, perhaps there doesn’t need to be. It’s a quintessential English story that entertains. Whilst the first half may not quite leave you yearning for more, the second half picks up the pace.

There’s even an ‘elementary’ thrown in, for good measure.

For more details, times and tickets, visit The Opera House/ATG tickets website.