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shows 2021

All the shows I saw in 2021: A Review

May 2021 saw the return of live theatre and music events, albeit with a reduced capacity, social distancing, and masks. Finally, in July, venues could operate at full capacity. I’ve seen over 30 shows this year, which isn’t so bad given the fact that my first one was in mid-June!

It’s remarkable that after such a difficult year, in which productions were forced shut and employees lost their jobs, theatres bounded back, bigger and better than ever before. Music artists were also finally allowed to tour their latest albums, after the pandemic forced them to postpone and reschedule their tours.

I live and breathe theatre, and I attend lots of concerts and gigs, so the return of live events filled the hole in my soul that the Covid-19 pandemic created. I wanted to write a piece to celebrate the return of live events – and now that the Omicron variant has forced shut countless events venues, it seems all the more important to champion the successful 6 months that live events have had. A lot of people put a lot of work into saving the arts, and we can’t let that hard work be in vain – especially now that they’re going to have to do it all over again.

As art-lovers, we must do our part to support the arts during this difficult time. So, here’s a recap (and brief review) of all of the shows I’ve had the honour of seeing this year. Some of these shows I saw for pleasure, but if it’s a show that I covered, just click the hyperlink to read the full review!

Before we begin, let me explain my rating system…

“Overall rating” is simply my overall rating of the show. It takes into account the production value, the performances, the story, and the music. The production value is made up of set, staging, costumes and lighting. By “performance”, I’m referring to the performances given by the actors/singers/dancers. “Story” refers to both the general story of the piece (or the “book”) and the script/writing. “Music” is self-explanatory: I’m rating the songs and lyrics of the piece.

I’ve also given the shows a personal “Enjoyment” rating, which is simply how much I enjoyed the show. I’ve done this because there are some imperfect shows that I absolutely love, and there are some shows that aren’t necessarily my cup of tea but, from a critic’s point of view, I acknowledge that they are good – and will be appreciated by the intended audience. The overall rating does not take my personal enjoyment into account; for my personal thoughts, read the individual review!

Opera North’s A Night at the Opera

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Performances: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Music: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

My enjoyment: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

A night of operatic delights, and delightful they were – I’m just not much of an opera fan. The gala was hardly exhilarating, even for opera lovers, but it was a lovely reintroduction to theatre after a long time, with incredible singers backed by a wonderful orchestra.

Bloody Elle

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Performances: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Story: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Music: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐  

My enjoyment: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Bloody Elle was bloody brilliant. Lauryn Redding’s writing and acting deserve great applause. The lack of a fifth star is not because there was anything wrong with this gig musical, per se, but to give it five stars would suggest it’s an exceptional, near-perfect piece of theatre – which it was not. That said, I don’t think Redding’s aim was perfection. Rather, it was reality – and that’s why this musical is so good. Good, but not perfect.

Anton Du Beke and Giovanni Pernice – Him & Me

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Performances: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Story: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Music: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

My enjoyment: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Him & Me was camp, crazy, colourful, fun, frantic and fabulous. It was a bit of a hot mess, jumping from setting to setting, with no real story. It was all quite random, but the sheer talent of the dancers cannot be denied. The singing was hit-and-miss and felt more cabaret than musical, but I did enjoy the show’s variety-feel.

Hale Barns Carnival – Boney M featuring Maizie Williams

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Performance: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Music: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

My enjoyment: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

My first music event since March 2020, and what a triumph it was! Although the only original member of this line-up of Boney M. is Maizie Williams (former lead singer Liz Williams has her own version of the group), they put on a helluva show, transporting audiences back in time to a 70s disco. This was the last day that events were required to implement social distancing, but if anything, the social distancing helped Hale Barns Carnival – everybody was chilling in the sun, sat on deckchairs, eating ice cream. It was a lovely evening. Boney M didn’t put on a big show, put the production of the carnival, as a whole, was fantastic – especially how they managed to make it work with Covid restrictions.

Judy & Liza

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Performances: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Story: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Music: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

My enjoyment: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Sort-of a gig musical, Judy & Liza followed mother-and-daughter duo Judy Garland and Liza Minelli at a fictional concert, in which they each performed their biggest hits. Judy and Liza told us about their lives, including Liza’s birth and Judy’s death, and each song was slotted in appropriately. It was a little messy, but that’s what cabaret is – and life is a cabaret!

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Performances: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Story: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Music: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

My enjoyment: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

One of the most feel-good musicals out there, and knowing that it’s based on a true story makes it even more cathartic, but there’s nothing that striking about this musical. Whilst the musical’s appropriation of pop music works well to tell the story of a teenage drag queen, and to attract a young audience, I found most of the songs to be unmemorable. The first song is a bop, and then it’s all a bit meh. The story is inspiring but predictable, and most of the actors were talented but unexceptional. It’s a great musical, don’t get me wrong – but it pales in comparison to many of the musicals that I’ve seen.

Bat Out of Hell

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Performances: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Story: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Music: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

My enjoyment: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

It’s not easy to sing Meatloaf, but these performers sang their hearts out. The musical is a hot mess – at times, I had little idea what was going on – and there were a few artistic decisions that I found strange, but I could not fault the production value and the ambition of the creatives. After the show ended, I was ready to write a five star review, but in hindsight, the musical offers much to criticise – but I enjoyed it far too much to focus on its problems.

Ripples of Hope: Hillary Rodham Clinton in Conversation

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

My enjoyment: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

The set-up for this in conversation was a little awkward. Baroness Helena Kennedy was present in the theatre, whilst Hillary Clinton joined via Zoom. There was a screen that displayed Clinton, but she could only see Kennedy, who was onstage with a laptop. It was hard to feel involved; we were essentially just sat watching two people having a conversation. Kennedy did read out a few questions that audience members had submitted (including one of mine), but it might have been better to have some actual involvement from the audience. It would have been great if Clinton could have seen her audience, and instead of submitting questions beforehand, perhaps a mic could have been passed around. Home’s Theatre 1 is small, so passing a mic around shouldn’t be too difficult. Perhaps my suggestions would present some logistical difficulties, though.

Anything Goes

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Performances: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Story: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Music: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

My enjoyment: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Anything Goes dominated the West End this summer – and the Barbican Theatre isn’t even in the West End! Sutton Foster won a Tony for this role a decade ago, and she made a triumphant return here on our side of the pond. The musical was such a success that it’s returning next summer, and I strongly recommend it. Whilst the musical is dated, it’s still funny – and the performances are exceptional. The tap-dancing, in particular, is incredible – though it pales in comparison to that seen in 42nd Street.

West End Live 2021

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Performance: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Music: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

My enjoyment: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

I attended West End Live on both days. It featured wonderful performances from most notable West End musicals, from Hamilton to The Lion King. I’ve given it five stars, but I do have criticisms for some individual shows: & Juliet and Cinderella both offered pretty disappointing performances – though Cinderella’s Carrie Hope Fletcher did suffer technical problems – and Frozen opted to not have Elsa (Samantha Barks) perform for some strange reason. Other than that, the festival was fantastic – a celebration of the return of musical theatre!

The Prince of Egypt

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Performances: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Story: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Music: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

My enjoyment: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

A visual delight with beautiful music and incredible performances. The spectacle has been criticised by some reviewers, though, for being “naff” and “[drowning] out the emotional drama.” In my opinion, the worst part of the musical is the script – the clunky dialogue, the excessive exposition, the decision to tell rather than show, etc. The musical drags a little in the first act before the pace picks up in the second act – but the it remains melodramatic in its attempt to make the musical an epic. I also found it interesting that whilst most of the cast is rightfully brown, they were all light-skinned, save for the most notable actor in the musical. Whilst I saw Nefertari’s understudy (Simbi Akande), she’s usually played by a dark-skinned actor (Nardia Ruth) – interesting, isn’t it, that the musical’s most annoying and unlikeable character is the only one played by an actor with dark skin? It just seems like theatre is only willing to go so far when it comes to diversity. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed this musical; it’s one of my personal favourites – but it could be better.

Pretty Woman

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Performances: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Story: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Music: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

My enjoyment: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Perhaps I’d have enjoyed this musical more if I was familiar with the film (and if I hadn’t seen it just two days after the tour de force that was Anything Goes). For me, Pretty Woman aroused no nostalgia, just frustration – the plot is dated, predictable, and uninteresting. The musical’s production value is subpar, but I appreciate that it’s different, and that could be part of its appeal. Talented as they may be, Aimie Atkinson and Danny Mac fail to save this musical, with its bland script and its boring songs – especially because the musical hardly lets them showcase their sheer talent.

Paloma Faith – The Infinite Things Tour

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Performances: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Music: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

My enjoyment: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Paloma Faith has to be one of Britain’s best vocalists. She put on a great show, and her backing band helped create an amazing atmosphere, but I did feel that the concert’s production could have benefitted from being a little more exciting. This concert is another example of a show being fantastic but not exceptional.

Dirty Dancing

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Performance: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Story: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Music: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

My enjoyment: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

By far, the worst show I’ve seen all year. Like Pretty Woman, I didn’t grow up with Dirty Dancing, so I found it dated and uninteresting – but the real issue came from the way the film was adapted for the stage. Perhaps there were budget issues, but the musical felt amateur at times. The set looked like it belonged to a school production, and whilst the dancing was great, the singing was subpar. I also hated the artistic decision that saw the actors not even singing the songs from the film – they were just played in the background, which works for a film but is almost inappropriate for a stage musical. The leads were great – they oozed chemistry, which you’d hope given the fact that they’re played by a real-life couple – and I hope they move on to better productions. For all my criticisms, the musical’s target audience seemed to love it – it’s a naughty, nostalgic night, after all.

Heathers

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Performances: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Story: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Music: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

My enjoyment: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Heathers made up for the travesty that was Dirty Dancing. It’s one of my favourite musicals of all time. It’s messy and manic, it attempts to tackle far too many issues, and certain storylines are up for criticism – but unlike Pretty Woman and Dirty Dancing, the creatives behind Heathers have managed to make it relevant and entertaining for a whole new generation. It’s obviously easier to do that with a cult film than it is a classic – and I guess Pretty Woman and Dirty Dancing‘s target audiences are older people (fans of the original film), not my generation – but the creatives must still be applauded for what they’ve done with Heathers. A riotous rock musical with memorable songs (several of the musicals I’ve seen this year have lacked them), likeable characters, and phenomenal performers.

Grease

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Performances: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Story: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Music: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

My enjoyment: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

This is a brand-new staging of Grease, one of the oldest musicals I’ve seen this year – in fact, the stage musical actually precedes the film. Some will see the new staging as a welcome change, whilst others will complain about the differences. Whilst I’m familiar with the film, and I’ve seen an amateur stage production of the musical, I’m not hopelessly devoted to Grease, so the changes were lost on me. The musical was lots of fun, with some memorable moments (especially Peter Andre’s rendition of ‘Beauty School Dropout’), but some of the other performances were just satisfactory. Then again, Grease has one of the greatest scores in musical theatre history, so you can forgive a few dodgy performances. There’s recently been some criticism for Grease being problematic. I don’t take issue with that; the musical is from a different time – and I commend the creatives behind this version for making it fun and relevant for a new generation. It had a number of problems, but I still had a great night.

Death Drop

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Performances: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Story: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Music: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

My enjoyment: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Murder mystery meets drag. Dragatha Christie! This is one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen. In a paradox of sorts, the show’s script is both its strength and its downfall. Holly Stars’ writing is hilarious, and she must be commended for managing to make American, Australian, and British drag work together in horny harmony! Conversely, the story doesn’t know where to end; it’s a little excessive. That said, drag is supposed to be messy; it challenges (perceived) perfection; it’s perfect because of its imperfections.

Dame Joan Collins is Unapologetic

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

My enjoyment: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

It was an honour to see Dame Joan Collins DBE, joined by her good friend Christopher Biggins, tell us a series tantalising stories. Collins might be 88, but she remains super sharp and fabulously funny. The ‘In Conversation’ could have benefitted from better production. Joanna Lumley’s ‘In Conversation’ made use of video clips, and she spoke directly to the audience in the first half before being interviewed in the second. Collins’ ‘In Conversation’ was just that – a live interview.

Tell Me On A Sunday

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Performances: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Story: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Music: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

My enjoyment: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Jodie Prenger was mesmerising in this little-known, one-woman, one-act, Andrew Lloyd Webber musical – which was followed by a Q&A and performances of ALW classics by Prenger and her understudy. The musical is a song cycle, with its sole character telling us the story of her tumultuous love life through song, backed by a band. The set was pretty but bland; I felt it could have been a little more exciting, especially given the fact that it’s a one-woman musical. Sure, this made us pay more attention to Prenger, but she hardly needed help in commanding attention!

Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Performances: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Story: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Music: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

My enjoyment: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

I debated taking a star away from the show’s production value because although having the (sublime) set brought on and off by the ensemble gave the musical both a classic and a whimsical feel, it resulted in the stage being a little cluttered at times. It could also be a little distracting. But then I remembered the flying bed and broom, and I cemented that fifth star right where it was. Whilst the musical uses the wonderful songs from the film, most of the new additions are nothing special, and I did feel that the musical dragged a little at times. I enjoyed the twist ending, a noticeable different from the film’s ending, but others might find it frustrating.

An Audience with Alan Cumming – Tales From A Fully Packed Life

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Interviewed by Cheddar Gorgeous, this was a gleefully gay evening that could have been made even more camp and colourful with the addition of video montages – to break up all of the chat. In the second act, Cheddar asked Cumming questions submitted by the audience – including two of mine – which was exciting. I feel the evening could have benefited from Cumming addressing the audience directly, removing Cheddar from the action for a bit – Cumming is undeniably talented and naturally funny, and it worked for Joanna Lumley, so why wouldn’t it work for him?

Rina Sawayama – The Dynasty Tour

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Performances: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Music: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

My enjoyment: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Tens, tens, tens across the board! Well, fives, but still… This was one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to. Rina was an absolute diva, and her band, backing singers and dancers helped her put on one helluva show. The opening acts were Ama and Hana. Ama had bad sound problems – I couldn’t really hear what she was saying because of the excessive bass – which was a shame because she’s clearly very talented. The problems were fixed for Hana, who was one of the best opening acts I’ve ever seen. All three of the funky females looked incredible. The whole night was a vibe.

Opera North’s Carmen

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Performances: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Story: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Music: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

My enjoyment: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Again, I don’t love opera, but I’ve always wanted to see Carmen, and I applaud Opera North for making opera accessible. The opera’s set and staging were superb, and I commend Opera North for casting a black artist in the lead role. The missing fifth star is not because there was anything wrong with the opera; it just wasn’t an exceptional piece of theatre.

Steps – What the Future Holds Tour

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Performances: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Music: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

My enjoyment: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Like Rina Sawayama, this concert was incredible, right from the get-go. As far as concerts go, it’s one of the biggest productions I’ve ever seen – beaten only by Cher – with countless costume changes and a spectacular set. Sophie Ellis-Bextor opened the show, with a setlist that included her biggest hits, preparing us for a naughty night of nineties and noughties nostalgia! Steps were so energetic, and each member got to shine.

Waitress

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Performances: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Story: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Music: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

My enjoyment: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

I know this musical is adored by musical-loving millennials, but I found the story to be pretty predictable. Cutesy and inspiring, yes, but nothing special. The set, too, was nice but hardly striking. However, the cast, led by Lucie Jones, did Sara Bareilles’ sublime score justice. Read Managing Editor Ella Robinson and Ella Turvey’s review to find out more!

Isaac Dunbar

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Performances: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Music: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

My enjoyment: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Simple but effective. Isaac Dunbar is a wonderful performer, and his music is most wonderful. I can totally see him commanding crowds at bigger venues, should his career flourish – and after seeing him live, I’m confident that it will. He was complimented by his edgy backing band, and his opening act, Tayo Sound, offered a sound set of soothing songs.

White Christmas

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Performances: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Story: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Music: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

My enjoyment: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Whilst the story is dated, it was actually not the most predictable. I also appreciated the formidable female leads, a rarity in old musicals (and musicals based on old films, like this one). Irving Berlin is one of the greatest songwriters of all time, and this musical is proof of that. The performance of ‘Blue Skies’ is, quite possibly, one of my favourite musical theatre performances ever. It was a fun, festive night, but hardly the most awe-inspiring musical. I wouldn’t rush back to see if it wasn’t for ‘Blue Skies’ – indeed, I’d go back just to see that again (and then maybe leave during the interval).

Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker!

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Performances: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Story: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Music: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

My enjoyment: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

The only criticism I have for this musical is that it took way too long to get to the pink paradise that the promo material showcased – but the lack of pink for the majority of the show actually made the pink introduction all the more striking. The first act dragged a little; I couldn’t wait to get out of the dull world that it was portraying – but I feel like that could be intentional, and again, it made the escape to the dream world all the more welcome. This is, without a doubt, one of the best pieces of dance I’ve ever seen – up there with fellow Matthew Bourne show The Red Shoes, Rambert’s Ghost Dances, Riverdance, and Z Bo Jackson’s gala night. I’m hoping to see Lord of the Dance next year – no doubt, that will be up there too. Michael Flatley and Matthew Bourne have to be two of the world’s greatest choreographers, and I’ll probably go to see anything they do. This was the first piece of theatre I saw this year to get a perfect score.

The Wiz

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Performances: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Story: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Music: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

My enjoyment: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

This adaptation of The Wiz was, at its core, a celebration (not just a showcase) of the best of Black British talent. The choreography has to be the musical’s highlight; it’s some of the best dancing I’ve seen in a musical. The singing, too, was marvellous. The characters were all loveable, but most of them lacked real character development, and there were some issues with staging, so I’ll have to deduct a star. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed this musical – one of my personal favourite productions.

The Royal Exchange Theatre’s 2022 Programme Launch Event

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

This was my first press day since February 2020. With special guest Maxine Peake – a patron of the Royal Exchange Theatre – it was a fantastic way to introduce the RX’s first ever full-year season. It’s not the best press event I’ve been to, but it was great to hear from all of the guest speakers – and to be one of the first people to hear about the RX’s new season.

Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure? Tour

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Performances: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Music: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

My enjoyment: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

I went to five concerts/gigs this year – and four of them are some of the best I’ve ever been to. Jessie Ware was obviously unreal. The concert’s production was phenomenal. Ware had several costume changes, and whilst all of her outfits were fab, none compared to the blue gown that she opened the show with. Ware had two musicians, two backing singers (who danced), and two backing dancers (who sang). The backing singers and dancers were some of the best I’ve ever seen at a concert. Not only were they supremely talented, but it was clear that they were having so much fun. In one routine, Jessie moved around, and the singers and dancers took turns in joining Jessie when she was at the back of the stage, which was perfect.

The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Performance: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Story: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Music: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

My enjoyment: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Massively different to the RX’s usual holiday musical, but a welcome change – it’s always nice to see something different, especially when it’s executed as well as this. The show’s production value was lacking – especially in comparison to most RX productions. The RX is known for making great use of its in-the-round stage, but it felt a little squandered in this production. That said, there were some key moments where the space was used to great effect. Some of the costumes appeared cheap and hastily chosen, but the musical play’s story was so wild and bizarre that it was (thankfully) difficult to focus on the mediocre costuming. Whilst I personally loved the crazy story, it won’t be a hit with everybody. What’s undeniable, though, is the sheer talent of the cast.

Hex

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Performances: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Story: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Music: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

My enjoyment: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

I saw Hex during previews, and I’ll post my review of it once their official press night has passed (it keeps being delayed because of the pandemic, but I was lucky enough to catch it when I was down in London for the Studio Lambert Christmas party). I absolutely loved this wild musical. Rosalie Craig was obviously divine. The understudy who stepped into the role of Queenie following the indisposition of the role’s primary actor (Tamsin Carroll) deserves endless praise. The show’s set, stage design, costumes and choreography are all phenomenal. The show features some most marvellous musical numbers. The show’s problem, though – which could be fixed prior to press night – is its script. It’s messy and at times confusing, there are plot-holes and things that just don’t make sense, etc. Overall, though, it’s a wonderful new production, and I wish it the greatest of success.

Frozen

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Performances: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Story: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Music: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

My enjoyment: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Whilst I’ve given a few concerts fives across the board, this is the only musical I’ve seen this year to get a perfect score (Anything Goes only got four stars for its story). Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker! is the only other piece of theatre to get a perfect score. Frozen probably has some problems, but none big enough to deduct a star – and if I can’t remember any problems, were they ever worth talking about? The production value of this show is some of the best I’ve ever seen – up there with fellow Disney musical Aladdin, which sadly closed awhile back. Led by Samantha Barks, the whole cast is captivating. As aforementioned, Barks did not perform at West End Live, so it was so exciting to finally see her perform. The musical’s new songs can’t compete with the now-classic songs from the film, but they’re still fantastic – especially Elsa’s Act 2 song, ‘Monster.’ The show’s highlight is, without a doubt, the end of Act 1, which sees Elsa sing ‘Let It Go.’ I was almost tearing up with awe; it was utterly magical. I even text my mum during the interval to tell her how emotional I was! If you go to see Frozen, make sure you don’t blink during the bridge and final chorus of this number – or you might miss the greatest costume change ever witnessed!

Aladdin

Overall rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Production: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Performances: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Story: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

Music: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

My enjoyment: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 

I really don’t like pantomimes – I only saw Aladdin to see Alexandra Burke again – but even I cannot deny how much of a good job ATG did with this one. It wasn’t just hilarious; it was also relevant. Whilst the at-times flimsy writing made for some subpar performances, it was a joyous evening, for the most part. The highlight was, without a doubt, seeing Alexandra Burke sing her first two hits: ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Bad Boys.’ She did a reprise of the latter during the curtain call – the best, baddest curtain call ever!

Aladdin ended up being my last show of 2021. I was supposed to see The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe later that week – and then Dreamgirls and Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World in Liverpool over the holidays – but decided against it because of the soaring Covid-19 cases. Disappointing, yes, but Aladdin was a fab final show of the year that saw theatre not only survive but also thrive!

See what’s on at Manchester’s many theatres in 2022 here!

Tags: 2021, aladdin, anything goes, Arts, Death Drop, Frozen, musical, Opera, Theatre

Jay Darcy

Theatre Editor. Instagram & Twitter: @jaydarcy7. Email: [email protected]
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