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CALENDAR GIRLS: THE MUSICAL

KW Productions

The Little Theatre, Dover Street

Review by Lynette Watson

June 2022

 

Calendar Girls The Musical, presented by KW Productions at Leicester’s Little Theatre, is the collaborative adaptation by Take That’s Gary Barlow with the original writer Tim Firth and is a truly heart-warming production from start to finish.

 

The opening ensemble song Yorkshire set against a beautiful backdrop of the Yorkshire Dales reminds us that we are in the small village of Knapley and how the close knit community comes together after the loss of village stalwart John Clarke. Directors Keiran Whelan-Newby and John Bale have assembled a superb cast all with tremendous singing voices and expert comic timing, the six leading females make their characters, each with their own individual life problems, believable and definitely relatable as do the rest of the supporting multi-talented cast reinforcing the theme of togetherness, brilliant to see! 

 

And so to the cast itself…..as Annie, Alexandra Elliott gave an affecting performance and her song Kilimanjaro was sung with true emotional poignancy highlighting the losing of your other half and as Chris, Annie’s best friend, Siobhan Ball delivered a dynamic performance and has a tremendously impressive unbelievable vocal range. Debbie Longley-Brown shone as Cora, a single mother, both hilarious and touching with Liz Kavanagh Knott as Celia revelling in her fun song I’ve Had a Little work Done. Tracey Holderness as Ruth is comedic in her drunken scenes while Jane Towers as the older woman Jessie takes the honours for the best one liners such as ‘no front bottoms’. Brilliant stuff!

 

Apart from the main characters this really is an ensemble piece and the whole cast including the younger members brought their own energy to the performance that is humorous, heartfelt, a little bit naughty but sincere and empowering. Calendar Girls is a true celebration of life and deep rooted friendships, it’s fun, has an excellent cast, is a fantastic show and I guarantee you will leave the theatre inspired.

 

GYPSY

KW Productions

The Little Theatre, Dover Street

Review by Lynette Watson

June 2023

Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim’s hit musical has the reputation of being one of the greatest American musicals and having seen the latest show from the award-winning KW Productions staged at Leicester’s The Little Theatre, it is easy to see why!

The action takes place during the Depression era of the 1920 and 30s as the plot centres around Mama Rose, who is determined to make stars out of her two daughters, June and Louise (the stardom she failed to achieve herself), by dragging them to dance in every Vaudeville show until it went out of fashion, giving way to the more popular Burlesque entertainment.

She goes to all lengths to fuel her desire to attain success, forfeiting the security of relationships, including that of her devoted manager Herbie plus eventually her daughter June, however, it is Louise who finally makes it as a burlesque superstar but not Rose’s idea of fame.

Debbie Longley-Brown as Rose heads a stellar cast and is a joy to watch, her dramatic and stunning pin-point vocals were excellent throughout, emphasising her depth of emotions from the domineering number, ‘Some People’ to the poignancy of her final song ‘Rose’s Turn’, a remarkable performance.

Her two daughters June and Louise played by Katie Proctor and Rose Bale respectively delivered equally believable performances with Rose Bale’s delightful transformation from the mother pleaser into the burlesque legend, Gypsy Rose Lee!

There are no weak links in director Keiran Whelan-Newby’s multi-talented large cast, their acting and vocal skills were spot on, as were the consistent American accents throughout. Gypsy is peppered with popular and fantastic musical songs including ‘Let Me Entertain You’, ‘Everything’s Coming Up Roses’ and a favourite of mine, ‘Together Wherever We Go’ beautifully sung by Rose, Herbie and Louise and credit to choreographer Caroline Walsh whose dance routines from the crazy farmyard scene to the sparkling razzle-dazzle numbers were effectively diverse.

The saying ‘get fame at any cost’ resonates in this fast paced excellent production, congratulations to KW Productions for a superb evening’s entertainment.

GYPSY

KW Productions

The Little Theatre, Dover Street

Review by Emily Bale

June 2023

“Everything’s coming up roses” because KW Productions have done it again! A truly superb roundup of talent and exceptional performance from the entire cast and crew incoming…

The iconic Mamma Rose played by the flawless Debbie Longley-Brown is recognised as the ultimate American showbiz mother: a woman frustrated in her own ambitions, but dazzled by the bright lights of showbusiness, and determined to make a star of her pretty elder daughter, June played by the animated and captivating Katie Draper, captured the spirit and reality of the character with excellence and ease.

We witness Rose dragging her girls and their troupe round a dying 1930’s vaudeville circuit, and relentlessly pretending that her fast-maturing daughters are still cutesy child stars, Rose picks up a genuine and loving admirer in reluctant agent Herbie played sensitively and endearingly by Tony Whitmore, and we briefly glimpse the possibility of a more normal family life.

At heart, though, Rose wants no such thing; and even when grown-up June finally runs off with a male dancer (shout out to Tim Stokes beautiful dance performance cleverly choreographed by by the queen of dance, Caroline Walsh).

We witness Longley-Brown’s fast pace and energetic portrayal of Rose as she persists – until younger daughter Louise (Rose Bale - who really is the budding Rose throughout the show) finally achieves unexpected big-bucks stardom as Gypsy Rose Lee, the most elegant stripper to emerge from the sleazy-burlesque remnants of America’s live vaudeville tradition.

The entire ensemble (too many to mention individually, and too many words needed to convey their brilliance) costumed to 1930’s perfection by John Bale, worked together seamlessly through dance and singing numbers and scene changes. The audience evidently had an unwavering confidence in the knowledge this is a team of people who are passionate, dedicated and authentic in every aspect of this production.

Director Keiran Whelan-Newby, assisted by John Bale, has captured the story and magic of the show with creativity, thought and care. The vision has come to life - so much talent and attention to detail is to be celebrated. Whelan brings light and shade, pace and energy and clearly knows how to tell a good story, fantastically brought to life on the boards of the Little Theatre.

“You’re gonna be a star” is a frequent line throughout the show - and there is no doubt leading ladies Longley-Brown and Bale are stars. These ladies stole the show, despite the endless efforts on stage of strippers Liz Cavenagh Knott, Karen Gordon and Victoria Price who artfully display their gimmicks and shockingly show biz costumes for all to behold and giggle along with.

We witness Bale’s finest performance to date as her character Louise morphs butterfly-like into Gypsy Rose Lee, trading nursery costumes for the silky layers of striptease. Bale sensitively handles the abrupt transition from awkward juvenile to reluctant stripper. Sultry, sassy and sensational she takes to the stage wowing us all with her vocals, movement and charisma.

Longley-Brown is the perfect Mamma Rose. It is hard to believe this part was not written for this actor. Momma Rose is a monster of a driven stage mother and we really should hate her for it but Longley-Brown makes us love her and as the show unfolds and the layers get peeled away, we find out what drives her to do what she does and we sympathise with this demanding woman who constantly pushes people out of her life. Her total disintegration during the last song of the show “Rose’s Turn” is both thrilling and chilling and I really can’t praise Longley-Brown’s emotional execution of the turmoil going through Rose’s mind enough. The part and the performance of a lifetime.

This classic musical, about performance, in all its chaotic glory, gets all the praise and awe from the audience last night. A well deserved standing ovation.

Morale of the story here - don’t miss a KW Production, and don’t be a pushy dance mamma!

THE LAST FIVE YEARS

KW Productions

Live Streamed Performance

Review by Lynette Watson

May 2021

 

In a nutshell, The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown is a bitter sweet  musical that centres around the relationship of two people Cathy, a struggling actress and Jamie, a published author, falling in and out of love over five years. It can be slightly confusing at times to understand the unconventional structure of the plot as both characters’ journeys are delivered in reverse, Cathy’s from the end of their marriage with Jamie’s from the beginning but the two skilful actors draw the audience in and evoke empathy for them both.

 

Beautifully filmed sequences follow their relationship and the still images play an important role throughout including a subtle Lego animation, a smashed wedding photograph and the poignant  final shot of Jamie’s note and wedding ring set against an upturned canister of spilt salt with their lives briefly colliding on the wedding day before going in different directions.

Both Danielle Sanders and Keiran Whelan-Newby as Cathy and Jamie respectively, equally match each other vocally tackling a variety of musical styles with confidence and power, Danielle especially in her delivery of ‘I’m Still Hurting’ contrasting with the enigmatic ‘I Can Do Better than That!’ while Keiran in his ‘The Schmuel Song’ and ‘Nobody Needs to Know' definitely portrays his ability to tell a story through song.

This was an enthusiastic, raw and intense production emotionally charged and although it isn’t your typical musical accompanied only by excellent pianist Felix Surbe, it unequivocally works.

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