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Tag Archive | "Phantom of the Opera"

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Feature: Spotlight on Killian Donnelly

Posted on 20 November 2013 by Freya Smith

Killian Donnelly has been receiving rave reviews for his portrayal of Deco, the egotistical and bolshy front-man of Roddy Doyle’s new West End musical The Commitments. I recently caught up with him, and was relieved to find little similarity between the actor and his character…

THE COMMITMENTS

Donnelly was raised in Ireland, where he participated in amateur dramatics. Unlike many West End regulars, he did not follow the standard drama school to agent trajectory: “Someone had seen me in an am dram show in Ireland, and people kept saying to me if you want to go professional you need to move to London. So, I moved over about five years ago. I literally knocked on doors of agents, and one of them got me an audition for Les Mis. I was offered a twelve month contract. I was gobsmacked.”

Since then, he has appeared in other West End shows, playing Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera and Tony in Billy Elliot. On the eve of taking a well deserved holiday to Greece, Donnelly received a phone call from his agent informing him of an audition for a workshop of The Commitments. “I was like, ‘Are you serious? That’s being made into a show?!’ He said, ‘It’s about a young band in …’ I said, ‘Are you mad? I know!’ He said, ‘They want to see you for the role of Dee-koh.’ I was like, ‘IT’S DECO!’ [laughs]. So I went to this audition, and they’d said don’t bring anything from The Commitments movie. I was running late, so, of course, I sang ‘Mustang Sally’ and ‘Midnight Hour’. But, I got a phone call going, ‘You’ve got it. It’s in three weeks.’ I had to cancel my holiday but, obviously, I had the best craic.”

What happened next? “Two-and-a-half years later I get a phone call saying– at this point I’m in Billy Elliot – they’re auditioning for The Commitments now. I was like, I really need an audition. I’d love to audition for this show. And because I had done the workshop they didn’t need to do a first or second round with me. They just said they’d bring the people they want into the final. But they didn’t tell me that! So I’m looking at people going through the first round and second round and I’m thinking ‘Why haven’t I been seen? Have I done something wrong?!’ But luckily I was told about the final audition, and that was amazing because we got to sing with a live band.”

Based on a book of the same name by Roddy Doyle, The Commitments charts the formation and disintegration of a soul group in 1980s Dublin. Donnelly’s character, Deco, fronts the band, and his narcissism and obstinacy are the source of several disputes within the group. Donnelly acknowledges that Deco is a move away from some of the characters he’s portrayed in the past: “I was always put into the category of an Enjolras in Les Mis or a Raoul in Phantom. I briefly played Tony in Billy Elliot, which I loved, but it seemed that Deco was a completely different character to try my hand at. He’s very arrogant and he’s crude. He’s a loveable prick. It’s amazing how the audience seem to love hating him. I’m adoring it.”

With the exception of Donnelly, the cast of The Commitments is largely made up of previously unknown Irish actors making their West End débuts. He jokes “everyone’s been calling me a veteran, as if I’ve fought in a war”. Nonetheless, he seems to have embraced his new found mother hen identity: “I do sometimes have to give advice when cast members are looking to go out for a pint. I say ‘remember we’ve two shows tomorrow…’ and when they come in with a hangover the next day I’m like ‘Now, look at yeh! Look at yeh!’”

On originating the role of Deco, he muses: “If you’re in the West End in a musical, that’s the biggest thing you can do. And, having done that I’m thinking ‘where do I go from here?’ You’re ticking things off the bucket list. Some day I’d absolutely love to do a spell on Broadway. I’d love to do straight theatre. I did the Les Mis movie last year – I’d love to do more television and film. I also like writing. I’ve written some pantomimes which went on in Ireland and now I’m doing one over here in Norwich this year. There’s always so much more to do.”

Donnelly’s passion and appetite for working spills over into his advice for aspiring actors: “It’s a cliché, but I say – just go for it, and never let anyone put you down or take your dream away from you. I did go through a time when people said, ‘You need a proper job’ or ‘You need to focus on something stronger now and make sure you’re concentrating on something other than acting’, but I never did and I always just went for it. I never let anybody tell me that I can’t do anything. And I love what I do. Get singing lessons. Go train. Keep your head down and concentrate. When you go into an audition, go in with your own idea, never copy your favourite performer. Read the script and do your research. You can never do too much research. If you love it, just keep doing it. It’s the best job in the world.”

The Commitments runs from Tuesdays – Sundays at 7.30 pm (with matinees on Saturday and Sunday) at The Palace Theatre. For more information visit The Commitments website.

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Review: Miranda Sings

Posted on 10 September 2013 by Samuel Sims

Miranda_Sings_web_mediumMiranda Sings was created by American comedian, actress and singer Colleen Ballinger, and first introduced via the YouTube channel Mirandasings08 in 2008. The character is a quirky, self-obsessed and hilariously untalented young woman who posts videos of her performing well-known songs and undertaking challenges given by her legions of fans. Ballinger has stated that Miranda Sings is an example of her satirising the handfuls of arrogant know-it-alls she has witnessed who haven’t an ounce of talent; the character also both looks and acts how performers are told not to when studying, albeit in a grossly exaggerated way. So far, Ballinger’s videos have accumulated nearly 60 million views and have turned her into a worldwide sensation.

Since 2009, Ballinger has also started performing a cabaret act which combines elements of her videos with new material and special celebrity guests, including Kerry Ellis and Broadway star Sutton Foster, who undertake ‘voice lessons’ from Miranda. Once again she returns to London to perform a special show at the Leicester Square theatre and once again it is absolutely spectacular.

Introducing the night’s events and his girlfriend, Josh Evans gets the audience revved up with some 90s pop favourites including NSync, before inviting three incredibly willing participants to do their own personal impressions of Miranda on stage. Whilst entertaining, the mass of teenagers and mums and dads watching the events are obviously far from satisfied with this, instead becoming increasingly restless for their hero to appear. Once Ballinger strolls on looking as far away from Miranda as possible in a gorgeous LBD, the screams erupt and definitely caused long-term damage to my ear-drums. As herself, Ballinger performs musical theatre favourite, ‘Taylor the Latte Boy’ to whoops of joy and laughter before finally transforming into her alter-ego during Wicked’s ‘Defying Gravity’, a familiar presence now associated with each performance of her cabaret act.

From start to finish, this show is almost utter perfection and even if you’ve never heard of Miranda or Ballinger this is sure to be a treat that will leave you laughing well after leaving the theatre. Whether she is utterly destroying powerful and emotional songs such as Whitney’s ‘I Will Always Love You’, current smash hit, ‘Blurred Lines’, or taking us through a journey of her life using props and images projected on to the stage (“I’ve always been famous, now people know”), Miranda strolls around the stage showing just why she is a ‘five threat’ (singer, dancer, actress, model, magician). There is absolutely no point during the entire evening where she goes out of character and in fact, she is constantly in control of herself, those around her and the audience, ensuring they are eating out of the palm of her hand.

Unfortunately a bitterly disappointing rendition of Chicago’s ‘Cellblock Tango’ made sure the evening wasn’t a consistent success and it wasn’t even our star’s fault as the group of male and female dancers around her were shockingly bad, most of the time having absolutely no idea what they were doing or who they were (probably).

Ballinger is a phenomenally talented individual, showing she has a great voice both prior to her Miranda transformation and during a magic trick to Phantom of the Opera’s ‘Think of Me’ as well as an extraordinarily gifted actress and comedian. When the Miranda Sings fire eventually burns out I’m sure she has a wonderful future ahead of her, whether it be in musicals or making people chuckle themselves to death.

Miranda Sings will be playing at the Leicester Square theatre until 14 September. For more information and tickets, see www.leicestersquaretheatre.com/whats-on and www.mirandasings.com

Samuel Sims

Sam is Reviews Co-ordinator for A Younger Theatre as well as a freelance writer and editor who hails from Hull, though he has been in London for roughly 300 years. He enjoys multi-coloured socks, eating sausage rolls and seeing as much theatre as humanly possible.

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Review: Phantom

Posted on 19 May 2013 by Veronica Aloess

PhantomMany people aren’t aware that there’s more than one musical adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s novel The Phantom of the Opera. Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit’s musical Phantom was composed and raising funds before Andrew Lloyd Webber’s, but shelved after Phantom of the Opera became a huge success. Dawn Kalani Cowle’s production at Ye Olde Rose and Crown marks the UK premiere of Phantom, and with a bigger budget behind it, could give Lloyd Webber a run for his money.

Neither version is extremely faithful to the book, although Yeston and Kopit’s adaptation is the only one to hold the rights to it. So if you’re familiar with either popular versions, Phantom still won’t be everything you expect. Christine (Kira Morsley) is essentially a busker who is recommended to the Opera House for lessons when influential patron Phillippe (Sean Paul Jenkinson) hears her sing. Unfortunately, his friend Carriere (Tom Murphy), the manager of the Opera House, has been sacked, and the new proprietors Carlotta (Pippa Winslow) and Cholet (Andrew Rivera) place Christine in the costume department where the Phantom (Kieran Brown) hears her sing and offers her lessons as a masked maestro. By the time she comes to audition for the company, they can’t deny her talent but Carlotta poisons her drink on opening night so that Christine can’t sing. The Phantom rescues her from the stage, taking her down to his lair where Carriere tries to warn her he’s dangerous, however she is determined that she sees good in him. Until she sees his face.

The plot begins strongly, playing for laughs in the beginning and tears in the ending at the expense of focus. Although I’ll admit that I shed a few tears, this was more for Christine and the Phantom’s fleeting love story, over the well-acted but arduously written scene between father and son, the Phantom and Carriere. Other than the leads, the characters remain sketchily drawn as plot devices or caricatures which are likeable but mean that the storyline lacks integrity. Furthermore, the Phantom’s ‘underlings’ are strange characters that have stepped right out of an amateur show. Excusing this, Phantom is a show that’s carried by a stupendous ensemble.

It might be unfair to compare Phantom to The Phantom of the Opera, or perhaps just plain inevitable, but it really does help to reflect upon the few problems with Yeston’s score that keep it from being quite so popular. Yeston, who has also composed musicals including Nine, Grand Hotel and Titanic, weaves magic with his choral harmonies. The music is the absolute star of this piece, with swirling and intricate melody lines; it’s a challenge to sing and couldn’t be done better. Kieran Brown as the Phantom and Kira Morsley as Christine are absolutely mindblowing talents; Brown has an emotive and commanding voice, that can turn from burdened to biting in a bipolar instant, and Morsley couldn’t sound sweeter if she were an actual songbird. Each song stands alone, but therein lies the problem: where Lloyd Webber reuses material like he’s run out of ideas, the running motifs through his version of Phantom are what make the music memorable, whereas you don’t come out humming along to Yeston’s score.

All Star Productions needs to be forgiven a little for the limitations placed upon them by the small space and presumably small budget. The staging is minimal and best when Cowle embraces simplicity rather than lugging cheap bits of set on and off. Brendan Matthew’s choreography has moments of brilliance, but has a fancy for symmetry which looks a little basic. Altogether however, this is a quick and simplistic production which is effective because the performances are so heartfelt. Everything surrounding it should make it hard to believe in the production, but the cast and music make it impossible not to invest and that matters more than anything else. Phantom is so good it actually hurts.

Phantom is playing at Ye Olde Rose and Crown until 31 May. For more information and tickets, see the All Star Productions website.

Veronica Aloess

Veronica Aloess

Veronica Aloess is an aspiring arts journalist and playwright, who trained at Arts Educational School London and is currently studying towards a BA in English with Creative Writing at Brunel University. She is co-founder of Don't Make Me Angry Productions which is dedicated to original writing and innovative performance.

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The Wicked Stage: Best “New” Musical and other surprises from Olivier Awards 2013

Posted on 07 May 2013 by Sarah Green

Billy_Elliot_-_Victoria_Palace_-_Victoria,_London_(8103652642)

The Olivier Awards are always an exciting time for the theatre community and there was great anticipation as ITV were showing highlights of the award ceremony. Perhaps best not to discuss how ineffective these highlights were, with poor editing that cut performances and speeches. Instead I want to focus on some of the musicals that were nominated and the eventual winners, as there were a few surprises.

I must admit I didn’t know the nominations for Best New Musical beforehand so was beyond surprised to hear that Top Hat was the winner. What saddened me was that three of the four nominees can hardly be called ‘new’ as the songs are all well-known: Top Hat is based on a film from 1935! The Bodyguard is also based on a film and the songs of Whitney Houston, whilst Soul Sister revolves around the music of Tina Turner. So I think most of the theatre community had high hopes for the only original show nominated: Loserville. It may have had its short run against it, but the theatre world had a lot of respect for what it was attempting as a young show – but sadly it wasn’t to be.

At least we can expect better competition next year which will no doubt include The Book of Mormon (which missed out on being eligible this year), Once and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the list of nominees. So can we just put it down to being a bad year?

However, for all the controversy of the Best New Musical, the BBC Radio 2 Audience Award certainly warmed my heart. The nominees were Billy Elliot, Wicked, The Phantom of the Opera and Matilda. Let’s be honest, after its domination of the Olivier Awards 2012 I was convinced the prize would go to Matilda, and I would have pinned Billy Elliot as the underdog after Phantom and Wicked, so a big grin appeared on my face when it was announced as the winner. The joy of audience awards is that people are getting their say on what they class as a worthy winner, so for a show that is now eight years old to win is very encouraging. Perhaps it’s due to a resurgence of relevance after the death of Margaret Thatcher, but I don’t want to detract from the show itself as I love the score (much fun can be had singing ‘Electricity’ around the house complete with Geordie accent).

It gets hard to defend musical theatre when shows with 70-year-old songs are winning awards for new shows, but when a musical like Billy Elliot wins the audience award, or indeed Sondheim’s masterpiece Sweeney Todd which won Best Revival, Best Actor and Best Actress, it makes the defence easier. As I said before, I just look forward to the Olivier Awards 2014 as I believe we will have a tougher competition on our hands – and who knows what will win the Audience Award next year!

Image: Billy Elliot, Victoria Palace; Victoria, London

Sarah Green

Sarah Green

Sarah is a musical theatre graduate now studying for her Masters in theatre practice with hopes of going onto a PHD. She has been writing for A Younger Theatre since September 2011 on all things musical theatre related.

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