Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Wicked's Michelle to play Alice in Derry

The news about Wonderland just keeps getting better and better. And it's nearly time to see it in Derry.

West End rising star and Wicked leading lady, Michelle Pentecost has been confirmed to play Alice at the Millennium Forum in Derry on the UK tour of WONDERLAND, as well as Alternate Alice / Mad Hatter at other venues. Essex-born Michelle has recently appeared as Eva Péron in Evita as well as Elphaba in Wicked in the West End and in the UK tour of Annie.

Hailed by UK critics as ‘fabulous, fast paced, colourful and lively with a superb original musical score and a simply outstanding cast’, WONDERLAND is delighting audiences in the UK aged 8-80. It’s an enchanting musical adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, with a huge heart, a medley of magic and a whole lot of wonder. It is a timely and touching story of love and an adventurous exploration of who we are, who we want to be and the power of everyday magic in our lives.

The stellar cast also includes West End star, accomplished actress and acclaimed singer Wendi Peters, who is well known for her portrayal of Cilla Battersby-Brown in Coronation Street, as the Queen of Hearts, and musical theatre star Dave Willetts, well known for playing the title role in Phantom of the Opera, as the White Rabbit.

Wonderland performs at the Millennium Forum from Tues 21st to Sat 25th March. Tickets are now available from the Box Office.  Telephone 71 264455 or visit www.millenniumforum.co.uk for bookings.


Wednesday, 22 February 2017

The Sweethearts of Swing, Derry launch

At Christmas she was making everyone's dreams come true: most notably those of Cinderella, as The Fairy Godmother in this years Derry Pantomime. Then just last week she won the hearts of everyone at The Playhouse in Derry on Valentines night as Bette Midler. Earlier today I spoke with her as a Sweetheart of Swing. Of course it is non other than Derry's very own Orla Mullan.
Orla and her comrades Kat Reagan and Naomi Rocke are The Sweethearts of Swing. Hugely inspired by The Andrews Sisters, these three ladies are transporting audiences back to the 40's and a time of Victory Rolls, Seamed Stockings and Red lips. Not forgetting the delightful swing music, the fashion and the war.
The Sweethearts of Swing describe themselves as: We are a three part Andrews Sisters inspired girl group, singing all the favourites and more besides, in that fabulous flirty forties style. We are available to hire for birthdays, weddings, corporate events, or any evening where you want to slip on your jiving shoes. We are Belfast based, but we are always prepared to travel to support the troops!
I caught up with Orla Mullan earlier today to hear just how these 'Sweethearts' came to be.
"All three of us girls have worked together in professional acting roles over the years and we just got chatting one day last summer. We felt we weren't using our voices to their full potential and that there was a gap in the market for this music."
"Kat was always an Andrew's Sisters fan and although we're not solely focused on their music, they really are our inspiration. We were booked for a gig very early on in Derry and then had a Belfast launch last November. That launch was sold out and we were brilliantly received. It was bigger than we could ever have expected."
So being the only Derry girl in the equation, a Derry launch was next on the agenda. The date is Friday March 10th and the venue is The Belfray Country Inn. This is sure to be a night to take a trip down memory lane for some, and a real treat for those who might not be familiar with the music of the era. However Orla did tell me I might be surprised at how much of the music I will recognise. "People are always surprised at how much of the music they already know", she assured me. Time will tell!
I asked Orla just why they are launching such an act now. In 2017 with so much contemporary music on the scene, how will 'swing' beckon people to come listen. "All age groups are coming to see us and booking us for various events. People are getting up and dancing to it as soon as we begin. It's taking the older generation back in time and the younger audience is responding thanks to such shows as 'Strictly Come Dancing'. Across the board, the reactions are just brilliant."
Orla is very definite when she says, "when music is that good, and written that well, you just can't go wrong."
So just what can we expect on March 10th at The Belfray Country Inn? "You will get the full show. This will be mostly music from the 40's but we do delve into the 50's and slightly to the 60's too. You'll be transported back in time. The 21st Century will be put on pause and you'll go back to gentility and to a really special era. We will be in our war-time uniforms but you also get a sneak at the style of the time. There's a real Romance to it all and it really is a fabulous night." Orla has me convinced. I'm going. She sums it up beautifully when she assures me that, "It really is a feel good evening." I can live with that. 'Feel Good' I shall on March 10th. Why not come along too. Like me, you just might surprise yourself.

More details on The Sweethearts of Swing can be found at The Sweethearts of Swing


Thursday, 16 February 2017

Wonderland is coming to Derry.

If it's one show I've been looking forward to this year, it's this: Wonderland. And it's set to hit the Derry stage at The Millennium Forum this coming March. As an avid enthusiast of all things imaginary for children, this is the show that's destined to showcase all that I believe children should experience in their young lives. This is magic, imagination, make-believe, and more, at it's very best.

Following sold out seasons in Tampa, Texas and Tokyo, the multi Grammy, Tony and Drama Desk Award nominated Frank Wildhorn’s Wonderland receives its UK and European première in this brand new UK production.

Hailed by the New York Times as “inspirational”, Wonderland is an enchanting musical adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, with a huge heart, a medley of magic, and a whole lot of wonder.

Here a timely and touching story of love in all its forms, it’s an adventurous exploration of who we are, who we want to be and the power of everyday magic in our lives.

In the tradition of the best stage musicals, Wonderland boasts a catchy score full of songs by Frank Wildhorn, writer of pop hits including Whitney Houston’s ‘Where Do Broken Hearts Go?’ and theatre classics including ‘This is the Moment’ from his internationally acclaimed show, Jekyll & Hyde.
“An inspirational musical”, New York Times. " A new musical extravaganza", Theatre Mania. "One insanely catchy song after another", Tampa Bay Times.

One of Televisions best loved stars plays the headline role of 'Queen of Hearts' in this UK production of Wonderland. Wendi Peters, much loved for her acclaimed portrayal of Cilla Battersby-Brown in Coronation Street, will take to the Derry stage on Tuesday 21st March until Saturday 25th March. I caught up with Wendi just yesterday where the show is currently in Southend. 

Wendi told me that to date the show is in its fourth week and going really well. "We're just starting to settle in and the audiences are just loving it." I asked Wendi just what is it that is drawing audiences across the UK to this tale of two enchanting books by Lewis Caroll. "It's just a great show for all the family and it's a lot of fun. It encompasses music from every genre and it suits people from ages 7 to 90. There really is something for everyone in it."

Being an avid enthusiast of instilling the use of imagination in children, I asked Wendi just how important she feels imagination is for children in the modern world. "It's so important for children to use their imagination. There's nothing better for imagination that Wonderland. It's a mix of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and it really does inspire children. If they haven't already read the books, this will encourage them to do so. It's really important for children to read and this will inspire them to do such."
Wendi is so encouraging about the power of reading for children. She told me, "It doesn't matter what they're reading so long as they're reading. Be it comic books, quiz books. It's all reading and that's so important. It keeps them away from a screen." Even I was inspired by her enthusiasm for reading. 

So just how are the cast settling into this new musical production. Wendi speaks very highly of the entire group. "The cast are all just lovely. We really are our own big family. When you're away from home you make this your family and you work together. I'm fortunate that I'm near home this week so I'm with my family. I've been baking brownies today and brought in a supply for the entire cast."

Wendi also told me that as Queen of Hearts she must eat two jam tarts per show. Yesterday was a matinee day so she was eating four jam tarts. "I have to watch what I'm eating off stage now as I'm consuming so many tarts on stage", she laughed. 

So are Wendi and the cast of Wonderland looking forward to their Derry visit next month? "Absolutely. We're all very looking forward to coming to Derry. It's a beautiful city and I'm looking forward to seeing more of it and going out with people when I'm there. Last time I was in Derry I was doing Mrs Whippy, That was about seven years ago and I was on stage alone. This will be very different and I'm very looking forward to it."

Wonderland runs at The Millennium Forum from 21st - 25th March. Tickets are now available from the Box Office. Telephone 071264455 or visit www.millenniumforum.co.uk  for bookings.

This really is one show I don't plan on missing out on. Bring the little ones, the bigger ones, and the elder ones. This is one for all to escape the mundane reality of life and escape into the world of magic and imagination for a wonderful ensemble of Wonderland, music and fun. 

Produced by Neil Eckersley, Wonderland has music by Frank Wildhorn, lyrics by Jack Murphy, book by Jack Murphy and Gregory Boyd with UK adaptation by Ava Eldred. It is directed by Lotte Wakeham (Associate Director of Matilda, West End & Broadway), with musical supervision by Jason Howland (Beautiful, West End & Broadway), choreography by Lucie Pankhurst (Dogfight at the Southwark Playhouse), set design by Andrew Riley (Songs for a New World at the St James and Flight at Opera Holland Park), costume design by Grace Smart (2015 Linbury Prize winner) and lighting design by Tony Award nominee Nick Richings (current UK tours of Priscilla Queen of the Desert & The Rocky Horror Show).


Monday, 13 February 2017

Dirty Dancing on the Derry stage

It's now 30 years since the release of one of the all time greatest romantic drama films. I remember it well and it was the year that I, like many of my peers, fell in love with Patrick Swayze, and the year we all wanted to be 'Baby', Jennifer Grey. Dirty Dancing was born.
It wasn't until the summer of 1988 that I fell for this movie hook, line and sinker! I was a student working in London and the movie had just come out on video (yes, the good old chunky video tape). I had met a friend that summer in London, Anne Marie McKenna, from Monaghan. I don't think either of us could count the amount of times we sat (with wine) and watched Dirty Dancing over that three month period. We had all the dance moves, we had all the lyrics, and we had all the dialogue - most notably, "No one puts Baby in a corner".
From 'She's like the wind' to '(I've had) The Time of my Life', this movie had the ultimate in music.
But this movie had even more. I often dwell on the story behind this over these past years. Johnny (Swayze) was the 'bad guy'. Or so it seemed to those who judged people by how they looked. Baby was the academic, the girl who would further herself in education and politics. But this educated girl saw the true Johnny. She saw the man behind the leather, behind the glasses: she saw into his soul. And she helped us see it too.
I met my husband when I was just 21. He had the long hair, the leather jacket, the motorbike. Everything a parent doesn't want for their little girl, just out of college. But I saw past the leather, the bike. Like Baby, I saw what was on the inside (mind you I liked what was on the outside too, just as Baby did with Johnny). My now husband, wasn't the most favourite of visitors in the beginning - how time changes all such immaterial judgments. Just as Johnny stood up for Baby, my husband (then boyfriend) stood up for me in a situation I'll never forget.
And so Dirty Dancing means more to me than just the music, the attractive guy: I fell in love with the soul of Dirty Dancing. I fell in love with its heart.
Earlier tonight I fell in love with the soul, the surface, the leather, the music, the dance, and all in between, as I watched it unfold on the Derry stage.
'I carried  a watermelon' is a legenderry line now. So funny, and yet so real.
The cast did Dirty Dancing proud tonight on the Derry stage.  Katie Hartland (Baby) stole the show for me. Her portrayal was outstanding from start to finish. She encompassed all that Frances 'Baby' Houseman was/is meant to be. She bore an uncanny resemblance to Grey which helped. Lewis Griffiths did take a while to grow on me, but grow he did. By 10.30pm I wanted to see more of him. Ok so I saw his bum, but I could have watched him on that stage for longer. Carlie Milner showcased the role of Penny Johnson to its full. Carlie never wavered in her role and she showed that we all make mistakes: it's how we choose to fix those mistakes that count. No one has the right to judge another person.
Judgement is one of the main themes of Dirty Dancing for me. Jake Houseman judged Johnny. He judged him on his attire, his job, his very being. He also judged Robbie. Robbie was the educated, prosperous academic. The one Jake was quite happy to put his arm around. It took his daughter to teach him one of life's most important lessons - never judge a book by its cover. We're all to quick to judge another. We can all learn from Dirty Dancing.
Friendship is an attribute I've tried to instill in my children since their youth. We all need friends in life. Those we know we can depend upon. Johnny was such a friend to Penny. He didn't judge her decisions, he supported her in every way a friend should. Another lesson learned.
But of course Dirty Dancing is about the 'love story'. Finding someone we can believe in, trust and respect. Hell gals, we all want a Johnny. Some of us are fortunate to have found ours, others can learn from Baby and stand up for what you believe in. Stand up for your OWN opinion.
I guess that is how Dirty Dancing ends. Two young people stood up for what they believed in and found love. They showed the importance of self-belief, of self- worth.
The dancing tonight on the Derry stage was first class. My cousin who accompanied me said it was as good if not better than in the film. One can't argue with that. The cast really did showcase 'dirty dancing' to the ultimate.
'Nobody puts Baby in a corner' will always be the 'one-liner' for myself. Johnny stood up for Frances: I hope you find that 'one' to stand up for you. I did.
As a musical this show isn't the standard. There really is little live singing throughout. What live singing there is, is excellent. The voice of Daniela Pobega, Elizabeth, blew everyone away earlier in the Derry auditorium. Alongside Michael, Billy Kostecki, they really brought the show to a close in style.
Overall this stage show is not the film. There really is no replacing the original Dirty Dancing movie. Lewis Griffiths could never be Patrick Swayze. I didn't want him to be. I think it's important to go see this with a view to the story, to the lessons that are to be learned. And of course, the dancing.
The stage setting was very apt the whole way through and the river scene was done exceedingly well. The costumes were divine. I want that style! The show was fast, it moved along continually and for me, it worked.
I know that I, and my cousin, had 'the time of our life tonight'. If you're going along this week, you will too.
Dirty Dancing runs at The Millennium Forum until this coming Saturday night. If you're an 80's teenager, it really is one you don't want to miss. And it's guaranteed to stir up just a little (and more) memories from the infamous period. There's just no escaping this era, and with musicals like this, why would one want to.


Thursday, 9 February 2017

What 'a heart of gold' means to 5/6 year olds

Earlier this evening I hosted my weekly workshop for 5 and 6 year olds with The WRITE STUFF Kids Club in Buncrana, Co. Donegal. This is a younger group which was requested by a parent from one of the older children in Buncrana. It's an age I never envisaged working with but one which is proving so very rewarding.
Tonight we were making Valentines Cards (all were made for Mum and Dad) and I wanted the children to focus on words as opposed to images on a card. Together we came up with a poem for their cards. It simply read:

I'm happy you're my Mum and Dad. I hope that you can see. I'm really glad to have you as. Part of my Family.

The children then designed hearts, balloons and other images for their own specification to decorate the said cards.
As always I then engaged the children in a discussion. I explained to them all what it means to have 'a heart of gold'. I then proceeded to ask the children to tell me about someone they know who has a 'heart of gold' and why they feel this person has such. The responses were as follows:

Sara Jane (aged 5) - my friend Amy who sits at my table at school. She's kind to everyone even if she doesn't know them.
Jonathan (aged 6) - My Mum because she looks after people. ( I later discovered that Jonathan's Mum is a nurse)
Kian (aged 5) - My Mammy has a heart of gold because I love her.
Peter (aged 6) - My Daddy has a heart of gold because he loves me.
Eili (aged 5) - My teacher has a heart of gold because she is lovely.

I don't doubt that everyone who reads this will agree with me that these young children are very perceptive and intuitive. This is how their little minds think, and how wonderful they really are. This is our future and we really need to nurture these amazing folk. I learn from them all and I think we can all learn from our children.
Happy Valentines Day for next Tuesday everyone and I hope these little folk have inspired you, just a little. They have me.


Monday, 6 February 2017

Derry Panto cheque

The Derry pantomime was not only a huge success in bringing some fun to young and old during the month of December. It went quite a bit further than that. Audiences to the panto donated daily and nightly to two very special charities (Tearfund and Action Cancer).
Chief Executive of the Millennium Forum, David McLaughlin and Front of House Manager Catherine Spangler recently presented a cheque for £3,000 to Mayor Hilary McClintock.  This money was donated to the Mayor’s Charities (Tearfund & Action Cancer) and was collected during performances of the Forum’s Christmas pantomime, Cinderella. Alan Rowan from Tearfund is also pictured. 
A very huge thank is extended to everyone for every donation.