Monthly Archives: April 2014

“THRILLER” AT THE LYRIC THEATRE, LONDON

I was lucky enough to see Michael Jackson perform at Wembley in 1988 and it remains the best £30 I have ever spent – I kept the ticket!  Whatever you may think of Michael Jackson the person, Michael Jackson the performer was one of the greatest – if not the greatest – entertainers of all time.  His songs are now classics and continue to sell in their millions, plus his dancing was just indescribable – it really had to be seen to be believed.  Michael Jackson was so fast, so precise and so innovative that it seemed that you were watching something a little bit unreal.  The best example of this is, of course, his “Moonwalk”, where he literally appears to be walking forwards but is actually moving backwards.  As John Peel, the respected music critic, wrote of the show:  “I do not expect it to be equalled in my lifetime”.  (The ‘Observer’, 17/7/88).  I also doubt that I will see anything better than “Bad” – ever.

So it was with some trepidation that I went to see “Thriller” at the Lyric Theatre in the West End.  Sensibly, the Show does not provide any type of story or narrative, it simply gives the audience exactly what they came to see:  the songs and dance of Michael Jackson.  It is roughly in chronological order, especially at the beginning, starting out with the Jackson Five – and an excellent Owen Mugawa playing the young Michael – through to “Thriller” and “Invincible”.  Like the Michael Jackson Show at Wembley, “Thriller” is less a sequence of songs than a series of “scenes” – often with numbers being expertly worked together.  Each “scene” would also display a variety of the amazing costumes associated with the songs in that “scene” (often taken from the music videos).  Finally the performance was supported with an excellent, if somewhat small, live band.

The singers in the Show, fronted by Zoe Birkett, were tremendous and very hard working.  (I can tell the difference between a good and a bad singer, but cannot really distinguish, except in rare cases, between a good and a great singer…).  I knew that Zoe Birkett was a good singer from the various Shows I have seen her perform in.  What did surprise me, however, is that Zoe is also quite a decent dancer.  She certainly did not look out of place against the professional dancers supporting her.  And throughout the Show Zoe brought a huge amount of sparkle and enthusiasm to the numbers she performed.

In a top West End Show such as “Thriller”, which is in its 11th year, the dancers have to be first class or they will not be in the Show long.  The dancers were indeed excellent.  None of them can actually dance with the genius of Michael Jackson (the only person who I have seen “Moonwalk” like Jackson was Jeffrey Daniels from Shalamar) – but no one would realistically expect that.  Although not listed in the programme I recognized one of the dancers as Lauren Gore.  Lauren is one of the best female tap dancers in the Country and although there is no tap required in “Thriller”, it was great to watch a top class dancer really enjoying herself.  (Lauren was an original member of the amazing “TapCorps”). Take a look at TapCorps!

The other dancer that really impressed me was Austyn Farrell.  I had heard about Austyn from his student days at the Leicester College of Performing Arts (LCPA), where he combined a lot of potential with even more character.  This really comes across on the stage.  He is incredibly expressive and I think Austyn would have been very happy to stay in the limelight for another hour or so!  My favourite “Scene” of the evening, which began with “On the Floor” saw both Lauren and Austyn wearing Dincwear – style costumes, Lauren displaying a Kylie-type tunic with Austyn in a sparkling ‘muscle-back’ top.

It all added up to a tremendous evening of entertainment and received a standing ovation from the very full and enthusiastic audience.  My only criticism of the Show (apart from a gin and tonic costing £10 at the bar!) is that right from the beginning the cast gets the crowd involved in clapping along.  Now I am a boy who simply cannot multi-task.  I can either clap along (and concentrate on getting that right) or I can watch the Show.  For some of us it is impossible to do both!  And for that I received a frown from the multi-talented Miss Birkett!

LCPA students wearing Dincwear

The Students of the LCPA, all wearing our Dincwear clothing, will be looking to follow their alumni Austyn into the West End.”

 16th April 2014 The Dincwear Team.

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“An Evening With Pasha and Katya”

Lyric Theatre – 7th April 2014

It is beginning!

As our regular followers will acknowledge, Dincwear has been arguing for a while that “Dance” is about to see a phenomenal rise in its popularity, with the very top dancers gaining the sort of recognition that we presently associate with footballers and pop stars etc.  Last week we reviewed the performance of one such example, Savion Glover, perhaps the first modern superstar of tap dancing.  This week we are reviewing the success that is “Strictly Come Dancing”.  Pasha and Katya, two of the shows professionals, plus four other top professional dancers associated with the Show (either in the UK or another Country), brought us an “Evening of Strictly” at the Lyric Theatre in London.

As it is designed to be a touring show, visiting 72 different places in the UK, the “set” was very minimal.  But the Show brought the amazing “Strictly” costumes, the announcer (the excellent Mike Newman) and of course the dance routines that we expect from “Strictly”.  It also added a few new features:  there was a Question and Answer session with the stars, a couple of very entertaining routines by the young ladies of the local “Finch Stage School” and even a bit of audience participation, with 3 ladies being invited to dance onstage with Pasha and then ‘judged’ by the applause of the audience.

And of course it was all performed in a first-class manner.  Even though I am a devoted follower of “Strictly”, I still get my Pasadobles mixed up with my Tangos, etc., but all the routines were executed as you would expect, with precision, flair and passion.  The four professional dancers who joined Pasha and Katya, (Marcella Solimeo, Ryan Hammond, James Wilson and Jasmine Takacs) were fantastic and allowed for more complex “group” routines.  In fact Dincwear has worked with the wonderful Jasmine Takacs when we launched at the “Clothes Show” in 2011.(View Jasmine with the Dincwear Dance Corps at the “Clothes Show” 2011).

I have two reflections to make on the evening.  First, it was so good that I think the audience would have appreciated a couple of extra dance numbers (the performance finished at 9:45 p.m.).  Maybe this is slightly unfair, but 2 nights prior to this I had watched Savion Glover tap dance frenetically for 90 minutes with only two brief pauses.  And I know that the dancers are capable of this.  (Jasmine Takacs danced 5/6 shows a day for 6 straight days at the “Clothes Show”, and every evening she would also go and workout for 2 hours at the Arden Hotel Gym with “Trojan” from the Gladiators!)  But of course with 72 shows to perform, I guess that they are pacing themselves…..

My second and related observation is that the stars are dancing well “within themselves”.  They are capable of even more complex routines.  This was illustrated with Pasha’s 10 second burst of solo brilliance to Ricky Martin’s “Vida Loco” that almost caused the huge number of Pasha fans (boys and girls!) to pass out!  (And throughout the whole show he doesn’t even sweat?!).  Again, I appreciate the demands of such a long tour, but the fans would have loved a bit more ….

My only outright criticism is that they didn’t select to answer my question in the Q&A:  If Pasha and Rachel Riley had been given just one more week, was Rachel improving so quickly that she could have won “Strictly” this year?!  But it was just a wonderful evening’s entertainment and I sense, that Pasha in particular, may be one of the first “Superstars of Dance” that we have been predicting in our regular Dincwear blogs.  We will leave you with a picture of Pasha, Ryan and James relaxing in their Dincwear muscle back tops.

Pasha, Ryan and James relaxing in their Dincwear

Pasha, Ryan and James relaxing in their Dincwear

 7th April 2014 The Dincwear Team.

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Savion Glover – Sole Sanctuary at Sadlers Wells,

When we put on our hit West End Dance Show “Revolution”, which featured the best UK dancers in Tap, Hip-hop, and Contemporary dance, it was the first time I had seen tap dancing live on Stage (Watch the “Revolution” Trailer“) The Tap stars of “Revolution” were Adam Garcia and Douglas Mills, who had been the lead dancers in the International Phenomenon “Tap Dogs”.  Watching Adam and Douglas rehearse and perform “Revolution”, I completely fell in love with tap dancing.  And when you fall in love with tap dancing you keep hearing one name over and over again – Savion Glover.

Savion Glover is the genius of Tap.  A child prodigy from New Jersey who had trained and danced with many of the greats of American Tap – such as Gregory Hines, Sammy Davis Jr, and Lon Chaney to name but a few.  I had spent hours watching amazing clips of Glover dancing on Youtube and this was the chance to see the legend perform live at Sadlers Wells.

The “set” was minimal, with just a large wooden platform a couple of inches high in the middle of the Stage and a few pictures of his illustrious mentors hanging in the background (the “Spirits Known”).  And there was Savion Glover, with his distinctive dreadlocked hair and baggy pale top and trousers (he is so thin that when he momentarily stood in front of the spotlight, I thought you could actually see through him!).

Glover began with a shuffle around the outer edges of his platform, almost seeming to warm up for what was to come.  Then he began!  It is impossible to accurately describe the moves that Glover performed, he can do things with his feet that I simply did not believe were possible – this man taps on tip-toe!  He uses every part of the shoe and literally creates music with his feet.  This is a crucial point, for most of the performance there is no musical accompaniment.  Glover is creating his own music to highlight his movement – the movement becomes the music.

After a time Glover was joined on Stage by Marshall Davis Jr.  From this point any musical accompaniment was no longer needed.  The two dancers took turns leading, then working together, to produce a masterpiece of movement and music.  This is where you benefit from actually being present to watch and listen.  Their feet make ever-changing sounds that perfectly complement one another – a symphony of sound.  Until then I had not understood Glover’s comment that “it really is all about the music”, but now I think I do.

I have two reflections on the performance from a commercial rather than a purist point of view (by “commercial” I mean putting on a Show that the general public, rather than the Savion Glover disciple, would want to come and watch/listen to).

First, what Glover is doing, the genius he is producing, could be described as “over-tap” – it is beyond normal tap dancing in a way that any genius in his field is so far ahead of everyone else that he risks being “inexplicable” to ordinary people thus gaining an almost mystical/religious dimension.  (And Glover certainly plays on this.  There is a person meditating on Stage throughout the performance and the title of the piece itself has mystical/religious implications).  I appreciate that what Glover and Marshall were doing was constantly changing, but these changes (to my ordinary eye and ear) were so minimal that it often seemed repetitive – doing the same thing over and over again.

My second observation also highlights one of the phenomenal aspects of the man.  Glover performs for 90 minutes with only two 5 minute “breaks” where he stands watching his partner continue the rhythm on his own.  This is an amazing achievement in itself.  But I wondered if it would have been better for him (and the audience) to have taken a few breaks.  I kept thinking:  “What would he be able to do if he wasn’t exhausted?!”  And his most jaw-dropping moves seemed to come after each break.  But perhaps Glover is looking to achieve for his followers that religious “high” which could be ruined by any interruption….

The aforementioned Douglas Mills, the Tap star of “Revolution” and “Tap Dogs” has created a more commercial Tap venture called Tap Corps (Have a look at “Tap Corps” in action)  In contrast to Glover, “Tap Corps” involves a number of dancers, male and female, performing to various popular tracks in a highly choreographed fashion.  The dancers are not as exceptional as Glover (that would be impossible) and there is no mystical/religious undertone.  But it is far more entertaining and indeed explicable to the average dance enthusiast such as myself.

Saturday 5th April 2014 The Dincwear Team.

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“HAIRSPRAY” AT THE CURVE THEATRE, LEICESTER

The theme of “Hairspray” is quite simple:  Just because people are different (size or colour) doesn’t mean you have to treat them differently – you should treat everyone the same.  Set in 1962, Tracey, played by Rebecca Craven, first overcomes her size to become a dancer on a hit TV show, and then uses her new-found popularity to undermine the segregation of black and white dancers.  A simple tale – but it was performed brilliantly.

The dancers and singers (often both) were first-class.  With everyone playing their role so well, it is almost unfair to pick out individual contributions.  But I have to say that Rebecca Craven as Tracey was outstanding.  To my mind, from now on Rebecca will simply be “Tracey Turnblad”!  Her breathless depiction of Tracey meeting her first boyfriend was particularly acute.  Zizi Strallen actually had me in stitches laughing, and not just because she had many of the best lines.  What most of the audience may be unaware of is that Zizi is one of the top dancers in the Country (have a look at this video clip).  To watch her perform as Penny, complete with geeky dance moves (she reminded me of our boss dancing at the Christmas party!) and never coming out of character – even in the Finale – must have been nearly impossible.  Yet Zizi did it so well it took us a moment to actually recognise her.

In fact my only ‘criticism’ of the Show was that there was so much going on.  When Tracey first dances on television while Penny watches at home, both performances are hilarious – and I didn’t know which one to focus on.  Mind you, that is just an excellent reason for going to see the show again.  Oh, and one other criticism, I heard the lady on my left complain to her husband about the use of Hairspray aerosols – ‘what about the ozone layer?!’  Well of course the ozone layer was not a problem in 1962!  This is how much the Show brings you into it.

David Witts is impossibly good looking as Link Larkin, Tracey’s first love, and the singers (led by Cleopatra Joseph) would be worth the price of a ticket on their own.  You have a priceless comedy double-act in John Burr and Damian Williams as Tracey’s parents (you have to have seen it!).  A special mention to Tyrone Huntley as Seaweed.  I simply believed everything that he said.  And you could sense this guy could really dance, if just given the chance.  The orchestra were really on point, perhaps a little hidden away, and finally Callum Train perfectly embodied the progressive mindset of Corney Collins.

Quite rightly, there was a standing ovation from the audience – and this was a Wednesday matinee.  I enjoyed it more than the West End Production at the Shaftesbury Theatre a few years ago – and I really enjoyed that.

I would just like to mention that we were so impressed by the Curve Theatre.  I had never been there before and was aware of it only through its association with Drew McOnie, the future superstar of British Musical Theatre (watch his Show ‘Drunk’ – I did, twice!).  But the Curve has been so well designed, that with Productions such as ‘Drunk’ and ‘Hairspray’, Leicester now has its own West End Theatre.

28th March 2014 By The Dincwear Team.

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