West End stars Louise Dearman (Wicked), Tim Driesen (Never Forget), Gerard Carey (Masterclass) and Lucy Sinclair (We Will Rock You) are set to lead a workshop presentation of a brand new musical version of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan tomorrow.

The workshop, which will take place in front of an invited audience at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue  at 1pm on  Thursday 28th June, will feature Dearman as Tinker Bell, Driesen as Pan, Carey as Hook and Sinclair as Wendy.

An ensemble of 35 other characters is played by a supporting cast of seven – Allyson Ava-Brown, James Ballanger, Natasha J Barnes, Matt Corner, Anthony Lawrence, Sion Lloyd and Kit Orton – working with a fast-paced, funny new script.

The workshop is directed by Christian Durham (Chicago, We Will Rock You), with movement by Lucie Pankhurst, musical direction by Dean Austin (Taboo, Zorro, Spamalot), casting by Anne Vosser and orchestrations by Tom Curran. Music, book and lyrics are by Jimmy Jewell, with additional book and lyrics by Nick Stimson.

Spellbound: Former Glinda Louise Dearman will appear as Tinker Bell

For further information about the workshop presentation, e-mail peterpanworkshop@gmail.com.

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I stumbled across this cracking comic strip by Cailey on Tumblr. I love social media geekery.

I  love Dolly Parton. I love her little Confucius-style Dollyisms, I love her music, I love the concept of Dollywood. So I’m pretty sure I’ll love the jukebox musical based on her hits, 9 to 5. I must emphasize that I am as critical of the jukebox musical trends as most other lovers of ‘proper’ theatre, but the bottom line is they do well, bring in money and possibly even enable producers to go on and produce something more organic. Plus, lots of them are good, clean fun. The plot is based on the 1980 movie of the same name, with Dolly’s soulful and perky country tunes leading the way for the narrative. Whether it turns out to be a foot-tapper or a flop in the UK, I would still love to be Dolly just for a day… she seems to have such fun with life as well as having such great singing and songwriting talent at the core.

Dolly spoke to BBC Breakfast this morning about 9 to 5, which will start its UK tour at Manchester’s Opera House in October 2012. God love her for a) not throwing a diva strop at being asked to sing and b) still sounding fantastic at 66 (yes…. sixty-bloody-six). The show’s run on Broadway earned it four Tony Award nominations, which speaks highly of it, and if it captures even a little of Dolly’s chutzpah and sparkle, it’ll be a great night out.

ALRA (the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts) is based in Wandsworth, south west London, and its third year Acting students are performing these two contemporary plays back-to-back, first at ALRA’s own theatre and then transferring to the nearby Tara Theatre.

Both plays dwell on adolescent sex. Blow jobs on a grubby rubbish tip, drug-deleted rape, sex in the dreams of a horny teenage boy, unprotected sex, naive sex – in the youthful world the ALRA students have created, everyone’s at it.

Apples, adapted by John Retallack from a novel by Richard Milward, is a gritty look at the debauchery and lust of a group of straight-talking teens, very much in the Skins vein. Slutty but charming Eve, miserable Claire, geeky Adam and wideboy Gary narrate their teenage experience in a series of pacy, brutally frank monologues.

The trouble I’ve always had with Skins, and have with Apples, is believing that all of this – daily sex, drugs and general rock’n’roll – is happening to one bunch of teenagers. Perhaps my teen experience was simply too vanilla, but the amount of action the gang get seems pretty hardcore for what appears to be lower-middle class Britain. Realism aside, the story is brilliantly acted, particularly by Maria Louis as Eve, who posesses more than a little Sheridan-Smith-esque star quality fairydust. Her cheeky expression and absolute comfort in her somewhat saddening role (Eve is quite the ‘village bicycle’) make her monologues the highlight of Apples.

Strong support is given by Alexandra da Silva as Eve’s downtrodden friend Claire, whose bleak musings on teen motherhood and being left behind by her friends have a touching sincerity to them. Craig Stratton as the sinister Gary is more than a match for Louis’ effortless Eve – he prowls round the set of rubbish bags, abandoned trolleys and mattresses, kicking rubbish in the air, swilling cheap lager and grabbing whatever he wants – usually his high-on-substances, low-on-self-esteem female classmates. Colour is added by Steph Georgeson as scouse tart Debbie and Ben Bland as the sweetly clueless Adam, though Bland’s acting does have more of a self-conscious, playing-for-laughs twinge than the grittier characters.

The material is bleak and melodramatic at times, but the voices of the characters are vivid and fully-formed, and this cast did a great job of getting the message across.

If You Really Love Me (by Mark Leiren Young) is more of a self-aware, physical representation of teen sex. Using DV8-style movement and a giant patchwork duvet as a backdrop, the cast of five pelt through relationship conundrums including buying condoms, saying you love someone to get laid, teen abstinence and loving the attention being known as easy brings.

This second piece was more scattered and less enjoyable for me – although my guest preferred the energy and inventiveness of it to the earlier play, so the ALRA group certainly offered something for everyone. Some of the dialogue was a little too knowing and preachy – “AIDS is a disease – it doesn’t care who you sleep with” – and the team felt like a particularly witty and lively educational theatre company which should be brought into high schools to shake up sex education a little.

The cast of five – Alexandra Agnew, Robbie Capaldi, Nell Clemency, Sarah Helena Ord and Alex Steadman – charge around the stage between mini-dramas, only stopping to spout quirky historical ideas about contraception. I felt this idea – the ‘if you really love me’  being that you’d sleep with someone there and then, regardless of precautions – could have been more focused and less time spent on other issues.

Both directors (Jack McNamara and Tara Robinson respectively) brought out the best in each performer and kept the material dynamic and engaging. The two sets – one cluttered, one simple – were functional and atmospheric, although not much of the story of Apples seemed set at the rubbish-strewn bridge created by designer Lauren Cameron. The lighting and sound were impeccable and the staging neat and effective.

While the overall combination of the two plays was intense and effective, I was left wishing some of the characters could have seen a bigger picture beyond their own lust, virginity or lack thereof. But that’s a pretty accurate impression of adolescence, isn’t it?

I was lucky enough to go along to the Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary concert last month, where I was romanced all over again by one of my earliest favourite musicals. Whether you’re largely pro- or anti-Lloyd Webber, you can’t deny the brilliance of the piece as a whole. Its (allegedly filched) arias and duets soar with gothic romance, its dashing goodie and twisted baddie are almost equally fanciable, Christine wears some stonking lingerie – in the movie version, at least – and don’t even get me started on the mist, gondolas and rogue chandeliers. The DVD of the Royal Albert Hall concert that marked the show’s quarter-century is released today and, WEG that I am, I’ve already bought my copy.

The 25th anniversary was as opulent and gaudy as the Opera Populaire should be – see my review here – although it lost a little of its haunting, wistful quality with all the projections and pyrotechnics. Still, it was worth any amount of Vegas-style pomp to see the chemistry explosion that is Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess. Their voices were endlessly impressive, their performances intense and dedicated – this was the Ramin and Sierra show. I’d still rather see the Christine and Phantom show, but you can catch that at Her Majesty’s six nights a week. Incidentally, Karimloo is set to don his convict’s beard and move to Les Mis, and I’ll certainly be booking. Is he too hot to age 20 years and die over the course of an evening? Only time will tell, but he’ll certainly sing the roof off while attempting it.

If you love the music of Phantom, you’ll want to see this daring, fully-staged version. The four tenors’ version of The Music of the Night (featuring Colm Wilkinson, Anthony Warlow, John Owen-Jones and Peter Jöback) at the end was also gorgeous – although you’ll have to grit your teeth through Sarah Brightman’s part-hilarious, part-disturbing appearance. It was sort of Mariah Carey meets Bride of Chucky, via that Whitney Houston appearance on the X Factor. And all with that same 80s hair.

JOJ struggles to find the most aurally forgiving side of Brightman

Anyway, some fabulous performances and a sumptuous budget make a fitting celebration of Phantom, and while I don’t think they quite topped the Les Misérables 25th anniversary in terms of emotion and tribute, they certainly had a better casting team. Still shuddering at the thought of Jonas. Enjoy the DVD and let me know your thoughts!

Written for The Public Reviews

Sophie-Louise Dann has had a varied musical theatre career, with Forbidden Broadway, 42nd Street and Anything Goes all on her CV, as well as extensive concert and opera work. We chatted about her latest role as diva Diana Divane in new West End gem Lend Me a Tenor.

Tell us a bit about the show, for those who aren’t familiar with it.

It’s a fast-paced farce set in the glamorous Thirties in Cleveland, Ohio, where at the opera house there is a great anticipation for a fantastic production of Verdi’s Otello, starring Tito Merelli, who is the biggest star of the day – like Pavarotti, but in the Thirties. Things start to go wrong for Henry Saunders, the general manager, because Tito Merelli is missing. Saunders is on the brink of bankruptcy so if Tito doesn’t turn up, the whole world goes upside down. Throw into the mix my character, Diana Divane, the diva of the opera house, who sees this opportunity as her step up the ladder. Max (played by Damien Humbley) has to step into the shoes of Tito Merelli, with much high jinks and shenanigans involving the drug Phenobarbitol and wine, and lots of chaos ensues.

And the play was a farce originally, with a score written for this production?

The play was a hit in 1986, written by Ken Ludwig. It actually played at the same theatre we’re at now – it was then called the Globe, it’s now the Gielgud – so it’s sort of come back home. I have to say, Brad Carroll’s score is brand new but it sounds like a Gershwin or Berlin classic. What our show invokes is the glamour and the ostentation of the Thirties in America. It’s a feelgood show. It looks beautiful – I get to wear the most glamorous frocks you’ve ever seen, as well as some rather naughty underwear! I have a knockout number in Act 2, May I Have a Moment, which is the song you wait a lifetime to sing. It’s a spoof on lots of operatic arias, so if there are any opera lovers out there, I think they’re going to love it too.

It had its first run at the Theatre Royal Plymouth, with much the same cast. Did you know at that time it was going to do so well?

I’ve worked with the director, Ian Talbot, many times during my career. First of all at Regent’s Park, as an actress, and then at the D’Oyly Carte as an opera singer. We’ve sort of followed each other, and it was lovely when this came along because he thought I was right for the part, and I’ve been thrilled to be involved with the project from page to stage. Nothing is certain in this climate, but I think the passion, as well as the monetary investment, in this show is tangible. It’s a fantastic company; I know it’s a cliché but we’re like a big family. I think that’s key element with farce, because it needs to have a rhythm, it needs team work. That’s actually led from the top with our wonderful Matthew Kelly.

“My absolute joy that I have is being able

to do something original, to put my stamp on something”

Has it been fun working with Matthew?

If I weren’t married to my husband, I’d be touting for Matthew Kelly. He is absolutely the most wonderful, lovely, happy, committed… there are too many adjectives. I can’t praise him enough. The ideal colleague.

You’ve also done Forbidden Broadway in the past – how much fun was that?

Oh my goodness – so much fun. I was lucky enough to do it twice, and it was incredible. That, for me, is everything I’m about. It’s fast-paced, it’s funny and I also love doing cabaret. So to be in such an intimate space with all those fast changes and wisecracks is just brilliant. Sophie Louise Dann Forbidden Broadway

What was your favourite show to parody?

I had a favourite character – I loved Julie Andrews. It was quite clever because we spoofed Mary Poppins. I think that was my favourite, in my heart of hearts.

You also appeared in the film version of Phantom of the Opera. That must have been exciting.

I certainly did. I think it’s a sort of blink-and-you’ll-miss-me appearance! But again, dream frocks, and just being involved in the whole process of making a movie is something special. Because of course I’m theatre and concert and opera-based, it was amazing to be on set and see it all happen.

The Stage has compared you to performers like Kristin Chenoweth and Liza Minnelli. Do you think it’s rare for women to be great singers and funny too?

I think it’s a real gift that I’ve been given. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with directors who work to my strengths. It’s tough out there, but if you can find your niche – I think you have to believe in yourself and speak to your gut, play to your strengths. I’m constantly humbled by the comparisons, but it’s absolutely lovely if that’s what people think. I absolutely adore comedy. I’ll tell you what it is, it’s working with a live audience, because what they give you, you can feed off. Just to come on every night and do my number in the show – it’s all the little nuances, and people pick up on different things. It’s fantastic to play every night; I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

“It’s tough out there, but if you can find your niche –

I think you have to believe in yourself and play to your strengths”

What’s next for you after Lend Me a Tenor?

Hopefully we’ll be there for a while, so I’m committed to this project for the moment, and we’ll see what happens thereafter. I do lovely concert work with the BBC Concert Orchestra and Radio 2, so hopefully it’s more of the same. I’m always happy to sing beautiful classics. I wear a lot of hats, and it’s just nice when I’ve got one on for a bit, and I can go, ‘this is me.’

What musical theatre roles would you love to play?

I’m a bit of a different animal; my absolute joy that I have is being able to do something original, to put my stamp on something. There are musicals of the Fifties that have wonderful scores. One was recently revived, Bells Are Ringing, which a friend of mine played, AJ Casey. All the hard hitters like Evita or Piaf, that’s not what I’m about – I’m a real comedy girl. Just great new material, bring it on.

Top photo: Tristram Kenton
Lend Me a Tenor is at the Gielgud Theatre. Click here or call 0844 482 5130 for tickets.

by guest blogger Emma West

Do you know the Muffin Man? He lives on Drury Lane. As does the brand new musical version of Shrek, previewing at the Theatre Royal since last Friday. It follows the story familiar to any Dreamworks movie fan: a large green ogre named Shrek (Nigel Lindsay) lives in a swamp that is invaded by homeless fairytale characters evicted from their homes by evil Lord Farquaad (Nigel Harman). In order to remove them from his home, Shrek is challenged by Lord Farquaad to bring him Princess Fiona (Amanda Holden). Of course the story would not be complete without many clever jokes, Donkey (Richard Blackwood) and a host of other characters including the Gingerbread Man, Pinocchio, and Dragon.

The overwhelming feeling after seeing this version of the musical is that it isn’t quite there yet, but has all of the ingredients for a massive hit. The music is beautiful and tells a much deeper story than the original movie. The set, sound and lighting effects are fantastic and the chorus was brilliant, with bundles of energy and comic timing. A lot of effort has gone into this show looking spectacular, the costumes and choreography work well together.

A special mention must be given to the Dragon, voiced well but created amazingly by the people who brought ‘War Horse’ to the stage. She is a wonder to be seen and is mesmerising. Harman’s Lord Farquaad is an outstanding performance (especially as he spends the duration on his knees). He really steals the show, and his dancing, singing and acting were near faultless.

Unfortunately, he stands out all the more due to the lack of energy from the rest of the principle cast. Blackwood does justice to the character of Donkey, synonymous with Eddie Murphy; he acts it well but he seems lacking in confidence in his musical numbers. Lindsay and Holden are missing something more. At times the acting loses pace, the musical numbers are spoken more than sung and those that are sung have the more than occasional bum note.

With all due respect to Holden, who is loved by many for her role on Britain’s Got Talent, she is possibly miscast here. she has worked very hard and it shows, but I would have preferred to see an unknown with a far superior voice rather than a celebrity who is trading on her name to pull in an audience. As for Lindsay, he gave a good performance, but Mike Meyers made this character funny and sadly nothing new was brought to the stage. His clear discomfort  in the fat suit was also unfortunate.

Overall, I would highly recommend Shrek to all, especially those who love the movie. There are some cracking jokes and you are left on a high, singing “I’m a Believer” on your way out of the theatre. I would suggest waiting a few months for all of the teething problems to disappear, or even for a cast change. Enjoyable enough, but with the potential to be much better in a few months’ time.