Tag Archives: Adelphi Theatre

“Back to the Future” at the Adelphi Theatre

The nostalgic appeal of bringing films to the stage makes them a safe bet for ticket sales. But to make the transition special, some risks need to be taken. Just plonking this story of time-traveller Marty McFly, stranded in the 1950s, on stage isn’t enough. Leaving aside whether Robert Zemeckis’ mid-1980s movie is any good (it isn’t), this adaptation has so little imagination it will only please the most die-hard fans.

Back to the Future is a big show – you get your money’s worth. The production, designed by Tim Hatley, looks expensive. The special effects, especially those with the famous DeLorean car, are impressive. But behind the sleek scene changes, the choreography is disappointing and the fight scenes poor. The action is well marshalled by director John Rando, but what’s going on is dull and the book from Bob Gale is slow.

Hugh Coles and Olly Dobson

Maybe this time travel drags because the characters are thin and the humour weak. Take Marty’s girlfriend, present to provide a ballad, or the school bully given malapropisms instead of jokes. Our hero is bland, which Olly Dobson’s energetic performance does little to correct. The only characters who stand out are Marty’s father and his scientist friend Doc Brown, played respectively by Hugh Coles, who makes an excellent West End debut, and Broadway star Roger Bart. But note how both men use to silly strutting or voices to get laughs – both effortful techniques that tire quickly.

You might forgive this if the score was any good. But both music and lyrics, by the hugely successful Glen Ballard and Alan Silvestri, just aren’t memorable enough. These are tunes you forget before they finish. The lyrics are leaden and long-winded with far too many references to self-help and time passing. It’s frustrating, as the potential is clear – the mix of 1980s and 1950s sounds could be interesting. But what about a musical dialogue between the decades? Instead we have a collection of humourless pastiches lacking any excitement.

While I’d usually be grateful that a show has an original score at all, this music is too close to songs heard in the background of a film, and they cannot hold a stage. Sentimental numbers are particularly painful. Even worse, the songs aren’t performed particularly well. Leaving aside whether the film’s hit number, The Power of Love, is any good (it isn’t), its brief rendition is the evening’s highlight.  Back to the Future ends up a waste of time.

Until 12 February 2023


Photos by Sean Ebsworth Barnes

“Waitress” at the Adelphi Theatre

Let the cooking puns commence: Sarah Bareilles’ Broadway hit has arrived in London. An appetite for the show is easy to understand – it has charm and a great leading lady. The story is an everyday tale from a female perspective with surprisingly gritty touches: a welcome change for such a crowd-pleasing, mainstream project. It’s essentially a show about motherhood, which makes it hard to knock and easy to be moved by. Nonetheless, Waitress is not to all tastes.

Despite efforts at realism showing life’s sour side, the show is (sorry) too sweet. Its ‘Queen of Kindness’ heroine Jenna fails to convince, despite Katharine McPhee’s efforts. Meanwhile her salt-of-the-earth friends, played by Marisha Wallace and Laura Baldwin, who sound fantastic, are sketchy characters. All these lives revolve around men – at least, until Jenna has a baby – and you don’t have to be much of a feminist to think that’s not good enough for 2019. Still, the trio are heart-warming, the performances winning, and the book from Jessie Nelson has a nice grasp on an early midlife crisis, alongside an interesting take on American ideals. In short, it’s not devoid of ideas.

The songs are good from the start and get better throughout. There’s an excellent main refrain and a stand-out number. A strong country music feel, with a touch of the musical Once, the score is by far the best thing about the show. And the delivery is superb. McPhee is visiting from the States and has real star quality. How much she overshadows everything else is a tricky issue – Jenna is a massive role and, ultimately to the show’s detriment, all the other characters feel insignificant. The humour is terrible: adolescent nudges at sex, a sassy African-American and couple of geeks are very dated. Diane Paulus’ direction is efficient and brisk but cannot gloss over the bad jokes.

A selection of dire roles for men makes you wonder if a point is being made about the poor parts women have had to suffer in the past. And none of the men performing helps give any role depth. There’s the odious husband who takes Jenna’s cash and demands she love him more than her unborn child, and the gynaecologist she has an affair with (in his consulting room… eek) and who loves her for her “sad eyes” – if your mother didn’t warn you about men who say that, let me take the opportunity to do so now. It’s no wonder this lot can be done away with so quickly, the question is why Jenna bothered with them in the first place. And that’s without adding the character sketches for her friends’ partners, who are also awful. Concluding with the owner of the diner Jenna works in, who ends up as her fairy godfather (sigh), the show’s wish- fulfilment ends up more than just silly. Jenna gets on in the world not through her cooking skills but by being the owner’s friend. Contrary to all intentions, we end up with a dumb waitress.

Until 19 October 2019


Photo by Johan Persson

“Kinky Boots” at the Adelphi Theatre

Here’s another musical based on a movie, this time the hit Broadway adaptation of a sweet true story about a Midlands shoe manufacturer saved from bankruptcy by making boots for transvestites. It’s a model musical with basic morals, a focused plot and nicely developing characters you care about. And, judging by the audience’s rapturous response, it looks as if it will kick up its heels and run and run. Given the footwear worn by the cast, that’s no mean achievement.

Kinky Boots is more a collection of songs than true musical theatre… but it is an excellent collection. Putting aside the opening couple of numbers, there’s variety, originality and an exceptionally high hit rate. The production has some issues with delivery from the chorus, making lyrics hard to hear. But these songs feel like old friends, such is their instant appeal – it’s like a jukebox musical without the back catalogue. It’s still fairly hard to believe that Cyndi Lauper’s score won the Tony over Tim Minchin’s Matilda in 2013, but that’s awards for you.

Amy Lennox (Lauren) and Killian Donnelly (Charlie) in Kinky Boots - photo Matt Crocket
Amy Lennox and Killian Donnelly

Killian Donnelly plays Charlie Price, who has just inherited the family business, and is top-notch with a tremendous solo number, ‘Soul of a Man’. There’s a standout turn from Amy Lennox as his love interest, whose quirky delivery of ‘The History Of Wrong Guys’ is a real crowd pleaser. In the lead role of Lola, the drag queen turned shoe designer, Matt Henry sounds superb but his comic skills need honing and, ironically, he doesn’t seem that comfortable in drag… yet. Another problem is that the ensemble feels split, with the shoemakers trying too hard to compete with Lola’s superb troop of backing singers. Since these ‘Angels’ include performers who can do a back somersault in heels, those in the factory lose out a little too obviously.

Backing up the show is Harvey Fierstein’s book and impeccable direction, including choreography, from Jerry Mitchell. It’s an understatement to say they know what they’re doing. Both Broadway legends, their work is almost ruthlessly efficient. Fierstein can write a put down better than most (Lola wouldn’t trust herself to “babysit a cactus”) but the focus is Lauper’s feelgood soundtrack, which elicits near hysterical responses from people around me. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but it’s definitely fun, and Kinky Boots can hold its head tall. And, in those heels, that’s very tall indeed.

Until 6 February 2016


Photos by Matt Crocket

“Sweeney Todd” at the Adelphi Theatre

Arriving in London from rave reviews at the Chichester Festival Theatre, Jonathan Kent’s production of Sweeney Todd is the must-see show of the summer. Arguably Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece, certainly his most famous work, it’s a musical that’s as intellectually stimulating as it is approachable.

Kent and his team make the most of each show-stopping number: almost to the production’s detriment as the evening is in danger of turning into a collection of hits rather than flowing as the excellent book by Hugh Wheeler intends it to. To be fair this really isn’t Kent’s fault – the audience response is rapturous, the atmosphere fantastic.

There is plenty to applaud. Michael Ball is remarkable in the title role. His transformation into the demon barber of Fleet Street makes him unrecognisable. More to the point, he gets to show what a fine actor he can be and remind us what a great voice he has. He does justice to Sondheim’s challenging score and embraces Sweeney’s tragic predicament in a stark manner that avoids camp.

Sweeney’s partner in crime, Mrs Lovett, is a role to kill for and Imelda Staunton has a great deal of fun with it. Her comedy is spot on and her voice strong. In love with Sweeney, Lovett’s descent into crime is swift, inevitable and wickedly funny, giving the production great pace. Staunton’s is a cracking performance that never slows and continually impresses.

Several recent productions of Sweeney Todd have been performed by opera companies reverent towards the score and resourced in a manner you might miss here – the chorus seems small and at times unsatisfying. There’s also a suspicion that Anthony Ward’s set feels a little lost on the large Adelphi stage; Sweeney’s London hardly teems with people, even if Mark Henderson’s lighting design creates atmosphere in abundance. But such cavils certainly won’t stop you enjoying the evening. This isn’t the perfect production of Sweeney Todd but it’s within a whisker of it.

Until 22 September 2012

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 23 March 2012 for The London Magazine

“Phantom part two, redux” at the Adelphi Theatre

Opening in March 2010, Love Never Dies, hasn’t had an easy year. Not all reviews were bad (mine was very positive) but many were lukewarm, some slightly spiteful, and the reaction ofphans’ (devotees of Phantom of the Opera) occasionally bizarre.

Just over a year later several alterations have been made and there are some new members of the cast. But ticket sales could still be better. Why is difficult to fathom – Love Never Dies is great stuff; thoroughly entertaining and never, ever boring.

The changes made in Jack O’Brien’s direction make the story of what happens to the Phantom, after he moves from the Opera in Paris to the USA’s Coney Island, a good deal sharper. The clarity in all the performances, especially Hayley Flaherty as Meg and Liz Robertson as her mother Madame Giry, who devotedly follow the phantom and cause his final tragedy, are commendable. David Thaxton brings his considerable acting talent to the role of Raoul – still recognisable as the romantic hero, Raoul is now a broken man.

The Prologue is the biggest alteration. An atmospheric scene setting that teased audiences is replaced with a rousing introduction to the Phantom. Ramin Karimloo, in the title role, gives such a fantastic performance a sense of mystery isn’t missed too much. Throughout Karimloo is such tremendous value he shows he truly owns the role.

Thankfully, few changes have been made to Lloyd Webber’s score. There is some beautiful music in Love Never Dies and it seems a shame so little has been made of this. Glenn Slater’s lyrics often leave much to be desired and what little humour is present tends to fall flat, but what annoys people most – the reinvention of the Phantom as a sympathetic character and the musical’s bleak ending – are more questions of taste than errors of judgement.

Love Never Dies is a complex musical for the West End. The book, written by Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton, demands engagement from an audience and has an eye to its predecessor that is almost oppressive. The resources available mean that the production values are thrilling – they convey the fun of the circus and the frightening freak-shows by turn, but more impressive are the risks taken to produce a darker, relatively more elaborate work that is well worth watching.


Written 10 March 2011 for The London Magazine

“Love Never Dies” at the Adelphi Theatre

When a theatre’s bar staff wear waistcoats embroidered with the show’s name, it seems pretty clear that the producers are hoping for a limitless run. No question, then, that Love Never Dies, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to the phenomenally successful Phantom of the Opera, represents a major investment. A lot rests on it and the critics know this. More vitally, so does the audience. Before curtain up, there is a palpable sense of expectation in the auditorium, and, perhaps unusually, a wish that all should go well. This is a crowd eager to enjoy itself and, I am pleased to report, it gets what it wants.

Love Never Dies takes place a decade after Phantom and has been 20 years in the making. Maybe the world is more complicated now, certainly this show is more nuanced than its predecessor. The book, by Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton, does not simply replicate the story we already know, although many of the dramatic devices common to musicals are present: a theatrical setting (moved from the Paris Opera to a show on Coney Island), a battle for the love of a beautiful woman and even a prologue that sets the scene for tragedy. Lloyd Webber knows his trade, and these are all highly effective crowd pleasers.

The fairytale romance of Christine and Raoul has turned sour; indeed it was never as perfect as we were led to believe. No longer an isolated genius, the Phantom is now a successful impresario. He blindly relies on the devotion of his followers from Paris, Madame and Meg Giry. These roles demand a great deal from the cast – there are no pantomime villains here or Disney heroics.

The devotion of the Girys may seem inexplicable, but Liz Robertson and Summer Strallen convince. Raoul is now a drunken gambler but Joseph Millson manages to convey the charm his character once had.  Sierra Boggess’s Christine is torn between the commitment she has to her family and the passion for her art and former tutor. Here we have the biggest change. Ramin Karimloo’s portrayal of the lead may be thought too likeable – less phantom, more friendly ghost, but while some tension is sacrificed, it is more than compensated for with an emotional pay off. The Phantom is human and has dreams of being loved.

This is to leave the best until last – Lloyd Webber’s typically strong score. His characteristic eclecticism moves from vaudeville numbers to a haunting child role reminiscent of Britten. The predominant note is a Romantic one, with wonderful strings and bold orchestration. Music and production alike are confident and assured – this is a surprisingly intimate West End musical with a series of close-up scenes.

Cleverly, the anticipation surrounding Love Never Dies is put to good use. As Meg worries about her performance, her colleagues predict that her audience will applaud before her song is through – a prophecy happily fulfilled before Karimloo’s fantastic opening number is completed. The plot hinges on whether Christine, contracted to sing by the Phantom, will perform for him. The result is a grand theatrical moment reminiscent of Sunset Boulevard’s Norma returning to a film set or Evita stepping out onto her balcony. As Boggess performs the title in impressive operatic style, the audience becomes part of the drama – participants in the play itself as her rapturous reception on Coney Island is replicated in London’s Adelphi.

Combine this score with such an accomplished cast and you have a winning formula. Add superb production values and you hit the jackpot.  Jon Driscoll’s video projections are breathtaking. Wonderful art nouveau sets and costumes by Bob Crowley are used with surprising restraint as director Jack O’Brien focuses attention on a story and emotions that are potent enough. This is a production all involved in should be proud of and attendance for Londoners should be compulsory. Let’s hope those waistcoats have plenty of wear in them…


Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Written 11 March 2010 for The London Magazine