Tag Archives: Dominion Theatre

“Dirty Dancing” at the Dominion Theatre

If you are a fan of the 1987 movie this show is based on there’s a chance you will enjoy seeing the action on stage. If you don’t know about, or don’t care for, the coming-of-age romance between a woman called ‘Baby’ and her dance tutor Johnny, seeing Dirty Dancing would be a mistake.

The production is a catalogue of frustrations and missed opportunities.

The slim plot (credited to Eleanor Bergstein) is difficult to follow. With scenes so truncated, a knowledge of the original is essential. Calling what we hear dialogue is excessive praise. The script is no more than a collection of famous lines, delivered in a rush.

The lead trio are Kira Malou and Michael O’Reilly, joined by Carlie Milner as Johnny’s colleague, whose pregnancy is the focus of the drama. All three have little chance to act or establish their characters. Tension evaporates in director Federico Bellone’s rush to the finish. And despite the shocking speed there isn’t even the relief that the show is short.

Cinematic montages are difficult to bring to the stage. The production doesn’t know what to do with scenes of Baby learning to dance (although Malou makes a valiant effort). For a scene practicing in water a screen descends so the audience can’t see what is going on. The sense of resignation rather than excitement about the challenge is depressing.

What of those missed opportunities? The dancing is good, but there’s surprisingly little of it. There’s strong singing from Samuel Bailey and Mimi Rodrigues Alves who each get a good number. But the show isn’t a musical; most of the songs are snatches to applaud and move on from. Could the production focus on one or the other? As it is, both the dancing and music are unsatisfying.

An effort to contextualise the story, to include the civil rights struggle, fails. A campfire and a protest song are added but simply confuse the already fragmented plot. Then someone remarks “remember last fall…the Cuban Missile Crisis” and…cut. Far bolder additons are needed. In a humourless show it was the only time I laughed.

Apologies to those who love the film, but the story cries out for updating and needs to change for the stage. Would some concession or embracing theatricality be too much to ask? Yes, I guess. If you assume the folks interested don’t want any surprises (which seems insulting). You get what’s advertised here. Includes the song and choreography of the finale. But strictly nothing more.

Until 16 April 2022


Photo by Mark Senior

“The Prince of Egypt” at the Dominion Theatre

There’s plenty of theatre aimed at younger audiences that everyone can enjoy. This musical about Moses is not one of them. It’s a right royal disaster.

The show succeeds in its painfully clear aim of being big and bold. And, while running with the alliteration would be fun, it isn’t boring – Scott Schwartz’s swift direction prevents that. Actually, it’s just bad.

Problems come from a dependence on the show’s origin as an animated film. Projections, from Jon Driscoll, are impressive but overused and only reinforce how everything about The Prince of Egypt is two-dimensional.

Luke Brady is instructed to give us a modern Moses and he delivers. But the character is flat and his development paper thin. The focus on his adoptive family, the Egyptian Pharaohs, isn’t a bad move. But, accompanied by a pantomime High Priest and some confusing costumes (Ann Hould-Ward), what should be a major role for Liam Tamne, as Ramses, is simply a sketch.

Luke Brady and Christine Allado in The Prince Of Egypt
Luke Brady and Christine Allado

It’s good that women are brought to the forefront of the story. But Moses’ sister Miriam and his wife Tzipporah are further missed opportunities – another shame as Christine Allado and Alexia Khadime are exciting performers. The former just acts delighted every time she bumps into her brother and starts singing about deliverance without any preamble. Mrs Moses bangs on about freedom in a cartoonish costume.

Composer Stephen Schwartz has an impressive back catalogue and is the show’s big selling point, but his work here is lacklustre. These are songs you forget before they’ve even finished. And the score is horribly repetitive: anthems and ballads merge, dripping with sentiment and cliché. Every number has an unfailingly loud end. It’s enough to make you wonder if the Jews went into desert for a bit of peace and quiet.

The only thing worse than the lyrics, which ram home predictable rhymes relentlessly, is when people speak. The dialogue by Philip LaZebnik is awful. Take: “If you don’t choose your own path, you’re lost wherever you go.” Who knew self-help books were popular in Ancient Egypt?

The Prince Of Egypt, credit Tristram Kenton ©DWA LLC
The burning bush appears to Moses

Possibly to distract from all this, The Prince of Egypt is very much a dance show. Burning bushes and bloody rivers keep a crack squad of athletes impressively busy. But choreographer Sean Cheesman isn’t the miracle this show badly needs. Right from the start, with a bunch of very healthy-looking Hebrew slaves, the execution is excellent. But each trick is repeated too often. I guess there’s only so many ways you can move around fake stones artistically, but I’m pretty sure I’ve now seen them all.

The few attempts to inject humour are dire. And the tone overall is portentous and grates quickly. Having a Moses for a modern age fails. That the prophet has a crisis of faith and is confused about his identity is interesting. But the show hasn’t the depth to explore either. Moses even refers to God’s “magic” at one point. Bizarrely, religion is pushed to the side. The oft repeated hit number for the show, ‘(There can be miracles) when you believe’ – those self-help books again – becomes a nonsense. It’s never really clear what Moses, of all people, believes in.

Until 31 October 2020


Photos by Tristram Kenton and Matt Crockett

“Bat Out of Hell” at the Dominion Theatre

Unlike many musicals based on a back catalogue, you don’t need to be a fan of composer Jim Steinman to enjoy this piece. The music, as its regular performer Meat Loaf appreciated, has a theatricality that transfers easily to the stage. Top-notch production values and performances make the ticket safe value. And there’s an injection of insanity that ensures the show stands out.

As with a previous hit at the Dominion, We Will Rock You, based on the music of Queen, the book for the show, also by Steinman, is set in a dystopian future. A mutation fixing our hero Strat at the age of 18 results in a strange Peter Pan figure. Leaving aside his odd taste in poetry, it makes an ethereally bizarre lead for Andrew Polec, who takes on the part with astonishing bravado. Polec doesn’t deliver a single note without treating it like grand opera and barely stays still for a moment.

Strat falls for Raven, daughter of the dastardly Falco, enemy to Strat’s particular Lost Boys. Why he’s a villain isn’t that clear as the focus is on his marriage. Whatever, there are great performances from Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton as both parents, and a look back on their courting is a real highlight. As for Raven, a sincere effort has been made with the role and Christina Bennington tries her best. But let’s just say she still ends up, well… straddling… rather a lot. Add to the Romeo and Juliet vibe, a bizarre Tink(erbell) for Strat’s Rebel Without A Cause, a younger Sal Mineo character  who’s devoted until spurned. There’s no lack of narrative, and it’s all great fun. Remember everyone is as camp as Christmas and the whole thing becomes brilliantly mad.

The music itself is well constructed – you don’t sell as many records as Steinman without knowing a thing or two – but the triumph for the show comes with Robert Emery’s musical direction and Steve Sidwell’s orchestration. Variety is injected into even those famous ballads, adapted into ensemble pieces with performers belting them out. Some of the lyrics are shocking – “You’re a ghost and I’ve been cursed but if you were exorcised it would only make it worse” – but, no matter how bad they are, Steinman repeats lines (a lot) injecting a mock profundity that becomes infectious. To top it all is Jon Bausor’s design, which has two sequences, a bike crash and a drug-induced dream, that use stunning special effects. Such technical skill combined with the inexplicably goofy make Bat Out of Hell jaw-droppingly great.

Until 5 January 2019


Photo by Specular

“An American In Paris” at the Dominion Theatre

Like a recent almost-best-film-Oscar-winner, this adaptation of the 1951 MGM classic movie musical gains a lot of momentum from nostalgia. It’s a trip to Ooh-La-La Land – a struggling post-war France full of artists and amour. With a classic score and gorgeous dancing, aided by updated touches from Craig Lucas, the yearning for style and sincerity so often connected with the past is delivered to perfection.

The romance here has plenty of swoon, but is satisfyingly grown up – with three men falling for one girl, they can’t all get her. Set in the “ashes of war”, conflict hangs over the show. It’s Christopher Wheeldon’s achievement as director to combine this trauma with the theme of celebration: optimism is the role of the Arts post-war. This is arguable, of course, but it makes this show joyous.

Since the music and lyrics are by George and Ira Gershwin it’s a given that the tunes are sublime, but the orchestration from Rob Fisher is particularly sensitive and the voices well suited. David Seadon-Young plays talented young composer Adam, working with wannabe cabaret performer Henri (Haydn Oakley); both sound great and act well. With the same qualifications, Zoë Rainey plays Milo Davenport, the American patron of the ballet that forms the show’s divine finale. Described as a “pistol” of a woman, Rainey hits the bulls-eye with her performance.

From left, Robert Fairchild, David Seadon-Young and Haydn Oakley
From left, Robert Fairchild, David Seadon-Young and Haydn Oakley

Ballet star Robert Fairchild originated the role of Jerry on stage. An aspiring demobbed artist, Fairchild has a gracefulness that most could only dream of. Everyman’s muse Lise is played by Leanne Cope, whose gorgeous gamine looks make this perfect casting. Both dancers, who travelled with the show from Broadway, can sing well and their chemistry is breathtaking. Their romance isn’t a matter of youthful optimism on Jerry’s part, but rather the drive to make the most of the rest of his life, while Lise’s desire to live with “no history, no past” shows there is plenty she needs to escape. It makes the stakes high and their dancing together truly ecstatic.

It’s the footwork that is the star of the show. Wheeldon has played to his strengths as a choreographer by emphasising the dance, and it is among the best you could see. Even moving the scenery around is done stylishly, with everyone dressed in costumes by Bob Crowley that are good enough make you sigh. There’s a sense you wouldn’t want to work for those in charge here – the rigour on display is so daunting – but watching the result is amazing. It’s an ensemble of impeccable talent working flat out for an audience’s entertainment and achieving tens across the board.

Until 28 April 2018


Photos by Johan Persson

“White Christmas” at the Dominion Theatre

Christmas has come early to the Dominion Theatre, with Irving Berlin’s White Christmas up and running with plenty of ho, ho, ho. Anyone with even the smallest tendency to bah humbug should look away now; the show is unapologetically sentimental and nostalgic. After all, this is the time of year we can all embrace clichés comfortably and the 1954 film the show is adapted from is one of those very clichés.

The story, for what it’s worth, sees former soldiers Bob and Phil, now successful Broadway stars, saving their old general’s hotel by – you’ve guessed it – putting on a show. It helps that the receptionist at the inn is a Mermanesque singer and that the general’s granddaughter is a budding performer. The proceedings cement Bob and Phil’s relationships with two other performers, siblings Betty and Judy, and serve as a framework for many a hit tune: Blue Skies, I Love A Piano, Let Yourself Go and, for Betty and Judy of course, Sisters.

White Christmas has already toured successfully, so it runs very smoothly indeed, but it’s a perfect fit for the West End. And it’s nice to be back in the grand space of the Dominion after many years away. It was the home of We Will Rock You (which, for the record, I didn’t think was that bad) and the shows are as camp and silly as each other.

Taking the lead roles are Aled Jones and Tom Chambers, capably joined by Rachel Stanley and Louise Bowden as their love interests. Wendi Peters has a gift of a role as Martha and seems very happy with it, belting out the numbers with aplomb. Jones doesn’t seem all that comfortable on stage. It’s a shame he can’t do much with the comedy in the piece, but he’s really there to sing and you can’t fault him there. Chambers is more impressive, looking great and dancing very well indeed – it strikes me he had an unfair advantage on Strictly, he’s a real pro.

It’s the dancing in the piece that really makes White Christmas worth seeing. Aided by a fine orchestra with a big band feel and making the most of a large ensemble, choreographer Randy Skinner makes the show feel value for money and something to leave the TV for over Christmas. Seasonal appeal lets the production get away with a lot of schmaltz, but there’s just enough of a story to keep you going and plenty to dazzle, right up to a climax, which includes a whatever the collective noun should be for silly jumpers.

Until 3 January 2015