Saturday, 20 April 2013



Beyond the Barricade

Performance reviewed: Wolverhampton Grand Theatre - Thursday 18 April 2013

Reviewed by Kyle Pedley

Approaching it's 15th year in existence, Beyond the Barricade is the longest running and amongst the most popular musical touring concerts in the UK. Comprising of a quartet of experienced, proven stars of the West End and beyond (the two ladies performing on the evening we reviewed, Rebecca Vere and Katie Leeming, both feature on the soundtrack for the motion picture version of Les Miserables, for instance) what is evident from the outset and throughout is the genuine love and passion the team involved have for the industry and medium of musicals, and compared to other more perfunctory concerts of this ilk, the whole evening and affair comes across very much as a labour of love. The current incarnation of the tour features a satisfying and eclectic mix of hits from shows including the likes of The Lion King, Blood Brothers, Miss Saigon, Carousel, Phantom of the Opera as well as less prolific or instantly recognisable productions such as Chess and Godspell. Co-founder of the show, quarter member and endearing compere David Fawcett guides the evening along with warmth and wit, allowing for a well-judged amount of history and reasoning behind the show itself and the numbers/productions selected, peppered with entertaining, family-friendly and winningly localised banter.

Vocally all four members do a great job given the scope and variety of musical numbers asked of them, no easy feat when tackling greats such as 'You'll Never Walk Alone' from Carousel (a moving reminder of the anthems origins), 'Phantom of the Opera', 'The Circle of Life' from The Lion King, and a finale centred around such numbers from Les Miserables as 'I Dreamed a Dream', 'On My Own' and the rousing 'One Day More'. There are one or two numbers that feel a touch over-ambitious or cannot replicate the full orchestra and company effect, but these moments are heavily outnumbered by generally impressive and accomplished renditions of the greats as well as some pleasant and welcome surprises such as a Disney 'silly medley' and the decision to include such wonderful but oft-overlooked delights as 'Anthem' from Chess.

In all, 'Beyond the Barricade' is an endearing, entertaining collection of musical treats performed by accomplished professional vocalists with a palpable mix of technique and passion for their craft. It's easy to see why the production remains as popular as ever after so many years of touring (having now been going longer than Westlife, as was amusingly pointed out during the show). If you are a fan of the stage or screen musical then this is an evening of tailor made delight, an impressively varied and passionately executed journey through stage and screen that continually entertains, often dazzles and occasionally amazes, complemented by a big heart, broad scope and plenty of belt.

Click HERE to go to the Beyond the Barricade website for more information on the show itself and details of its tour dates and locations.

Motown's Greatest Hits: How Sweet It Is

Performance reviewed: Wolverhampton Grand Theatre - Thursday 18 April 2013

Reviewed by Kyle Pedley

As was no doubt a challenge with Beyond the Barricade and the sheer breadth of musical numbers in the industries back catalogue that they had to select from, so too did How Sweet It Is pique my curiosity in regards to how diverse and considered (not to mention full) it’s ‘playlist’ would be, given the almost dizzying array of Motown hits and classics that still circulate today, far too many to fit even into a 2 hour plus show as this. Thankfully, the savvy production team and talent involved have done a terrific job of crafting a wholly satisfying array of classic hits that run the spectrum across time and tempo. Like any great concert or musical experience, this is a show with expertly judged peaks and calm, gradually getting the talent, and indeed the audience, warmed up, leading to a rousing second half where the energy and tempo picks up even further until practically the entire auditorium was up on their feet dancing, clapping, shuffling and even spilling out into the aisles and around the edges of the theatre (to the chagrin of the ushers, health and safety alarms no doubt understandably sounding).

It almost seems pithy to single out particular numbers or highlights, so numerous and varied is the selection of genuine classics that the five man troupe, ably assisted by a terrific supporting band, knock out with style, soul and consistently brilliant vocals. ‘All Night Long’, ‘My Girl’, ‘Dancing on the Ceiling’, ‘Going Loco Down in Acapulco’, ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, ‘A-B-C’ and of course the titular show opener ‘How Sweet It Is’, the list goes on, and all are performed with gusto, vim and zest. Bursting with charisma and clearly enjoying themselves, the group won over the audience early on and only go on to cement this with some great interaction, exchanges and crowd addresses and overall infectious sense of showmanship punctuating the musical set pieces. This was further evident by an unusually vocal audience, including one or two rowdy members throwing some genuinely hilarious shout-outs and curveballs at the group on stage, which they handled brilliantly, in good spirit and with effervescent wit.

How Sweet It Is was a supremely entertaining evening and a definite recommendation for anyone who has even the remotest enjoyment and appreciation of the great, enduring hits of this particular genre and period of music. One of the most vibrant, feel-good evenings of fun I have had at the theatre in some time, the show also gets credit for so easily and successfully getting so many people up off of their seats and joining in with the irrepressible positivity and joy of it all. The ladies may have been appreciative of the slightly more amorous and sexual undertones that gradually pervaded (though always kept in check and never to the point of vulgarity), but there were plenty of husbands, boyfriends and partners spotted having an equally wonderful time, shuffling and swaying to the wonderful vocals and excellent tunes.

If this review has read as a little more colourful and prose than usual, then it is perhaps because the greatest summary and review I can give of the show and evening as a whole is testimony of the visible, tangible and utterly joyous and infectious effect it had on its audience, and there can surely be no greater recommendation or compliment for a production such as this than that. Yes, as mentioned, the vocals were terrific, the range of numbers performed diverse in style, tone and technique and the characterful hosting and performing of the five singers was earnest and accessible, but my absolute highlight of the evening was glancing around and seeing a theatre full of people up on their feet, clearly having a wonderful, celebratory time, neatly personified by an elderly man who must have been at least in his 80’s, up on his feet, dancing, waving and generally giving it his all, enjoying timeless hits in timeless fashion.

How sweet it is indeed.

Click HERE to go to the Motown's Greatest Hits: How Sweet It Is website for more information on the show itself and details of its tour dates and locations.

Press tickets for both shows were provided courtesy of the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre directly. (A)musings Media gratefully acknowledges their generous invitation.

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