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The Grit & Glamour of Showbiz – On Stage at the Exchange This Christmas

The exuberance, grit and glamour of Burlesque finds a home in the Exchange’s unique in-the-round theatre this Christmas in director Jo Davies’ sizzling GYPSY. With Ria Jones as the tour-de-force that is Momma Rose, the wonderful world of show business is brought to life by Jo and her creative team: Choreographer Andrew Wright, Musical Supervisor Joel Fram and Designer Francis O’Connor. Ria Jones is joined by Melissa James as Louise, Melissa Lowe as June and Louis Gaunt as Tulsa in this production of the extraordinary musical GYPSY which can be seen in the theatre from 30 November 2019 – 25 January 2020.

Choosing the bright lights of the stage over putting her girls though school, Momma Rose is resolute in her desire to see her daughters, Louise and June, realise her dreams of stardom and adoration. But how are these young women shaped by her actions, what is passed down from generation to generation, and what new opportunities are afforded to one but denied to another?

The GYPSY cast also includes Dale Rapley, Stephen Casey and Michael S. Siegel as Herbie, Uncle Jocko and Father; the roles of Tessie Tura, Mazeppa and Electra are played by Rebecca Thornhill, Suzie Chard and Kate O’Donnell (who returns to the Exchange following her performance as Feste in Jo Davies’ TWELFTH NIGHT); and the ensemble is Roshani Abbey, Alastair Crosswell, Amie Hibbert, Kody Mortimer, Bryan Mottram, Lizzie Nance and Marianne Phillips.

Ria Jones’ career spans over three decades as a leading lady in Musical Theatre, both in the West End and internationally. Roles as diverse as Eva Peron in EVITA, Norma Desmond in SUNSET BOULEVARD, to the iconic Mrs Overall in ACORN ANTIQUES, to name but a few. As well as T.V, Radio, and numerous recordings, Ria performs regularly as a concert soloist, frequently with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and major orchestras worldwide.

Also making their Royal Exchange Theatre debuts are Melissa James, Melissa Lowe and Louis Gaunt.

Melissa James trained at Arts Ed. theatre credits include WISE CHILDREN (The Old Vic/UK Tour), EUGENIUS! (West End), THE TWO NOBLE KINSMEN (Shakespeare’s Globe), ONE LOVE: THE BOB MARLEY MUSICAL (Birmingham Rep), ANNIE GET YOUR GUN (Sheffield Crucible), A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM (Theatre Royal Bath), THE BODYGUARD, CATS (UK tour), GUYS AND DOLLS (Chichester Festival Theatre) and WEST SIDE STORY (RSC).

Melissa Lowe trained at Arts Ed. Her theatre credits include THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST (Bolton Octagon), THE CAT IN THE HAT (Leicester Curve, UK Tour & Rose Theatre, Kingston), ME & MY GIRL (Chichester Festival Theatre) and JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (Teatru Astra).

Louis Gaunt is the 2018 The Stage Debut Awards WINNER for Best Actor in A Musical – for OKLAHOMA! His theatre credits include: GREASE (National Tour), THE HAPPY PRINCE (The Place), STANDING AT THE SKY’S EDGE (Sheffield Crucible), KISS ME, KATE (Sheffield Crucible), SWEET CHARITY (Nottingham Playhouse), OKLAHOMA! (Grange Park Opera) and DICK WHITTINGTON (London Palladium).

Director Jo Davies returns to the Royal Exchange following her lavish production of TWELFTH NIGHT. She is an international theatre and opera Director and her most recent work includes THE FANTASTIC FOLLIES OF MRS RICH (Royal Shakespeare Company), CARMEN (Welsh National Opera), DON CARLO (Grange Park Opera) and THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO (Opera North / Tour). Other work includes THE ROARING GIRL (Royal Shakespeare Company), TWELFTH NIGHT (Royal Exchange) KISS ME KATE (Opera North / London Coliseum), OKLAHOMA (Grange Park Opera) and CAROUSEL (Barbican/ Chatalet Theatre Paris).

The creative team includes Designer Francis O’Connor, Costume Designer Gabrielle Dalton, Lighting Designer Colin Grenfell, Sound Designer Carolyn Downing, Choreographer Andrew Wright, Musical Supervisor Joel Fram, Musical Director Leo Munby and Orchestrator Sam Davies.

GYPSY

A Musical Fable, Book by Arthur Laurents, Music by Jule Styne, Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Suggested by memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee. Original Production by David Merrick & Leland Hayward. Entire production originally directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins.
Directed by Jo Davies
With Ria Jones

30 November 2019 – 25 January 2020
Press Night: Thurs 5 December, 7.30pm – The Theatre 

Initial Casting Announced for Gypsy

The Royal Exchange Theatre has made the first casting announcement for their new production of GYPSY directed by Jo Davies and running in the theatre this Christmas. Musical theatre leading lady Ria Jones will make her Royal Exchange debut as the formidable Momma Rose and is joined on stage by Melissa James as Louise and Melissa Lowe in the role of June.

Building on the success of redefining Broadway musicals for the Exchange’s unique in-the-round theatre GYPSY will be the latest iconic musical production to take centre stage. Director Jo Davies returns to the Exchange following her lavish production of TWELFTH NIGHT to explore the wonderful world of show-business through the tour-de-force that is Momma Rose. Choosing the bright lights of the stage over putting her girls through school, Momma Rose is resolute in her desire to see her daughters realise her dreams of stardom and adoration. But how are these young women shaped by her actions, what is passed down from generation to generation, and what new opportunities are afforded to one but denied to another?

Ria Jones’ career spans over three decades as a leading lady in Musical Theatre, both in the West End and internationally. Roles as diverse as Eva Peron in EVITA, Norma Desmond in SUNSET BOULEVARD, to the iconic Mrs Overall in ACORN ANTIQUES, to name but a few. As well as T.V, Radio, and numerous recordings, Ria performs regularly as a concert soloist, frequently with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and major orchestras worldwide.

Melissa James also makes her Royal Exchange debut. Her theatre credits include: WISE CHILDREN (The Old Vic/UK Tour), EUGENIUS! (West End), THE TWO NOBLE KINSMEN (Shakespeare’s Globe), ONE LOVE: THE BOB MARLEY MUSICAL (Birmingham Rep), ANNIE GET YOUR GUN (Sheffield Crucible), A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM (Theatre Royal Bath), THE BODYGUARD, CATS (UK tour), GUYS AND DOLLS (Chichester Festival Theatre) and WEST SIDE STORY (RSC).

Melissa Lowe trained at ArtsEd. Her theatre credits include THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST (Bolton Octagon), THE CAT IN THE HAT (Leicester Curve, UK Tour & Rose Theatre, Kingston), ME & MY GIRL (Chichester Festival Theatre) and JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (Teatru Astra). This is also Melissa’s debut at the Royal Exchange.

An extraordinary musical, GYPSY can be seen in the theatre from 30 November 2019 – 25 January 2020. Further casting will be announced later this autumn.

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Your chance to win a Gypsy DVD -Competition closed, Winner announcement soon

http://www.rasaint.net/ - Glitter Graphics

THE COMPETITION IS CLOSED. WINNER ANNOUNCEMENT SOON

Well, it’s that time of the year when I would like to run a GYPSY competition and, as luck would have it, Universal Pictures have chucked a DVD my way in order to draw attention to the fact that GYPSY is available to buy on DVD and digital download from November 28.

In order to stand a chance of winning all you have to do is submit your email address in the sign up bar below. The promo is being run for UK residents only.

Gypsy DVD Cover Image

Gypsy DVD Cover Image

Awarded with an Olivier Award® for her role as Momma Rose, Imelda Staunton (Maleficent, The Harry Potter Series) gives “the performance of her career” in Jonathan Kent’s dazzling revival. Lara Pulver (Edge of Tomorrow, Spooks), reprises her “stunning” role as Louise and they are joined by Peter Davison (Law and Order: UK) as Herb, in this gloriously entertaining musical fable that features show stopping choreography from Stephen Mear.
Gypsy is based on memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, a famous striptease artist back in 1957, and focuses on her mother, Rose, whose name has become synonymous with “the ultimate show business mother”. It follows the dreams and efforts of Rose to raise two daughters to perform onstage and casts an affectionate eye on the hardships of show business life.
Featuring the classic songs “Let Me Entertain You,” “Rose’s Turn” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and music by Jule Styne, this moving and scintillating production of Gypsy was the first to be seen in London for 40 years.

And that is that.

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Mark Anderson talks about his role in The Toxic Avenger “It’s been great for me to step out of my comfort zone.”

 

Mark Anderson

Mark Anderson

Mark Anderson is an  immensely talented actor and musician based out of London. His theatre credits include  The Book of Mormon – Original West End Cast (Prince of Wales Theatre), Once Upon A Mattress (Union Theatre), Legally Blonde (National tour), Love me tender (The Churchill Theatre Bromley) and more. Currently he is starring as Toxie in The Toxic Avenger at Southwark Playhouse.

During the course of what follows you will hear Mark talking about various things. Enjoy!

Hello Mark! How the devil are you?
I’m really good ta.

You’re currently starring in Toxic Avenger at Southwark Playhouse. What’s that all about?
It’s a musical based a cult, 80s, B movie, horror film. It’s essentially your typical comic book superhero story; Nerdy guy Melvin Ferd, The Third is an aspiring earth scientist who gets dropped in a vat of toxic waste by some local thugs and evolves into The Toxic Avenger. The villain is the corrupt town Mayor who is importing toxic waste into Tromaville for large sums of cash. It’s written by Joe DiPietro who wrote I L ove You, You’re Perfect, Now Change and Love Me Tender, which toured the UK last year, and David Bryan who is most famous for being in Bon Jovi. They also wrote Memphis together which was hugely successful in it’s West End run. Toxic Avenger is much smaller though, there are only five of us in the cast and three of those play multiple roles. The love interest is a blind librarian called Sarah and the Mayor also doubles as Melvin’s mother which culminates in her having a scene with herself. The other two guys literally play everyone else and quick change like there’s no tomorrow. I think what makes the piece is that it’s very aware of what it is. It self references and all of the fun and drama comes from whether or not people will make their changes and who they will come out as next. The material is SO strong and it’s just really good fun.

Mark Anderson as Toxie

Mark Anderson as Toxie

Pretty standard musical fare. You know the trendy people. Let’s call them tastemakers, the media etc. They don’t like to feel that something is too likely to be a hit; they play it cool. How anxious were you about taking on the lead role in the European Premier?
To be honest, I never considered that the response would be so fantastic. You hope but when you’re dealing with something new, you have no idea what the reaction will be like. When I got sent the script I just knew it was right up my street. Like I said, the songs are ace and when I read the script I was lol’ing every other line and I knew I wanted to do it. All you can ever hope to do is do the piece justice and to the best of your ability. I think that’s why we have something so special – there was never any pressure from anywhere but we all threw ourselves in so hard and all wanted to do well, for each other. It’s incredible to be acting with people and working for a creative team who inspire you so much, who you want to impress and work hard for and keep finding new things with every day. That’s why it works.
I never think of myself as the lead. There are only five actors in the entire thing and we all have as much to do as each other, yes, the story is about Toxie, but we’re all essential to creating the world we’re all living in, its more of an ensemble piece.
I was majorly anxious though. Ha! It was big deal for me to take on such a large role, I usually do the sidekick/geeky part and in my audition I told the director, Benji, that I was nervous about playing Toxie. Playing the nerd in the start comes more natural to me and I was worried about playing the character after he had transformed. Toxie is a 7 foot, big, green freak and has some serious songs to sing. This probably isn’t normal for a musical theatre performer but I don’t really like singing, it terrifies me. But, like anything, when you’re in context and wearing a load of prosthetics, covered in green makeup and are in character, telling a story the inhibitions seem to go away. It’s been great for me to step out of my comfort zone. When you’re used to playing certain roles you start to pigeon hole yourself and can doubt your abilities. But then that’s just part of being an actor I guess.

Toxic Avenger Team

Toxic Avenger Team with composer David Bryan

You’ve performed in some pretty big shows.(The Book of Mormon, Legally Blonde etc) Do you feel any pressure to look a certain way?
Ummm…yes, kind of. I gym a bit and always watch what I eat. This is a tricky one because it’s different for everyone. I’ve done some shows with some very physically fit people and when you’re sharing a dressing room with a group of boys who are all very in-shape, there is a certain pressure to keep up. Now, I’m quite happy knowing that I’m the best I can be and want to be. For me, the jobs I’m up for don’t require me to have a 48 inch chest but I think when you do what we do, your body is your toolkit or your office computer. You need to look after yourself because what we’re asked to do sometimes as actors is nuts and even a little cold can take you out for weeks.

What’s your favourite musical note and why?
Ha! My favourite musical note? Any one that comes out of Cynthia Erivo’s mouth probably.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever put in your mouth?
An anchovy. Dis-gus-ting! Why people eat those things is beyond me. I’m heaving.

Yuck! Who or what was your biggest influence as a performer?
Good question. I’ve never been so in awe of someone than Gavin Creel. I loved him before I met him and when we worked together I was so pleased he was nice. Ha! When we did Mormon, he was such genius onstage but that wasn’t even half of it. He was the beating heart of the building we all worked in. He included everyone and was a leading man in every sense of the word in every aspect of the job. We became great friends, he is so generous and kind and makes you feel so special. He did an ‘In Conversation With’ type thing one Sunday at the Charing Cross theatre with Ed Seckerson and he asked me to sing one of his original songs with him doing backing vocals and playing piano. I was so scared. He coached me and gave me confidence and some amazing advice I still practise now. He’s kind of incredible.

What’s your favourite dinosaur?
Is this because you know I’m obsessed with dinosaurs? They’re all so awesome. My twitter says that I’m a Triceratops so I’ll go with that. Though I always wanted to be able to fly when I was little so maybe a Pterodactyl. No, a Triceratops, final answer.

How good out of 10 was GYPSY?
10. I loved it. I love everything. I even saw the Light Princess five times (mainly because I love Tori Amos, but still).

Christ alive. Do you have anything exciting planned for the second half of 2016?
Not yet. Back to the drawing board. Wanna give me job?

If you were to take me out in West London for the evening where would we go? (Not as a date. It was never described as a date)
West London is very specific, ha! We’d go to the Southbank, it’s my absolute favourite place in London, especially when it’s sunny. From the London Eye right down to Tower Bridge. Then, we’d obviously go to the theatre.

Thanks Mark!
Thank YOU!

My Theatre Grudge: Standing ovations

me_514_standingovation

If you do want to stand up, know that your final decision will be definitive and 100% correct. Authentic, voluntary, high spirited standing ovations are truly uncommon things.”

Standing ovations are dished out like cocktail sausages. That’s right ladies and gentlemen. We are living in an era where hundreds of reasonably sensible people are falling over each other to leap to their feet and clap at the drop of a hat. Since when did ovations become so unavoidable?  Is it because we have spent so much on a ticket? So often audiences appear fulfilled by work that is “not terrible” or that “could have been worse”. And then they get up on their feet and applaud. Very rarely I do too, credit where its due etc.

If you are one of these people, how often do you mean it? Would you stand up if the “posh people” around you didn’t, but the work you’d just seen had changed the very fibre of your existence? Because that is when you should get up and show your appreciation. If you do want to stand up – get up and know that your final decision will be definitive and 100% correct. Authentic, voluntary, high-spirited standing ovations are truly uncommon things.

We’ve all been in an auditorium where folk bounce up and down like a Jack in a box when it isn’t earned. There is a lot to be said about mawkishness around standing ovations.

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Sunset Boulevard has got people up and out of their seats thanks to Glenn Close making sure the revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ’50s noir-inspired musical was a triumph. Audiences gave a standing ovation the second she walked on the stage and before she’d sung a note. But this kind of ovation isn’t entirely for her performance but for who she is, her bona fide celebrity glamour and what she embodies. (I stood up too.)

I watched GYPSY at Chichester Festival Theatre and was all too happy to participate in a standing ovation for Imelda Staunton mid-song. It felt natural and I did so of my own free will. It was an almost instinctive experience whereby the entire audience spontaneously combusted. The audience, briefly, matched the show.

A standing ovation is a public situation, so I suppose is open to manipulation such as, for instance on Press Nights where family, friends and supporters gather to show considerable support for a production. Or in big shows like Bend it Like Beckham or Mamma Mia where the false-ending is cynically engineered to achieve a standing ovation from the people in the stalls. In any case, a standing ovation that has simply become part of convention is basically futile.

As a general rule I would suggest that you stand up and clap when someone delivers the goods (‘the goods’ being at least six exciting moments per show, usually more) Be open to life itself, and the surprises of life. Standing ovations have to catch us by surprise, when we are the least looking for them. So, half-hearted ovations are, in the very purest sense, a load of old nonsense. And there, it would seem, we have it.

Note:  Article to be published in UK theatre Magazine- May 2016