So this festive season i’ve been swept away by the Panto bug. Such things as this happen when supporting talented performers. There was no less than 6 different Panto’s that were on my ‘make an effort’ list. I’m pleased to say I managed to see/support 5 of the people I wanted to see. As usual time & money got in the way of the 6th, which is very frustrating but unfortunately can’t be helped. I’ll make up for it somewhere down the line.
So I started the Panto season with a trip to Stoke on Trent to see ‘Westend Singing Sensation’ Louise Dearman (as they so lovingly refer to her as, up there) in Dick Whittington. Having only previously seen 3 panto’s before & not being familiar with this one at all, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but knew that with Louise involved there would have to be a touch of class & I was not disappointed, not by a long shot. I left Dick Whittington with the songs from the show & some of the jokes, going round & round in my crazy little brain. It helped that I saw it with a few of my friends, so I had others to reminisce with & in turn plot future trips with, because it seemed Dick Whittington just couldn’t be seen only once.
Before returning to see more Dick… Whittington I headed off to the Thameside Theatre,
Grays, to see Michelle Pentecost (Wicked/Evita) in Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs. She played the ‘Wicked’ Queen & I have to say she was my favourite ‘Baddie’ of the season. I’m likely bias but i’ve thought long & hard about this & I definitely think she raised the bar for baddies with her stellar & committed performance. The stand out moment of the show was definitely the pantofied rendition of ‘Defying Gravity’ belted out, no holds barred by Pentecost. I’d heard that she would be giving it some Defying Gravity but I didn’t imagine that i’d actually be seeing a full on gravity defying performance of the song. Very impressed with the ingenuity of the creative team behind that scene & it was just special to see Michelle revisiting Wicked/Defying Gravity in such a fun & interesting way.. so much so that I had to watch it again that day pretty much for that scene alone & for the fun of being able to heckle her from the audience.
The following day I took myself off to Potter’s Bar to see Chloe Hart (Hairspray/Wicked/Les Mis) in ‘Beauty & the Beast’ at Wyllyotts Theatre. I saw Chloe in the same production last year but in a different city/theatre. This was a slightly scaled back version of the show & obviously had a different cast but luckily for them they were able to snap up my favourite fairy of the panto season in Chloe Hart’s ‘Fairy Formidable.’ Having seen ‘this’ show previously my expectations were very high, and I was frankly just excited to see Chloe Hart on stage again, because she is one of a kind, with an incredible talent that needs to be seen to be believed. She did not disappoint & I was rather chuffed to see that a few change
s had been made, most notably giving Chloe the big finale number of “Without Love” from Hairspray.. I mean talk about making a perfect choice, if you’ve got someone who played the lead in a Westend show, why not use that to your advantage & let her just go crazy on it & that’s what they did. So consider me very happy about that, again I was so happy about just that, that I had to go again. What a fun show.
I’m trying to only really comment on the people I went specifically to see unless someone really shone through, because otherwise this blog would be never ending.. but just wait i’m sure it’ll get close when I come back to Dick. Speaking of, there may have been another trip here to see it again.. and with a few slight changes it was made even funnier & accidentally booking the front row, I felt very much immersed in the whole craziness of it all & was even heckled from on stage by Louise Dearman herself.. definitely felt part of the show, if not embarrassed but loved every moment of it. Such a fun day.
The next panto I ventured too was Aladdin at the Shaw theatre to see Justin Thomas (Wicked, soon to be Mamma Mia International Tour) (Are we sensing a theme in the people i’m supporting?). I took the children I was looking after at the time & went with a fellow theatre loving friend. Again this was a nice intimate theatre & smaller scale panto.. but it looked fabulous all the same. It was disappointing to see not a very full house, but it was very early in the run & a week day before most schools were off. So i’m sure it picked up after that. Justin Thomas made an incredible Aladdin & was very endearing. You can’t help but want him to win, there’s just something about him. Stand out moment from this show had to be their take on Let it Go. Where all the other shows so far had for the most part let the ‘diva’s’ in the show take the lead in this.. refreshingly here, Aladdin got to do the honours with the genie of the ring accompanying him. He belted it out as he flew on his magic carpet, which frankly he made look easy, but considering that carpet was throwing him all over the stage, can not have been so. Hats off to him that is for sure.
The following panto was a different production of ‘Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs,’ this time at the Beck Theatre, Hayes with Lauren Stroud (9 to 5, Wicked & soon to be Dance till Dawn Tour) as Snow White. The day we went, we were treated to a cut show, due to cast illnesses/injuries & young ensemble members having to step up, with from what I can gather no proper rehearsal, so that the show could go on. So a few scenes were scaled back to accommodate the number of male ensemble members. So I’ve got to give the entire cast props for pulling off a performance that didn’t show in any way that something was amiss. I only know from speaking to a friend who’d seen it previously & been following the show closely. So any who…. Lauren made the perfect Snow White, loveable & beguiling. She lit up the stage with every scene. Having previously only seen her in the ensemble of Wicked, I very much enjoyed seeing her taking the spotlight, even if ‘only’ in Panto. She got a real chance to shine & show off her vocal prowess with a rousing rendition of ‘Listen’ from Dreamgirls, which i’m not going to lie, brought a tear to my eye. I’m very glad I managed to get to Hayes to see this little gem being the fairest of them all.
So after supporting most of the people I wanted to.. and after numerous discussions & planning sessions with my friends & of course a perfectly timed discount code delivered directly to my email (thanks ATG – saved 80GBP). We decided it’d be a fabulous idea to spend the whole last ‘panto’ weekend up in old ‘Stokie’ to see off Dick Whittington in style, by catching all four of the final shows of their season. You may call us crazy but what more could you ask for than a weekend away with incredible & like minded friends, seeing one of your favourite performers on stage in the funniest panto of the season? You really can’t ask for more than that.. well perhaps topping it off with a Toby’s Carvery… #Lush
So Dick Whittington at The Regent Theatre, Stoke on Trent… where does one even begin? The theatre itself is a great place I guess, as that is what first draws you in. It’s bright & somewhat I want to say Art deco interior is welcoming & bright & gets you in the mood for fun as soon as you walk in. The staff were pleasant & didn’t judge the crazies picking up tickets for the whole weekend & it was just a warm & inviting place. Once you step into the auditorium it’s a proper full theatre with a gorgeous grand roof. Whilst the leg room in the front row isn’t exactly what you’d call spacious, the rest of the theatre is wonderfully comfortable & spaced perfectly for great views (well from all the stalls seats I tried out).
So on with the show… Dick Whittington is a wonderfully fun & innuendo filled show, full of talent. With the likes of Stoke favourite Jonathan Wilkes & THE best dame in the country in Christian Patterson, they already had a winning team but with the addition of Louise Dearman (Westend Singing Sensation) they really couldn’t lose. Well not in my book anyways.
After being introduced to our Fairy (Debbie Chapman) & the ‘Baddie’ King Rat (Kai Owen) we are quickly introduced to our leading lady Alice Fitzwarren played by Louise Dearman & of course treated to her astonishing vocals on ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ from Queen (Or We Will Rock You, for the stagey folk reading this). A fabulous song to get the crowd all riled up & involved.
From the first time I saw this production I was blown away by the ensemble.. all from Wilkes Academy, they are an incredibly talented bunch especially the 16+ group, I mean talk about moves & the energy they bring to the stage is infectious. Their dance routine in the second act to ‘Jai Ho’ had me sitting their in complete awe of the young talent & wishing I could dance, it was also exhausting, what an immense amount of effort they put in. Speaking of Jai Ho, I want to know what version of the song they used, as it sounded suspiciously like it could’ve/should’ve been Louise, but it isn’t? Back to the dancers though.. wow & a few of the boys get a couple of lines to shine with some hilarious moments from the ‘Gay Gordons’ & ‘Walk This Way.’ They really got into it & it was a lot of fun to watch. Also props to them all for their antics in the ‘muck up matinee,’ added so much spice & pizazz & it was brilliant.
While we’re on the subject of dancing. It was a lot of fun to see Louise Dearman getting a chance to show off her dance skills, as most of the roles i’ve seen her in haven’t had much of this.
Moving on, this show was an absolute barrel of laughs, much of which is obviously very cleverly scripted, but at the same time much of it comes about spontaneously throughout the journey of the show, with the interactions of the actors/mistakes & adlibs. From watching the show 6 times you can see, where sometimes a genuine mistake works so well at getting a barrel of laughs, that it then becomes a perfect & seamless addition to the show. With every viewing of this show & any panto for that matter my respect & admiration & frankly sheer awe of the talent & commitment of the actors involved just grows exponentially. For specific example.. take Jonny Wilkes & Christian Patterson. Throughout the show there are comedic moments where they literally have to laugh so hard they are almost crying & if I hadn’t seen the show before, so knew they’d laughed that hard previously i’d genuinely think every single laugh was spontaneous & in the moment. As I watched & laughed every time, I found myself wondering how on earth they could keep laughing at the same jokes over & over for a whole Panto season & not get bored.. but there in lies the magic & their sheer talent & of course their genius in keeping it fresh & making slight adjustments on the fly. I dare say not any old actor could pull this off as believably as this dynamic duo. I think this is what made Dick Whittington so special. They’ve got such fantastic chemistry, it’s obvious that they’ve been working together for a long time & know each other well enough to know what buttons to push & how far to push the boundaries. I honestly can not praise Jonny Wilkes & Christian Patterson enough. Speaking of praise, the extra comedic genius of Simon Nehan was a heck of a lot of fun too. How on earth he puts on that voice, keeps a straight face & falls flat on his face every day is beyond me.. massive props for his extra efforts in the ‘muck up matinee’ attempting to avoid his drenching from Jonny & Christian. It’s been a pleasure seeing him on stage too. The 12 Days of Stokie Christmas & 5 toilet rolls, was definitely a highlight of each performance.
Back to Christian Patterson for a moment.. I can NOT praise him enough for his complete & utter commitment to the role of Aunty Sarah (Sarah The Cook). It takes a brave man to get up there & just let lose, giving it everything & getting the constant laughs he got. His spontaneity & passion for just giving an incredible performance that makes everyone leave smiling is what makes him in my opinion the best dame in the land. I can’t even… “You know it’s all About the cake, bout the cake, No Salad” has become a catch phrase amongst my friends & I, it’s just the little things. I’ve seen 9 other dames in the past 3 years & no one comes any where near Christian, i’m still giggling away at moments from the show, the kitchen scene for one with the sausage pie. I mean I’m usually not about innuendo, but come on they just do it so well in Stoke.
Jonny Wilkes as our leading man Dick Whittington shines on the stage, he so clearly feels very welcome there & is not afraid to throw some silliness about on stage for the kids & big kids alike. Again I have a lot of respect for him, because it takes big chops to get up there & do what he does. His rendition of ‘All Of Me’ was gorgeous & one of my favourite moments of the show, he sings it with heart & manages to hold the audience fully through a slower song, which sometimes can lose a few of the younger ones. May have teared up a few times in this solo. Jonny & Louise’s chemistry on stage was electric, they so clearly go way back & played opposite one another like they’d been doing it for years.
Louise Dearman as Alice Fitzwarren is an absolute joy, she brightens up that stage & brings a boat load of class & perfection to it. As I said her chemistry with Jonny is undeniable, they make a perfect pair & opposite him she has frankly has a tough task in trying to keep a straight face, but she tackles that with ease & only ever grins/giggles where she can make it work with the show. Which really is always, because Dick is such a loveable & fun character anyway. I mean if you met him in real life, you would be giggling through your day. Their duet “Especially for You,” is a fun & frivolous number & still through all that, sung beautifully by both. Louise’s moments to really shine though were obviously in her numbers. Loved getting to see her do a number with the young children, seeing her working with them, you could see the children looking up to her & their dynamic together on stage was just gorgeous to witness. The two stand out moments for me were the act 1 finale of Let it Go & Louise’s Celine Dion impression.
Let It Go, starts out with Debbie Chapman getting a short solo (too short) of ‘This Is The Moment’ which she beautifully performs & seamlessly segways into Let it Go, then Jonny Wilkes joins in before handing over to Dearman to belt it out like only she can. I’ve seen Let It Go performed lived numerous times, in all the other panto’s & at gigs & concerts for the last year & there is no one that matches Louise’s performance of this live, that i’ve witnessed. There’s a quality to Louise’s voice that I find impossible to actually describe, but it’s so rich & she effortlessly rolls the notes out like she was born to do it. This version of Let it Go has a few changes, notably the ending. Which is a gorgeous change, where the beautiful score they added for the last few power notes was reminiscent of the score to Water Babies (A show which I saw numerous times in it’s run in 2014 at the Leicester Curve) adds such a enchanting crescendo to the song & the finale of Act 1.
Louise Dearman’s Celine Dion impression with a snippet of ‘My Heart Will Go On,’ which i’ve been calling Louline for the last month or so, is honestly my favourite 2 lines of the entire show. Perhaps it’s because I grew up listening to Celine that makes me love it so, or perhaps it’s that i’ve been wanting to hear Louise sing this for 4 years now or maybe it’s just because it’s a clever moment in the show where Louise gets to steal the spot light for a extra second, being funny & brilliant. Though every time I saw it I found my self so annoyed at Jonny for interrupting her ‘moment,’ but it has to be done for the scene I guess. Though in the muck up matinee Jonny & Christian just danced behind her & let her carry on for a a while, milking every note. So I got my wish in the end & heard a few more lines of Louise’s impression. I bet she’s glad we printed out the lyrics for her just in case.
Seeing Louise in Panto has reminded me just how funny & comedic she is & how much I need to see her back in the westend in a pure comedy role, but at the same time, it’s made me thirst to see her in a real full on dramatic role perhaps in a strait play. It’s the Louise Dearman affect, once you’ve seen her in one role, you just want to see her in all the roles.
I’ve mentioned Debbie Chapman a few times briefly but just wanted to add that she is a brilliant & beautiful fairy, her & Kai Owen make great adversaries with him being the ‘bad guy’ to her ‘good guy.’ They both deliver the exposition in the show, helping it move along at a poetic pace & sharing the relevant information to the story. They both do it in a fun & antagonistic way that really gets the children going. A panto fairy that can’t get the children booing & hissing at the bad guy is a bit pointless but Debbie has them (even the big kids) joining in almost instantly with her no nonsense fairy. Similarly a bad guy that can’t get the kids hating him is pointless too but Kai Owen doesn’t disappoint. His ‘King Rat’ is the bad guy you love to hate. He’s rude & he’s cheeky & you just want to keep booing him, ‘oh yes you do!’ His solo & reprise of ‘I Want it All’ from Queen (We Will Rock You) is another fabulous moment in the show… he sings with conviction & a fabulous/strong vocal.
All in all what makes Dick Whittington a winner in my book is the spectacular cast, they all fed off of each other to reach great heights of entertainment & with an ensemble made up of some of the most talented kids/young adults i’ve seen this Panto season. They were always going to reign supreme.
Speaking of the children… from what I could gather there was 2 groups of alternating ‘young’ ones. I saw one group 4 times & the other twice on the final day. Both groups were spectacular with a few noticeable stand outs who just shone through & I know there’s going to be some future stars from both bunches. Those children are inspiring. I can not help but think growing up in New Zealand with out this crazy thing you all call Panto, I was somewhat deprived. It’s such an amazing opportunity for young children to be exposed to such an incredible & exciting experience. Can’t begin to imagine all the fun they’ve had & what they’ve learnt about not only theatre, but themselves & i’m sure it’s been a confidence boost for them all being ‘stars’ on stage. I’ve got to say these children were definitely the luckiest of the Panto season getting to work with such incredibly talented performers. My only pet peeve with them, was that in the curtain call, they were first to come out which then, once everyone else had come out made them impossible to see. Can’t help but think perhaps they should’ve at least come out after the 16+ lot, so they could all be seen for a lot longer.
I’d also like to give a mention to Indi-Jay Cammish who played Tommy the Cat, whilst she spends the entire show in a gorgeous cat suit, it’s clear to see she’s a clever duck or cat rather. Every time you see her you can’t help but grin & she interacted with the cast wonderfully. I really got the sense this 17 year old had put a lot of effort & thought into how she’d play the role. It’s hard to get laughs & make your mark when your only line is ‘Meow’ but she does a splendid job & should be very proud of her part in Stoke’s panto this year.
I can not possibly finish this blog/waffle without making a special mention to Louise & Jonny for their hilarious rap in the muck up matinee during Kai Owen’s big solo number.. it was genius & frankly I mean, what a treat getting to see them go all ‘ghetto’ I guess you’d call it. I can’t actually get the image of Louise’s ‘Running Man’ out of my head, such fun. The whole muck up matinee was a barrel of extra laughs, with plugs for Louise’s album & extra silliness everywhere it was just too funny. I believe my abs got the best work out they’ve had in a long time after that. What really resonated though during the ‘muck up’ was & this may seem bizarre, as it was a muck up, but the professionalism & composure of the lead cast. I mean it’s got to be hard to remember your lines & not just completely corpse (more so than usual in a Panto), but these guys were so on it that even through a few extra laughs & i’m pretty sure an actual laughing induced tear or two, the show never lost focus or flow & they kept it strong & fierce. The best moment of this for me was Louise Dearman in Let It Go, while Jonny was spinning around on his thrown seemingly uncontrollably & she is trying to give it the ‘big number,’ I really don’t know how she did it, but even with a tiny giggle she never once missed a note in this beast of song, I was frankly astonished.
Speaking of epic songs I must mention the group numbers/finale mash up.. every time the entire cast/ensemble came on stage for a number you knew you were in for a toetapping treat & one of those songs that would just get stuck on repeat in your mind. Dick Whittington obviously included the most popular panto song of the year with a rousing rendition of ‘Happy’ which got everyone clapping & dare I say singing along. Even if you don’t like this song, there is something about it that makes it super catchy & of course having Louise Dearman & Debbie Chapman on vocals for it along with the entire cast clapping & dancing away it’s hard not to just sit back & enjoy, or should I say fight the urge to stand up & join in. By finale time I think it’s fair to say the audience were more than ready to rise to their feet to join in & either attempt the dance moves we were being encouraged to try or continue the awkward clap, trying to keep in time with a massive room full of people. I’ll admit by the 3rd show of the weekend, I gave in to my inner child & attempted some of the moves, I say attempted but really it was a failure, but at least I got up & joined in & i’m pretty sure that is what Panto is all about.
I’m going to wrap it up here, because I can see this going on for a while & I’m pretty sure i’ve mentioned all the stand outs that I wanted too. Dick Whittington was my favourite Panto of the season, it stood out with such a high quality entertainment & i’d suggest to any one to go see The Regent Theatre, Stoke’s Panto next year, because you’re sure to be in for a cracker, even if only half of the crew are involved. Can not thank them enough for all the fun & laughter & the wonderful memories I now get to share with my dear friends.
It’s been an incredible Panto season & I can’t wait to see what’s in store next year & who i’ll get to go see in different shows & where. I’m going to miss it till the season starts again.
To anyone who actually read all of this, i’m so sorry it was so long and bless you.