Sleep no more at The McKittrick Hotel, New York

26 Sep

If you know me or you are following me on Twitter you most likely will have noticed that I have developed a slight addiction to a certain theatre company over the past months. I discovered Punchdrunk through their production The Drowned Man which I ended up attending a total of 32 times between March 2nd and July 6th 2014. It was more than “just” a show for me. The Drowned Man was another world and its residence Temple Studios a place I loved to “live” in for a couple of hours each week.

Sadly Temple Studios closed its doors forever on 6th July and since then I have experienced the worst withdrawal symptoms in my life. It’s funny that a theatre production can have such a huge impact especially considering the short amount of time I had been visiting the show but losing Temple Studios really felt like losing a second home.

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In the end it was only natural to visit the only place I felt could cure my withdrawal symptoms: The McKittrick Hotel in New York, home of Punchdrunk’s Sleep no more.

Sleep no more is loosely based on Macbeth with a few references to Rebecca. Like all Punchdrunk poductions it is a site specific, immersive experience that sends the audience on an individual journey. Please have a look at my review of The Drowned Man to get some basic info about how a Punchdrunk show works – trust me, it’s very different to a regular theatre experience.

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My first visit to The Drowned Man was overwhelming, confusing and impossible to put into words. And even though I would class myself as “advanced” in terms of Punchdrunk (meaning I know how to approach their productions) I was excited about experiencing this feeling of confusion and slight disorientation again. Not knowing what is going to happen when you enter a room or follow a character is a real thrill which obviously wears off once you are really familiar with a production. Having said that, even in my last visits to Temple Studios I discovered new things and the excitement of being in some way a part of The Drowned Man never disappeared.

site-specific 'Sleep No More' Macbeth at the old McKittrick Hotel in chelsea

Sleep no more is set in the McKittrick, a 1930s hotel. It is clear to see that Punchdrunk were inspired by the film noir genre – the set is dark and gloomy and the atmosphere inside the hotel is anxious. The show is less vocal than The Drowned Man – almost everything is expressed through dance and movement. There are five floors (six if you count the balcony on the bottom level as a separate floor) and about 100 rooms to explore although only very few chosen audience members will be able to access the very top floor (I was lucky enough to get there early on in my first visit completely by chance). A lot of the characters in the show are taken out of Shakespeare’s Macbeth including Macbeth himself, Lady Macbeth, Macduff, Lady Macduff, the three witches and Banquo. Beside the Macbeth characters you will encounter nurses, the Taxidermist, Mr. Fulton (a tailor) and several others, some of them inspired by the novel Rebecca.

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From The Drowned Man I know that personally I’m getting the most out of a Punchdrunk show by following characters for full loops. This is one but not the only way to approach a Punchdrunk show. Others may prefer to explore the sets or watch scenes but not actually follow a specific character. This is the beauty of Punchrunk productions – there is no right or wrong approach. During my stay in New York I visited The McKittrick three times following different characters. It’s impossible to give a detailed review of my shows but I can tell you that I had the most amazing time following Jesse Kovarsky’s Boy With and Paul Zivkovich’s Macbeth. Both performers put so much heart and soul into their performance, it was mesmerising to watch. Having said that, I enjoyed seeing Conor Doyle’s Porter immensely and spent a brilliant loop with Luke Murphy’s Macduff.

Sleep no more is a theatrical experience that is hard to describe. Words just don’t do it justice, it needs to be experienced. But please trust me on this: It’s an experience you don’t want to miss. If you get the chance please go and check into the McKittrick Hotel.

Find out more here: http://sleepnomorenyc.com/ and find the show on Facebook.

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And for everyone interested, here are a few tips for first timers that will hopefully help you to get the most out of your experience and leave a good impression on your fellow audience members.

1. Comfortable footwear and light clothing – you will be walking around a lot and it does get quite warm in there.
2. Follow closely but don’t glue yourself to a character and be considerate of those around you.
3. Open drawers, try opening closed doors, look into closets – there’s so much to discover.
4. Watch the rave – follow Macbeth or any of the witches to get there.
5. Find the candy shop on the fourth floor and help yourself to some sweets.
6. Eye contact is everything – when a performer looks you in the eyes, don’t look away.
7. The fifth floor seems pretty deserted most of the time but have a look around and you might be rewarded.
8. The narrow stair cases can be a pain – be considerate and don’t block the way by walking up and down really slowly. Let others pass if they are following a character and you are not.
9. Don’t mess with props – looking at things is fine but stealing or hiding stuff is not.
10. Spend time with the Speakeasy for a chance to get a free drink.

And now go and book your stay at The McKittrick. It’s inhabitants can’t wait to meet you.

Titus Andronicus – The Theory of Everything / Bold Tendencies

3 Sep

Titus Andronicus is by far Shakespeare’s most violent play telling the fictional story of Titus, a general in the Roman army, who is engaged in a cycle of revenge with Tamora, Queen of the Goths.

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To stage this play in a car park in Peckham / London and put in elements of parkour and beat boxing seemed like an odd choice to me. However, I was intrigued and so I ventured to Bold Tendencies’ venue in the Multi Storey Car Park for the first preview of the first ever theatrical performance in this space.

The first thing that has to be mentioned is the view. Standing on the top floor (tipp: get there early and have a drink or dinner in the rooftop bar) and looking over London is quite simply amazing.
The actual performing space is located two levels below. The audience is relatively free to roam around during act one – I do think guiding the audience in key moments needs a little more practise as everyone seemed a bit unsure where to go from time to time. Act two takes place in another area in which the audience is seated on benches – my ultimate tipp here: If you manage to get a seat facing the London skyline you will have the most beautiful backdrop imaginable.

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Rehearsal shot

The play itself has a very urban feel to it. Titus’ carriage becomes a car – apparently the actual car was not yet finished for the first preview but the one they used did the job so no complains here – and the characters are dressed in streetwear giving them an almost gang-like appearance. Beat boxing and background singing underlines key scenes and forms transitions between scenes.

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Adam Burton – Rehearsal shot

Adam Burton Plays Titus Andronicus with a brutal force. His Titus is torn apart by rage and grief and he commands the “stage” whenever he appears. Titus’ daughter Lavinia is played by Sonya Cullingford. Her portrayal of the broken girl – raped and mutilated by Demetrius and Chiron – is heartbreaking and one of the stand out performances in the show.
The cast has obviously been selected both for their physical and their acting abilities. I have to give a special mention to Rob McNeill as Tamora’s son Demetrius who manages the stretch between a physically highly demanding part and a challenging acting role perfectly.

This production of Titus Andronicus is unique and gripping. It feels raw and fresh – perfect for someone who usually wouldn’t even think about watching a play by Shakespeare. While Titus Andronicus is not Shakespeare’s strongest work this take on the story is so well designed and perfectly acted – I found myself fully engaged in the action and not just because I was standing just a few feet away from the performers and was stared down by Titus himself now and then.

Adam Burton and Sonya Cullingford - Rehearsal shot

Adam Burton and Sonya Cullingford – Rehearsal shot

If you enjoy seeing something different and like to be thrown right into the action then this is the play for you. And if you simply like your Shakespeare then you don’t want to miss out on this mesmerising production either.

Titus Andronicus is playing until 21st September. For more info and to book tickets go to: http://boldtendencies.com/projects/2014/events/titus

Follow @TheTOEco on Twitter for up to date info.

Shrek UK Tour – Leeds Grand Theatre – 1st August 2014

9 Aug

When a West End show goes on tour the first thing many people wonder is: Will the tour version do the show justice? Will it be downsized and turn out to be a disappointing experience for those who have seen the scale of the West End version?

I admit when it came to Shrek that fear was not on my mind. Having watched the show numerous times while it was playing at Theatre Royal Drury Lane I had always thought it would be a show easy to tour without too many changes. And I wasn’t wrong.

Shrek has just started its UK tour and is currently playing at the Grand Theatre in Leeds. And everyone who knows the show will be pleasantly surprised to notice the set has only been altered slightly to make it tour-able. It’s still colourful, the dragon is just as well done – even though the puppeteers need a bit more practise I dare to say – and I was quite impressed they even managed to work out a believable version of the bridge and lava (you’ll understand it when you see it).

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The staging of the show is quite similar to the West End production with just a few minor changes. My only grip would be the lack of a young Princess Fiona in the opening scene. I’m sure there’s a reason for it but having a young Shrek but no young Fiona looks a bit strange to me especially since there is a young Fiona for “I know it’s today” so it’s not like they have cut her completely. But I am definitely complaining on a high level here – no one beside me probably even spared a single thought on this.

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Leading the cast is a familiar face: Dean Chisnall reprises his role as Shrek and he is without a doubt the highlight of the show. It still amazes me to see how well-defined his portrayal is – after all he is trapped in a costume that doesn’t leave much room for movement let alone facial expressions. But Dean manages to give Shrek heart and soul. His Shrek is lovable, he makes me laugh and he makes me root for the character which is quite an achievement considering big green ogres are usually not my type and I have never even managed to watch Shrek the movie (I tried but gave up after about twenty minutes). And to top it all Dean has a voice to die for and he has obviously been working on the songs since his stint in the West End production. There is a significant change in his vocal tone especially noticeable in “Big bright beautiful world”. He has always sounded great but this is something else – a proper treat to listen to.

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Faye Brookes plays Princess Fiona with a feisty charm that suits the character well. Gerard Carey’s Lord Farquaad is not quite on the same level as his predecessors but I’m sure he will get there with time. His facial expressions are hilarious though and he has a great voice. Idriss Kargbo is the new Donkey and even though it is nice to see a performer in the role who can actually sing the songs I can’t warm to his portrayal. But I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s possibly the role itself and not so much the performer who is playing it. I just don’t like Donkey and his over the top behaviour.

The ensemble does a wonderful job in the show. They truly embrace their fairytale roles and it’s obvious how much fun they are having on stage. Special mention for James Winter who is brilliantly funny as Pied Piper.

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Shrek the musical delivers exactly what it is supposed to: An enjoyable and light-hearted evening in the theatre. It’s a show both adults and kids will enjoy. There’s a nice score, a talented cast, colourful sets and costumes and a story that’s easy to follow without being pointless.

If you get the chance make sure to check out the show. It will most likely come to a venue near you in the upcoming year. For more info and tour dates visit http://www.shrekthemusical.co.uk, find the show on Facebook and follow on Twitter @ShrekUKTour .

Photo Gallery: The Phoenix Collective and Declan Bennett at The Boogaloo

19 Jul

The Phoenix Collective (formed by members of the original London cast of Once the musical) and Declan Bennett got together at The Boogaloo on 12th July together with a number of other artists for an afternoon of music.

Here’s a little photo collection of the gig.

If you like good music I urge you to watch out for upcoming gigs of The Phoenix Collective. Check them out on Facebook and follow them on Twitter @Feenicksband .

 

Once at the Phoenix Theatre – There’s a new Guy in town

15 Jul

A lot of you will know that Once has a special place in my heart and is one of the shows in the West End I keep going back to again and again. I won’t deny that the Original London Cast are the reason I fell in love with the show – those guys and girls were truly special and I still miss them dearly.

However, in March 2014 a brand new cast took over (with a few familiar faces remaining in the show). After watching the show for the first time post cast change I was happy with the knowledge that Once was in save hands. And by now the new guys and girls have truly made the parts their own. Jill Winternitz took over as Girl in mid May and I loved her portrayal of the role from the start. Her Girl is cute but feisty and all around lovable. I have followed Jill’s career since I first saw her as Baby in Dirty Dancing and it’s great to see her in a show that gives her the chance to shine as an actress and singer (not to forget the piano playing which she handles effortlessly).

I wasn’t going to write another Once review mainly because everyone is probably tired of me going on about how wonderful this show is. However, on Saturday I was lucky enough to catch Jack Beale as Guy and I just had to share my thoughts on his performance. First of all, for me Declan Bennett will always be Guy. He was the first person I saw in the role and even though I haven’t seen a bad Guy yet Declan’s portrayal was the one that truly touched me. He was the one that made me cry as soon as he started singing simply because he put so many emotions into the songs. In short: I connected with Declan’s Guy like I did with no other Guy during my Once journey so far.

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I had heard good things about Jack’s Guy. There was talk about him being a bit like Declan – which both excited and worried me (I definitely didn’t want to see a wannabe Declan on stage). I soon discovered that there was no need to worry at all. The moment Jack stepped on stage I was gripped. Yes, his Guy has that certain scruffy vibe that Declan’s Guy had. But that’s were the similarities end. Jack is in no way a copy of any other Guy I’ve seen.

Jack’s portrayal of Guy is subtle and moving. He seems almost shy yet his Guy has a cheeky charm that makes you fall for him straight away. He blends in with the rest of the cast without ending up in the background. It’s a perfect mix of leading the cast without outshining your fellow cast members. His rendition of “Leave” and “Say it to me now” is hauntingly beautiful and if his “Falling slowly reprise” doesn’t make you cry I don’t know what else will.

Jack’s Guy truly develops throughout the show. He starts off as an insecure man who doesn’t know how to go on in life. With the help of Jill’s Girl he learns to believe in himself again. In my months of watching Once I have never seen anyone portray this journey so well-defined and believable. It is a true joy to watch Jack on stage. He is funny without playing the part for the laughs. He is emotional without being soppy. And he gives the songs his own stamp with his raw and mesmerising voice which for me is one of the most important things in the show.

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If you get the chance then please go and watch Jack’s performance in Once. You won’t be disappointed. And just in case you are wondering: Declan is still “my Guy” but he definitely has some strong competition from now on.

To find out about Jack’s upcoming Guy dates follow him on Twitter @JackjBeale .

West End Live 2014 in pictures

24 Jun

Apologies for not uploading a separate photo gallery on here but the amount of photos I took is slightly overwhelming. I have put together a gallery on Facebook which I have made public so please do check out a collection of my photos on there.

West End Live Photo Gallery

A big thank you goes to Musical Theatre Review who kindly selected me to be their reviewer on the scene. As soon as time allows I will write down my thoughts on the event. The review will be a Musical Theatre Review exclusive but I will provide the link so anyone interested can check it out there.

Update
Check out my review of West End Live here

Everybody knows my name – A short film by Philip Bulcock

18 Jun

“Everybody knows my name” is a short film featuring the original London Jersey Boys leads Ryan Molloy, Glenn Carter, Philip Bulcock and Stephen Ashfield. The film is based on the song of the same title (written by Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe) which is referred to but not actually used in the hit musical Jersey Boys. Some might call this film an extended music video but it really is so much more than that.

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We see four guys in a hotel room. The setting is gloomy and there is a hint of melancholy in the air. It is clear that these four guys are famous – members of a band. The window is opened for a second, screaming fans can be heard, the window is closed again. The four guys hardly acknowledge their surroundings. One of them starts playing a melody on his guitar. They sing a song about the price of their fame. All the while they appear impassive – maybe they are lost in thoughts, maybe they have just given up.

“Everybody knows my name” exposes the cost of fame. In the musical Jersey Boys Frankie Valli tells the audience: “If you’ve got a home and a family, you’ve got much more than me”. In Philip Bulcock’s short film we see what exactly that means.

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Ryan Molloy’s clear lead vocals are a joy to listen to and together with his fellow Jersey Boys he gives the song a wonderfully melodic sadness that fits right into the picturesque but despondent appearance of the film.

I’ve always admired the chemistry the original London Jersey Boys leads had and it is wonderful to see those four guys reunited in this film. There is something about this group that makes them special and Philip Bulcock has managed to capture this unique vibe perfectly.

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Whether you are a fan of the original London cast of Jersey Boys or just generally interested in short films – “Everybody knows my name” is a work not to be missed. Philip Bulcock proves his talent as both director and actor with a thought-provoking story told through song and pictures.

“Everybody knows my name” is set to be released on Friday, 20th of June 2014. It has been a long time waiting but I can assure you: This film is worth the wait.

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Stay up to date with the latest news about the film on Facebook and follow its director Philip Bulcock on Twitter @PhilipBulcock .

Clarence Darrow at the Old Vic

11 Jun

Some of you may know that there are a few actors I will make an effort to see in every stage show they appear in. Kevin Spacey is such an actor. I remember watching Speed the Plow several years ago for exactly two reasons: Firstly it was staged in a theatre in Germany not too far from my home so for once I didn’t have to board a plane to watch a show. Secondly it starred Jeff Goldblum, one of my all time favourite actors. I sat down in my seat ready to be amazed by Jeff Goldblum’s performance. And yes, he was great in that show! However, I ended up raving about the other male lead in the show – you may have guessed who it was: Kevin Spacey.

I first watched Kevin Spacey play Clarence Darrow in the 2009 Old Vic production of Inherit the Wind. And he portrayed the famous American lawyer brilliantly back then but this time he was facing a new challenge. First of all, Clarence Darrow is a one man play and from my experience Kevin Spacey is at his best when he has someone to interact with on stage – an equal counterpart so to speak. On top of that the Old Vic has been transformed and Spacey therefore has to perform in the round.

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So yes, I was a bit apprehensive at the start of the show – for about one minute. The moment Kevin Spacey appears on stage with a slightly sagging walk he commands the whole auditorium. His Clarence Darrow is loud and confident, a man who knows what he is capable of and how to achieve what he wants. Yet he is also a man who is on the verge of losing faith in the one thing he believes in the most: The law.

We learn about Darrow’s most famous cases, from defending a black doctor who was protecting his family against a “white mob” to the well-known monkey trial (on which Inherit the Wind is based on) and the defence of Leopold and Loeb, the thrill murderers. There’s not much talk about Darrow’s private life but that doesn’t make the play less gripping and Spacey’s portrayal of a man who prides himself on saving 102 individuals from the death penalty is one of the most mesmerising performances I have seen on stage in a long time. Kevin Spacey not only manages to draw a lasting and powerful picture of Darrow, he also engages the audience – shaking hands and addressing individuals.

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I didn’t know much about Clarence Darrow but after watching this play I have learnt that he was a man who stood up for others and for himself, someone who strongly opposed the death penalty and who would do anything in his power to save even those guilty of crimes from such fate. He was a man who lived almost exclusively for his profession, a profession that seemed to eat him alive at times.

If you are lucky enough to have a ticket for one of the remaining performances: Well done! You are in for a treat. Everyone else should consider getting up early and queue for day seats (there are 20 for each performance). This play is worth a little lack of sleep.

Clarence Darrow is on at the Old Vic until 15th June 2014. More info here.

In the Heights at Southwark Playhouse

28 May

In the Heights was one of the shows I watched on my trip to Broadway back in 2009. I remember having really high expectations after hearing nothing but praise for the show and ending up being slightly disappointed. Whilst I loved the amazing dance scenes in the show the story left me somewhat cold and I didn’t feel any connection with the characters.

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So this time I was prepared for 2 hours of great dancing and some nice songs but nothing more – talk about putting your expectation at the lowest possible level! What I certainly didn’t expect was a production that is so full of energy and so intoxicating it almost swept me off my feet (or better: my seat). And now I finally get what makes In the Heights so special, what I have missed out on when I saw the show on Broadway. This intimate production at Southwark Playhouse is in my eyes superior to the Original Broadway production. Drew McOnie’s slick choreography is nothing but amazing and the cast – a mix of West End favourites and new faces – tells the story of Usnavi, Vanessa, Nina and the rest of the people in the neighbourhood with such passion, you can’t help but feel connected to everyone on stage.

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Sam Mackay is mesmerising as Usnavi – he made me laugh and he made me cry. Emma Kingston is a wonderful Vanessa and Christina Modestou is just as brilliant as Nina. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt (once again) plays the feisty character with a good heart and (once again) she is a joy to watch. David Bedella gives a solid performance as Kevin while Josie Benson (Camilla) receives one of the biggest rounds of applause for her solo song in act two. A special mention goes to Jonny Labey as Graffitti Pete – I couldn’t take my eyes off him whenever he started to dance. This young man sure has a big career ahead of him.

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I cannot praise this production enough. It is wonderful to see how much heart and soul everyone has been put into this show. In the Heights is a tale of life, love, friendship and hope and an example of what you can achieve when you believe in yourself and don’t give up.

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The show is running at Southwark Playhouse until 7th June 2014. The rest of the run is sold out but there is a chance of return tickets and I urge everyone to try and get their hands on a ticket. This is one of those rare opportunities to see a show that has it all – great songs, brilliant dancing, the most amazing voices,a story that – while not extremely deep – will engage you emotionally and a through and through fantastic cast.

For more info check out http://www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk .

Fings ain’t what they used t’be at Theatre Royal Stratford East

15 May

Let me start with saying that I watched this show without any prior knowledge of either the story or the score. All I knew about Fings ain’t what they used t’be was the fact that is was a musical about cockney low-life characters set in the 1950s (which is what Wikipedia tells you). My initial thought was it might be a cockney Guys and Dolls – it turns out I wasn’t too far off.

Fings ain’t what they used t’be is a funny, sometimes slightly odd but never boring show about gamblers, thieves, prostitutes and corrupt policemen in London and their dream of a different (better?) life. Set in a gambling den in a back street of Soho it tells the story of Fred – a slightly run down gangster – who is trying to make a comeback. His girlfriend Lil longs for a respectable life. Fred’s gambling den is a meeting point for the failures of the underworld including Tosher the ponce and his girls.

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I admit it took me quite a while to get into the story. I am not familiar with cockney slang and I’m sure some rather clever lines went straight over my head. However, I ended up enjoying this show a lot. It is one of those old-fashioned musicals that wins you over with its charm. Having said that I don’t think this show will appeal to everyone. It is slightly too absurd in places and the score – although very catchy in parts – is not something I would listen to at home.

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The cast of this show is wonderfully talented and does a great job. I was especially impressed by Gary Kemp and Jessie Wallace.
Ryan Molloy is hilariously camp as interior designer Horace and although his appearances are sparse he steals the show whenever he is on stage – sometimes just with his outfit. Sadly I couldn’t warm to Stefan Booth’s Tosher who appears rather bland and one dimensional.
Sarah Middleton is very cute as Rosie and Christopher Ryan (Red Hot) has the audience in fits of laughter. Special mention for the brilliant Vivian Carter and Gary Watson – I just wish those two weren’t so awfully underused in this show.

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Fings ain’t what they used t’be is a witty, warm-hearted musical comedy. If you like Guys and Dolls this should be a show for you. And for all of you who will be watching this for Ryan Molloy alone (I suspect that goes for quite a few people reading this): Go with an open mind and don’t expect Frankie Valli part two.

Running at Theatre Royal Stratford East until 8th June 2014.

For more info and tickets click here.

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