Tuesday, 23 December 2014



Theatre Run: Friday 19 December 2014 - Sunday 1 February 2015
Performance Reviewed: Monday 22 December (Press Night)

Reviewed by Kyle Pedley

Matt Slack teaches us midway through Jack and the Beanstalk, tongue firmly in-cheek, that the counterpart to ‘Deja Vu’ is ‘Vuja De’, aka ‘I’ve never been here before’. It’s sold as funny, but in many ways it’s a coupling sentiment that encapsulates the entire panto ethos - plenty of the familiar, lashings of tropes, essentials and audience-favourites, all thrown into a suitably barmy melting pot with the new - new faces, and incremental new approaches to the same old handful of fairytale yarns. For some, the balance is not so even, leaning on the pulling power of star wattage, the genuine fondness of the public for panto itself, or a slew of tried-and-true set pieces and old reliables in the gag department. 

Mercifully, no such accusations of complacency can be laid at the door of the Birmingham Hippodrome, where it’s 2014/15 pantomime, Jack and the Beanstalk, invigorates the formula with a resplendent, pitch-perfect cast, a host of dazzling technical innovations and sky-high production values and an all-round pantomime extravaganza of truly impressive proportions. In fact, it is in how masterfully it captures that balance of old and new, and executes itself as both a thoroughly traditional pantomime, with all of the beloved staples present and accounted for, through to implementing a slew of variety entertainment from music, slapstick and even Paul Zerdin’s wonderful ventriloquism, to the aforementioned technical wizardry that makes it such an irrepressible delight. Everything here is sheened, polished and perfectly judged, whilst naturally allowing plenty of room for intriguingly ambiguous corpsing and improv.

The Hippodrome oft boasts a cast to be envied, and this year is no exception. Former ‘Loose Woman’ Jane McDonald headlines as The Enchantress, bringing the same down-to-Earth, unassuming charm and matter-of-factness that won her a legion of fans on the ITV show and beforehand on BBC’s The Cruise. Some of McDonald’s own material and hits have been consciously woven into the musical interludes of the show, including a sensational, roof-raising rendition of ‘This is the Moment’, as her Enchantress summons an enormous, in-auditorium beanstalk toward the end of the first Act. Duncan James, similarly, is brilliant in the titular role of Jack, proving to be the ideal straight man (avoiding the shows own innuendos, there) amidst the mayhem and anarchy around him. He cuts a dash, sings a dream and is the perfect panto hero, though he does get a few nice moments to ratchet up the do-good, almost all-American cheesiness of the role. And, of course, few were complaining (grizzled husbands, aside, perhaps) when he treated the audience to a brief glimpse of himself sans-shirt.

Chris Gascoyne provides the show with a wonderfully detestable villain in the form of the Giant’s lackey ‘Fleshcreep’, including an Act II opening number which is made suitably repulsive by the presence of hideous (albeit impressive) trolls, striking costume design and Gascoyne’s own vocals. And, naturally, the Corrie quips are there throughout. Not that the audience fare much better, with plenty of jokes and digs being cheekily aimed at Midlanders and Birmingham in general. A well-timed jab at Dudley (my hometown) was particularly delicious. Panto regular Robyn Mellor once again impresses as Jack’s love interest Princess Apricot, and if I wrote in my review of Sleeping Beauty at the Wolverhampton Grand last year that Mellor has the clear makings of a Glinda the Good a la Wicked and a West End star in general, then the past year has clearly done nothing but cement this, with a beautiful duet of Beyonce’s ‘Listen’ with James proving to be one of Mellor’s rather stunning highlights.

Arguably, however, the true stars of the show are Gary Wilmot, Paul Zerdin and Matt Slack, who resume comedic duties after their hilarious turns in Snow White last year (which itself is quite wittily referenced here). Zerdin is Simple Simon, though brings along a duo of ventriloquist puppets, most notably mischievous young Sam. Zerden’s work is pure, delightful panto - and refreshingly offers as much for the adults as it does the younger in the audience. Most of his cheekier lines and material will sail over the heads of children, but be warned there is nonetheless the odd ‘crap’ and ‘arse’ thrown in that may be picked up on, and even the old ‘Shitzu’ gag. Matt Slack as Silly Billy, meanwhile, repeatedly steals the show with disarming ease, a mixture of inexhaustible physicality, seemingly endless impressions and hilarious facial expressions and razor-sharp timing making him a veritable tour-de-force of funny and silly on stage. Similarly, he isn’t afraid to venture into risqué territory and can sail close to the wind at times, but never to the point of offence or concern. 

In fact, it is incredibly refreshing to have a panto that is so completely willing to fire on all cylinders - much like some of the later moments, particular during the 3D sequence, being quite intense and potentially frightening for very young audiences. None of this is a bad thing though, and Jack perfectly demonstrates that panto doesn’t need to be watered down or condescending. Give me 3D spiders leaping out from a screen, loud explosions, towering giants and the odd joke about the size of a man’s ‘curly wurly’ over tired endless-knicker gags any day. The audience, quite evidently, felt likewise. 

Gary Wilmot, resuming Dame duty, gets credit for lending a gentle sweetness and nice to his Mrs Trott, mother of Simon, Billy and Jack. Wilmot is surprisingly sincere and endearing as the well-meaning farm owner and maternal figure, which is fortunate, as it’s difficult to shake the impression that had Wilmot camped the role up to extremities alongside Slack and Zerdin’s work, the whole thing would have been overkill. Instead, a delightful musical number of Mrs Trott introducing us to her menagerie of farm animals is accessible, family-friendly fun, and of course, here in panto land, culminates in a stage full of cows, pigs and other barnyard critters moonwalking to Michael Jackson. Later on, Wilmot inherits the old reliable ‘story told through the names of chocolate bars’ routine, which, whilst familiar, he nevertheless pulls off at pace and without fumble. 

There is a whole host of fantastic set pieces and stand-out moments worthy of praise in Jack and the Beanstalk, many of which would be the isolated highlight in a lesser production. But here, the surprises and spectacle keep on coming. The show, like it’s namesake, is a grower (do with that what you will…), and each scene of exuberance and hilarity is instantly outdone by what follows. From an inspiredly bonkers re-imaging of the 12 Days of Christmas, to a brilliant Miss Saigon homage which quite literally soars out into the audience (answers on a postcard) and even a towering, animatronic giant, the sheer ambition and invention on display is difficult to imagine being surpassed in the panto world.

The Hippodrome pantomime is regularly touted as the biggest in the UK. Whilst, statistically speaking, this is supported and validated by record-breaking sales and attendance figures, it is the calibre of production that truly earns the plaudit - the sheer scale and splendidness of what QDOS productions bring to the stage each year, and Jack and the Beanstalk is undoubtedly no exception. In fact, it is by some measure the most all-round dazzling, entertaining slice of panto goodness in many years. With a dream cast, a terrifically judged bricolage of comedy and set pieces that appeal to all without feeling filtered or dumbed down, and production values most other pantos would dream of, Jack and the Beanstalk is an absolute must-see for all panto enthusiasts, and the one-stop ticket for all-round family entertainment and side-splitting fun in the Midlands this Christmas and New Year.

(A)MUSINGS RATING - * * * * * (5 out of 5 Stars)

+ Dream panto cast across-the-board
+ McDonald, James and Mellor's musical numbers
+ Matt Slack is a thing of pure comedy genius
+ Huge levels of audience interaction
+ Technically and artistically dazzling
+ The greatest panto in all the land!

- May be a little too intense for the very young in places

JACK AND THE BEANSTALK is running at the Birmingham Hippodrome from Friday 19 December to Sunday  1 February 2015.
CLICK HERE for more information on the show's run at the Hippodrome and to book your tickets!

Alternatively, call Ticket Sales directly on 0844 338 5000 now to book your tickets!

For more news, updates and exclusive content from (A)musings, be sure to 'like' our Facebook page and follow Kyle on Twitter!

Press tickets for this performance of Jack and the Beanstalk were provided courtesy of the Birmingham Hippodrome directly. (A)musings Media gratefully acknowledges their generous invitation.

Friday, 12 December 2014



Theatre Run: Tuesday 9 December 2014 - Sunday 4 January 2015
Performance Reviewed: Wednesday 10 December 2014 (Press Night)

Reviewed by Kyle Pedley

There’s something regrettably formulaic and inevitable about most biographical actor-musician pieces of theatre of late. It’s a format that often leans far too heavily on familiarity with its soundtrack and the spectacle of a Bolan or Lennon being re-imagined and strutting around on stage, and the notable casualty comes in the form of any compelling narrative shape or use of theatre as an artistic medium in it’s own right. Truth may indeed be stranger than fiction, but when so many of these shows race through the ‘true story’ with haphazard abandon, presenting more a career ‘greatest hits live’ than a focused piece of theatrical storytelling, it isn’t hard to end up feeling your evening would have achieved the same effect in the hands of Youtube or Google. The customary ‘talented boy does good, hits the heights of fame, leads to personal/family/suffering wife problems’ second Act trope being rolled out ad infinite usually only underlines how de rigeuer and stale it has all become.

It’s a testimony then, to the conviction, execution and polished slickness of Jersey Boys that all of the above to some extent applies here, and yet the overall effect is a show which is irrepressibly winning, consummately entertaining, and whose pros manage to completely outshine any of those particular occupational hazards. It’s the same piecemeal, choppy dipping in and out of over three decades of the story of Franke Valli and the Four Seasons, from their slightly meandering startup through to the mega hits of the 60’s and 70’s and right up to their indictment into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 19990. Fortunately, the songs, from ‘Sherry Baby’ to ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ and ‘December, 1963’, are a slew of crowd-pleasing and instantly recognisable classics, fortunate given that you’ll be screaming out for some sort of emotional connection by the time the interval arrives. 

That’s not to imply the characters are not engaging, for they are; the four leads giving incredibly well-defined and charismatic performances. Each vocally, physically and idiosyncratically ring true to life, and the dynamics between the group are expertly judged, the frisson and chemistry palpable throughout, and they certainly elevate the pedestrian structuring of story and narrative happening around them. Tim Driesen is indescribably superb as Valli, his voice not only commanding that strong falsetto but doing so with what seems like an effortless ease. Stephen Webb adds shade and a certain love-to-hate flavour as the more morally dubious Tommy DeVito, Lewis Griffiths is a commanding physical presence and meets it with a brilliant deadpan simplicity as Nick, and Sam Ferriday is earnest and likeable as talented singer-songwriter Bob Gaudio, child prodigy of ‘Short Shorts’ fame. Matt Gillett gets a look-in and ramps up the camp as manager Bob Crewe, whilst Damian Buhagiar gets to inject some you-never-knew-it fun as a young Joe Pesci (yes, that Joe Pesci).

The cast are terrific, it’s just the show seems to struggle with exactly what to do with such great characters and gets blinded by the necessity to carry on ticking off it’s list of well-known career moments, whilst tiptoeing occasionally into band conflict, monetary problems, and possibly the most ephemeral familial subplot in a show like this yet seen. It’s not quite fair to label Jersey Boys simply a 2 and a half hour tribute act, and to do so would mostly be an insult to the sensational core cast who carry the whole thing very confidently on their shoulders, but at times it does come perilously close to earning such a moniker.

If you don’t mind sacrificing the meat on your theatrical narrative bones, or are an ardent fan of Valli or the Seasons, then what remains is utterly commendable and enjoyable fare. As mentioned, this is an extremely confident, well-oiled production which bursts with high production values and an even higher roster of talent. Klara Zieglerova’s somewhat industrial staging design is minimalist by necessity but works well and is surprisingly evocative of time and place when complemented by Howell Binkley’s bold, metamorphic lighting. Jess Goldstein’s costumes and Charles Lapointe’s hair and makeup harmonise to capture each particular era with understated authenticity, and there is a general sheen to the whole thing which feels lifted straight from the West End (as the production is). Kudos to all involved for replicating the full London experience so professionally and faithfully on the road.

Whilst Jersey Boys may carry many of the foibles and pitfalls of the particular ilk of theatre it finds itself in, in truth it is still a firm and evident crowd-pleaser. The infectious, upbeat breadth of genuinely classic and enduring pop-rock hits met with the stunning performances, high production values and stellar arrangement work ensures it is a show which with some real clout raises the roof, the audience from their seats, and ensures that everyone leaves proclaiming (Oh) what a night!

(A)MUSINGS RATING  - * * * *  (4 out of 5 Stars)


+ Slick, impressive, West-End quality production
+ Driesen is a sensational lead
+ Uniformly excellent cast
+ A swathe of classic Valli/Four Seasons hits to savour
+ Musical set pieces and arrangements are frequently sensational

- Formulaic, vignette structure and actor-musician approach
- Struggles to find an emotional footing
- Overly abrupt ending

JERSEY BOYS is running at the BIRMINGHAM NEW ALEXANDRA THEATRE from Tuesday 09 December 2014 to Sunday 04 January 2015.

CLICK HERE for more information on the show and to book your tickets!

Alternatively telephone the New Alexandra Theatre’s booking line direct on 0844 871 3011.

For more news, updates and exclusive content from (A)musings, be sure to 'like' our Facebook page and follow Kyle on Twitter!

Press tickets for this performance of Jersey Boys were provided courtesy of the New Alexandra Theatre directly. (A)musings Media gratefully acknowledges their generous invitation.

Thursday, 11 December 2014



Performance Run: Saturday 6 December 2014 - Sunday 18 January 2015
Performance Reviewed: Tuesday 9 December 2014 (Press Night)

Reviewed by Kyle Pedley

I will not be resorting to any cheap panto puns to open my review this year…

If you didn’t just mentally (or verbally!) shout ‘Oh yes you will’ then you may not be quite ready for panto season, but ready or not (here I come…), it is upon us, and the perfect remedy for that particular ill would be a timely visit to the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre’s Cinderella. Headlined by the master of innuendo and dry asides, Julian Clary, and featuring the signature glitz and spectacle that QDOS Pantomimes throw at all of their major productions, this festive staple is everything you’d expect and want from your Christmas/New Year pantomime, with all the trimmings and even a couple of very welcome surprises along the way. 

Cinderella contains all the staples of the classic fairytale squeezed through the panto filter - this time round there’s no wicked stepmother but rather Cinder’s oafish father Baron Hardup (Iain Stuart Robertson), though mercifully the ugly sisters are present and accounted for, serving dual roles as both villainesses and panto dames, with Ben Stock and Tony Jackson giving great devilish drag, even if some of the pop culture references they are lumbered with (Britain’s Got Talent, Lady Gaga’s Born This Way and dress sense) are a good few years past their funny. Still, the kids and family audience lapped them up, and Stock in particular showed off some razor-shop timing and comedic physicality. The only lament with the duo is their juggling of being the dames, the villains and comedy characters in their own rights leaves the show lacking a central, truly detestable villain as a result - the concept of a pantomime baddie now having engrained itself in our cultural psyche. The uglies are mean and nasty, but never mount that podium of panto derision and jeer.  

Alice Baker plays the titular princess-to-be (spoiler alert), and is spritely, endearing and consummately likeable - a marked improvement on last year’s Lucy Evans (Sleeping Beauty). It’s a cookie-cutter role, this being panto and all, but Baker sells it with sweetness and conviction, not easy to do when speaking to children dressed up as eery, non-responsive woodland critters or sharing the stage with hyperactive Joe Tracini. Tracini, son of comedian Joe Pasquale (who headlined last year’s show) is the perfect Buttons, and whilst there is noticeable crossover in style and even material from father to son (a hiding-behind-the-sofa gag used here having been a staple of Pasquale’s for years), Tracini does a terrific, energised job, bringing a flavour of silly, borderline slapstick humour which mercifully doesn’t tread on the toes of Clary’s particular brand of funny. Tracini also gets the chance to show off a genuinely impressive voice with a terrific sombre solo number, and if the moment feels a little shoehorned in, the show at least has the decency to acknowledge so.

Leaving the best for last, Julian Clary as the naturally flamboyant Dandini deadpans his way through proceedings with wit and innuendo to spare. Throwing barbs at the audience, his fellow cast and, of course, plenty of knowing winks and nudges to the ludicrousness of the whole thing, Clary, as expected, dominates the show, even if some of his admittedly hilarious routine and approach lacks some of it’s usual spark and precision. He’s the perfect levity for adults, with much of his double entendres likely to go over the heads of the younger audiences, who will nevertheless find plenty to enjoy in his over the top costumes, occasional dances and even the odd musical number, all of which are hilarious by dint of their awfulness, Clary adopting a spoken-sung approach which again fits perfectly with his light-hearted derision at the show as a whole. It’s worth pointing out that Clary is a routine panto stalwart, and whilst he gets a lot of mileage and laughs out of his putdowns, asides and cutting wordplay in general, it never crosses over into mean-spiritedness or cynicism.

The (great?) British panto is a tradition of the most embraced yet derivative order here in the UK, so most of the productions live or die by their ensemble. Cinderella has no problems there - boasting a strong line-up bolstered immensely by the comedic wattage of both Clary and Tracini, whilst Baker should also be commended for being the perfect panto heroine. Former X Factor contestant and West End star Niki Evans belts out a couple of numbers with her powerhouse voice, a suitably glamorous, and distinctly Black Country, fairy godmother, whose corset should undoubtedly be in the running for some sort of ‘Best Supporting Artist’ award.

It’s all safe, spirited, family-friendly fun, precisely in the mould of what can and should be expected from a mainstream pantomime production, and all given the trademark QDOS’ sprinkling of quality and musical razzmatazz. It won’t convert any naysayers, but nor should it attempt to, especially not when all involved are so busy poking fun at themselves as much as at anybody else around them. There are pantos a-plenty on offer in and around the Midlands this Winter, but positively erupting with laughs, silliness, song and dance, and particularly with Captain Clary at the helm, the good ship Cinderella is certainly a dock worth porting your ship into this Christmas.

... I thought Julian would appreciate an innuend-on.

(A)MUSINGS RATING - * * * (3 out of 5 Stars)


+ QDOS usual standard of Panto excellence
+ Clary as hilarious as ever, offering plenty for the grown-ups
+ Tracini's humour complements, rather than complicates
+ Alice Baker a likeable lead easy to cheer for
+ It's Panto time! 

- Some of the pop culture gags and references are old hat
- Lacks a solid, boo-hiss-able villain, a panto pre-requisite
- It's Panto time! (for some)

CINDERELLA is running at the Wolverhampton Grand from Saturday 6 December 2014 to Sunday 18 January 2015.

CLICK HERE for more information on the show's run at the Hippodrome and to book your tickets!

Alternatively, call the Box Office directly on 01902 429212 now to book your tickets!

For more news, updates and exclusive content from (A)musings, be sure to 'like' our Facebook page and follow Kyle on Twitter!

Press tickets for this performance of Cinderella were provided courtesy of the Wolverhampton Grand directly. (A)musings Media gratefully acknowledges their generous invitation.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014



Theatre Run: Monday 24 - Saturday 29 November 2014
Performance Reviewed: Monday 24 November (Press Night)

Reviewed by Kyle Pedley

Yes, you do.


Well, that obligatory bit of housekeeping should placate the riff raff and nosey parkers, and leaves me with something approaching an intellectual and insightful review to write…. here goes nothing!

In truth, as was the case with Peter Cattaneo and Simon Beaufoy’s wildly successful 1997 Brit film on which this show is based, The Full Monty has a great deal more going for it than just the curiosity of it’s titular (titilating?) USP. Crowds will no doubt flock to the show for much the same reason as it’s in-universe audience mob the likes of the ‘Chippendales’ and likewise, and indeed on stage Monty has the added benefit of being able to do some particularly fitting fourth wall breaking and lay down the post-modern throughout. But behind the hen party hysterics and art-imitating-life cheekiness, the same fundamentally relatable and engaging, not to mention oft hilarious, script and storytelling is what really leaves an impression long after the memory of bum cheeks and beyond have faded.

It’s Northern England, unemployment is soaring, a recession is in swing, industrial communities are feeling the brunt and amongst it all we find an unexpectedly uplifting story of locals coming together and winning through despite the adversity. Roll out the tropes, blame Maggie Thatcher for everything and it’s so far, so safe. And indeed, whilst Monty does generally steer clear of mining and the industrial dissolution of the 80’s, there’s still plenty of ribbing and blame laying at the Iron Lady at the Tory party as a whole, and echoes of over-familiarity initially permeate as we follow the misfortunes of Gaz (Gary Lucy) and a group of fellow unemployed down-and-outs as they embark on the charmingly unlikely decision to become, of all things, a troupe of strippers.

In the wake of the likes of Brassed Off and the huge success story of Billy Elliot the Musical being adapted so successfully for stage, the first Act of Full Monty threatens to feel a little late to the game. It feels, initially at least, too cut from the same cloth to register as it’s own beast, and steers perilously close to feeling stale where the movie was energised and fresh. Thankfully, after a slightly plodding and meandering first half hour or so, once the characters are established, the dynamics between whom are as well charted here as they were on screen, and the chemistry of the cast coupled with the sharpness of Simon Beaufoy’s still-excellent script gain momentum, Monty finds its balls - and everything else - and begins to shine (if you’ll pardon shameless innuendo).

Terrific character work amongst the core cast, as mentioned, translates particularly well here. Gary Lucy is suitably laddish and likeable as Gaz, his moral compass a little impaired but nonetheless a loving father (he’s doing it to see his son, of course!) and perfectly empathetic rascal. Lucy treads the line well, doing a solid job of making the character neither saccharine or unlikeable, even if the accent work wobbles. The ever-reliable Andrew Dunn puts in a memorable, laugh-at-him-not-with-him turn as the uptight, principled, gnome-loving, dance-instructing Gerald, desperately keeping up appearances to his wife (and the conservative club) despite having been unemployed for months. Martin Miller confidently assumes the mantle of comedy sidekick early on in the form of Gaz’s best friend Dave, before gradually revealing deeper neuroses and relationship issues, again rounding out the character into something that bit more relatable. Louis Emerick, Rupert Hill and Bobby Schofield (who in particular gives a wonderfully quirky and distinctive performance) complete the core group, and in truth they all do a terrific, cohesive job of presenting a rounded, interesting, conflicting yet strangely complementary rabble of characters who decide they’d rather strip off than sign on.

Those familiar with the film will find it faithfully translated here, and carries through all of it’s feel-good, laugh-out-loud charm and quintessentially British flavour. There are a few alterations here and there, mostly for obvious reasons of staging and practicality, though a more conventional approach to a subplot featuring two gay characters is disappointingly marginalised and streamlined here. Likewise with the staging and set design - a striking disused factory environ dominates the stage, carrying obvious connotations and making a strong impact initially, but by contrast leaves some of the more minimalist scene transitions that occur throughout in need of occasional contextualising. Moments which the film, for instance, worked into montage or as location vignettes are here almost confusingly shoehorned with little-to-no prefacing, geographical or otherwise.  

These are minor gripes, however, in an overall thoroughly entertaining whole. For those who have never seen the movie, The Full Monty remains a staple of straight-up British feel-good drama-comedy with heart and wit to spare, and for those already familiar, its transition to the stage has sacrificed none of what made it so winning and successful in the first place. And, of course, there is that selling point, which of course is leant extra presence and hype here by dint of being…. ahem… in the flesh. I struggle to recall a more rapturous audience. But as mentioned before, whether it be for the spectacle and giggles or the still-superb story, characters and writing, The Full Monty continues to prove not only that it still has the whole package, but also that it’s not afraid to show it.

(A)MUSINGS RATING - * * * * (4 out of 5 Stars)


+ Beaufoy's script and characters as engaging as ever
+ Depth, humour and a lot of heart
+ A strong, game cast who admirably give it their all
+ The transition to stage affords some great breaking of the fourth wall
+ Recaptures so much of what made the original film work so well

- Some of the staging and transitions need greater context
- A slightly plodding first Act in places

THE FULL MONTY is running at the Wolverhampton Grand from Monday 24 to Saturday 29 November 2014.

CLICK HERE for more information on the show's run at the Hippodrome and to book your tickets!

Alternatively, call the Box Office directly on 01902 429212 now to book your tickets!

For more news, updates and exclusive content from (A)musings, be sure to 'like' our Facebook page and follow Kyle on Twitter!

Press tickets for this performance of The Full Monty were provided courtesy of the Wolverhampton Grand directly. (A)musings Media gratefully acknowledges their generous invitation.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014



Tour Dates: Until Monday 27 October 2014
Performance Reviewed: Tuesday 21 October

Reviewed by Kyle Pedley

“Do you all remember ‘Smash Hits’?”

“…How about CD:UK? Top of the Pops?”

If my inner teenage self hadn’t already erupted to the fore at this early stage of The Big Reunion Boyband Tour, these pitch-perfect 90’s callbacks certainly did the trick.

Catapulting off of the surprise success of the ITV2 show of the same name, this years incarnation is a decidedly testosterone-driven event, eschewing the likes of Eternal and Girl Thing (Google the latter) whom were part of the 2014 TV line up in order to focus on what the vast majority of the baying audience were seemingly there to see anyway; the boy bands. And, be it cynical cash grab or audience savvy, some of last years groups, notably so-recently-disbanded-it-couldn’t-really-be-called-a-reunion mega band Blue, have been invited along for the ride once more.

As mentioned, it is an evening that practically lives off of the nostalgia factor, but what fantastically spirited, harmless and upbeat nostalgia it is. The 90’s and early 2000’s often get a hard wrap by music aficionados, heralded as a period that suffered a dearth of quality output, strangled by commercialism and the overly manufactured pop scene, but as the guys of the Big Reunion richly demonstrate - it was a time when pop music gave us a healthy dose of cheese and a whole lot of fun. Surely no-one can deny the sheer infectious vim and zest of Five (minus two) belting out ‘Keep on Movin’, Gareth Gates gamely reminding us of his ‘Spirit in the Sky’ or Adam Rickitt resurrecting his dance anthem ‘Breathe Again’ (sadly minus the track’s distinctive, raunchy video set up)?

Granted, there is no doubt a particular age bracket who will get the most mileage out of The Big Reunion, but that almost goes without saying, and in fairness from the likes of Michael Jackson’s nephews 3T and 911 covering the early-mid 90’s right through to the aforementioned Blue of (very) recent years, there is almost two decades worth of pop goodness on offer. And, crucially, practically every one of the acts seem like they actual want to be there, grateful and excited to be performing again, even you may lose count of how many times you are hit round the head with how special ‘[insert your city of viewing]’ is to each of them.

None of the Big Reunion Boyband Tour is original or Earth-shattering stuff, but nor does it profess or attempt to be. Rather, it gauges itself and its audience perfectly, and the level of energy and quality of performance is surprisingly high. Yes, there are occasions when the backing tracks and dancers do the heavy lifting, but I’d be lying if I said expectations on the vocal front weren’t exceeded. From a soulful rendition of ‘Forever’ from Damage, 3T performing a moving duet to their video of ‘Why’ with their late uncle (a real crowd-pleasing moment, for when can you ever have too much Michael Jackson?), 911 tearing into their choreography with relish and A1 and Five both acting as suitably bombastic, crowd-warming conduits of pop pep. The only ones feeling a little lost amongst the mix as a group, per se, were constructed band ‘5th Story’, comprising of the aforementioned Gates and Rickitt, along with Dane Bowers, Blazing Squad’s Kenzie and 90’s pop sensation Kavana, the latter of whom did not perform due to illness. A little wooly and haphazard as a group, there’s no real cohesion or gel to their look or sound, understandable given their infancy and previous proliferation as solo artists, and their real highlights undoubtedly when some of their solo work was allowed to shine as highlighted above.

Pretty much headlining both acts of the show were Blue who, pushing any question marks or pedanticism aside regarding their ‘reunion’, their inclusion is completely acceptable and understandable on the basis of their being undoubtedly the vocal powerhouses of the evening. A soaring rendition of ‘Breathe Easy’ in particular being one of the evening’s real highlights, with Lee Ryan and and Duncan James especially showcasing some truly terrific vocals. They also offered some of the most palpable and engaging camaraderie, with moments such as Ryan spontaneously lampooning bandmate Antony Costa’s voice cracking at one point feeling just that dash more natural and sincere.

Chances are, those contemplating going to see The Big Reunion are already fans of either the titular show, or one of the cadres of yesteryear amongst its line-up, so you’ll need either little persuasion or will know exactly what to expect going in. For everyone else, this is the kind of guilt-free throwback to ‘simpler times’ that you yearn for whilst sat at the office desk Youtubing your way down memory lane, or a full blown concert realisation of that moment when your old school favourite comes on at that family wedding reception. Pure, unadulterated, nostalgic, associative fun, The Big Reunion Boyband Tour may not quite be a tentpole advertisement for everything that made the past two decades of pop music great, but it certainly offers up a flavour, and is as jovial, spirited and feel-good a flashback as you could wish for.

(A)MUSINGS RATING - * * * * (3 out of 5 Stars)


+ Genuine dose of Nineties/Naughties pop nostalgia
+ Bursting with a bevy of crowd-pleasers
+ All involved seemed genuinely invested and excited
+ Blue in particular raise the roof with their vocals
+ The very welcome, and personal, Michael Jackson 'cameo'
+ Feel-good, guilt-free, infectious fun

- 5th Story still work better as soloists
- Those averse to music of the era should stay well clear, this is it at it's most mainstream and commercial

THE BIG REUNION BOY BAND TOUR 2014 ran at the LG ARENA, BIRMINGHAM for one night only and is no longer performing at the venue. The tour continues across the UK until Monday 27 October 2014.

CLICK HERE for more information on the tour's run in the UK and to book your tickets!

For information on future events at the LG Arena, Birmingham, head on over to the Official Website.

Press tickets for this performance of The Big Reunion Boy Band Tour 2014 were provided courtesy of Live Nation. (A)musings Media gratefully acknowledges their generous invitation.