Top Five Men Playing Women in Musicals

Time for another Five on Friday – this time celebrating some of the most striking, and strikingly successful, cross dressing leading men. And I’m thinking of proper musicals – not Pantomime dames!

Five – Matt Henry as Lola in Kinky Boots

Kinky Boots
Matt Henry and cast. Photo by Helen Maybanks

He’s been playing the lead in this show since it opened in London and still seems to be having a roaringly good time.

Four – Jason Donovan as Tick in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

Brilliant both in and out of the drag in the West End and on tour, I guess we should not be surprised that Jason Donovan, as usual, gave an excellent performance. Time to see him in another musical, surely!

Three – John Partridge as Albin in La Cage Aux Folles

La Cage Aux Folles

OK, so this in anticipation of Mr Partridge delivering the goods in the recently announced UK tour. The picture above features John Barrowman who took the part at London’s Playhouse Theatre in 2009.

Two – Craig Revel Horwood as Miss Hannigan in Annie

Craig Revell Harwood in Annie

Sharing the role with fellow Strictly Come Dancing star Lesley Joseph in the most recent UK tour, Craig Revel Horwood joins a growing list of men who’ve played this classic part, not least Lily Savage.

One – John Travolta as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray

John Travolta in Hairspray

Exceptionally I’ve included a movie star in this list of otherwise exclusively theatrical cross dressers. But for me John Travolta provides a hilarious benchmark performance, helped by his crazy accent (‘I’ve got the iron on’ is a standard quote in our house!).

Motown the Musical

Motown the musical
Photo by Alastair Muir

With what must be a greater number of established hit songs than anything else in the West End – ever – the producers of Motown the Musical must have suspected they were onto a sure thing when they put this show together. Part of its success, though, must be down to the fact that this is more than just a slick concert of Motown’s greatest hits, although it is that too. Amongst all the well-known tunes is the story of Motown’s founder Berry Gordy, along with passing nods to some of the key players in his empire such as Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and the person who would become especially significant in his life – Diana Ross.

True, it’s a fairly light-touch narrative but it serves its purpose in filling in the blanks for those of us not well-versed in the history of Motown. It also gives shape to the evening and a sense of direction and purpose to the music.

Motown the Musical
Photo by Alastair Muir

At times, too, some of the songs are used to give emphasis to particular moments in the story, rather than just serving to illustrate the music that Gordy was producing at the time. OK, so it’s not at the same level of sophistication (if that’s the word) as used on Abba’s songs in Mama Mia, but it credits the audience with wanting more than just a parade of hits. All credit, too, for ending the story in a satisfying arc and not simply offering a pseudo concert for the finale as is so often the case in juke box musicals. The only ill-judged moment was in Diana Ross’s set when two audience members were persuaded to join her on stage and sing along. Definitely not the slick sophistication we expect from Motown.

The songs themselves are re-produced faithfully with energetic choreography and a pitch perfect band working its collective socks off in the pit. A word, too, in praise of the highly stylish and efficient set.

Motown the Musical is playing at the Shaftesbury theatre and booking has just been extended to October 2017.

Dawn French – Thirty Million Minutes

Back in the West End for one week only (this week – 18-22 October!), Dawn French presents the story of her time on the planet so far, this being approximately thirty million minutes.

Dawn French Thirty Million Minutes

She brings all her skills and personality to bear in this piece. She is warm, funny, engaging, honest, touching and, above all, herself – or at least the person we all think of her as being.

Although she is the only performer, it would be wrong to call this a stand-up show. Although the current trend is for stand-up (no doubt at least in part because it’s cheaper than the type of sketch or situation comedy on which Dawn French cut her teeth), this is much more a complete performance experience. Sure, there are laughs a-plenty. But also deeply personal and touching revelations and insights.

As a performance it feels totally spontaneous and in the moment. But the slickness of the production in terms of the back projection and lighting cues shows that this is carefully crafted and rehearsed with little, if any, scope for ad-lib diversions. But this does not undermine the inherent sincerity which imbues the whole evening. If you love Dawn French you’ll come away loving her even more after devoting a few of your own millions of minutes to this show.

Five on Friday – TV shows that should be musicals

Even the most unlikely subject matter can become a musical. Take Carrie, for instance which I saw in its original Stratford production before it went on to lose millions as a notorious Broadway flop. These are my thoughts on some TV shows which are just right for musicalisation!

Five – Poldark

Ross Poldark, Aidan Turner
Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark in the BBC series









No re-casting need here. We’ll stick with the stars of the current BBC series, although probably cut the horses.

Four – The Great British Bake Off

Great British Bake Off

Here’s a free idea for Channel Four now they’ve lost most of the stars. Re-imagine the Bake Off as a musical. I would have loved Victoria Wood to write it, so am not sure who could do her justice now. As for casting, we’ll have Dame Judi Dench as Mary and George Clooney as Paul. After that it writes itself!

Three – Dad’s Army

Dad's Army, The Empire strikes back

They’ve already proved it can survive a fresh incarnation with only the vicar (Frank Williams) from the original cast in the 2016 film (Ian Lavender appears but not as Pike). Now it’s time for the musical. With plenty of opportunities for a chorus of middle aged men who can’t all keep in step, this would also be ideal for amateur groups after what’s sure to be a hugely successful West End run.

Two – Frasier

Frasier, Kelsy Grammar, David Hyde Pierce, John Mahony, Jane Leeves, Perri Gilpin

Steinway gets a credit in every episode and both Frasier and Niles regularly get to play the piano and sing. Add to that the series penchant for farce, which suggests a modern-day Gilbert and Sullivan is what’s needed to bring this to life. I suggest Stiles and Drew, who have form in adapting non musicals ( the brilliant Betty Blue Eyes being adapted from A Private Function) and musicals (Mary Poppins and, opening soon, Half a Sixpence).

One – Gavin and Stacey

Gavin and Stacey

I’m not sure Gavin and Stacey isn’t in fact a non-musical version of Grease. So all that’s needed is to take Grease and transpose the setting to Barry and Essex. I can just see Gavin in Essex and Stacey in Barry doing the ‘Summer Loving’ duet. With Nessa in the Rizzo character (only this time she really is pregnant) and Smithy as Kenickie.  This one does more than write itself. It’s practically already written!



The Phantom of the Opera 30th Anniversary Performance

To Her Majesty’s Theatre in London’s West End for a truly remarkable night. First a performance of The Phantom of the Opera itself with Ben Forster in the title role and Celine Shoenmaker as Christine. The show is a fresh as ever and continues to thrill with its brilliant theatricality and stirring music. If you haven’t seen it (and 140 million people worldwide have) then get yourself along!

Then to the icing on the cake – a special post-show show introduced by a video and then live onstage revealed from under dust sheets we find Cameron Mackintosh and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Former Christine Sierra Boggess sang with his Lordship at the piano. Michael Ball also performed opposite current Raoul Nadim Naaman.

A clutch of former phantoms were then joined by the current company and the original company for Masquerade. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better Cameron Mackintosh steps forward, the ensemble parts and there is Michael Crawford. The audience went wild and gave him a much deserved standing ovation. The original phantom was joined by the creative team Gillian Lynne, Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe.

Michael Crawford acknowledges the standing ovation at the 30th anniversary performance of Phantom of the Opera, London, 10 October 2016

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

I shall be attempting to #KeepTheSecrets in this post!

There is no denying that Harry Potter is a cultural phenomenon that has spanned decades, and therefore the opening of “the eighth story” in London was always going to be a huge event. The Palace Theatre in the West End is surrounded by a near constant stream of excited people taking photos of the front of the theatre, even on days when the show isn’t performing.


Beginning exactly where the final book left off, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child welcomes the audience back into the world of Hogwarts with open arms. The stage is scattered with clocks, a line across the front echoes that of a London station, dotted with muggles who transform into Hogwarts students before our eyes. We are whisked through the first couple of years of Albus Severus Potter’s time at Hogwarts, with focus on the ever increasing tensions between the young wizard and his father and how his close friendship with Scorpius Malfoy has alienated him from his family.

The domestic plot line is soon mixed with a classic Harry Potter magical romp, as Albus and Severus decide they must help a bereaved Amos Diggery be reunited with his son, Cedric. A rumour of an illegal time-turner at the Ministry for Magic turns out to be true, and the boys find themselves travelling back and forth in time in an attempt to change the course of history and bring father and son together again. Of course, this attempt to unite a father and son echoes the ever increasing distance being created throughout their adventures between Albus and Harry, and the time travelling wizards create disastrous ripples through time.

The staging of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is its true masterpiece – the set seems simple and yet real magic appears before you throughout the two parts. The cast move across the stage bringing on props and scenery and using their cloaks as an extension of themselves. The score, provided by Imogen Heap, is used extensively throughout Part 1 and 2, more so than I was anticipating, to the point where the movement passages of the production become choreography and it feels a hair’s breadth away from being a musical. The opening to Part 2 is the most striking piece of choreography I have seen in a long time, and really sent chills down my spine.


In an effort to avoid spoilers my review may seem a little vague, however; I can assure you that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a theatrical spectacle I felt honoured to witness. Every intricate detail of the performance has been thoroughly thought through, and where the plot can feel a little cliche and messy, it is made up for by superb performances from all the leads, and a particularly stand out and nuanced portrayal of Scorpius by Anthony Boyle. If you can get your hands on one of the most in demand seats in London right now, then grab it with both hands and enjoy this epic theatrical adventure!

Five on Friday – Top Five Musical Theatre Dogs!

Welcome to the first in my series of ‘Top Fives’ for a Friday. First up it’s the top five dogs in musicals – all shows seen by Sue in the Stalls as it happens. And I’m talking about dogs with named parts – not just those who walk on as an extra!

Five – Bruiser, Legally Blonde the Musical

The original Bruiser from the Reese Witherspoon film was played by a Chihuahua called Moonie who died earlier this year.

Bruiser and Rufus from Legally Blonde the musical

Four – Rufus, Legally Blonde the Musical

Monty and Ronny played Rufus the bulldog in the London production, coming from the same trainer and at the same time as…

Three – Toto, The Wizard of Oz

Poster Wizard of Oz London Palladium Danielle Hope Michael Crawford

Razzle was one of four different West Highland Terriers who played Toto in the 2011 Palladium production. Toto in the film was played by a female Cairn Terrier called Terry.

Two – Bullseye, Oliver!

Bulls Eye type dog

An English Bull Terrier called Butch played Bullseye in the 1968 film. His owner was Cindy Sharville, who went on to provide show business dogs for numerous productions, including the West End productions of the previously mentioned Legally Blonde and The Wizard Oz.

One – Sandy, Annie

Annie Lesley Joseph Sandy

Is there ever a time when Annie isn’t being produced somewhere in the UK? The most recent professional tour starring Lesley Joseph ended in the summer but  there are amateur productions at the Theatre Royal Windsor this month and the Stag Theatre Sevenoaks in November to name but two. The first Sandy was played by a dog actually called Sandy and trained by Bill Berloni for the 1977 Broadway production. He also trained the dog in the 2014 film.

Sue in the Stalls has seen all these shows – and their canine stars – and can’t think of any other musicals which have named parts for dogs. Can you?

Review: The Go-Between

With only days left until the end of its run there is just time to catch The Go-Between at the Apollo, Shaftesbury Avenue. Although many will book solely on the strength of Michael Crawford’s presence in the West End, it offers so much more than that – great though it is to see him, especially as he’s on stage pretty much throughout.

Gemma Sutton, William Thompson, Michael Crawford

Crawford is Leo Colton, a man haunted by events one childhood summer when he found himself acting as go-between for beautiful upper-class Marian (Gemma Sutton) and tenant farmer Ted (Stuart Ward). These events are played out in front of him on a moody and imposing single-set stage with music provided by an on-stage piano. So, very far from the spectacular musicals in which Crawford established himself. But the lack of spectacle is more than made up for in the intimacy and intensity of the characters and story. It achieves that rare thing to which all theatre surely strives – transporting the audience completely into the events and emotions with the performers.

Crawford re-lives the joys and stresses of that summer both when he is centre stage but also, and perhaps most tellingly, when he is simply a bystander to his own past, watching the action. Crawford knows he is a star presence and uses that, so even in those moments where his past life is being acted out by others his being on the stage adds to rather than detracts from the action.

Equally compelling was young Leo, at this performance played with grace and confidence by Luka Green. He has a very physical role, allowing himself to be picked-up and carried about the stage in a several of the musical numbers. Equally engaging was Samuel Menhinick as his best friend Marcus.

So by all means go because you want to see one of our greatest stars of musical theatre, but come away having been taken with him back to a magical and significant long-gone summer.

The Go-Between is at The Apollo theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue until 15 October 2016. Tickets and further information available at






Review: Kinky Boots

The plot of Kinky Boots treads a well-worn path: our hero, Charlie Price (David Hunter) struggles, gets help from an unlikely source in the shape of Lola/Simon (Matt Henry), achieves success and finds true love. But Cyndy Lauper’s award winning show feels constantly fresh and original despite this traditional motif. Unlike many Broadway musicals, the score’s heritage is 80s pop and wears this badge proudly – no harking back to musical cliches we’ve heard before here. True, it’s hard to find a tune you’d be singing as you emerge onto the Strand. But somehow, in the moment, this doesn’t matter. Perhaps it’s the sheer energy and commitment in the performance that overcomes this.

The story follows (sometimes line for line) that of the original film. How can Charlie turn round the shoe business left to him by his father? His fiancé is all for walking away. But Charlie encounters drag queen Lola and becomes convinced that the apparently niche market for ‘kinky’ boots strong enough to be worn by male drag artistes is enough to sustain a business.

There’s also the matter of the absence of a real antagonist. Charlie is battling the dubious inheritance of his father in his attempts to build a successful shoe factory. But he is fighting an anonymous enemy in the shape of changing tastes and foreign competition. We are offered a pantomime villain in the shape of boorish employee Don who has a closed-minded view of Lola and all she stands for. And of course this show is not about boots but about accepting people for who they are and accepting yourself for who you are. The message is laid on thick but with such warmth and glitz that you’re easily persuaded to forgive any shortcomings.

Sticking with its pantomime references, the show concludes with a fashion show which includes the traditional walk-down of ever more outrageous costumes. But by this point the entire audience has been successfully and willingly manipulated into a frenzy of enthusiasm and adoration for Charlie and Lola and all they stand for, proving that there truly is no business like shoe business.

Kinky Boots is performed at the Adelphi Theatre, London. For more information and to purchase tickets visit their website

Kinky Boots London West End Theatre Review Sue In The Stalls