This isn’t a sponsored post.
BrumHour was invited to the Gala Opening/Press Performance of What’s New Pussycat? by Birmingham Rep.
For Brum Radio’s Interval Theatre, Dave Massey spoke to What’s New Pussycat? director Luke Sheppard about bringing this brand new production to the Birmingham stage at The Rep.
By Dave Massey twitter.com/BrumHour
Review: What’s New Pussycat? at Birmingham Rep
Directed by Luke Sheppard, Written by Joe DiPietro, Choreography by Arlene Phillips DBE.
Inspired by the Henry Fielding novel The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling published in 1749 and featuring the music of Sir Tom Jones, What’s New Pussycat? is a huge new comedic farce musical which had its Opening Night yesterday in Birmingham at The Rep, which itself is marking fifty years at its Broad Street location.
The late 1960s aka the Swinging Sixties: A upper-middle class Somerset estate sees Mary Western (Bronté Barbé) in love with Tom Jones (Dominic Andersen) a young man with unknown parentage, but brought up by Lord Allworthy (Julius D’Silva). Mary’s mother (Melanie Walters) doesn’t approve and wants Mary to marry William Blifil (Harry Kershaw) the other son of Lord Allworthy.
Lord Allworthy sends Tom Jones off to London to prove himself. On the train to London, he bumps into Mr Partridge (Ashley Campbell) his old school teacher, and together they meet Lady Bellaston (Kelly Price) who takes a shine to Tom and The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress (Rebekah Hinds) who Mr Partridge takes a shine too.
This is a great show with a very talented cast filled with fantastic voices. The back catalogue hit songs of Sir Tom Jones are used here to flesh out what the characters are thinking rather than massively furthering the plot along and the story is driven by… the story! Using such a rich source of the story with the Henry Fielding novel really helps the audience understand these characters easily. And having characters declare their love for each other almost in the first five minutes really makes a big statement to the audience: We are here for the journey.
Dominic Anderson is an excellent leading man, charming, humorous as roguish Tom Jones is still finding his way in life. He seems to be in tennis shoes/trainers for the first ten minutes whilst others are dressed like in much more 1800s style clothes, is he out of his time like Marty McFly or just out of time? He’s at his best when he fears he has lost everything.
Bronté Barbé has a fantastic voice, and a light comedic approach taking everything in her stride. She demonstrates the new voices women were finding for themselves in the 60s against the patriarchy and stepping out for themselves.
Kelly Price really shines throughout as Lady Bellaston, but her real moment is a bond girl singing Thunderball (With a close second for You Can Leave Your Hat On), it’s James Bond moments are high octane and made me realise just how much theatre we had been missing over 18 months. Lemuel Knights as Big Mickey draws some of the biggest applause and cheers with his version of Delilah.
The set itself opens like a storybook with huge pages for the cast to move to change the set and the semicircle structure of the wings, painted with rays of sunshine, this really reinforces the origins of this fun-filled story. I don’t feel qualified enough to discuss Dame Arlene Phillips fantastic choreography in details, it was slick, exciting and really captured the time it is set in.
For me, What’s New Pussycat paid homage to variety shows of the 1970s whilst giving us something fresh and brand new. There were moments of sheer joy from the audience and the standing ovation at the end was hugely deserved.
What’s New Pussycat? is a fantastic night out, bags of fun and as a new musical sits easily with some of the more well known productions currently in the West End. This production is at Birmingham Rep until 17th November 2021. Book tickets here: birmingham-rep.co.uk/whats-on/whats-new-pussycat