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Troubador Wembley Park

NEWSIES at the Troubador Wembley Park



“What really gets the blood flowing is the showmanship and the staging.”


One cannot fail to see the serendipitous irony of Newsies: The Musical’s UK premiere. The official website, in sepia tones of old newsprint, has the format of a daily rag. “Newsies Go On Strike! Read More” is the headline splashed across the homepage. Similar headlines dominate the front pages of the evening tabloids that litter the street corners as we make our way to the theatre, negotiating the travel chaos caused by the current strike action. If nothing else, the timing of “Newsies” is spot on.

The struggles of the protagonists; the issues of homelessness, exploitation, security, solidarity and capitalism are going to resonate strongly, even though the plot, based on historical fact, is over a century old. As the dawn of the twentieth century approaches, the ubiquitous bands of teenage newspaper sellers dream of a better life away from the hardship of the streets of New York City. These young men, and women, come together to fight the exploitation of the wealthy publishing tycoons who are callously hiking up the prices they pay for the papers they sell.

The realism is spot on. Morgan Large’s impressive scaffold set immerses us right into the heart of Manhattan. The grim fire escapes and sidewalks soon burst into the cacophonous chorus as the ‘Newsies’ come scampering from all corners of the auditorium to explode onto the stage in a glorious, rush hour frenzy. It seems they are celebrating their misfortunes. Indeed, lead player Jack Kelly (Michael Ahomka-Lindsay) is portrayed as having chosen his fate. Consequently Ahomka-Lindsay lacks the fire of the real life ‘Kid Blink’ on which the character is based. Kid Blink was not yet a teenager when he addressed over two thousand strikers to lead them in the battle against the publishers. Jack Kelly’s character replaces fire with charm and courage with charisma, throwing in a roving eye for the daughter of the enemy.

If the plot is sweetened somewhat (this is based on a Disney film after all), the execution is a sharp, exhilarating and sometimes overwhelming spectacle. Director Matt Cole’s choreography is both bombastic and balletic. Not always in tune with the subject matter, it nevertheless thrills us and coaxes us into repeated standing ovations – even before interval. The space is as wide as it is high and at one point the dancers even occupy the airspace during the stunning number “King of New York” at the opening of Act Two. The more plaintive ballads do not fare so well, with the lyrics occasionally getting lost in the cavernous auditorium. Likewise, the subtleties and subplots lose their way amidst the sheer, larger-than-life displays.

Bronté Barbé, as Katherine Plumber, a young reporter eager for a story, shadows Kelly in his fight for justice, spreading the word, assuaging his doubts and eventually becoming his ally. A touch two-dimensional to totally believe in the passion that spurs her on, Barbé has the requisite defiance to win us over. Newspaper tycoon, Joseph Pulitzer, is unavoidably a caricature but Cameron Blakely makes the best of the Scrooge-like bad guy turned good(ish). But it is clear that we are not required to dig deep into character or plot. That vein is thin. What really gets the blood flowing is the showmanship and the staging.

“Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground” is a piece of advice given to the strikers, “and you will win”. It’s no spoiler to reveal that they did indeed win. But these stunning triple-threat performers won our standing ovation too – even though they rarely kept their feet on the ground. They are the stars that we, the audience, keep our eyes on.



Reviewed on 13th December 2022

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Johan Persson





Recently reviewed by Jonathan:


From Here To Eternity | ★★★★ | Charing Cross Theatre | November 2022
Glory Ride | ★★★ | The Other Palace | November 2022
La Clique | ★★★★★ | Christmas in Leicester Square | November 2022
The Sex Party | ★★★★ | Menier Chocolate Factory | November 2022
Love Goddess, The Rita Hayworth Musical | ★★ | Cockpit Theatre | November 2022
Rapunzel | ★★★★ | Watermill Theatre Newbury | November 2022
Top Hat | ★★★★ | The Mill at Sonning | November 2022
The Midnight Snack | ★★★ | White Bear Theatre | December 2022
Handel’s Messiah: The Live Experience | ★★★ | Theatre Royal Drury Lane | December 2022
Bugsy Malone | ★★★★★ | Alexandra Palace | December 2022


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Sleepless, A Musical Romance


Troubadour Wembley Park


Sleepless, A Musical Romance

Troubadour Wembley Park

Reviewed – 1st September 2020



contains moments of honestly and heartfelt brilliance, but it is undoubtedly let down by its inconsistencies throughout


Sleepless closely follows the storyline of Meg Ryan & Tom Hanks’ smash hit film Sleepless in Seattle; a tale of two lost people, brought together by a little boy who calls up a radio station to seek out a new bride for his widowed father. In this story, the widow Sam (Jay McGuiness), was an awkward, hopelessly romantic architect and Annie (Kimberley Walsh) was a journalist, desperate to escape her current romantic predicament. This production was beautifully played by a 12-strong band, which worked with elements of Jazz to create a 1930s elegance and atmosphere whilst successfully, under Morgan Young’s direction, managing to remain in its 1990s setting.

Michael Rose and Damien Sanders have clearly put together this production for no financial gain, but only to demonstrate a total love of theatre and bring us all to what we have been starved of for too long. But despite really wanting to love this show, its disjointed nature left the production falling slightly flat. The opening numbers, intended to imitate a bleakness of the couple’s lives without love, were limp and awkward, making the intensely contrasting colour, that was unsubtly injected as the show progressed, too much. What I found particularly frustrating was that there was no moment where either protagonist sang about how they actually felt about the other, instead, all of this tangible emotion was given to secondary characters, and it was these songs, along with the technical aspects of the show that were the best parts of the production.

Jonah (Jobe Hart) outshone the rest of the cast with his confidence and commitment to be the naïve but cheeky son of Sam. In particular, his performance of ‘Now or Never’ where he showed off his ability to be the ‘triple threat’, conveying his agile dance moves and crystal-clear singing voice. Other standout moments from secondary characters were ‘Dear Sleepless,’ performed by Patsy (Charlie Bull), Marissa (Leanne Garretty) & Nancy (Dominique Planter), which was a welcome burst of energy, expressing the actual emotive response to the radio station call. Planter was particularly brilliant in this; her short solo was packed with humour and confidence. Finally, Harriet Thorpe, whose portrayal of Eleanor, Annie’s mother, was filled with charm and promise; her song ‘The Way He Said My Name’, was genuine and heart-warming.

I wasn’t entirely convinced by the two lovers, who both did have moments of relieving brilliance and whose singing was as expert as you’d expect, but whose awkward demeanours didn’t quite work. Annie’s song ‘Things I Didn’t Do’ was entirely captivating and showed a flash of true humanity. However, and maybe at fault of the script, in moments of panic, whereby she spoke quickly about the pronunciation of different words (a theme that was carried out across the show) was unconvincing and false. Jay McGuiness’ portrayal of Sam lacked gumption. His awkward, bereft demeanour didn’t play hand in hand and so the moments which did work, which were solely linked to his relationship with Jonah, felt as if they were entirely carried by Jobe Hart’s energy and dynamism.

The key brilliance in this piece came from the set (Morgan Large) and lighting (Ken Billington), which worked spectacularly together to create an architectural vision in order to mirror Sam’s profession. The set spun centrally to convey various rooms seamlessly, whilst externally to this, a stressed paint on wooden boards worked to imitate the waterside accommodation of Sam’s house as well as giving an ‘edgy’ feel to Annie’s home and workplace. Cabaret seating was used by both the cast and the audience at the front of the theatre and it worked beautifully to include the audience as part of the chorus; making us a part of the hustle of New York or joining them in an intimate and romantic restaurant.

Sleepless definitely contains moments of honestly and heartfelt brilliance, but it is undoubtedly let down by its inconsistencies throughout. It is a show for people who really like musicals, but not an all-time great.


Reviewed by Mimi Monteith

Photography by Alastair Muir


Sleepless, A Musical Romance

Troubadour Wembley Park until 27th September


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Soul Of Shaolin | ★★★★ | September 2019


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