New York hit Winnie The Pooh The Musical heads to York for Grand Opera House dates

Benjamin Durham: Playing Winnie the Pooh at Grand Opera House, York, in August

THE British and Irish premiere tour of Disney’s Winnie The Pooh The Musical will play the Grand Opera House, York, on August 1 and 2.

Rockefeller Productions, in partnership with Royo Entertainment in association with Disney Theatrical Productions, opened the production at London’s Riverside Studios in March ahead of a tour that will run until September.

Created and directed by Jonathan Rockefeller, the show features music by the Sherman Brothers with additional songs by AA Milne.

After sharing the role of Winnie the Pooh in London with Jake Bazel, who originated the part in New York, Young Frankenstein actor Benjamin Durham is leading the cast on tour.

Eeyore, Piglet, Rabbit, Owl, Kanga and Roo will be brought to life by an ensemble of performers, including Laura Bacon(Britain’s Got Talent, Star Wars); Harry Boyd (The Play That Goes Wrong, Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story); Alex Cardall (Evita, The Osmonds: A New Musical); Chloe Gentles(Mamma Mia!, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical); Lottie Grogan (Smurfs Save Spring: The Musical, The Lips For Puppets With Guys) and Robbie Noonan (Avenue Q UK tour).

Deep in the Hundred Acre Wood, a new adventure will unfold with life-size puppetry. AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, Christopher Robin and their best friends Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo, Rabbit and Owl – and Tigger too! – will feature in Rockefeller’s musical stage adaptation.

Accompanying the modern narrative will be an original score by Nate Edmondson, featuring Grammy award-winning songs written by the Sherman Brothers for the original animated features, including Winnie The Pooh, The Blustery Day, The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers and Whoop-De-Dooper Bounce, plus AA Milne’s The More It Snows (featuring music by Carly Simon) and Sing Ho in a new arrangement.

Family entertainment creator Jonathan Rockefeller’s puppetry has featured in productions of The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show, Paddington Gets In A Jam and Sesame Street The Musical.

The show’s New York run in 2021 broke theatre box-office records for the largest advance. Now it is heading to York for performances at 5pm on August 1 and 11am and 2pm the next day. Box office:

REVIEW: York Stage, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Grand Opera House, York, to Sat. ****

High-flying success: Ned Sproston’s Caractacus Potts at the wheel of Chitty, with Carly Morton’s Truly Scrumptious in the passenger seat and Logan Willstrop’s Jeremy Potts and Hope Day’s Jemima Potts in York Stage’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. All pictures: Charlie Kirkpatrick

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, York Stage, Grand Opera House, York, 7.30pm nightly to Saturday; 2.30pm matinees, Wednesday and Saturday. Box office:

THIS is James Bond author Ian Flemings’s eyebrow-raising 1964 children’s story, via Ken Hughes’s 1968 family musical fantasy film, adapted for the stage by Jeremy Sams.

It would be easy to put the emphasis on the spectacle, the car that floats and flies, with as many special features as a Q-customised Aston Martin for Bond. Certainly director-producer Nik Briggs pulls out all the stops on that score, but his Chitty show has more wings to it than merely its fine four-fendered friend’s airborne adventures.

The “fantasmagorical” spectacle here extends beyond the repurposed scrap-heap Grand Prix car to Damien Poole’s fabulous, fun and funny choreography; the hair and make-up by Phoebe Kilvington’s team; Charades Theatrical Costume’s flamboyant costume designs and the uncredited hi-tech set design, windmill sails et al.

Pulling a Chu-Chi Face: Alex Papachristou’s Baron Bomburst and Jackie Cox’s Baroness

Out of sight, aside from diligent yet playful musical director Adam Tomlinson, is his lush 12-piece orchestra, properly filling the pit with gorgeous musicality for the Sherman brothers’ score.

Above all, Briggs has improved further on the balance between grand theatricality and human personality in West Yorkshire Playhouse’s 2015 Christmas production. Perhaps it would be truer to say “caricature personality”, but the result is a greater connection with the audience.

In particular, this applies to the baddie double act of Alex Papachristou’s arch, spoilt, teddy bear-carrying Baron Bomburst and his brassy Baroness (Jackie Cox), a hammier, kinkier couple than past interpretations, and far funnier than their outrageous banishment of children from their Vulgarian principality should be.

Bomburst’s spies, Boris and Goran, are always  comedy gold, in pursuit of purloining the car for the baron, but they are better still in the hands of Jack Hooper and James Robert Ball, Vulgarian vultures trying to pass themselves off as Englishmen (and even women too).

Send for the clowning spies: Jack Hooper’s Boris gives a lift to James Robert Ball’s Goran

Papachristou, Cox, Hooper and Ball stretch their Vulgarian accents across Germanic vowels with delight and differing, equally amusing results in a send-up where ’Allo ’Allo! meets Mel Brooks’s The Producers.

Such is their broad playing, their comic interplay, their relish for downright silliness, that all four carry appeal for adults and children alike, evil but never vile. Unlike Richard Barker’s Childcatcher, that towering, spindly, grotesque rotter, whose villainy is more threat than presence, given how few scenes he has.

Meanwhile, several saucy jokes fly above innocent young heads, relished especially by Ball and Papachristou, who also rescues a prop malfunction (a telephone wire becoming detached) with an off-the-cuff one liner.

Ploughing a straighter furrow are Ned Sproston’s thoroughly decent inventor and single dad Caractacus Potts, plucky children Jeremy (Logan Willstrop, sharing the role with Esther de la Pena) and Jemima Potts (Hope Day/Eady Mensah), and Carly Morton’s utterly pucker Truly Scrumptious (whose beautiful singing with the purity of a Julie Andrews peaks with her Doll On A Music Box routine, clockwork dancing so exquisitely).

Peachy performance: Carly Morton’s Truly Scrumptious

Throughout, Mick Liversidge’s potty, old-school, restlessly energetic Grandpa Potts maximises his humorous interjections aplenty.

Briggs uses adult and children’s ensembles to the full, testament to the show’s mantra that teamwork makes the dream work, never more so than when Poole’s choreography is in full flow in Toots Sweets and especially The Bombi Samba.

Boris and Goran’s Act English and Potts and the Morris Men’s Me Ol’ Bamboo, Grandpa and The Inventors’ The Roses Of Success and the Baron and Baroness’s Chu-Chi Face are all bursting with character as much as musical flair.

For all the considerable technical demands of a show with a flying car, Briggs and his company take everything in their stride with panache in a dazzling, dapper and delightful family treat for the Easter break. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, bang on.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang flies into Grand Opera House with York Stage at the wheel

Alex Papachristou’s Baron Bomburst and Jackie Cox’s Baroness in York Stage’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

THE Sherman brothers’ fantasmagorical musical, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, takes to the air at the Grand Opera House, York, from tonight.

Produced and directed by Nik Briggs, with musical direction by Adam Tomlison and choreography by Damien Poole, York Stage’s production of Ian Fleming’s story of madness, mayhem and magic features not only a big cast but a quartet of cars too.

“One of them is parked in the en-suite! That’s Baron Bomburst’s car, more of a vintage, turn-of-the-century car than Chitty, slightly more primitive, that we’ve brought here from Brighton,” says Nik. “The Baron wants inventor Caractacus Potts to fit it with a ‘float and fly’ features.

“There’s the battered old Chitty that the children find in a junkyard, and the Chitty with the title role, the 16ft long, 6ft wide, four-fendered Chitty, weighing 1,000kg, that magically flies over the Grand Opera House stage. We’ve hired that car from a company down south that built it specially for stage productions.

“We also have a smaller version of Chitty that was created for a production in Malton five or six years ago.”

Adapted from James Bond novelist Fleming’s story Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car, written for his son in 1962 and published as three books in 1964, the musical tells the tale of whacky inventor Caractacus Potts (played by Ned Sproston), his two children and the gorgeous Truly Scrumptious (Carly Morton).

Can they outwit bombastic Baron Bomburst (Alex Papachristou), who has decreed that all children be banished from his kingdom? Watch out, here comes the evil Childcatcher (Richard Barker), who will be “popping up, here, there and everywhere, you never know where next”, Nik promises.

Nik Briggs: Producer-director for York Stage’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

“Yes, we have the flying car, but at its heart, it’s a really lovely story of Caractacus and his children, who are so imaginative. Even though Chitty is burnt out when they find her, they see designs of the car and that leads them off into a fantasy world, where the Baron is desperate to have the car.

“His wife, the Baroness (Jackie Cox), will do anything to please him and so she sends spies Boris and Goran (Jack Hooper and James Robert Ball) – obviously not the most intelligent of spies – from Vulgaria to retrieve the car from England.

“We have a broad style of playing these characters, with various Germanic and Vulgarian accents rather than a uniform one,” says Nik. “We’ve deliberately allowed everyone to find the fun in their character, so they all have their different styles. It’s almost comedy in the ’Allo ’Allo! style.

“Traditionally you have a fall guy to set up the gag, but with the Baron and Baroness and the spies too, it’s more like being on a see-saw; they’re the fall guy for each other, so anything goes.”

Barlby-raised Alex Papachristou is returning to the York stage, where he first caught the eye,  to take over the role of Baron Bomburst at short notice, heading up from London over the past fortnight for weekend rehearsals, to be followed by tech week.

“They’re ridiculous characters, like a parody of themselves, but it’s also good to see the consequences of the Baron and Baroness’s greed. He’s like a 1910 version of Donald Trump, saying he’s going to make Vulgaria great again!” he says.

“The villains do have a Bond villain quality about them. The Baron doesn’t have a cat but he does have a teddy bear.”

York Stage’s poster artwork for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as Chitty takes to the sky over York

Nik adds: “The Jeremy Sams version of the musical that we’re using does feature the Baron and the Baroness and the two spies a lot more than the 1968 film, so you get the story of Caractacus Potts, his children and Truly Scrumptious, but more of the baddies too.

“It’s also interesting to have a story about a single father. Caractacus is this loving character who will do anything for his children, giving them their creative outlets and liberating them to do whatever they want. When the romance with Truly Scrumptious comes along, they are from two different worlds, but they find love.”

Alex’s Baron will differ from the screen version. “I don’t play him like in the film. I play him as a 33-year-old spoilt young Baron, not a baron in his sixties. Of the roles I’ve played before, he’s quite similar in that way to Herod [performed as a white-faced, cross-dressing vaudeville act in York Stage Musicals’ Jesus Christ Superstar in 2011, when Briggs was Pontius Pilate], but not similar to anyone else,” he says.

“I’ve had to work really hard at this role as he wasn’t a natural fit. I even had Brian Blessed in my head for a while! The humour is more dry, more subtle, than in the film, and these characters are so well written that there’s a lot of elasticity to play around with them: you could really do it 100 ways, but as long as the children in the audience hate you and the adults love you, that’s all that matters!

“On the surface, the Baron and Baroness love each other, but underneath, they can’t stand each other, and it’s good to play someone who has more than one level to their character. These are the parts that are a joy to do and it’s always fun to be the villain.”

York Stage in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Grand Opera House, York, today to April 15, 7.30pm nightly except April 9, plus 2.30pm matinees, tomorrow, Saturday, April 12 and 15. Box office:

Copyright of The Press, York

Disney’s Bedknobs And Broomsticks to bob along to Leeds Grand Theatre next winter

The magical musical is on its way: The poster for the Leeds-bound world premiere tour of Disney’s Bedknobs And Broomsticks

IT is time to start believing. There WILL be a Christmas show at Leeds Grand Theatre next winter.

And what a show: the world premiere tour of Disney’s new stage musical, Bedknobs And Broomsticks, will be “bobbing along” to Yorkshire from December 8 2021 to January 9 2022 with its story of three orphaned children, evacuated ever so reluctantly from London to live with the mysterious Eglantine Price, a trainee witch.

Brought to stage life by Harry Potter And The Cursed Child illusionist Jamie Harrison and fellow award-winning theatre-maker Candice Edmunds, the show will feature songs by the legendary Sherman Brothers, of Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book and The Aristocats fame.

Among them will be Portobello Road, The Age Of Not Believing and The Beautiful Briny, complemented by a new book by Brian Hill and new songs and additional music and lyrics by Neil Bartram.

The Leeds Grand Theatre auditorium: empty since March 14 in Covid-19 2020. Picture: Ant Robling

The show is based on the books The Magic Bedknob; Or, How To Become A Witch In Ten Easy Lessons (1943) and Bonfires And Broomsticks (1947) by Highbury-born children’s author Mary Norton, and Disney’s 1971 Academy Award-winning film, Bedknobs And Broomsticks, starring Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson.

Confirmation of this five-week Christmas run follows the announcement that Mamma Mia! will return to the Leeds Grand in…2023. Mamma Mia indeed.

The jukebox musical with a book by British playwright Catherine Johnson and the ABBA songs of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, had its 2020 run Covid-cancelled, but Leeds Grand audiences will be saying Thank You For The Music once more from April 4 to 15, almost 16 months from now. 

At the close of a year when the crushing pandemic brought the curtain down on the Leeds Grand stage after the March opening night of Northern Ballet’s world premiere of Kenneth Tindall’s Geisha, that stage will remain dark over Christmas for the first time in the New Briggate theatre’s 142-year history (bar the refurbishment of 2005-6). 

Ayama Miyata as Aiko and Minju Kang as Okichi in Northern Ballet’s Geisha. Picture: Guy Farrow

As a result of this on-going Covid-cursed shutdown and inability to generate earned revenue through ticket and secondary sales, the Leeds Grand is asking patrons, if financially possible, to help support its long-term survival by donating to its Keep A Seat Warm This Christmas campaign, buying tickets to future shows or memberships, gift vouchers and merchandise.

Chief executive officer Chris Blythe says: “I know it is a huge ask, especially at Christmas, but I also know how much the Grand means to the people of Leeds and wider region.

“The support and generosity of our patrons this year has been overwhelming, both financially and emotionally. It is abundantly clear that arts and culture are needed now more than ever to help boost people’s mental health and build community through shared experience, as we all try to find some escapism from our day-to-day and ongoing concerns for our futures.”

Tickets for Disney’s Bedknobs And Broomsticks and Mamma Mia! are on sale at or on 0113 243 0808. To support Leeds Heritage Theatres this Christmas, go to