REVIEW: Blood Brothers, Grand Opera House, York, until Saturday *****

Niki Evans, as Mrs Johnstone, and Sean Jones, as her son Mickey, as the Blood Brothers principals reunite at the Grand Opera House, where they previously performed together in May 2011

OUT of nowhere in The Rocky Horror Show’s March return to the Grand Opera House, narrator Philip Franks suddenly mischievously mimicked Blood Brothers. Oh, how everyone chortled.

That’s rich, CharlesHutchPress thought, given that Willy Russell’s tragi-comic Liverpool musical is a vastly better structured show without the fall-away in song quality and story in Richard O’Brien’s stupendously silly second act that seemingly all and sundry chooses to ignore.

The chance to compare the two hit shows with the Jacobean tragedy finales comes quickly with the return of Blood Brothers to the Cumberland Street theatre, and if there is any rivalry, it can only be in the number of visits being stacked up.

Rocky Horror? Lost count, but it must be heading for two full sets of fingers. Blood Brothers? Bill Kenwright and Bob Tomson’s perennial production keeps on giving blood, sweat and tears, having chalked up eight runs since 1996.

The ninth is better than ever, bolstered by the return of Niki Evans to the role of Mrs Johnstone after a decade and the chance to see Sean Jones, so synonymous with Mrs J’s son Mickey, on his “last ever tour” after 23 years on the road on and off.

More on, than off, with only eight of them in total spent away from Blood Brothers, his latest break coming since 2019 to tend to his poorly parents. When impresario Kenwright invited him back for the 2022 tour, Jones accepted, and here he is at 51 “running around as a seven-year-old in a baggy green jumper and short trousers”, promising to keep going for as long as Kenwright wants him. Like Bob Dylan’s never-ending tour.

More on Jones’s performance later, but first, what a delight to see Niki Evans reviving her Mrs Johnstone, the mother with the fateful family secret, in a devastatingly moving performance of pathos and pain, jagged-edged Scouse humour, love and desperate resilience.

For Mrs Johnstone, struggling with too many children on an impoverished Liverpool estate and deserted by her waster of a husband, the discovery she is pregnant again, this time with twins, is too much for her budget on the never-never.

She can only “afford” one more child, not two, she tells Mrs Lyons (Paula Tappenden), the barren wife of a travelling businessman from up the posh hill for whom she cleans.

All too rashly, a pact is agreed, one where she gives away one of the baby boys to the cold-hearted Mrs Lyons, setting in motion the superstition that if twins separated at birth ever discover each other’s existence they will die instantly.

Brothers in arms: Sean Jones, as Mickey, left, and Joel Benedict, as Eddie, in Blood Brothers

Clodagh Rodgers, Stephanie Lawrence, Bernie Nolan, Sharon Byatt, Marti Webb, Maureen Nolan and Lyn Paul have all played Mrs J in York; Evans is the first to do so twice, in her case divided by 11 years.

First time around, in May 2011, your reviewer observed: “Above all others, Evans will stick in the mind, for being the most real. What makes her performance all the remarkable is that the Birmingham mother of two had never seen a theatre show, except for pantomimes, nor heard of Blood Brothers or impresario Bill Kenwright when she was offered the role on the West End stage after making the semi-finals of The X Factor in 2007”.

Eleven years on, benefiting from more rings on the tree of theatre life, Evans remains a natural for musical theatre, more than she was for a burst of X Factor-fuelled pop stardom.

At 49, her voice is even more powerful, her broad face an expressive canvas for so many emotions, played out in a Scouse accent that accentuates light and dark alike. Evans’s council-house upbringing and her experiences as a working mum both bring authenticity to the performance too, not least in her renditions of the show’s supreme numbers, Tell Me It’s Not True, Marilyn Monroe and Easy Terms.

The harshest songs aptly go to Robbie Scotcher’s ever-present Narrator, a Faustian debt collector full of social truths and spooked folklore, as he steers the path of Russell’s 1983 cautionary tale.

In football parlance, Blood Brothers is a game of two halves, as one face of theatre, comedy, is ultimately overwhelmed by the other, tragedy, as it befalls the split-up brothers, scally Mickey (Jones) and scholarly Eddie (Joel Benedict).

Divided by class, their paths nevertheless keep crossing through fate, and once more Jones plays it with all the conviction of a man who believes there is no role in musical theatre to rival Mickey on his journey from cheeky, blissfully innocent child’s play, through tongue-tied teenage love pangs for Linda (Carly Burns), to the forlorn broken adult reliant on mind-numbing pills.

More than ever, you note the changes in his movement, his voice, from skip to slouch and slump, from up to down. Sean, whatever you do next, thank you for making this reviewer laugh and cry down the years.

Benedict more than holds his own as Eddie, the charmer in the making with a rebellious streak that then turns to steely political activism as a councillor. The role is more emotionally contained, to emphasise the contrast in nurturing, but nature permeates the brotherly bond in Jones and Benedict’s performances. Burns burns brightly too as lovely Linda.

Andy Walmsley’s familiar street scenery, Nick Richings’ lighting, Matt Malone’s musical direction and Dan Samson’s sound design all add to the hard-hitting impact of Russell’s unsentimental yet heart-rending doomed drama. Evans and Jones, reunited from 2011 to even more telling effect, make Blood Brothers a Must See once more.

Blood Brothers, Grand Opera House, York, 7.30pm tonight (7/4/2022) and tomorrow; 2.30pm and 7.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 0844 871 7615.

Review by Charles Hutchinson

REVIEW: Fishnet fever as The Rocky Horror Show returns to Grand Opera House, York

Suzy McAdam’s Magenta, Lauren Ingram’s Columbia, Haley Flaherty’s Janet Weiss, Ore Oduba’s Brad Majors and Kristian Lavercombe’s Riff Raff in The Rocky Horror Show. Picture: David Freeman

Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show, Grand Opera House, York, until Saturday. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York.

RICHARD O’Brien’s schlock-horror rock’n’roll musical comedy sextravaganza was let loose on an unsuspecting world on June 19 1973 at the 63-seat Theatre Upstairs in London.

Fifty-nine years later, it has an undying cult status, one sustained in York on three-yearly pilgrimages to the Grand Opera House, where it plays to gleefully reunited devotees and wide-eyed new converts alike, breathlessly keen to undergo their rites of passage at O’Brien’s fantastical freak show.

Judged solely as a piece of musical theatre, it has been surpassed by Rent, Spring Awakening and Priscilla Queen Of The Desert, each better written and without the dip in quality of songs, momentum and storyline alike that nevertheless has never hindered Rocky Horror.

And yet, in our gender-fluid times, O’Brien’s musical has gained new wings with its themes of transvestism, freedom of self-determination and homosexuality, as well as the more timeless tropes of infidelity and loss of innocence.

Innocents abroad: Haley Flaherty and Ore Oduba as newly engaged Janet Weiss and Brad Majors. Picture: David Freeman

It does so with its tongue in its cheek, and everywhere else too, with its boldness in matters sexual and sartorial at odds with the global image of frigid, awkward, uptight Blighty, making it a kind of Weimar pantomime for adults.

Its story of a newly engaged, squeaky-clean American college couple, nerdy Brad Majors (Strictly champ Ore Oduba) and sweetheart Janet Weiss (Haley Flaherty) , losing their way in a storm and then their virginity under the seductive powers of castle-dwelling transvestite scientist, Dr Frank N Furter (Stephen Webb), is framed in a bravura send-up of horror and sci-fi B-movies., heightened by O’Brien’s raucous pastiche of Fifties’ rock’n’roll music.

In a show driven by song, set-piece, character and carnal pleasure, the plot can get away with being flimsy, with its unsubtle echoes of Frankenstein in Frank N Furter’s desire to create a new life in the form of the glitter-dusted, bodacious-bodied Rocky (Ben Westhead). What separates Rocky Horror from Rent, Spring Awakening and Priscilla is the glut of audience rituals that accompany performances.

In the city that loves to dress up for stag and hen parties and a Knavesmire day at the races, burlesque fancy dress is not only encouraged but pretty much obligatory, fishnets, pyjamas, Fifties’ waitress outfits and scientist coats, lipstick too, just as likely to be worn by men as women – and the ushers and usherettes too.

The Rocky Horror Show company at large on the 2022 tour

Rice, confetti, lighter flames and water pistols have been stripped from the audience’s repertoire of interjections by the safety mandarins, but now the lighters have made way for mobile phone torches, and the saucy shout-outs from the auditorium have become all the more prominent.

Indeed, they happen so much – usually orchestrated and time-honoured from shows past but still with room for the impromptu – that they are becoming like a procession. Oh, for some originality, please, York, in the off-the-cuff remarks, rather than inane crudity in the tradition of a drunken heckler.

To go with those audience customs is plenty of familiarity and continuity within the performing company – and indeed in the presence of Christopher Luscombe in the director’s chair once more for this typically swaggering production.

Kristian Lavercombe is clocking up his 2,000 performance as flesh-creeping servant Riff Raff on this tour; Haley Flaherty has plenty of mileage on her clock as prim prom queen-turned-minx Janet; Stephen Webb spun his “transsexual Transylvanian” Frank N Furter previously in York in 2019, and again he favours sensuality, grace and fruity decadence over camp excess.

Philip Franks: “Delicious devilry in his topical commentary”

The Narrator’s role – the lightning conductor to so much of the audience’s “scripted abuse” – has long been a celebrity vehicle, from the late Nicholas Parsons to comedian Steve Punt and the inevitable Stephen Fry. Now,  Royal Shakespeare Company actor, theatre director and television regular Philip Franks is renewing acquaintance with blue smoking jacket and fishnets for the 2022 tour.

He has the golden voice and unflappable air to the urbane manner born, coupled with a quick mind for acerbic retorts, a gift for mimicry and delicious devilry in his topical commentary, whether on Prince Andrew or when sending up Blood Brothers, the Liverpool musical soon to return to the Grand Opera House. He knows just when and how to indulge any over-excitable audience contributions, but the instincts, timing and flourishes of a circus ringmaster always keep him one step ahead.    

The pre-tour publicity has surrounded TV presenter Ore Oduba, whose Strictly Come Dancing triumph re-awakened his love for the stage from teenage days. After Teen Angel in Grease and Aaron Fox in Curtains, now he adds geeky American Brad Majors to his post-Strictly musical theatre repertoire. He sings with power, control and aplomb, applies just the right amount of caricature to his square character and looks the part in high heels, feather boas and underpants.

Bewildering to non-believers, like any cult, The Rocky Horror Show demands and rewards exuberant audience commitment from the Usherette’s first entrance, through Sweet Transvestite to The Time-Warp singalong finale, although a first-night altercation in the stalls was going too far over the top.  

Review by Charles Hutchinson

Ore Oduba: Highly entertaining in high heels in The Rocky Horror Show. Picture: Shaun Webb

   

More Things To Do in York and beyond the norm as horror shows and love stories beckon. List No. 73, courtesy of The Press

2,000 shows and counting: Kristian Lavercombe, as Riff Raff, far right, clocks up another milestone in The Rocky Horror Show on its return to York . Picture: David Freeman

LET’S do The Time Warp again? It’s just a jump to the left, and then a step to right, to enjoy plenty more of Charles Hutchinson’s recommendations.

Fancy dress invitation of the week: Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show, Grand Opera House, York, Monday to Saturday

KRISTIAN Lavercombe celebrates his 2,000th performance as Riff Raff as Richard O’Brien’s 1973 musical extravaganza enjoys yet another York run.

Alongside Lavercombe in Christopher Luscombe’s touring production will be 2016 Strictly Come Dancing winner Ore Oduba as preppy college nerd Brad Majors, Haley Flaherty as squeaky-clean fiancée Janet Weiss and Stephen Webb as castle-dwelling Transylvanian transsexual doctor Frank-N-Furter.

Cue fabulously camp fun and even camper costumes, shlock-horror comedy and science-fiction send-ups, audiences in fancy dress and sassy songs such as Sweet Transvestite, Science Fiction/Double Feature and The Time-Warp singalong. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York.

New Beverly Cinema, by Imogen Hawgood, at According To McGee, York

Exhibition launch of the week: Imogen Hawgood and Horace Panter, Hyperrealism in America and Japan, at According To McGee, Tower Street, York, from 11am today until March 25

NEW According To McGee signing Imogen Hawgood, from County Durham, introduces her collection of realist paintings in a duo show with Pop artist and Ska legend Horace Panter, The Specials’ bassist.

Panter’s Edward Hopper-inspired depictions of Midwest motels, inner-lit Japanese kiosks and sun-warmed Coca-Cola crates complement Hawgood’s exploration of Americana icons and the idea of “the road” as a transitional landscape.

The vampire strikes back: Steve Steinman’s Baron von Rockula with his vampettes in Vampires Rock – Ghost Story

Rock horror show: Steve Steinman’s Vampires Rock – Ghost Train, Grand Opera House, York, tonight (12/3/2022), 7.30pm

NOTTINGHAM singer and producer Steve Steinman returns to York with his tongue-in-cheek show stacked high with rock anthems, guitar gods and vampy vampettes.

Steinman’s Baron von Rockula and his vampires take refuge in an old fairground’s ghost train as he seeks a new virginial wife after the death of his beloved Pandora. Ordering faithful sidekick Bosley to find him one, enter Roxy Honeybox.

Now in its 20th year, Vampires Rock sets a cast of singers, dancers and musicians loose on Queen, AC/DC, Bonnie Tyler, Meat Loaf, Bon Jovi, Journey and Guns N’ Roses chestnuts. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York.

Glenn Tilbrook: Squeezing in hit after hit at The Crescent

York gig of the week: Glenn Tilbrook, The Crescent, York, Sunday, 7.30pm

THIS is a standing show…and an outstanding one too as endearing and enduring Deptford singer, songwriter, guitarist and troubadour Glenn Tilbrook makes his debut appearance at The Crescent.

More than 45 years after he first answered an ad placed by Chris Difford looking for like-minded sorts to form the band that became the evergreen Squeeze, an ending is nowhere in sight, even if he called his fourth solo album Happy Ending in 2014. Expect silver-tongued Squeeze and solo numbers, peppered with audience requests, tomorrow night.

Squeeze up, by the way, because this Gig Cartel-promoted gig has sold out. Fingers crossed for any returns (www.thecrescentyork.com), but otherwise you’re really up the junction for a ticket.

Alexander McCall Smith: Delving into his books at York Theatre Royal

Literary event of the week: Alexander McCall Smith, York Theatre Royal, Monday, 7.30pm

YORK Literature Festival plays host to Alexander McCall Smith as he discusses the new instalment in his long-running Scotland Street series, the warm-hearted, humorous and wise Love In The Time Of Bertie.

Fiona Lindsay pops the questions, intertwined with footage shot on location in Edinburgh, wherein McCall Smith invites guests into his study, where he writes surrounded by paintings and books, and visits key landmarks from the books.

The festival follows from March 18 to 27 with full details at yorkliteraturefestival.co.uk. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

NOT Thu 17 March 2022 after all: It’s different for Joe Jackson now as York gig moves to the summer

Postponement of the week: Joe Jackson, Sing, You Sinners! Tour, York Barbican, moving from March 17 to July 29

BLAME Covid for this delay to only the second ever York concert of singer, songwriter and consummate arranger Joe Jackson’s 44-year career.

“After months of uncertainty, it finally became clear that continuing Covid restrictions (particularly on venue capacity) in certain countries, would make our Spring European Tour un-viable as planned,” says Jackson’s official statement. “We can’t tour at a loss, and the situation did not look like changing soon enough.”

Tickets remain valid for the new July 29 date when Jackson promises hits, songs not aired in years and new material. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Sam Freeman: Thirty years of love burst out of his storytelling show in Harrogate and York

Storytelling show of the week: Sam Freeman, Every Little Hope You Ever Dreamed (But Didn’t Want To Mention), Cold Bath Brewery Co Clubhouse, Harrogate, Monday, 7.30pm; York Theatre Royal Studio, Friday, 7.45pm

FORMER York Theatre Royal marketing officer and 2009 TakeOver Festival co-director Sam Freeman heads back to his old stamping ground with his solo rom-com for the lonely hearted and the loved-up, armed with a projector, a notebook, wonky spectacles and nods to Richard Curtis’s Notting Hill.

Freeman, marketeer, occasional writer, director and stand-up comedian, combines storytelling and whimsical northern comedy in his multi-layered story of a chance encounter between two soulmates, how they fall in love, then part but may meet again. Box office: Harrogate, harrogatetheatre.co.uk; York, 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

For Charles Hutchinson and Graham Chalmers’ interview with podcast special guest Sam Freeman, head to the Two Big Egos In A Small Car listening link at: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1187561/10231399.

Off to the woods: Northern Broadsides in As You Like It

Shaking up Shakespeare: Northern Broadsides in As You Like It, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, Tuesday to Saturday; York Theatre Royal, March 23 to 26

MARKING Northern Broadsides’ 30th anniversary, artistic director Laurie Sansom’s diverse cast of 12 northern actors captures the “sheer joy of live performance and the crazy power of love to change the world” in his bold, refreshing take on Shakespeare’s most musical comedy.

Exiled from the court, high-spirited Rosalind, devoted cousin Celia and drag queen Touchstone encounter outlaws, changing seasons and life unconfined by rigid codes in the forest.

Gender roles dissolve and assumptions are turned on their head in a natural world of endless possibilities. Box office: Scarborough, 01723 370541 or sjt.uk.com; York, 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Lola May as daughter Aramide, Oyi Oriya as mother Omotola and Anni Domingo as grandmother Agbeke in Utopia Theatre’s Here’s What She Said To Me

Touring show of the week: Utopia Theatre in Here’s What She Said To Me, York Theatre Royal Studio, Thursday and Friday, 7.45pm

MEET Agbeke, Omotola and Aramide, three generations of proud African women connecting with each other across two continents, time and space, in Oladipo Agboluaje’s distaff drama, conceived and directed by York St John University graduate Mojisola Elufowoju.

Together the women share their struggles, their joys, tragedies and broken dreams, in order to find healing in the present. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

York theatres join National Lottery’s Love Your Local Theatre ticket offer campaign

Ore Oduba as Brad Majors in The Rocky Horror Show, one of the shows at the Grand Opera House, York (from March 14 to 19) for which National Lottery players can acquire two tickets for the price of one

YORK Theatre Royal and the Grand Opera House, York, are joining more than 100 theatres in UK Theatre’s Love Your Local Theatre campaign.

The National Lottery is providing up to £2 million to subsidise 150,000 tickets nationwide in the biggest-ever 2-for-1 ticket offer, open to National Lottery players who attend a show during March, whether musicals, plays, family shows, comedy or dance.

Tickets are available to buy from 10am today via loveyourlocaltheatre.com in a campaign run by theatre membership body UK Theatre, designed to encourage the public to support their local theatres as they begin to recover from the impact of Covid.

Supported by Girls Aloud singer, television presenter and stage star Kimberley Walsh, Love Your Local Theatre is a thank-you for the £30 million National Lottery players raise every week for good causes, including support for the performing arts and theatres during the pandemic.

Walsh says: “We are so privileged to have so many incredible theatres and entertainment venues across the UK. I have been lucky enough to perform in many of them. Without our local theatres, the face of UK entertainment would look very different and it’s amazing the National Lottery is providing £2 million to support them.

“The entertainment industry was particularly impacted by the pandemic, and that’s why the Love Your Local Theatre campaign is so important in supporting their recovery.

York Theatre Royal: Participating in the National Lottery-funded Love Your Local Theatre campaign

Stephanie Sirr, president of UK Theatre, says: “We are delighted to be working with the National Lottery on Love Your Local Theatre, the first time UK Theatre members across the country have united for a ticket promotion of this scale.

“We should be hugely proud in this country to have such an extensive, vibrant and diverse range of regional theatres, all of which play a vital role in the theatre landscape of the UK and beyond. After such a turbulent two years, we want to shout about the fact that theatres are open and ready to reward audiences for their patience and loyalty – please visit your local theatre and help them continue to make brilliant creative work!”

Nigel Railton, chief executive officer of National Lottery operator Camelot, adds: “The UK’s entertainment industry is world class, thanks to the huge variety of venues and projects across the four nations.

“National Lottery players raise £30 million a week to help fund good causes, many of which lie in the entertainment industry. The National Lottery is proud to have teamed up with UK Theatre to launch the Love Your Local Theatrecampaign, giving local theatres the support they need to get on the road to recovery following the pandemic, while saying thank you to National Lottery players who have helped support many theatres during the last two years.”

Among other Yorkshire theatres taking part are: Bradford Alhambra Theatre; Harrogate Theatre; Hull New Theatre; Hull Truck Theatre; Leeds City Varieties Music Hall; Leeds Grand Theatre; Leeds Playhouse; Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds; Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, and Sheffield Theatres (Lyceum and Crucible).

The Love Your Local Theatre promotion is available to anyone who is a National Lottery player and possesses a National Lottery ticket. From today, players can purchase tickets at available performances taking place during March.

Does too-cool-for-school Heathers The Musical make the grade at Leeds Grand Theatre? Here’s the school report

Hands up if you love Heathers The Musical. Picture: Pamela Raith

Heathers The Musical, Leeds Grand Theatre, until Saturday. Box office:  0113 243 0808 or at leedsheritagetheatres.com

LEEDS Grand Theatre is the first theatre in the world to host a touring production of Heathers The Musical.

No wonder the first-night audience was “super-excited” – everything has to be prefixed with “super” these days” – in a theatre so happy to be back to full capacity under Step 4 relaxation.

It was a predominantly young crowd, from late teens to twenties, and largely unmasked, for a show based on Michael Lehmann’s savagely satirical cult 1988 teen movie, an all-American high-school black comedy with Winona Ryder and Christian Slater appeal.

1988? Long before the stalls crowd were born, and yet the in-crowd knew the story, just as they knew the songs too – especially signature song Seventeen – from a musical premiered at Joe’s Pub, in New York City, in September 2010 but only brought over to London in 2018.

How come they cheer the first sight of the too-cool-for-school, ever-so-cruel trio of Heathers, the dead-mean clique with their croquet-mallet disdain at Westerberg High? Maybe they went down to London? Maybe they have the West End cast recording? More likely, they have tapped into the Heathers The Musical phenomenon on TikTok, apparently.

Here’s a quick refresher course for those new to class: Westerberg High pupil Veronica Sawyer (Rebecca Wickes) is just another nobody dreaming of better days at school, until she joins the Heathers clique: leader Heather Chandler (Maddison Faith) and her acolytes Heather Duke (Merryl Ansah) and Heather McNamara (Lizzy Parker).

Whereupon mysterious teen rebel Jason ‘JD’ Dean (Simon Gordon) – his outsider mystery denoted by always wearing black – arrives at Westerberg to teach her that “while it might kill to be a high-school nobody, it is murder being a somebody”. So begins a twisted teen relationship, sure to end more unhappily than a jaunty John Hughes movie.

Lehmann set his savvy, subversive, iconoclastic teen drama against Westerberg High’s tide of dangerously competitive, destructive, dysfunctional social rules, where you could drown in derision, potentially to the point of contemplating suicide, unless you showed the resolute spirit of a Veronica to break the monopoly of priapic sports jocks and hateful Heathers…with fatal consequences.

Now, in 2021, Heathers is darkly topical with teen suicides troubling headline writers, psychologists, parents and school heads alike, although here those suicides are being faked by a vengeful teen sociopath killer. The fact that the school principal and pupils believe they are suicides is arguably more disturbing: collateral damage amid the adolescent angst, turf wars, underdogs and bitches of the school room.

If you want everything to be heightened still more, turn a film into a musical, the opera of our times, and Heathers is duly blessed with top-grade lyrics and music by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy, big on drama, cheese and heart-breaking balladry, for a macabre story of broken childhoods, eating disorders, bullying, lies, shootings and suicide. This is the stuff of opera indeed, but now with to-die-for snappy, cynical, yet sincere dialogue. 

Consequently, Heathers is an adrenaline shot of a show with the darkness, sharpness and sass – and the knockout tunes – to give it the allure of a Wicked The Musical or Hairspray, although maybe not quite the devoted following of Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show.

Veteran impresario Bill Kenwright. who knows a winner when he sees one, is producing this tour in tandem with Paul Taylor-Mills, employing American screen and stage director Andy Frickman to steer a thrilling, dead-funny yet poignant production, one where plenty more than the two leads shine.

Wickes’s Veronica is a steely girl-next-door; Gordon’s magnetic, brooding outsider, JD, sparks love, scorn and fear in equal measure. Her voice stirs and yearns; his voice enchants and ensnares with its beauty.

Faith’s sharp-dressed Heather Chandler looks the natural, click-of-a-finger leader, venomous when provoked, but beneath the surface swagger lies needy insecurity and human frailty.

Liam Doyle and Rory Phelan’s dumb-and-dumber Kurt and Ram transform from jock jerks to lovable eye candy and camp-comedy double act once stripped to their underpants; Georgina Hagen’s teacher Ms Fleming and Mhairi Angus’s neglected Martha “Dumptruck” Dunnstock vie for Heathers’ outstanding vocal cameo; Andy Brady and Kurt Kansley bring bags of personality and humour to assorted school principal/dad/coach roles.

David Shields’ designs, colourful, impressively mobile, smart and very Eighties’ USA, delight too. Of York interest, Gary Lloyd, who choreographed York Stage’s 2020 pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk, brings his West End panache to dance routines that fill the Leeds Grand stage with energy, slick movement and bravura style, especially when the Heathers strut to the fore.

He uses the chorus to the full too, and among the ranks is a face familiar to York audiences, May Tether, who must have caught Lloyd’s eye when starring as Jill in York Stage’s panto. Let’s hope the understudy opportunities come her way on tour because May has an exuberant talent for musical theatre that deserves to be untethered.

Dear Diary, please note a second Yorkshire chance to see Heathers The Musical comes at Sheffield Lyceum Theatre from September 14 to 18. Box office: sheffieldtheatres.co.uk.

Marks: 8/10

NEWSFLASH: 27/8/2021

HERE comes May-hem!

CharlesHutchPress concluded the Heathers The Musical “school report” with the “hope that understudy opportunities come May Tether’s way on tour because she has an exuberant talent for musical theatre that deserves to be untethered”.

Sure enough, a tweet from the York Stage favourite of Goole roots confirms May has played the female lead, Westerburg High pupil Veronica Sawyer, at the Liverpool Empire.

At 9.43 this morning, May tweeted: “So I made my debut as Veronica Sawyer in the @HeathersMusical UK tour and stayed on for the following two-show day… what a thrill, I’m still in shock, you corn nuts are beautiful! In the wise words of @OfficialTracieB I let Liverpool AVVV ITTTTT.”

May Tether in her Liverpool Empire dressing room as she plays Veronica Sawyer for the first time on the Heathers The Musical tour