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September 22, 2013

London's gift of musicals

Prof. Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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I love musicals. They allow me to witness human creativity in music, lyrics, storytelling, acting and dancing all at once. London offers the best. Last summer I attended three on the legendaries Queen (We will Rock You), the Beatles (Let it Be) and Michael Jackson (Thriller Live), four musical dramas; A Chorus Line, The Bodyguard, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and the one-of-a-kind Stomp.

The first three shows are featuring some of the most popular and known songs, each interspersed with a great stage play. All bring back memories. The audience of all ages shared the stage from their seats; standing, clapping, singing and dancing.

I have been a Queen fan for years and We Will Rock You was a superb tribute. A fantastic experience!

The group of four who played more than 20 of the Beatles’ classics in Let It Be including “Come Together,” “Twist and Shout,” “Yesterday,” “Hey Jude,” was excellent. They have created a bond with the audience and looked brilliant; true Beatles in both looks and jokes.

They were immensely talented and mimicked the Beatles personalities and voices exceptionally well. The audience “in the cheap seats clapped their hands while those in the expensive seats shacked their jewellery” as asked by the group as the Beatles would have done. I was happy to hear my favorite, Give Peace a Chance but shy to ask for encore.

The show is performed on the magnificent Savoy Theatre on the Strand, which has been hosting theatre productions since its opening back in 1881.

In the Thriller Live, there was more than one Michael Jackson, starting with the one when he was a boy with the Jackson 5.  All were talented singers/dancers. But the one who dances to Billie Jean toward the end of the show is out of this world.

The story line of A Chorus Line is simple: a group of people, each has a dream to be a big star, are auditioning to be in a chorus line and out of that group only four would be chosen. There was no intermission; the play runs straight through to the end.

The romantic thriller The Bodyguard, an adaptation for the stage of the smash-hit movie starring Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston, features classics, performed with great passion and exceptional talent on the historical Adelphi Theatre on the Strand by Gloria Onitiri, including Queen of the Night, So Emotional, One Moment in Time, Saving All My Love, I’m Your Baby Tonight, Run to You, I Have Nothing, Jesus Loves Me, I Wanna Dance With Somebody and one of the greatest hit songs of all time - I Will Always Love You.

Both Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory appeal to a children audience, but offer great entertainment for all ages. Although Matilda got a higher rating, both are superb in their own way. I liked more the Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes’ Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - maybe because of my love of chocolate.

The Mendes-directed musical is based on Roald Dahl's much-loved – and twice film-adapted – children's book. Douglas Hodge, one of Britain's leading musical performers, stars as a charming and funny Willy Wonka, while Nigel Planer, a former star of 1980s comedy "The Young Ones," is the cast's other big name as Charlie's Grandpa Joe. Both were excellent.

Playwright David Greig has adapted Dahl's story of the poor but imaginative Charlie Bucket, who finds a golden ticket that allows him to tour Wonka's top-secret chocolate factory – alongside four spoiled children, each with his/her next of kin; Augustus Gloop, Violet Beauregarde, Mike Teavee and Veruca Salt.

The show draws very well on special effects that range from animation to shadow projections including excellent onstage creations of the story visual fantasy, from the factory's chocolate waterfall to Wonka's glass elevator. I was impressed.

Finally I attended the 90 minutes unique Stomp. It was about creating music with household items including kitchen sinks. It was imaginative and a great fun. It shows you the difference between noise and music. The talent on the stage was amazing, not a word was spoken but the crew managed to introduce a good dose of humor. The athleticism was also very impressive.

When visiting London, catching a musical is a must.

Dr. Elmasry is an Egyptian-born Canadian professor at the University of Waterloo and an editor of the online weekly

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