The Band - Birmingham Hippodrome:

It would be so easy to please an audience who have come to see a Take That musical - give them the hits, and something to sing and dance to at the end.  Thankfully the producers of "The Band" have put more thought in to it than previous jukebox musicals, this show totally taps into the audiences lives, feelings and emotions, not just through the music, but where their personal journey have taken them.  Tim Firth's script is very relatable, and the story runs deep in many ways.  Not following the story of Take That (in fact, the band’s name in never mentioned during the show), but follows the lives of a group of friends.  It starts in the 90's with a group of 5 female schoolgirls and their connection through their love of their favourite boyband!  Then, something happens that sees the girls go their separate ways, then (like That That) they are reunited years later, and we find out where their lives have taken them.

Winners of TV show "Let It Shine" play the 5 boys in the band, and are hardly off stage, working just as hard as any boyband would. Although they don't interact with the main characters, they still connect with them, always present through their lives. Meanwhile the girls deliver laughs one minute, then more sensitive and tender moments the next.  There isn't a weak member in the cast, and more importantly there isn't a moment when the energy stops.  All the music is perfectly delivered at the right time, and actually in chronological order, mirroring the lives of the main characters, and the audience!  Prepare the laugh, prepare to cry, be ready to sing and dance, and have your heart lifted.

Wed 2nd till Sat 12th May. Tickets from £19.50 plus booking fee. More details here!

Cinderella - Birmingham Hippodrome:

Year on year Birmingham Hippodrome manage to pull all the magic out of the hat for their seasonal panto, and this year is just as spectacular as ever. Feathers and glitter, laughter and tears. I got emotional feels from the very start!

When it comes to casting, everything about this show works. Beverley Knight finally makes her panto debut in Brum, bringing her powerhouse vocals to a sassy Fairy Godmother. Not only one of the UK’s finest singers, with a run of West End shows under her belt, she’s more than at home on the Hippodrome stage, in every sense of the word. Thankfully she is given a chance to shine in this production, with a number of show stopping songs, including a hilarious routine with comedy act The Grumbleweeds, reminiscent of something from a classic Morecambe and Wise Christmas special.

Birmingham’s favourite comedian, Matt Slack returns for his fifth year, with material that he surely must spend all year working on. Both contemporary and local, he truly gets the Birmingham sense of humour, there’s even a gag about the bin strike!

Danny Mac is the perfect Prince Charming, and the Strictly winner get to show off his triple threat skills. He surely must be one of the UK’s best leading men. Suzanne Shaw is loveable as Cinderella, I forgot what a beautiful singing voice she has. When it comes to ugly, the Ugly Sisters were far too glamourous to deserve the name. Every costume just as fabulous as the previous.

There’s so much I want to mention about this show, but to do so would spoil the surprises. I’ve seen quite a lot of panto over the years and thought I’d seen every routine and heard every gag, until now! The biggest laugh and surprise coming towards the end. My only fault would be that the show isn’t long enough, but that’s because I could listen to Beverley Knight singing all night long! 

Runs till 28th Jan. Tickets start from £15.50 plus booking fee, more details here.

Nativity - Birmingham Rep:

Christmas has come early to Birmingham this year, and what better way to start the festive season that with a brand new musical for ALL the family. "Nativity" has everything that a trip to the theatre should have; laughs, great songs, an emotional story, glittery sets, and the ability to put a smile on your face whatever your age. Based on the festive movie, this sparkling new production follows the film's original script with the bonus of brilliant new songs, and is both written and directed by the original creator, Debbie Isset. Having her in creative control, means every detail of the show has been crafted with love, and it shows. However, the true heart of the musical is in the cast. From the moment he bounces on stage, Simon Lipkin (Mr Poppy, the teaching assistant) has the audience eating from the palm of his hand, connecting with not just children in the audience, but the child within every adult. Daniel Boys is the perfect serious teacher Mr Maddens, and is a great sparring partner for the childish Mr Poppy. However, the real starts of the cast must be the kids! They aren’t just backgrounded artists, but essential to the story, and every one of them is a great singer, dancer, actor and comedian. It’s not often you can enjoy a trip to the theatre, knowing that every single member of the family will enjoy the show, but with “Nativity” you can. Like one of the show’s songs, this production if full of “Sparkle and Shine”! With Runs until Sunday 12th November 2017, with tickets starting from £15.

Sunset Boulevard - Birmingham Hippodrome:

Last year I lucky enough to see the legendary actress Glenn Close in a semi-staged version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard. Only the week before I had tickets, Glenn had to miss a few performances, with her understudy Ria Jones stepping into the title role of Norman Desmond, to amazing reviews. Part of me was relieved that I actually did get to see movie icon Glenn Close, but I was also slightly disappointed and also curious to see Ria Jones in the role. So, I was delighted to hear that a fully staged tour of the musical was coming to Birmingham Hippodrome, with Ria rightfully talking the lead. It was well worth the wait, Ria totally became the part of the once famous Hollywood star Norma Desmond, whose golden age has now been left behind, along with the silent movies that made her famous. She genuinely believes she IS big (it’s the pictures that got smaller) and I believe her. I think this is one of Lloyd Webber's greatest musicals, with almost every song feeling like a showstopper. The title number “Sunset Boulevard”, and “With One Look” have all the feel of a Hollywood drama, while “Perfect Year” is the delicate yet glamorous love song. Then, from her slightly erratic and totally diva entrance, Ria’s vulnerable Norma comes out with “As If We Never Said Goodbye”. You can feel her excitement and emotion as she steps back onto a movie set, believing this is her big return, but we know even darker times are yet to come. Last year’s Strictly Come Dancing finalist Danny Mac (who’ll be back to do panto this Christmas) plays Norma’s love interest Joe, although his feeling might not be mutual. Danny plays a down on his luck writer who happens to stumble into Norma’s mansion, and into her life.  Hardly ever off stage, Danny is a joy to watch, and in act 2 he’s down to just his boxers! With the cinematic score comes a grand and cinematic set, based to look like you're on a movie sound stage, with scenes changing like a moving movie set, including an elaborate staircase. A full and talented cast also includes Molly Lynch as Betty, and the wonderful butler with a secret Max (Adam Pearce). With some great production numbers, this has all the glamour and grandiose that a musical set in the golden era of Hollywood deserves. Runs 13th - 18 Nov, tickets from £23 plus booking.

Cilla - New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham:

Having seen biopic musicals about American starts like Buddy Holly and Frankie Vallie (Jersey Boys), it's refreshing to embrace our own British music heritage. Cilla Black was a much-loved UK star, and this production embraces her early life and rise to fame, with all the love and warmth she deserves. Adapted from the award-winning ITV drama, we learn more about her relationship with music and partner Bobby, with extra attention to the music itself. The 60’s sound is beautifully recreated with precision, all helped by the powerhouse vocals of the main star herself, played by Kara Lily Hayworth. She doesn’t only talk like our Cilla, she sings like her and gives a stand out performance, lapped up by a packed house. As well as all the popular hits from the Liverpool songstress, we get other Merseybeat favourites from the likes of The Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers, which all help the story along. A great cast, and a script that’s packed with a lorra lorra laughs! Tickets HERE from £17.90 plus booking fee, runs until Saturday 14th October 2017.

Hairspray - Birmingham Hippodrome:

I've seen Hairspray quite a few times now, and never get tired of it, thanks mostly to the feel-good songs like "You Can't Stop The Beat" and "Welcome To The 60's". The show has been on Broadway, in the West End, and there was the John Travolta a film version, a live TV special with Ariana Grande, all of which have helped confirm that Hairspray is now one of the classic musicals. From the opening number “Good Morning Baltimore”, this updated production is packed with energy and never loses momentum. Matt Rixton gives a towering performance as Edna, and his/her daughter Tracey (played by Rebecca Mendoza) has the most gorgeous voice. Returning to this cast as Motormouth Maybelle is Brenda Edwards (X Factor), who has one of the most amazing vocal performances I've seen for a while, this woman can take the roof off!  Other stand-out performances include Layton Williams as Seaweed, who totally captivates an audience, and Gina Murray’s wonderfully outrageous Velma Von Tussle.  Runs till 14th October 2017. Tickets from £19.50 plus booking fee

Spamalot - New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham:

Kicking off this year’s Birmingham Comedy Festival, with the funniest musical EVER! Even people who aren't fans of Monty Python, will still laugh out loud at this ridiculously daft show, telling the story (loosely) of King Arthur and his quest for The Holy Grail.  With a superbly talented cast, this production proves that you don’t need famous names to still have a great show, even though one of the number in the show would make you think otherwise. “Always Look on The Bright Side of Life” was an obvious audience pleaser, and updated references to people like Donald Trump and Piers Morgan keeps the show fresh. A silly and fun night out!  Runs until Saturday 7th October, tickets from £21.40.

Duet For One - Birmingham Rep:

With such an intimate and detailed set at Birmingham Repertory Theatre, you immediately feel included in Dr Feldmann's office, which set's you up for this emotional play about a patient's relationship with her psychiatrist. “Duet For One” is an intriguing and at times moving look at what happens when your life takes as turn, and what you know and what you had planned for the future, have to change. Belinda Lang (who you'll know from 2 Point 4 Children) is brilliantly acerbic as a former classical musician who is dealing with a condition that has changed her life both physically and mentally. While Oliver Cotton (Trevor Nunn's The War Of The Roses and Richard II) plays the doctor who quietly and tactically delves into her past, to reveal more than she realises. A brilliant two hander, from a pair of actors at the top of their profession, in an award winning and relatable piece of theatre. Runs until Saturday 7th October, tickets from £15.

Miss Saigon - Birmingham Hippodrome:

The classic West End and Broadway spectacular is in Birmingham for summer! A war-time love story is always going to be destined for heartbreak, so prepare to hold your breath and wipe away tears in this true epic. Orphan Kim is played by the amazing Sooha Kim, a tiny lady with a massive voice, who, while “working” in a bar, falls in love with the very handsome American GI Chris (Ashley Gilmour). Unlike some musicals, every song in Miss Saigon plays its part, from the beautiful ballad “Last Night Of The World”, to the raunchy “American Dream”. There is no doubt this is a big show, visually stunning, with a talented cast of over 40 performers, including crowd favourite Red Conception, who played the slimy and devious Engineer. If you’ve never seen the show before, or you’re not familiar with the story, my advice it to see it without much knowledge, and prepare yourself to be captivated by this must-see show! Tickets from £30 (plus booking fee). Runs till 23rd September. More details here.

Addams Family - Birmingham Hippodrome:

I didn’t know what to expect from this new musical, apart from the celebrity cast everything was a surprise to me, and what a pleasant surprise it was! The famous opening theme led to a run of brilliant and original songs, with a funny and punchy fast flowing script. Not only does this show have celebrity casting, it has perfect casting. Carrie Hope Fletcher balanced the creepy and dark side of Wednesday, whilst being an everyday stroppy teenager who falls in love with your “normal” typical American boy. This leads to a meeting of both worlds, part narrated by Les Dennis as Uncle Fester, who uses his comic experience to help the story flow. It’s nice to see former EastEnder Samantha Womack back on stage, oozing all the sassiness of mum Morticia, and Cameron Blakely is just superb as Gomez, using every physical and vocal skill to bring the head of the Addams Family to life. The comedy musical premiered in New York a few years ago, and I felt like I was getting all the quality of a Broadway show last night in Birmingham. Creepy, kooky and tremendous fun! Tickets from £17 (plus booking fee). Runs till 10th June. More details here.

Funny Girl - Birmingham Hippodrome:

Direct from a successful run in the West End, Birmingham gets to see one of our best actresses, in one of her most perfect roles, Sheridan Smith as Fanny Bryce. When it comes to comic timing, Sheridan has everything, every word and every glance was lapped up by the audience, with some big belly laughs. Being not the tallest of actresses makes her perfect for the role made famous by Barbara Streisand, but she also has the most beautiful singing voice that delights for the songs “People” and the show-stopping “Don’t Rain On My Parade”. The tall, dark and handsome love interest Nick Arnstein, is played by the equally tall, dark and handsome Darius Campbell, who plays his part with all the charm it needs, and he has the most brilliant on stage chemistry with Sheridan. A spectacular set, dazzling costumes, and a highly talented cast, makes this a triumphant night of musical theatre. Tickets from £22 (plus booking fee). Runs till 13th May. Details here.

Billy Elliot - Birmingham Hippodrome:

Never have I experienced such emotion in a theatre, than I did at Billy Elliot. Everything about this musical, following one boys struggle to follow his dreams to become a dancer, cleverly uses every aspect of theatre to immerse you on his journey. From Sir Elton John's wonderful score, to the genius choreography from Peter Darling, we feel the worry of the mining community, the sadness of Billy's loss of his mum, and the anger that his family can't see his talent. Four young boys share the title role, and on opening night we had the joy of West Brom’s Lewis Smallman. Not only is Lewis a great dancer, he is a star, and you can feel this from the audiences reaction from the showstopping “Electricity”. Billy’s dad, played by Martin Walsh, and brother (Scott Garnham) are great as tough stuborn miners, also both showing their warmth and acceptance. Dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson, Annette McLauchlin, is wonderfully bossy and motherley, and great comedy comes from best friend Michael and eccentric Nan (Andrea Miller). This show will make you smile one minute and cry the next, but most of all it will warm your heart! Tickets from £25 (plus booking fee). Runs till 29th April. Details here.

The Comitmments - New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham:

Any show that kicks in with "Proud Mary", you know you're in for a good night. Based on the novel (then famous film) from Roddy Doyle, this tells the story of a group of Irish musicians looking to put the soul in Dublin, by setting up their own band. Most of the story is set up in the first half, leading to a more musical second half, then an encore that feels more like a gig. The story, characters, one-liners and Dublin accents come thick and fast, at times too fast to keep up with. It's the music that the audience is there for, performed by an amazingly talented cast, and highlights include "River Deep, Mountain High" and "Try A Little Tenderness". Runs till 18th March 2017, with tickets from £21.90 (plus fees) - more details here

Shirley Valentine - New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham:

It's 30 years since Willy Russel penned what has become this classic piece of British writing, and it hasn't dated! The reason being, there's a little bit on Shirley in all of us. Jodie Prenger fabulously takes the lead in this one woman play, about the Liverpool housewife whose life has just past her by (at 42!). She's in a loveless routined marriage, her kids have left home, and she looks back wondering where her life has gone, and what happened to Shirley Valentine. From her kitchen in Liverpool, to her new life in Greece, every word is beautifully crafted and delivered. We love and understand her character from the start, as Jodie has a great talent of not just being the lead, but also coming to life as other people in Shirley’s life, from her nosy neighbour to looking back at her son's Nativity play. Funny, relatable, heartwarming, and you can even smell the chips and egg cooking in act 1! Runs till 11th March 2017, with tickets from £15.00 (plus fees) - more details here

Thoroughlt Modern Millie - New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham:

A new UK musical theatre star has been born, in this new tour of the award winning comedy! We know Strictly Come Dancing winner Joanne Clifton is a phenomenal dancer, but she's also a great singer and actress as Millie Dillmount, the small town girl looking to make it in The Big Apple in 1922. The big production number are what make this show, and why Joanne is so good in it. With a great supporting cast including EastEnders actress Michelle Collins, who I thought could go even more OTT as the evil land lady Mrs Meers. The plot is pretty daft at times, but a great comedy moment comes from her drunk boss, played by Graham MacDuff. Runs till 18th Feb 2017, with tickets from £17.50 (plus fees) - more details here

Dirty Dancing - Belgrade Theatre, Coventry:

How do you transfer the iconic movie, live on stage? Do a musical, a play? No, you put on the theatrical production that made a LOT of women VERY happy when I saw it at Belgrade Theatre Coventry. Jonny (played by Lewis Grifiths) and Baby (Katie Hartland) are just perfectly cast in the legendary roles, with every moment and famous line from the film delighting the audiences. This isn't a musical, however there are live performances (from the wonderful Michael Kent and Daniela Pobega) that come at just the right time. Wonderful choreography and a great cast, build up to the climax of the story, and THAT lift! You can feel everybody in the theatre just waiting for it, and it doesn't disappoint. You will have the time of your life! Runs till 4th Feb 2017, with tickets from £36.50 (plus fees) - more details here

Dick Whittington - Birmingham Hippodrome:

The Birmingham Hippodrome panto always prides itself as being the biggest in the country, and once again it’s larger than life! Big sets, big costumes, big routines, lots of big laughs, even a big rat! In fact, the only thing not big is Wee Jimmy Krankie! With so much going on, the show is fast and pacey from the word go, crammed with great routines, which sometimes come at the risk of missing the story. Playing the lead is John Barrowman, who looks delighted to be back in Brum, giving his everything in every musical number. However, it’s the return of panto favourite Matt Slack that really delighted the audience. With perfectly crafted and clever comedy, his act appeals to every age range without the fear off offence, a true talent who will never now be able to leave Birmingham. His chemistry with fabulous Dame, Andrew Ryan (who once again has the most outrageous costumes), is one that can’t be rehearsed, it comes down to knowing your audience and perfecting your craft! More panto laughs come from The Krankies, who prove they have a timeless and polished act (that sometimes comes near to the knuckle), but are still not afraid to poke fun at themselves. Jodie Prenger is the perfect fairy, and has a voice that can belt out a great ballad, wonderfully complimenting JB’s powerful lungs! EastEnders tough man Steve McFadden (Phil Mitchel in the soap) couldn’t be better cast as the nasty King Rat, and Danielle Hope is a great but very underused Alice. Big credit must also be given to the team of dancers, with great choreography not usually seen in panto. Their full out routines can’t be easy is some of the unpractical but glamorous costumes. Runs till 29th Jan 2017, with tickets from £15.50 (plus fees) - more details here

Aladdin - Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton:

The challenge of creating a perfect panto is never easy, however that's exactly what they have done this year at The Grand. Every cast member brilliantly owns their part, combining great panto routines with a wonderfully told story. Panto favourite, Lisa Riley, bursts onto stage (to the Strictly theme) as Slave of the Ring, full of energy and larger than life, showing off her slimmer figure. Her nemesis Stefen Pejic, plays the evil Abanazar with a feel of Johnny Depp to the character, with a few magic tricks up his sleeve. Taking the lead role is the always smiling X Factor winner Joe McElderry, who blows the roof off the Grand every time he sings, while his Princess, the lovely Lucy Kay, I felt was a little underused as Jasmine. Adam Booth drives the energy of the show as Wishy Washy, with one of the best and most frantic renditions of the classic panto routine “If I Were Not Upon The Stage” I think I’ve ever seen. Ian Adams must be one of the best Dames in the business, and his Widow Twanky gives the show a traditional feel, along with Ben Faulks as PC Pong and Neal Wright as a street wise Genie of the Lamp. However, the greatest casting decision has to be that of local legend Doreen as the lazy Empress. Some panto’s can try and crow-bar in a local feel to their production, but as soon as you hear the first words with her YamYam accent, you know she has the audience eating from the palm of her hand. Runs till 22nd Jan 2017, with tickets from £17.50 (plus fees) - more details here.

Chicago - New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham:

The music of Kander and Ebb, and the unmistakable choreography of Bob Fosse is what makes 'Chicago' a theatre giant! However, to make this work on stage needs a truly talented cast, and this production has just that! The tale of crime and celebrity, set in the cabaret underworld of the 1920's, has a named cast, but more than just being there for the poster, they all excel in their parts. EastEnder's star John Partridge has spent most of his professional life on a West End stage, and his sometimes slimy portrayal of lawyer Billy Flynn, gives more than just "the old razzle dazzle". Hayley Tamaddon is a familiar face on Coronation Street, but what you might not know is that she has the most wonderful singing voice! Her Roxie Hart is both sinister and vulnerable, complimented by Sophie Carmen-Jones as Velma Kelly. Special mentions also for Neil Ditt as Amos (the lovable "Mr Celophane"), and AD Richardson as the wonderfully operatic Mary Sunshine. If you've never seen Chicago on stage, put away your copy of the Oscar winning film, and enjoy being transported into a seedy yet sexy jazz club, with an amazing live band and salacious dancers....and All That Jazz! Runs till Saturday 31st December 2016.

The Full Monty - Birmingham Hippodrome:

From the moment the curtain came up, it was obvious that the (mostly female) audience in The Hippodrome wanted flesh! So familiar in modern culture is the 1997 film (and it’s ending), that the play started on a high. Gary Lucy’s entrance on stage was like that of a pop star on tour, but it wasn’t long before the audience soon embraced to the warmth of his character, Gaz, an unemployed dad who would do anything to see his son. This is not just a well-known cast, but a superb company who delivered not just big laughs, but truly engaging performances. Kai Owen was a comic genius, as Gaz’s tubby mate Dave. I adored Anthony Lewis, who gave a portrayal of dopy and depressed Lomper with right level of dark Northern humour necessary. Luis Emerick (Horse) had a show stopping moment with his first dance-break, and Andrew Dunn was perfect as former boss Gerald. It was also great to see Chris Fountain back on stage, and he well and truly stopped act one as well-endowed Guy. All the male characters had the believability for every man in the audience to find relatable, and the compassion for every woman in the audience to find lovable. Supporting cast members delivered all the bawdy Northerness required for some big belly laughs, and little Nathan (Gaz’s son) gave an unbelievable performance with perfect comic timing! A wonderful and industrial set took us from steal works, to a working man’s club. Clever lighting and wonderful direction, recreating all the memorable moments from the film, leading to the classic ending of the FULL MONTY. Did they leave their hat’s on? That would be telling. Runs till Saturday 19th November. Tickets from £17.50 plus booking fee - more details. 

Legally Blonde - Stourbridge Town Hall:

OMG you guys! Elle Woods (and her pet pooch Buster) are in Stourbridge for the week. Personally, I think the musical is better than the film, some beautiful songs (and some beautifully funny songs) made this a West End and Broadway smash a few years ago, and now a fantastic production is being staged by Stourbridge Amateur Operatic Society. For an amateur production, the show is more of a professional scale than you may expect. Scene changes, sets, sound and lights move at a slick pace, and with a talented cast to boot, you can see a lots of time and effort has gone into this production. Lara Mitchel took lead as Elle, the heartbroken blonde, who follows her man to study law at Harvard. Lara's vocals were beautiful, especially the duet with new love interest Emmett (Jonathan Hunt). Other mentions need to be made to Kyle Pedley making a strong debut as Professor Callaghan, and Julia Tromas as loveable hairdresser Paulette. A strong cast with great supporting roles, and some fantastic choreographed routines. My only criticism was that sometimes the live band overpowered some of the vocals. Runs until Saturday 22nd October.

Blood Brothers - Birmingham Hippodrome:

“The standing ovation musical” and “a play with songs” are descriptions of Blood Brothers over recent years. Such is the impact of this musical theatre institution, gripping audiences for over 30 years without a jazz-hand in sight. The story of Mrs Johnston, a single mum in Liverpool with far too many children for her income to cope with, upon finding out she’s pregnant (again) with twins, she gives one away, to bring up the other thinking that his brother is dead! Sean Jones and Joel Benedict brilliantly play the doomed brothers from the age of 7, up to their doomed adulthood, showing how their lives have developed in very different ways. Having seen this show a number of times, I’ve never seen such a wonderful cast, making their portrayals of the naughty children just as realistic as when we follow them growing up, involving us more and more as their characters develop. The unfolding of the story, is what makes the show so gripping, and narrator Dean Chisnall perfectly balances holding the audiences hand, whilst still reminding us of the dark realisation that something more sinister is just around the corner. Lyn Paul has played the part of the mother, Mrs J, on and off for over 20 years (including the West End), and has fully immersed into her character. This show is gritty and real, and she plays the part with every emotion, whilst beautifully breaking our hearts with songs like “Easy Terms” and the ultimate musical showstopper, that brings the story to its climax “Tell Me It’s Not True”. A night of emotional yet enjoyable theatre, that had the audience numbed by the end. Tickets from £18.00, plus booking fee. Runs until Saturday 22nd October - more details

Sister Act - New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham:

Fabulous, fun and funky! X Factor winner Alexandra Burke dons the nun's habit, to play Delores, the night club singer, hiding in a nunnery under police protection after witnessing a murder! A relative newcomer to musical theatre after a recent run in "The Bodyguard", Alexandra is just perfect for this role! She can belt out a ballad, she can sing and dance her way through the soulful up-tempo numbers, and she totally becomes the part. Giving 100% throughout, she also shows great comic timing! Many people can be put off that the show doesn't use the songs from the original Woopie Goldberg film, but the amazing score from Alan Menkin (Little Mermaid and Little Shop Of Horrors), just adds rather than taking away, with some amazing production numbers such as "Fabulous" and "Take Me To Heaven". This tour also features actor musicians, yes, nuns playing saxophones! I’m not usually a fan of this type of production, but through wonderful stage and music direction, it adds another level to the show. Other stand out performances include Karen Mann (Mother Superior) and Sarah Goggin (Sister Mary Robert), who give a touch of Broadway to the show! A great cast, in a show that really takes it to church! Tickets from £17.90 plus booking fee. Runs until Saturday 17th September - more details

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - Birmingham Hippodrome:

Two days later, and I'm still singing "Oh you, pretty chitty Bang Bang, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang we love you", and sadly still having nightmares about the Child Catcher! Such is the legend of the story of the flying car, a family favourite whatever your age. West End favourite Lee Mead takes lead role as inventor Caractacus Potts, his beautiful tones making "Hushabye Mountain", one of the shows vocal highlights. The cast in this production is just fabulous, Carrie Hope Fletcher is a perfect Truly Scrumptious, and the show has great comedy from Phil Jupitus and Claire Sweeney as the Barron and Baroness. But I think the audience favourites had to be Sam Harrison and Scott Paige, as totally camp and hilarious spies Boris and Goran, with some cheeky side-lines and great disguises. The car is obviously a star, and this production (unlike the last time it was in Brum) relies more on projection to set the scene. Timeless classic songs and some great choreographed dance routines, such as “Old Bamboo”, will have you singing in the car all the way home. Runs from Tuesday 5th - Saturday 18th September. Tickets from £23.50 plus booking fee - more details

Sunny Afternoon - New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham:

Fresh from a West End run, where it won Best New Musical at last year’s Olivier Awards, this tells the story and features the hits of The Kinks. Set in the swinging 60's, at the height of the British Invasion, everything in this show captures the spirit of the era. I didn't know much about the group, or their music, but this show makes you feel like you know them. Thankfully their music and lyrics tell a story, so you never feel like the script is being forced (and what a funny witty script it is). The set is stunning, a wall of speakers greats the audience, and sets you up for a loud show! The choreography is characterful, and particularly makes use of the period. With a wonderful and talented cast, playing live and singling classics like "Lola", "Days" and "Dedicated Follower of Fashion", I'm thankfully that I got to see this award winning show in Birmingham, after missing the London run. Runs from Tuesday 5th - Saturday 10th September - more details

Mamma Mia - Birmingham Hippodrome:

We’ve not had much to be happy about so far this year, and the weather hasn't even been great. However, it's sunshine and smiles all round this summer in Birmingham, as the ABBA musical Mamma Mia takes to the stage at The Hippodrome till September. Set on a Greek island, we meet Sophie (Lucy May Barker) on the eve of her wedding to Sky (Phillip Ryan), and she's invited 3 men she's never met...because she knows that one of them is her dad! I won't tell you the rest of the story, as the world and his Volvo have seen the Meryl Streep film. The difference between this production and the movie however, is that this cast can actually sing (sorry Pierce Brosnan fans)! Sara Poyzer is superb as mum (Donna), and perfectly delivers every heart-breaking word and note of "Winner Takes It All" (probably the greatest musical theatre song, that wasn't actually written for a musical). It does feel like the songs were written for a show, such is the genius of the music and lyrics of ABBA. Every number is a gem, from the beautifully crafted ballads, to the bigger production numbers like Voulez-Vous. Emma Clifford and Jaquialine Braun add a AbFab-esque comedy partnership as Donna’s friends, Tanya and Rosie, whilst all three “dads” (Tim Walton, Christopher Hollis and Richard Standing) gave solid performances, bringing the lyrics to life. The set is quite simple but works well, add to this the talented and good-looking cast, and a finale that got everyone on their feet, this is a real West End quality show, that doesn’t cut corners. Runs till Saturday 3rd September 2016.

The Glenn Miller Story - New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham:

From the moment Tommy Steele walks on stage, you know you're watching a true showbiz legend. The 80 year old entertainer is perfect casting for the lead role as the war time band leader, and his presence on stage is greater than that of a performer half his age! What really makes this show though, is the live 16 piece orchestra, wonderfully creating a sound that fills the auditorium with hits such as "In The Mood" and "Moonlight Serenade". The story bounces through at pace, and the supporting cast of singers and dancers give the music a contemporary feel for the Strictly generation. A wonderfully entertaining evening, proving that there's more to Glenn Miller than Jive Bunny and GCSE music. Runs till Saturday 27th August. Tickets from £17.90 plus booking fee - more details 

Grease - New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham:

"Stage Experience" summer production is one of the Birmingham theatre highlights of the year. Hundreds (and I mean hundreds) of talented young people from all over the West Midlands get together, and over the space of just two weeks, put on a massive show. If you're expecting an amateur production of "Grease", think again. Not only is the staging, lighting and sound in this show impressive, but you'll see West End stars of the future (some musical theatre professionals, like Liam Doyle, started here). There are some genuine true stars in this production, and some powerful performances - Georgina Anderson (Sandy) blew the audience away with "Hopelessly Devoted To You". As well as learning lines, vocals and stage directions (in two weeks remember), there are also some big dance routines and production numbers, where the stage and auditorium fills with dozens of young performers. “Beauty School Dropout”, led by Mark Walsh as Teen Angel and Georgina Steegles (Frenchie) is not just OTT, but very cheeky. "Grease" is constantly voted as one of the greatest musicals of all time, and this production does it proud. I'm already looking forward to next years "West Side Story". Runs till Saturday 21st Aug 2016. Tickets from £15 plus booking fee.

Guys and Dolls - Wolverhampton Grand:

Set in New York, this touring production of gamblers and their girls arrives in Wolverhampton, with all the production values of its West End counterpart! I’ve seen Louise Dearman is almost every show she’s done (Wicked, Evita, etc), and her performance as Miss Adelaide is both funny and loveable, showing off her comic timing as well as fabulous voice. Richard Fleeshman is an utterly charming young gambling rogue Sky Masterson, and his powerful jazzy vocals belt out “Luck Be A Lady” with all the ease of a young Sinatra. Most of the big production numbers come in act 2, with “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat” being one of the show’s highlights. Runs till Saturday 23rd July 2016. Tickets from £26.50 plus booking fee

Footloose The Musical - New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham:

So, I'm not usually a fan of stage musicals where the characters also play instruments as well as their parts, especially in a show where the story revolves around a town where dancing and rock'n'roll is banned. However, you soon forget this, after all this is musical theatre, and should be an escape from the world outside! Luke Baker plays Ren, the boy from the big city who moves to a small town, and soon falls in love with the preacher’s daughter, Ariel (Hanna Price). Their beautiful duet 'Almost Paradise' was one of the vocal highlights of the show, which also features favourites from the movie soundtrack, such as "Let's Hear It For The Boy" and "I Need A Hero", along with the title track. A special mention must go to Luke Thornton who stepped in for Gareth Gates to play loveable hick Willard, this really is the year of the understudy and Luke was one of the shows shining stars. The set was quite basic, and the small cast of actor/musicians sometimes meant that she show lacked big production numbers. All in all though, a good fun night out! Runs till Saturday 10th July 2016. Tickets from £17.90 plus booking fee.

Jackie - Malvern Theatres:

A musical inspired by a popular teenage girls magazine from the 70's sounds like a crazy idea. Well, whoever came up with that crazy idea, has given us one of the most fun nights out at the theatre I've had for a long time. From the start, the audience (mostly women of a certain age) were up for a great night - reliving the music they grew up with, and reminiscing about younger times. Whatever your age, the retro hits (performed by a live on stage band) had the audience swaying in their seats, and sometimes up and dancing in the aisles during the show! The brilliant comedy actress Janet Dibley plays the title role of Jackie, a woman with a teenage son about to get divorced. When opening a box containing back issues of her Jackie magazines, it opens up a wealth of memories for her and the audience. We follow her through a journey of relationships with her soon to be ex-husband, new love, best friend, her son...and her younger self! The script is tight, and wonderfully funny, and you don't have to be too familiar with the references to "Jackie" to get the jokes. Hits include "Tiger Feet", "Enough Is Enough" and an unforgettable rendition of "Puppy Love", all wonderfully brought to life by Arlene Phillips slick choreography. This show doesn't take itself too seriously, but it is a seriously great show! Runs till Saturday 25th June 2016. For £50? Tickets from £21.28 plus booking fee.

Rocky Horror Show - Wolverhampton Grand:

Richard O'Brien's classic rock'n'roll musical is back in Wolverhampton! Whether you're a first timer, or you've been dressed-up and part of the following for many years, you'll feel part of the party. I saw this tour earlier in the year, starring Coventry's Liam Tamne (from West End show Les Mis and Phantom) who takes the lead as the youngest Frank I think I've ever seen. He manages to be all the man that the part needs, with an added extra cheekiness, and his voice is just brilliant. S Club's Paul Cattermole plays Dr Scott, while X Factor's Diana Vickers gave a perfect performance as the "clean living" Janet (although as an audience member, prepare to shout obscenities at her suggesting otherwise). This leg of the tour features Dudley born comedian Norman Pace taking on the fun job as narrator, holding the flow of the show together. Arguably the real star of the show though, is the show itself. After 43 years, people still dress up and join in, with the added unpredictability it's easy to see why fans come to see the show time and time again. You'll want to do The Time Warp again...and again...and again! Runs till 18th June 2016. For £50? Tickets from £19.50 plus booking fee

Cats - Birmingham Hippodrome:

Even if you're not a regular theatre goer, you must have a check list of shows that you have to see. Andrew Lloyd Webber's classic musical "Cats", must be high on this list. This latest touring version has been given a new lease of life (one of nine I presume), and has a much fresher and slightly more contemporary feel, without losing its original look. Rum Tum Tugger is a much more street wise urban cat, and has been given a rap (possibly influenced by Broadway's latest hit "Hamilton"), and a few other visual effects have been added to make it look less tired. The story of "Cats" by the way (if you've never seen it), well, there isn't really one, it's based on T S Elliot's "Old Possums Book of Practical Cats"! Instead, enjoy the fantastic choreography and timeless musical score - "Memory" always gives me goosebumps. For £50? Tickets start from £20 each, plus booking fee.

Tom - A Story of Tom Jones. The Musical - New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham:

If you're expecting a jukebox musical that crams in as many hits from Tom Jones as possible, then that's not this show. "Tom" is more of a play with songs, which takes us back to his early years in The Valleys, struggling to get noticed and make it to the big time. We follow his relationship with wife, Linda (Ellin Phillips), and his journey to London to find that first elusive breakthrough hit. Crammed with rock'n'roll classics, we don't get to hear the Tom Jones hits until the end of act 2, when Tom finally has his first number one. Kit Orton is fantastic as Tom, he has the voice and the hips, and we do get to her a medley of Tom Jones songs in the encore. As a play, this is very good, but I can't help feeling the audience wanted to hear more of the songs that he was famous for. For £50? Tickets start from £17.90 each, plus booking fee.

Save The Last Dance For Me - New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham:

Following on from the massive stage hit "Dreamboats and Petticoats", the production team bring us another feel-good rock'n'roll musical. This nostalgic juke box show features hits like "Please Mr Postman", "1,2,3" and "Teenager In Love", and they had the audience swaying and tapping their toes from curtain-up! Blue's Anthony Costa plays one of a group of American soldiers in an air force base in Lowestoft (which is funny in itself), and it was nice to hear him singing as a soloist for once! There was also a very strong stage debut from X Factor star Lola Saunders, who (with her sister) finds romance whilst on holiday! A really witty script, with nice throwback references, plus a talented and versatile cast (who played all the instruments on stage). Runs till Saturday 21st May 2016. For £50? Tickets from £17.90 plus booking fee.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert - Wolverhampton Grand:

The tale of 3 drag queens, traveling across Australia in a rusty old bus! What's not to love about this musical, packed with big disco classics? The cult film is fabulously brought to life in this camp staging starring Duncan James (from Blue), who strips down to his pants within the first minute of the show. I saw the original London version of the show, and would never expect a production of that scale to be replicated on tour. This version does however, manage to keep many of the OTT costumes, all the camp hits, and more importantly the feel-good spirit of the show! A fun night out, great songs, and some killer one-liners! Runs till Sat 7th May. For £50? Tickets from £20.75 plus booking fee!

Let It Be - Birmingham Hippodrome:

Travel back to the era of when British pop music ruled the world (1st time round) with an evening of music from The Beatles. Every big hit from The Fab Four is in this show, which starts with their early days in The Cavern Club in Liverpool, right up to their break up in 1970. This isn't a musical, but more of a theatrical review of their songs. This means you don't get to tied up in the events of their lives, they just get right into brilliantly recreated big hits that changed the music world. Let's face it, they have a big back catalogue to get through, so why waste time with a script! The four cast members on stage were just as fab as the fab four, and every song sounded incredibly like the original. Runs till Saturday 30th April.  Can a couple go for under £50? Tickets from £13.50 plus booking fee.

Mary Poppins - Birmingham Hippodrome:

There's so much I want to say about this magical production, but I think that would ruin many of the surprises of this spectacular show. Mary Poppins is classic Disney! This in itself gives us the well known story of the nanny who flies in to look after the Banks children, and timeless classics songs such as "Jolly Holiday", "Let's Go Fly A Kite", "Spoonfull of Sugar" and of course "Supercallifragilisticexpialidocious". All the big songs are all in there, with wonderfully choreographed routines, but new songs added for the stage show are also wonderful. Zizi Strallen is not just practically perfect as the lead, she is totally perfect, and Matt Lee dances his away around the stage as Bert, like you wouldn't believe! When you see a Disney musical on stage, you really do feel part of the magic, and this will make you feel like you're watching a show on a Broadway stage. Magical! Runs till Saturday 23rd April.  Can a couple go for under £50? Tickets from £25 plus booking fee.

Annie - Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton:

With a family favourite like Annie, it's hard to keep it fresh without re-setting it in the 21st century (like the recent film version with Cameron Diaz). Everyone knows (as was brought up with) songs like "Tomorrow" and "Hard Knock Life", so this classic story of the little orphan, has to be set in 1930's America to work! This new production keeps to the original story, and has been re-imagined wonderfully! Colourful and lively, this new tour has obviously been influenced by west end productions Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, in its fresh look. There is never a dull moment or lull during the show, with Nick Winston's choreography keeping the show energised through songs like "Easy Street" and "Little Girls", that some audience members may not be too familiar with. Leslie Joseph is perfectly cast as the crabby Miss Hanigan, Jonny Fines was wonderful as her dodgy brother Rooster. However, you can't have Annie without a highly talented bunch of girls to play the orphans, and Elise Blake (as the title role) and her co-stars had professionalism and talent worthy of season professionals! Runs till 9th April 2016.  Can a couple go for under £50? Yes, tickets from £23.50 plus booking fee.

Thriller Live - New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham:

If you're expecting just another Michael Jackson tribute show, you'd be wrong. This is the ultimate tribute to the music and choreography, that made Jacko "The King of Pop"! No delving into his life, just 30 routines performed by an amzing cast of singers and dancers. From the early Jackson 5 days, upto big production numbers such has 'Thriller' and 'Smooth Criminal', this show has it all! Runs till Saturday 12th March.  Can a couple go for under £50? Tickets from £19.65 plus booking fee. Avenue Q - Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury: I always describe Avenue Q as "an adult Sesame Street", but it's not until you really watch the show, that you realise it runs deeper, and more personal than that. This musical comedy casts puppets and actors, playing characters starting out in adult life. Dealing with issues like racism, sexuality, love and loss, this show is laugh out loud funny...without being offensive! Every cast member is faultless, proving their worth in this show that started it's Broadway run in 2003. Although this musical is very different to what you'd usually see on stage, it still has some of musical theatre's greatest songs, like the hilarous "Everyone's A Little Bit Racist" and beautiful "There's A Fine, Fine Line". It's a show that makes you feel good inside, and that life shouldn't be taken too seriously!  Can a couple go for under £50? Tickets from £19 plus booking fee.

Jersey Boys - Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton:

It's not until you see the show, that you realise how many amazing songs Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons have had. From their beginings singing under a street light in New Jersey, to early noughties dance cover versions from Madcon! In this musical, you hear them all, and the harmonies of the lead singers are on point! Matt Corner, as Frankie, manages to hit every note, mastering that famous falsetto voice of the lead singer. What I loved about this from the first time I saw it, was the story. I didn't know how the group got together, or the personal and financial struggles they had. The story alone makes a worthy theatre production, but then you add hits like "Walk Like A Man" and "Can't Take My Eyes Off You", and you can see why you have a Broadway, West End and Hollywood hit! This is a musical you can easilly watch again and again. Runs till 20th Feb 2016.  Can a couple go for under £50? Not this time, just a touch more - tickets from £27.50 plus booking fee. Worth it though! 

Aladdin - Birmingham Hippodrome:

Every year The Hippodrome manage to put on a spectacular, up-to-date, yet traditional pantomime! This year, they have worked their magic again. A big name cast, where every member works so well. Matt Slack returns for his third year in Brum, and is the true hard working panto comic, that keeps the show's energy pumping. This guy has the audience eating out of the palm of his hand, and can get laughs just by walking on stage. Julian Clarey provides the alternative laughs, with his innuendos and nonchalant delivery as Slave of the Ring. Marti Pellow (yes, from Wet Wet Wet) is not just evil, but sinister as Abanaza. Andrew Ryan is one of the country's finest panto dames, with fabulous costumes and eyelashes that can be seen from the rear circle. Lee Mead is a great Aladdin, and I would love to have heard more of Landi Oshinowo as The Empress, who has an amazing soulful voice! Add to this, a Brummie Genie, and upside down flying carpet, and 3D scene that doesn't feel out of place. Along with great sets, colourful costumes, hardworking dancers (who often in panto, don't get the credit they deserve), elephants, monkeys and pandas! This is one of the best pantos I have ever seen! Runs till 31st Jan 2016. For £50? Tickets from £14 plus booking fee

The Snowman - Birmingham Rep:

Even with Christmas now a distant memory, The Snowman still provides a festive warm feeling. This production made it's debut at The Rep in 1993, and has since toured the world, coming back home to the theatre which made and launched it. It's a timeless story, that's part of everyone's lives, the music is just unforgettable and the wintry set just perfect. This full length stage version makes you feel is though you're actually in the classic Raymond Briggs tale, complete with a flying Snowman and dancing penguins. Even on a freezing day in January, I came out of the theatre with a warm feeling inside. Runs till 24th Jan 2016.  For £50? Tickets from £13.50 plus booking fee

Peter Pan - Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton:

This was the first time I've ever seen Peter Pan as a panto, and even without your traditional dame, it works well. Mainly down to the Chuckle Brothers, who keep the traditional elements of panto variety alive, with brilliantly timeless and hilarious routines - you'll never handle a cucumber again without thinking of Barry Chuckle! Brooklyn Beckham look-a-like Ross Carpenter is a perfect Peter, Lucy Evans a brilliant bossy Tinkerbell, and what a coup to get the nastiest soap villain, EastEnders Nick Cotton (John Altman) to play Captain Hook. Add to this a great flying car at the end of act 1, which almost flies up to the circle seats, and great musical numbers. Great traditional family fun. Runs till 24th Jan 2016.  For £50? Tickets from £17 plus booking fee

Hairspray - New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham:

The Alex always provide a great alternative to panto over Christmas, and this year they have the feel good musical 'Hairspray'. I've seen this show quite a few times now, and never get tired of it, thanks mostly to the feel-good songs like "You Can't Stop The Beat" and "Welcome To The 60's". The show has been on Broadway, in the West End, and there was the John Travolta a film version, all of which have helped confirm that Hairspray is now one of the classic musicals. This cast is one of the best I have seen, 'Benidorm's' Tony Maudsley is a brilliant, loveable and gruff motherly Edna, and Brenda Edwards (X Factor) has one of the most amazing vocal perfromances I've seen for a while! A great show full of energy. Runs till 3rd Jan 2016.  For £50? Tickets from £17.90 plus booking fee

Treasure Island - The Old Rep, Birmingham:

The Old Rep, becomes The Old Reptile over the festive season, as pirates, rapping parrots and swashbuckling heroes search for treasure. A talented cast switch from playing their parts, to playing instruments in this adorable family show (you will see Long John Silver playing a trumpet), along with stars of the future from BOA, who shine like true professionals throughout. Every member of the family will be kept entertained, with a catchy musical score that will have you singing your way home...there's even a song about breaking wind! The show runs till 3rd Jan, with a special charity performance starring ME on Friday 18th December.  For £50? Tickets from £15.95 plus booking fee

Guys and Dolls - Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham:

Two reasons I was looking forward to seeing this classic musical; firstly I missed it at the famous Chichester Festival, but also, we get it in Brum before it opens in London! This tale of gambling, made famous by Frank Sinatra, is EVERYTHING you'd expect from a West End show...and then some. The cast re-unites "Four Weddings And A Funeral" actors David Haig and Sophie Thompson (as Nathan and Miss Adelaide), and their comic timing is just wonderful. Also, Jamie Parker (Sky Masterson) has the velvety vocals of Michael Buble. The big songs and production numbers come in act two, 'Sit Down You're Rocking The Boat' and 'Luck Be A Lady', and are worth waiting for. Runs till 5th December.  For £50? Tickets from £15.00 plus booking fee

Disney On Ice - Worlds Of Enchantment - Barclaycard Arena:

Grab your favourite Disney preincess costume, the ice spectacular is back in Brum! Micky Mouse and friends host this 2 hour skate through Toy Story, The Little Mermaid and Cars, ending up in Arendelle for a frozen tribute to...well...Frozen! Elsa, Anna and Olaf are without a doubt what the people are here for, and this wonderful version of the massive Disney film has all your favorite songs, characters and wondefful routines. The kids in the audience are there to see their favourite Disney stars, but much is to be said about the skillful routines of the cast! Runs till 1st November. For £50? Tickets from £23 plus booking fee

Priscilla Queen of the Desert - New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham:

The tale of 3 drag queens, traveling across Australia in a rusty old bus! The cult film is fabulously brought to life in this camp musical starring Jason Dovovan. I saw the original London version of the show, and would never expect a production of that scale to be replicated on tour. This version does however, manage to keep many of the OTT costumes, all the camp hits, and more importantly the feel-good spirit of the show! A great fun night out! Runs till Sat 24th October. For £50? Tickets from £15 plus booking fee!

The Bodyguard - Birmingham Hippodrome:

Direct from a West End run, the classic 90's film get's the musical touch! Not just the big Whitney songs from the film, but even more big Whitney hits! X Factor winner Alexandra Burke hits all the big notes (although nobody can ever match Whitney when she was at her best), I also loved Zoe Birket, who takes over the main role during matinees! Yes, I've seen this show 4 times, so goes without saying! Runs from 5th Aug-5th Spet 2015. For £50? Tickets start from £18 each plus booking fee!

Love Me Tender - Alexandra Theatre Birmingham:

A musical about Elvis? No, a musical featuring Elvis songs! The story is actually based around Shakespeare's "12th Night", and this tale of love and second chances really works well with the 25 hits from The King that are worked in! The show is very much tongue-in-cheek, which just adds to the fun! The best thing about the show is the brilliantly talented cast, there are some amazing voices in there (including soul legend Mica Paris), who I could easilly see performing this on a West End Stage. Runs from 24th-29th Aug 2015. For £50? Tickets from £14.90 each, plus booking fee! 

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Andy Goulding