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Nativity the Musical, Wolverhampton Grand Theatre - review

By Alison Norton | Theatre & Comedy | Published:

There are really only three words to describe Nativity the Musical, which has taken the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre by snow storm this week – Sparkle and Shine!

The cast of Nativity the Musical at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

The 2009 original film version completely broke the mould of the traditional festive family favourite, with a modern day look at Christmas reality in schools today, but still ensuring that the fundamentals of children’s dream of the most wonderful time of the year remained intact.

Three other sequels have followed which are all fun, but nothing really matches the original on which the stage show is based.

For those of you who have been hidden away for the last ten years and have never seen the film version of this wonderfully uplifting and genuinely heart-warming tale, or indeed have never experienced the delights of a primary school Nativity play, teacher Mr Maddens is given the unenviable task of directing the annual Nativity in his Coventry primary school, with a class of unruly youngsters with very little talent, whilst personally struggling with the heart-break of losing his girlfriend at the same time.

Scott Garnham 'Mr Maddens', Dani Dyer 'Polly Parker', Scott Paige 'Mr Poppy' and the Children of St. Bernadette's. Photo: Oliver Rosser

Things look bleak until along comes Mr Poppy; a larger than life teaching assistant who is really only one step away from being a child himself, to irritate, annoy and generally drive Mr Maddens insane!

Of course, this is a modern-day fairy story and so they all live happily ever after, but not without some truly side-splitting antics.

The original stage adaptation was superbly delivered in Autumn 2017 to rave reviews and this current tour is guaranteed to receive even more praise and adoration as it makes its way around the UK from now until the end of December.

The score of the show sticks rigidly to the film, with wonderfully unsophisticated, joyful lyrics and inspiring, cheery music courtesy of writer, director and composer Debbie Isitt and fellow composer Nicky Ager and features all the favourites for the audience to join in including Nazareth, She’s the Brightest Star, One Night One Moment and of course, Sparkle and Shine, as well as a host of new tunes to leave you singing and smiling on the way home.

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The kids naturally are the stars of the show, with Team Bethlehem appearing on Wednesday night’s performance as the classmates from St. Bernadette’s.

The cast in rehearsals in Birmingham earlier this month

This group of extraordinary youngsters were amazing to say the least. Fearless, talented and confident spring to mind, but they were also appealing, naïve and downright cute!

It’s seems a little unfair to single anyone out, but I applaud young Alastair Nqwenya as TJ, who dangled bravely over the stage as the Angel Gabrielle, whilst singing and moving to his solo number Good News with total confidence and Evie Bennell-Low who sweetly plays the star and is certainly destined to be one!

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Meanwhile their rivals, the children from Oakmoor School were equally as gifted, playing their snooty, superior characters to perfection in well-drilled style.

It never ceases to amaze me how much children can take in and then perform, but both these groups were outstanding.

Scott Garnham as Mr Maddens and Ashley Gray as Jennifer were both in fine voice and dramatically compatible and I loved to hate Charles Brunton who was perfectly cast as the snivelling, competitive Mr Shakespeare.

The versatile ensemble, who all play individual parts in the show as well, offered high-energy, strong performances, making it seem as if there were a stage full of people rather than just the handful there actually were.

The show also features Dani Dyer, who rose to fame in reality show Love Island, and is now following in the footsteps of her father, EastEnders' Danny Dyer, into acting.

Love Island's Dani Dyer in rehearsals for her role in the production

But without a doubt, it is Scott Paige as the irrepressible Mr Poppy who completely steals the show, along with the kids of course, and was clearly born to play this role.

His rapport with the audience and the children, his totally uninhibited, zany, crazy characterisation of the role and his superb comedy skills made me laugh out loud, over and over again. I loved him!

On a more serious note, Andrew Wright’s stunning choreography was sharp and dynamic, and George Dyer and the orchestra deserve a very special mention for preserving and delivering a creative and imaginative rendition of what have now become iconic Christmas tunes amongst families.

There’s no expense spared on the scenery and lighting which depict the primary school so well, you could almost smell the corridors and similarly the feel of the finale in which the children perform their Nativity in the ground of Coventry Cathedral will give you the chills and thrills which are only associated with Christmas time, all courtesy of an excellent technical team.

It’s easy to pinpoint why Nativity the Musical is so popular. It’s pure entertainment. It makes you laugh, cry, sing a long, remember your childhood and revel in the fact that Christmas is not far away all at the same time. In short it makes you so happy you could burst!

A huge thank you Debbie Isitt and her team for bringing this happy, emotional and unforgettable experience into our lives.

Nativity the Musical is the best show I have seen at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre this year and I fully intend to go and see it again before it ends on Saturday.

Alison Norton

By Alison Norton
@AlisonNorton

Theatre critic and unofficial 'am dram queen' for the Express & Star and Shropshire Star

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