Sister…You’ve got moves: Sister Act The Musical (Review) at Lower Ossington Theatre

imageIf there is anything that will get you to church services this December/January period, it has to be Joseph Patrick and Maurice Galpern’s production of Sister Act The Musical at the LOWER OSSINGTON THEATRE, TORONTO.

Grab your bibles, dust off your rosary beads and iron out the creases in your habit, as these nuns are about to take you to musical heaven.

If there has ever been a show I never get tired of watching perform LIVE, it has to be SISTER ACT. In fact, after seeing it performed twice in the West End of London (UK), four times in Ireland and once in Scotland, I think I can now call myself an expert in this area. However, despite an identical story-line everywhere I go, the cast and crew of each production add their own taste and energy to this fabulous act.

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This time around it was Toronto’s turn to awaken the dormant fan in me, and by God…they did not disappoint. For those people who have been living under a rock and are not familiar with the sensation that was “Sister Act” the movie, I will give you a very brief catch up. Sister Act, tells the story of Deloris Van Cartier, a struggling lounge singer trying to make it big in the establishment of her married lover and mob boss Curtis. After witnessing her shady boyfriend murder a former employee; with the help of his cronies, she takes off running with them in close pursuit. Reaching the police station, she gives her statement to a shy, nervous cop called Eddie, whom she soon recognizes as a guy from her high school past. Relying on Eddie to protect her, she entrusts him with her safety. But what he has in store for her, is beyond anything Deloris could have imagined. He packs her off to “Mary Queen of Angels” convent to assume the role of a nun, until the court hearing comes up. But until that unforeseen date, she must act like a nun, pray like a nun and follow all the rules set down by the stern, powerful Mother Superior. But as a woman who never lets anyone tell her what to do, Deloris sets out to take over the nuns choir; creating her own mini Las Vegas and Hollywood within the silent walls of the nunnery. Despite Curtis slowly piecing together where she is hiding, Deloris and the hilarious sisters of the Lord, put the fun back into the nun and what follows will have you all laughing from beginning to end.

imagePortraying the role of Deloris, originally made famous by the legend Whoopi Goldberg, is Amaka Umeh. With already stunning reviews flooding in for this amazing actress and singer, it is clear to see she is a crowd-pleaser.

However, on the night I attended, the role of this “nun-on-the-run” was taken over by Amaka’s understudy Kayla Christyne Gerber. Not only a fellow cast member, but also the production’s dance captain…Kayla accepted those sparkly, sequin boots and nun attire, and made the role her own. She strutted her stuff across the wonderful, ever-changing set, and was the true embodiment of what we all remember her movie counterpart was. image

She had the attitude, the moves, the passion, the drive and most of all, a great set of pipes to allow her to bring the show to life, through its out-of-this-world song selection. She had the audience shimmying to songs like Fabulous Baby and Take Me To Heaven, and had my colleague and I crying to my favorite song of all time…SISTER ACT. This particular song has such meaning to it, and always pulls at the heart strings on those who have close bonds with that important sister in your life. With every song written and composed by Alan Menkin and Glenn Slater; well-known for the music behind Beauty & The Beast, Enchanted, The Little Mermaid and many more, I’m sure you can understand why these numbers are as catchy as they are.

imageBut what of the hilarious ladies, or as Deloris would call them, The Divas Who Believa?” The cast who played the nuns were perfect and portrayed their characters with the perfect mixture of humor and heart. Sam Hancock (Sr. Mary Martin of Tours) and Morgan O’Grady (Sr. Mary Theresa) were delightful to watch and injected comedy into every scene. And Catherine Wylee had the crowd punching the air as she dropped a beat with her religious raps, as Sr. Mary Lazarus. The famous duo made up of Sr. Mary Patrick (Chelsea Jayne Brayand Sr. Mary Robert (Autumn-Joy Dames) were popular with the crowds, working so well together and staying true to the original roles. At one point, Sr. Mary Robert sings a song called The Life I Never Led, which will make you want to go out and chase your dreams, as soon as the musical ends.

But the person who lifted the roof right off the building was Amy Holden; who held the high role of Mother Superior in the show. Words cannot describe how amazing this girl’s acting and vocal talents are. Like every version of Sister Act: The Musical I have seen across the globe, the role of Mother Superior is of such importance in Deloris’ journey, that you need someone as powerful as Amy Holden to play this iconic role. Her rendition of Here Within These Walls will make your heart flutter, and her take on I Haven’t Got A Prayer, will leave your smiling throughout.

Throughout the musical, you will see and hear toe-tappingly great songs, accompanied by on-point choreography and great set transformations. Then throw in the stellar cast of the Lower Ossington Theatre, and you have yourself one hell of a show. As Kayla Christyne Gerber received a standing ovation in the end, I even felt tears of joy in my own eyes for her.

If you want a show that will brighten your day, and make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside…this is for you. With X Factor UK star Alexandra Burke, Broadway and movie star Patina Miller, West End regular Cynthia Erivo, and Disney star Raven Symone all stepping into Deloris’ thigh highs, it just proves how popular this musical actually is; on a worldwide scale.

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Performances are currently at The LOWER OSSINGTON THEATRE, 100A Ossington Avenue, Toronto, with shows held from Thursday through to Sunday.

The musical is on stage from now until January 29th 2017. If you want something fun to attend over the Holidays or are looking for the perfect gift to enjoy after the Christmas festivities in January, then purchase your tickets now by clicking HERE or buy at the theatre box office.

Dancing Nuns, Hilarious Hitmen and Singing Sensations…what more could you want? #BlessOurShow

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Everything I Need: The Review

imageAfter a difficult long, drawn-out week, a hard days work, and Jack Frost finally awakening from his slumber…I needed a genuine, good, pick-me-up on Sunday 11th December to lift my spirits.

So what better way than to go to the revival of Everying I Need, the one woman show, written and performed by Devon HubkaI previously heard that this show had initially debuted at the famous Toronto Fringe Festival, 3 years ago, and was applauded on its uniqueness, humour, passion and most of all, it’s heart.

Described by Devon as a play intended “For anyone who had a dream that just wouldn’t die,” I was so excited, as this is an area I regularly need advice on.

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As I sat in the warm, cosy Studio stage of the Alumnae Theatre, 70 Berkeley Street, Toronto, I admired how well the set was put together. Left of the stage illustrated her past home life…her alone time…her space to contemplate. To the right was her rise to achieving her goals, from high school theatre to her professional musical training at The Randolph Academy for the Performing Arts. But it was the centre of the stage which was to show us Devon at her finest moments.image

To accurately describe the show…it is a play which chronicles Devon’s life, from her childhood memories to her adult years, from her crazy employment history to becoming the actress, singer, writer and performer she always dreamt of being…and most of all, it touches on times in her life where self-doubt, disappointment and fear were the elements which were holding her back from being the best she could be.

From the moment Devon walked out onto the stage to a excited crowd, you could feel her bright, vibrant, warm energy envelop the theatre goers. And as the crowd grew silent, the lights dimmed and the spotlight centred…the show commenced.

imageFrom beginning to end, and everything in between, the show was fantastic and something that appealed to everyone. The performance combined story telling with song and dance, which made for a great crowd pleaser. With each scene, you felt as if you were travelling back in time and seeing each trial she faced for yourself; on her journey to this moment in time.

Not only is Devon a wonderful actor, with a natural flair for story-telling, but her voice is phenomenal. From her up-beat opening number of her rendition of Walk The Moon’s ‘Shut Up and Dance,’ to the songs of Broadway…every number was like ecstasy to our ears. As she reenacted past auditions before our eyes, we got to hear a selection of songs that she performed in front of theatre moguls, that would eventually lead her to her true destiny.

My 2 favourite Broadway songs of all time were performed by Devon that night…Defying Gravity from Wicked, and I’m Still Here from Follies; both musical numbers famously performed by characters who have been through the mill, and come out stronger, more aware and more in-tune with themselves afterwards. With each note and lyric, the hairs on my arms stood up, with goosebumps.

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And if you thought that just singing and acting were her talents, then think again. This talented and creative young lady is quite a comedian also. She had the audience laughing throughout, with her funny stories, dramatic dance scenes and comedic improvisation, which proved a winning recipe.

When the curtain closed upon Devon’s final performance, the theatre goers rose to their feet in a standing ovation, which was truly well deserved. I had never been to a one woman show before, but after this, the bar has been set extremely high for those to follow. Everything I Need is so relatable in many ways, which makes for an impressive show. If it comes back to Toronto and cities beyond, I know that I’ll be booking my seat straight away.image

Apart from her unquestionable gift of writing, her voice belongs on the big Broadway stage, without a doubt. If there are any big theatre executives reading this right now & in search for that new leading lady…then go no further than the star that is… DEVON HUBKA.

With a determined work ethic, adorable personality, infectious energy and a captivating voice, Devon is the definition of a star.

For more information on Everything I Need and Devon Hubka…click HERE.

For further information on other upcoming shows at the Alumnae Theatre…HERE.

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You’ll laugh, and when you think it couldn’t get any better…you’ll laugh even more: Avenue Q Review

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Excuse me, can you tell me the way to Avenue Q? Why of course I can!

On Friday evening, I skipped along Ossington Avenue on my way to see Avenue Q at the Lower Ossington Theatre, Toronto. My long shift at work was finally over, the temperatures were dropping into the minus figures, so I definitely needed something to lift my spirit.

Although I was aware of what the backstory to Avenue Q was, I had never seen it performed at all on stage; which made my excitement grow immensely. But for those unfamiliar with the tale, I will give you a quick run-through.

Avenue Q is first and foremost an award winning, live puppet show, with joint human interaction; meaning some of our characters are real people performing alongside the puppeteers and their hilarious stuffed companions.

imageThe story follows Princeton (Chris Vergara) who has recently graduated from university with a B.A in English. Determined to seize the day and start to take life by the horns, he rents a room at an apartment block on Avenue Q. He soon meets a shy, intelligent and single teacher’s assistant called Kate, voiced by Liana Bdewi. They immediately hit it off, but certain situations stand in their way…one of them being a scarlet jessebelle known as Lucy.

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If life wasn’t tricky enough, without 2 ladies competing for his affection, Princeton soon realises that his life is not the only dysfunctional one on Avenue Q. Next door resides Rod and Nicky , 2 guys who live together but little does Nicky know that Rod is madly in love with him. Upstairs live a human couple; carefree and relaxed Brian (Mark Willett) and his over-bearing, shoot from the hip, hilarious wife Christmas Eve (Rachelle Bradley). Next door to them resides the loud, brash neighbour Trekkie Monster (Joey Graff) whose obsession with sex; both of the physical and Internet kind, leaves his fellow tenants in shock at times. Kate’s boss and teacher Mrs Thistletwat (Kate Croome) lives nearby, ready to rain down criticism on Kate at any chance she gets…and all these crazies are housed under the one the one roof by superintendent & real-life, broke, sitcom star Gary Coleman (played by the incredible Jenna Daley).

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But I hear you asking….is it for me? Would I enjoy a show featuring puppets? Believe me, I asked myself the same thing before the start of the show, but only 5 minutes into the performance, and I was loving every second of it. Just try to imagine Sesame Street or The Muppets…now add a truck load of adult humour, crude jokes, hilarious one liners, tongue in cheek comedy and a side-splitting musical score, and you have yourself a piece of comedy perfection.

From beginning to end, I did not want the show to finish, as with every scene, I was wiping tears of laughter from my cheeks. The SOLD OUT audience were in fits of giggles throughout, which just made the live experience more enjoyable, and proved that everybody was enjoying this remarkable show. And as it quickly approaches its 5th year anniversary at the Lower Ossington Theatre, the production directed by the marvellous Seanna Kennedy and choreographed by amazing actress and performer Michelle Shuster, is living proof that this is a show that Toronto audiences cannot get enough of.

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The musical score is brilliant, with my favourite numbers being You Can Be As Loud as The Hell You Want, performed by Jenna Daley and company, as well as Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist and the upbeat tune, Schadenfreude.

And the set is absolutely adorable, which keeps loyal to typical puppet show sets of the 90’s, all thanks to set designer genius, Michael Galloro. 

The cast themselves were perfect in every way, and actor/puppeteer brought their own humour-filled performances alive on stage. Liana Bdewi was a master of comedy, and even the smallest manipulation of puppetry  was done in a dramatic and hilarious manner…not to mention her stunning vocals. Jenna Daley brought the smooth, cool and fun-fuelled Gary Coleman to life with on-point choreography, and a beautiful pitch perfect voice for the musical numbers. But it was Rachelle Bradley who had the entire audience bent over chuckling with her portrayal of the hilarious, zero-tolerance, straight talker Christmas Eve. Her confidence and delivery were second to none during her performance this week.

imageThere is no question that everyone will adore this production…as it is without a doubt one of the funniest and creative shows you will ever get the pleasure of watching. Even the whole audience rose to their feet at the finale to give these incredible performers a standing ovation of appreciation.

So take my word for it and get you tickets now, by purchasing them at the theatre box office at 100A Lower Ossington Avenue, or to avoid disappointment, can be purchased online by clicking HERE.

Performances are from Thursday’s through to Sunday’s and continue from now up until January 29th 2017.

I don’t usually give many of these out but Avenue Q; without a doubt, deserves a *5 OUT OF 5 STAR RATING*.  Well done everyone.

Once You Enter “The Life,” You May Never Want To Leave

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On Thursday evening I had the absolute delight of attending The Life Musical at The Alumnae Theatre, Toronto. Presented by the wonderful cast and crew of Call It A Day Productions, and directed by Danik McAfee, The Life tells the story of the prostitutes of 42nd Street, New York City.

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Set in the mid-1980’s; pre-squeaky clean NY City you see today, we are initially introduced to our female lead, Queen, played by powerhouse voice, Jacquie Martin. Queen and her boyfriend Fleetwood (Bryan Kling) moved to the ‘big apple’ a few years prior, hoping to make enough money to save up and move to Savannah, Georgia to settle down and have a family. But despite big dreams being in plentiful supply, the opportunities to make them happen were not. Well, that depended on what profession you decided to follow…and for Queen, there seemed to be only one alternative.

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imageMadly in love with Fleetwood, she promises to make things work, despite his lazy, careless attitude. Little does she know that when she chooses the “World’s Oldest Profession”…prostitution…her earnings on the street end up supporting her boyfriend’s crippling drug addiction.

What is she to do? She adores a man who financially abuses her, she despises every aspect of her job, she has to fight off competing pimps who claim to own her, and despite wishing to leave this “life” for a better one, she has come to love her fellow “ladies of the night,” who are her family in many ways.

What happens? What life does she choose? You’re just going to have to come along to the show and see for yourself.

imageBut what I can tell you is this. It was probably, if not definitely, one of the most touching storylines that has ever graced the musical stage. Originally debuting on the Broadway stage in 1997; winning 3 Tony Awards, I was curious as to whether this piece of theatre would still resonate with today’s public.

But after seeing the cast of Call It A Day Productions revive it this week, I knew for certain that this story is not only memorable, relatable and overall enjoyable…but it is TIMELESS! From the back story, it may seem to the reader that the show is quite dark and deep, but let me tell you this…you will be laughing, chuckling and of course shed the odd tear at times. But these combination of emotions prove to us how great a show it is. A show without feeling, is not a show at all; we must remember.

But what about the cast? Phenomenal, Breath-taking…Electric…all these words come to mind and many more, when thinking of their performance. Each actor/actress on stage performed with every fibre of their being, accurately portraying the exploitive hooker-pimp-customer relationship. But what you will love most of all, which will have you laughing hysterically and sighing adorably throughout, is the tightly knit relationships each prostitute has with one another. Despite their different stories and different dreams, they look out for each other, in order to survive.

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There were undeniably scenes throughout the show, when certain characters shone bright, despite the entire cast being out of this world. For example, Liana Lewis (Co-Co) and Lauren Mayer (Frenchie) set the stage alight with their slick, sexy and on-point choreography during the most well-known number, My Body.

And when Michelle Shuster (Sonya) belted out the sorrowful ballad The Oldest Profession and dueted with lead lady Jacquie Martin (Queen) in their rendition of My Friend, my heart just melted with every lyric.

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But I believe everyone would agree that the actress who had us all in fits of laughter, was queen of comedy, Jada Rifkin. Jada; gifted with some powerful moves and an equally incredible voice to match, played prostitute Lacy…the tart with the heart, mixologist extraordinaire, shoulder to cry on, and proud owner of a bar-tab the length of your arm.

Jada had the entire audience in fits of laughter with her portrayal of eccentric Lacy, who aimed to lift the moods of all the down and out girls, with her killer one-liners, loveable nature and hilarious scenes, especially her contribution to musical number, “The Hooker’s Ball.”

All in all, The Life is one of the best musicals I have seen so far. I adored the storyline fell in love with the addictive musical score and was mesmerised by a cast and creative team that will blow your socks off. But what more could you expect from the wonderful gang of Call It A Day Productions?

The Life is sexy, soulful, touching and has a heart of gold.

So if you want to see the fantastic show for yourself, make sure to get down to the Alumnae Theatre, 70 Berkley Street , Toronto, before its last performance on Sunday Dec 11th. Tickets can be purchased at the door or online by clicking HERE.

5 OUT OF 5 STAR RATING!!!!

“Everything I Need”… This heart-warming and inspirational show is what “we all” truly need.

Devon…derived from the Irish (Gaeilic) word “Devin” meaning…Poet. Poet…derived from the Greek “Poiein” meaning writer.

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Have you ever had a dream where someone, something or a situation stood in its way? Ever lost faith in yourself, your creativity or your inner-voice telling you to keep going?

In the world of theatre, music and performance, industry professionals and representatives seem to have the ability to make or break you, and possess a self-awarded power in choosing whether your dream blossoms or withers.

But little do they tell you that it is really YOU who has the control over your destiny. All you need is belief, persistence and determination, and if you possess all three…the world is your oyster.

My grandmother told me many times that “What is for you, will never pass you…and if your hopes and dreams are taking too long…they are simply stuck in traffic.”

imageThis belief accurately describes the writer and creator of Toronto production Everything I Need… Devon Hubka.

Everything I Need is Devon’s first first solo show and first outing as a professional writer. Although no stranger to the stage herself, Devon had been writing ideas into notebooks for years about potential shows she wished to create, but never seemed to move beyond this stage of the creative process.

One day, a theatre professional commented that Devon didn’t have “it” to make it in this industry. Many, understandably, after hearing this would retreat into a place of shock, sadness and disappointment, but NOT this lady.

Not only did she refuse to believe his opinion, but it stoked a fire deep inside her, and ignited the flame that was to eventually prove him wrong.image

Immersing herself into the writing of her solo show, Everything I Need, she submitted it to the Toronto Fringe Festival lottery for consideration, on its completion. Upon the announcement of her show being accepted, it soon premiered at the festival in 2013, getting both positive and enthusiastic reviews from the public and promoters. Rave reviews continued to come in, with one quoted saying that Devon had a “warmly appealing personality and a big, lush voice born to sing show tunes.”

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Now three years later (back by popular demand), the show is about to hit the stage again, with a newly edited and revised script.

As it takes to the Studio of the Alumnae Theatre, 70 Berekely Street, Toronto, we are all super excited to see what this unique and entertaining young lady has in store for us, this time around.

Everything I Need incorporates song and dance within its 60 minute performance, whilst sharing some inspirational stories throughout.

Returning from its original production are Director Marcia Bennett, Dramaturge PJ Hammond, Stage Manager David Liotta and Tyrell Witherspoon as Choreographer.

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This production is sure to be a treat for all and is set to entertain audiences over 2 Performances, at the Alumnae Theatre. Not only will you see one girl’s dreams coming true, but her story may even awaken your own hopes and aspirations.

“You really can end up having everything you need. Some dreams just take a little longer to achieve,” says Devon.

Performances are as follows:

Sunday December 11th: 3pm Show and 8pm Show

Tickets can be purchased online for $10 by clicking HERE. If you prefer to purchase them at the theatre box office, tickets at the door are priced at $15.

See You All There. 🙂 X 

The Little Mermaid at the Randolph Theatre, Toronto…Goes swimmingly well

imageGrab your flippers, swimwear and snorkle, as the company of The Lower Ossington Theatre (LOT) will be taking you on an adventure “Under The Sea” in their new production of Disney’s: The Little Mermaid.

Performing from now until December 18th at Randolph Theatre, Bathurst Street, Toronto, the cast and crew of the LOT have brought us a spectacular show that will warm your heart, lift your soul and stir your fond childhood-memories of this classic addition to the Disney hall of fame.

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For those people unfamiliar with story of The Little Mermaid, it goes a little something like this. Beneath the surface of the deep, blue ocean and far from any interference of human civilisation, lies the wonderful kingdom of the mermaid ruler, King Triton. A widower for many years now, Triton rules the sea and finds simple joy in the singing voices of his 7 beautiful daughters…especially that of his youngest, Ariel.

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But Ariel’s interests and aspirations are not like those of her giddy, self-obsessed and eager-to-please sisters. She spends her days swimming to far-off parts of the vast, watery realm; finding human trinkets littered along the way, which she brings back to place in her dazzling collection.

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But simply touching these pieces of human life is not enough for the mermaid, as she yearns to travel to the surface and live life on the land. Her dream starts to fall into place, when one day she rescues a Prince from a ship caught up in a sea-storm. As he lies semi-conscious on the shore, he is mesmerised by her singing voice. Ariel travels back to her kingdom to tell her 2 friends Flounder and Sebastian about her adventures. However, surprised and disappointed by their negative reactions to her tale of this human, she swims off to the dark, desolate kingdom where her Aunt Ursula has been banished.

Ursula promises to give Ariel legs in order to find her Prince and fall in love with him. The only catch is…she must trade her voice to do so. But, as she agrees to this dark deal, she is unaware that Eric is seeking out the beautiful voice of the girl who saved him. With no way to prove their love, Ariel sets out to win Prince Eric over before Ursula returns for her soul in 3 days.

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Sound interesting? Sound romantic? Of course it is…it’s Disney. So how did the LOT do in their production of such a well-known classic?

First of all, before I mention any of the cast, I must say a huge “well done” to 3 wonderfully talented members of the crew. Mikael Kangas (Lighting Design), Michael Galloro (Set Design) and  Emily Butters (Props Design) all played a major part in bringing this show to life. These three geniuses used every inch of the huge stage to create this magical, realistic and imaginative set. The lighting effects especially gave the audience the feeling of being underwater themselves; from the brightness of Triton’s kingdom to the dark, murky expanse of Ursula’s realm.

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As always, the cast of the LOT never fail in delivering a phenomenal performance, and always leave you craving more and more. Kate Suhr took the responsibility of playing the lead role of Ariel in this joyous production, and she turned out to be everything Ariel should be. With her stunning vocal range, graceful choreography and beautiful stage-presence, there was no better candidate to play the loveable, red-headed mermaid.

But, the thing about this production is that every cast member was fantastic. Matt Chenuz played Prince Eric with such passion, staying loyal to the original movie’s character, and Harold Lumilan really owned the role of Sebastian the crab, with his humour filled performance. Mitchell Court accepted double responsibility by taking on the role of not only King Triton but also Chef Louis (one of the movie’s funniest creations), who had the audience in tears of laughter.

But the person who blew the whole audience away was Saphire Demitro in her role as the ruthless, dark sea-witch, Ursula. Saphire had every aspect of her character “down-to-a-T,” portraying her well-known, seductive nature perfectly. And her voice…WOWWWWWW!!! As I sat in the audience with my colleague, I was hoping the folks at Disney studios were aware of Saphire, after their rumoured talks of a live-action remake of the film.

After performing alongside Kate Suhr in the recent production of Mary Poppins, it was wonderful to see how well both of these ladies work together, in creating such theatrical treats and musical magic.

One thing is for sure, The Lower Ossington Theatre company, just get better and better with every production. Each time I think they could not possibly do any better, they pull it out of the bag, and WOW audiences all over again.

So if you want something to raise your spirits, maybe you have a romantic date coming up, maybe you want to treat the kids to a day out, or want to have an memorable experience with friends…well go no further than The Little Mermaid at the Randolph Theatre this December. Performances will continue until December 18th, and tickets can be purchased online by clicking HERE.

Get your seats booked NOW, before they all swim away.

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*All production photographs courtesy of Seanna Kennedy*