Review: Burlseque The Musical brings the glitz and glamour to Manchester

When Burlesque was released in 2010, it immediately became my go-to comfort film. I’ve rewatched it countless times and can recite all the lines – you might say I know every single number (even Wagon Wheel Watusi). So when I heard the stage adaptation was heading to Manchester’s Opera House to premiere ahead of the West End, I knew I was getting tickets, and snagged two seats for the matinee viewing on Saturday, June 22 as a birthday present to my mum, who is almost as obsessed with the movie as I am. 

There’s always some apprehension about seeing one of your favourite screenplays become a stage show. For a start, Burlesque the Musical has some high heels to fill when it comes to casting, from Christina Aguilera and Cher, to Stanley Tucci and Kristen Bell, plus any changes to the script or storyline would have to surpass any expectations set by the beloved movie. But I’m pleased to tell you that this vibrant, high energy adaptation brings all of the glitz and glamour of the original to the stage, and cranks it up to 110.

The musical retains much of the film’s dazzling choreography and powerhouse musical numbers while introducing new tracks, and the storyline has had something of a glow-up, too. I don’t usually like when details of the plot are changed, unless to streamline anything too complex to pack into two hours, but the updates to Burlesque make so much sense. Instead of moving to LA to try and make it as a singer, waitress Ali Rose finds a letter from her late adoptive mother ordering her to go to New York in search of Theresa Richardson – her birth mother. This change really elevates the narrative while maintaining the integrity of the story, and giving it that little bit more heart and purpose, too. 

 

The cast performances are exceptional. I’ve seen more than 35 shows in the last 18 months, and it was by far the best vocal performance I’ve experienced. Jess Folley, who won The Voice Kids in 2017, with her band RLY winning X Factor – The Band two years later, has the daunting task of playing determined yet vulnerable Ali Rose, but she absolutely nails every single riff, complete with all the trademark high falsettos and growls of Xtina’s performance while putting her own twist on the role. She’s an absolute powerhouse of a performer and you’d never imagine it’s her theatrical debut. But what’s perhaps even more impressive is her contribution to the score, having written the music and lyrics to several tracks, including Got It All From You, which seems to nod to Christina’s Beautiful in the melody. 

While Todrick Hall is the main actor for Sean – portrayed by the icon that is Stanley Tucci in the film – I caught Ian Oswald’s cover debut, and he did a wonderful job of bringing this sassy and quick witted character to life. His history lesson on Burlesque in ‘Big’ was visually spectacular, not to mention the fact he’s steadier in his platforms than I am. His one-liners were delivered with impeccable timing, and his wardrobe was absolutely fabulous.

As for tough but caring Burlesque lounge owner, Tess, she brings some really tender moments to the show in her solos, You Haven’t Seen The Last Of Me, and Life’s Not Fair It’s Fabulous. Jackie Burns, who was Broadway’s longest running Elphaba, certainly channels the Believe singer in her scenes, but injects it with even more emotion and soul. 

Special mentions should certainly be made to Michael Mather’s Jackson, Ali’s love interest, with a rather raunchy rendition of Bound To You (if the woman with her two children that left their seats in front of me after the opening number thought that was too much, she may well have had a heart attack at this scene). He gets a chance to showcase snippets of his vocal ability when teasing his songwriting throughout the show, but this number really allows him to shine as a vocalist. I also really enjoyed villainous Vince’s (George Maguire) number, Ammo, which seemed to have a hit of Hamilton’s Room Where It Happens about it.

Burlesque the Musical is every bit glamorous, gritty and outrageously fun as you would imagine. With flashy set designs and all the sequins, sparkle and sass you could hope for, this new musical inspired by the much-loved hit movie delivers a show that will delight die-hard fans while introducing new audiences to the wonderful world of Burlesque. With a deeper storyline, sizzling choreography and refreshing score, it really does feel like a celebration of love, self-expression and identity. I don’t know about you, but it feels really fitting for it to have premiered at Manchester’s Opera House during Pride Month. 

The show is running until June 29 and will be returning later this year due to phenomenal demand. You can buy your tickets here.

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