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Review: Burlesque The Musical at The Opera House ‘delivers a fabulous night out of fun’

The cult film featuring Cher and Christina Aguilera has made the transition from screen to stage - but how would it turn out?
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Burlesque The Musical Opera House

Burlesque began life as a film, written and directed by Steven Antin and starring Christina Aguilera and Cher.

It did not make waves at the box office, and critics hated it.

But it has since gained a cult following and there are fans desperate to see if it gives a little more or a little less, on stage, in the guise of a full-blown musical.

Burlesque at the Opera House

Burlesque The Musical 1
Burleque The Musical. Photo Credit Johan Persson

The first pleasing thing about this show is that does not plunder the Cher and Xtina jukebox, in desperate need of a hook to pull the audience in.

There are key songs from the film, including You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me, Welcome to Burlesque and others and they sit alongside new material from stars of the show Todrick Hall and Jess Folley.

This blend does not jar – it gives the show new life, and it can breathe as a musical because of these new songs which lend some narrative weight to the slimmest of plots.

A small-town girl heading to LA

Nina Ann Nelson. Photo credit: Johan Persson

Small-town girl Ali (Jess Foley) leaves home in search of her dreams and this takes her from Iowa to LA. She is seeking fame and success and her real mom, as she was adopted.

She gets more than she bargained for when she meets tough tiger mom Tess (Jackie Burns) who is a burlesque club owner. The club is in trouble though, and guess what? It needs someone to get the punters in; someone with star quality.

When queen bee Nikki (Nina Ann Nelson) is too drunk to perform, in steps Ali and a star is born.

As I said, the plot of the film was always slim and the writing has the odd camp line, embraced by Cher and taken to new heights in the movie. This musical production cannot make up for the lack of emotional disconnection, as this young protagonist seeks the mother who abandoned her. It is not going to give you Long Lost Family vibes or tears, that’s for sure.

A well-polished show

Todrick Hall and Ensemble. Photo credit Johan Persson Photography

But there is something immediate and well-honed happening here, and the show does feel polished and ready to raise the roof. And on opening night, it does exactly that.

Nick Winston’s production benefits from his choreography which in itself is a mix of Pose meets Bob Fosse and it celebrates the beauty of Burlesque, none more so than in one of Todrick Hall’s new numbers which explores the history of this art form.

An electric connection with the audience

In the style of Madonna’s iconic hit Vogue and Billy Porter from Pose, Hall is a great MC, as he connects with the audience and goes off script and entertains them and they get what they came for.

There are moments when the show needs more glue, instead of glitter. Some of the scenes feel like they are here because they are in the film, but they need more connection, as the show sometimes feels like a series of loosely connected scenes.

A tap-dancing sequence, for example, feels like everything is being thrown at the show, and a sex scene sung through a ballad feels slightly odd and out of place.

Nina Ann Nelson’s terrific performance

And there are so many characters, that some end up barely registering. George Maguire’s money-grabbing boyfriend Vince is the archetypal villain, and you know this the minute he steps onto the stage.

He plays it for all it’s worth and delivers way more than is on the page. Nina Ann Nelson is terrific as Nikki, whose nose is out of joint when ingenue Ali rocks up.

She has one song which is a mix of Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend and Madonna’s Material Girl and she knows how to deliver a full-blown show in three minutes flat.

Jackie Burns owns the stage

Jackson played by Michael Mather is a kind-hearted character and he is welcome, as he counteracts the cattiness of the club. He has an easy chemistry with Jess Foley, and you believe they are together. Jackie Burns is fabulous as the matriarch, as she owns the stage.

Her big number You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me needs to be longer though, as it does feel a bit rushed.

Jess Foley is the genie in the bottle and once she is centre stage, she wows the audience with her vocal ability and she acts well, embracing the campness of the comedy and the predictable nature of the storyline.

She looks less assured during the big dance numbers at the moment, but vocally she is incredible.

And she contributes some Christina-style songs, which bring much-needed oomph when she the show needs it.

A musical that ‘knows where it’s headed’

At the moment, Burlesque feels like a stage musical which knows where it’s headed, and it playfully mocks itself and the plot developments.

The sound design is spot on and the set design by Soutra Gilmour is dark and dirty, and you can almost hear the footsteps on the sticky floor.

Burlesque is one of those musicals that will divide audiences. For me, it delivers in ways that I did not expect and that’s because it is a mix between a musical and a gig, and that may irritate musical theatre purists, but it will also get people into a theatre.

It needs work to strike a perfect pose. But Burlesque delivers a great night out and manages to turn a beloved B movie into an almost A-grade musical.

Tickets for Burlesque at the Opera House

Burlesque is at the Opera House until Saturday 29th June.

It returns from 3rd October – 2nd November and there is better availability during the second run.

You can book tickets here

You can find out what’s on at the Opera House by clicking here

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