FeaturedMusicalNorth WestReview

Burlesque: The Musical – Opera House, Manchester

Reviewer: Jo Beggs

Book: Steven Antin

Music: Christina Aguilera, Sia, Diane Warren, Todrick Hall, Jess Folley

Writer: Steven Antin

Director and Choreographer: Nick Winston

The 2010 movie Burlesque starring Christina Aguilera and Cher passed this reviewer by, so this Manchester Gets It First UK premiere at the Opera House was a complete unknown quantity. It’s unlikely, though, that this live version of Aguilera and Steven Antin’s musical will go unnoticed. If you’re looking for some truly dazzling, feel-good theatre, this is definitely going to fit the bill.

There’s a traditional Cinderella-esque story at the heart of Burlesque. Plucky small-town girl Ali (Jess Folley) is ‘too loud’ for the church choir, and pretty restless running a drab diner, inherited from her late mother. When she unexpectedly discovers that she was adopted, she takes off for New York in search of answers to her past. She gets them and also manages to find love and a whole new life in the process. Mama runs a struggling burlesque club. Turns out Ali’s not ‘too loud’ for the cabaret stage.

There’s just enough story here to hang the show on, and it creates a nice rhythm as it unfolds (with some pleasant ballads) between the big musical numbers. There are some great, rounded characters here, and the leads all put in great acting performances. giving the story much more depth than musicals often deliver.

You can’t avoid comparisons to a number of other musicals with similar settings – Cabaret and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes immediately come to mind – and there are songs that play on those references. Good Girl is pure Marilyn Monroe (and Folley makes it work exceptionally well), and Life’s Not Fair It’s Fabulous has strong Sally Bowles vibes, and these classic numbers sit brilliantly alongside hip hop and pure pop.

All of this comes together around spectacular dance numbers and there’s a brilliant ensemble company that keep up an extraordinary pace throughout the show, delivering the tight choreography with apparent ease (it isn’t easy, of course, and in the heatwave on the evening of this reviewed performance, it must be punishing). There’s no suggestion that this is a freshly out of rehearsals show, with the leads confident enough to creatively ad lib a bit (to the audiences delight) and the dancers never out of step.

A fairly minimal set (Soutra Gilmour) leaves lots of space for dancing, but spectacular projections (Nina Dunn) create an evocative New York backdrop and some great lighting (Jack Knowles) transforms the space effortlessly into the club (helped along by the Opera House’s traditional gilded proscenium).

The audience immediately take the MC, Sean (Todrick Hall), to their hearts (it’s a bit disappointing we don’t see a bit more of him). Michael Mather brings a lovely natural performance as Jackson, and George Maguire’s Vince is just the right side of pantomime villain (although at one point when he’s being particularly dastardly it’s hard not to boo). It’s difficult to single out any one performance though, given the great all-round cast. Apart from Folley. She’s just fab.

If this show doesn’t run and run there’s no fairness in the world. It’s a fabulous antidote to grim times, bringing all the pizzazz you want from a musical, a heart-warming story, and just enough deliciously sleazy entertainment to truly call itself Burlesque.

Runs until 29 June 2024 and returns 3 Oct – 2 Nov 2024

The Reviews Hub Score

fun, vibrant, sexy

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The Reviews Hub - North West

The North West team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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