Tuesday, July 16

Burlesque the Musical – Opera House, Manchester

Following the success of the 2010 smash hit film starring global superstars Christina Aguilera and Cher, I knew it would only be a matter of time before Burlesque was converted to a stage show – with the glitz, the glamour and the Broadway-esque showtunes, it’s a perfect fit for the big stage.

There were certainly moments of pure brilliance that could have only been delivered in such a format as theatre, but I do have to say that some moments did leave a little to be desired, which was such a shame for a show of this calibre.

Let’s start with the exceptional. Firstly, the female lead – down-on-her-luck Ali, played by Jess Folley – was an absolute casting masterclass. Not many aspiring singers can step into the lofty designer shoes of one Christina Aguilera, but vocally Folley held her own perfectly and made this role her own. At no point did it feel like she was emulating Christina, but her voice naturally led to comparisons between the two – and honestly, the difference in the power of their voices was marginal. Huge praise indeed for a relatively unknown talent.

Her voice was mesmerising and her vocal range mesmerising – the sequence in which she belted out the opening bars of “Tough Love” a capella truly sent shivers down my spine. This for me was a standout moment that solidified such a perfect casting choice. Throughout the show Folley continued to enchant the audience, from the transformative “Express” right through to the sensational finale “Show Me How You Burlesque”.

The supporting cast did their best to support the exceptional talent of their leading lady – for me, the secondary female lead Tess, played by Jackie Burns, was a little lacklustre in places. Sure, she was incredibly talented and put her own spin on her musical numbers, but for me it felt uncomfortably like an actor trying too hard to emulate her predecessor (and after all, Cher is a tough act to follow!).

For me, the male lead Jackson, played by Michael Mather, also left me unaffected – I felt like his voice was a little jarring, and I felt that the chemistry between him and Folley didn’t quite hit the right mark. That said, the secondary character of Sean (brought to life sensationally by megastar Todrick Hall) brought it back up to exceptional standards. It’s like the role of the flamboyantly gay stage manager Sean was written just for him – his musical numbers were a triumph, while his quips and one-liners left the audience in stitches (especially the ones that were ad-libbed).

The staging was also incredible – the set design was simple but effective, utilising fixed sets to incredible effect, juxtaposed with additional special effects like projections and LEDs for that extra shot of pizzazz. However, much to my disappointment, I felt like the costumes didn’t hit the mark – sure, there were A LOT of sequins, but I felt like the costume designer Melissa Hamill played it a little too safe with bejewelled leotards as the go-to for the big burlesque numbers, instead of corsets, feathers and fans that would for me have ramped up the seduction and dialled down the chorus line vibes.

Likewise, another disappointment for an avid fan of the film is the show was too much of a deviation from the original source material – they changed everything from the location and crucial characters’ names, to even the fundamental plot that completely changed the dynamic of the two female leads, and thus the show as a whole. I think the perfect balance of a film-to-theatre adaptation is a few little changes (some new dialogue, a new character, perhaps an original musical number or two…) but this show was almost unrecognisable in parts from the original.  

That said, all in all, there is no doubt that Burlesque is a big, unapologetically fabulous musical that is not to be missed. It’s visually stunning, vocally sensational, and it gives you feel good factor that only a fantastically produced theatre show can give.

Burlesque will be playing at Manchester Opera House until Saturday 29th June 2024 and returns due to public demand from Thursday 3rd October – Saturday 2nd November 2024. Tickets can be found at https://www.atgtickets.com/venues/opera-house-manchester/

Reviewer: Hannah Wilde

Reviewed: 25th June 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.