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Review | Burlesque | Manchester Opera House | 25/06/2024

Once in a while, a new movie musical comes along that sets the world alight. In 2017 it was The Greatest Showman, in 2016 It was La La Land and back in 2010 it was Burlesque! We follow aspiring singer Ali (Jess Folley) who finds herself waitressing at the Burlesque lounge, whilst hunting down her birth mother Tess (Jackie Burns). It is not long before Ali unexpectedly becomes the main attraction herself!

It is all too easy for fans to feel closely tied to the source material, expecting a carbon copy of what they know and love. It is however important to recognise that different things work better on screen than on stage (and vice versa). As such, several of the alterations work well in keeping the excitement high… after all a burlesque club filled with miming dancers might not go down well on stage! Some of the changes however don’t land as well, leaving the audience at times craving for more depth in both the narrative and its characters.

The show itself opens with one of the more successful changes. A prologue penned and performed by Todrick Hall (as Sean) whips the audience into frenzied excitement, before we enter the Burlesque lounge. This is a place of acceptance, with Sean welcoming “ladies and gentlemen, they’s and them’s” to the club. From here Broadway icon Jackie Burns, as  club-owner Tess, performs “Welcome To Burlesque” backed by the talented ensemble, commanding the audiences attention entirely.

Burlesque is a spectacle with dazzling choreography, tantalising costuming and impressive staging. A central raising revolve is used to great effect, framed either side by movable metal staircases. A video screen at the rear of the stage does a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of scene setting, this works well along with utilisation of live camera feeds and bespoke video design. The open stage design offers clear views into the wings, with the direction also meaning we see stagehands helping with set changes at various points. I’m unsure if this is deliberate with the show being partially based backstage at a club, but it is at times distracting nevertheless.

The elephant in the room is the (almost) impossible task of finding a leading lady who can do justice to Christina Aguilera’s iconic voice. Even the most devoted Aguilera fans cannot deny that Jess Folley is an absolute revelation as Ali, single handedly stealing the show. Even on a sweltering June evening, she manages to give you goosebumps with her powerhouse vocals. Exuding confidence, sass and attitude, it is impossible to get enough of her. She makes the music her own, even opting up on some of the already challenging arrangements in songs like Express. A particular highlight is ‘Bound To You’, in which she beautifully duets with leading man Michael Mather (Jackson). Never putting a foot wrong, she is worth the ticket price alone.

Closing in Manchester this weekend, there is over two months until it plays Glasgow in September, before a second Manchester residency in October. It will be interesting to see in that time how the show develops further. With some tweaking in the book to give the show more depth and heart, Burlesque has the potential to become something truly special.

Note: My ticket was gifted. Irrespective of whether a show is gifted or bought, I always ensure that my reviews are fair and based on my honest opinion alone.


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