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The Royal Variety Performance

Published Tuesday 8 December 2009 at 18:55 by Robin Duke

What a difference half a century or so makes. When this annual extravaganza was last in Blackpool in 1955, the bill included George Formby, Morecambe and Wise, Norman Evans and Alma Cogan. Entrances and exits were low key and props were kept to a minimum. But times and tastes change and the 2009 edition was as much like a military invasion - albeit a colourful one - as it was a slice of showbusiness history.

Katherine Jenkins at the Royal Variety Performance 2009

Katherine Jenkins at the Royal Variety Performance 2009 Photo: Ken McKay

But the 3,000 capacity venue was built for major events like this and even with its future not entirely secure, the place rose to the occasion in magnificent style.

From the moment the country’s fastest-selling comedian Peter Kay emerged from the depths of the theatre playing the recently restored Wurlitzer to the finale walk down of hundreds of performers, Blackpool Opera House has probably never felt more at home than it did playing host to this year’s Royal Variety Performance.

From the pomp of pretty Britain’s Got Talent discovery Faryl Smith and chart riding trio the Soldiers performing the National Anthem to the pure pop of Lady Gaga recalling John Lennon’s invitation to “rattle your jewellery” as she played a grotesquely long-legged War of the Worlds piano while precariously balanced way above the stage, this was a night to remember for perhaps another half century.

Peter Kay deserves the freedom of the resort for the amount of free publicity he bestowed upon Blackpool and the Opera House during the proceedings - it’s the biggest, the best and has just the occasional smell of gloss paint.

Thereon in it was an A to Z of names old and new but never blue - northern comedy came in the shape of the decidedly ill at ease Paddy McGuinness and completely relaxed Jason Manford. Southern fun came from the excellent fast rising Hal Cruttenden and show stealing ventriloquist Paul Zerdin plus some antipodean humour from the pleasantly-paced Adam Hills.

Old school divas Lulu, Anastacia and Chaka Khan gave a great preview of their all pals Here Comes the Girls tour and Whoopee Goldberg introduced the cast of Sister Act to their debut in the re-dubbed “African American Pool”.

There was home grown talent from Lytham St Annes-based comedian Roy Walker and plenty of pop from X Factor winner Alexandra Burke performing new single Broken Heels plus America’s popette Miley Cyrus with a full production number and chart star Mica impressing with latest high pitched release Rain.

American shadow dancing gymnasts Pilobolus proved winners as did the acrobatics of Montreal’s Les 7 Doigts de la Main.

The only standing ovation of the night went to the jaw-dropping choreography of last year’s Britain’s Got Talent winners Diversity although the stunningly stage filling 50-piece Andre Rieu and the Johann Strauss Orchestra brought gasps as they revealed how this huge stage can be utilised for occasions such as this.

For much the same reason actor Bob Golding seemed out of place on the vast stage recreating Eric Morecambe in an excerpt from his one-man intimate stage play Morecambe.

Canadian superstar Michael Buble was consummately at ease complete with 24-piece orchestra and seemed perfectly at home with his two numbers.

Elsewhere Katherine Jenkins adopted an operatic rock approach for her brief spot leaving Bette Midler to top that with a low profile version of the Beatles’ In My Life and her anthem Wind Beneath My Wings - sung as only she can.

Production information

Opera House, Blackpool, December 7

Simon Staffurth
Fiona Clark
Peter Kay, Trumpeters of the Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band, Faryl Smith, Roy Walker, Anastacia, Lulu, Chaka Khan, Pilobolus, Miley Cyrus, Whoopi Goldberg, Sister Act Cast, Paddy McGuinness, Alexandra Burke, Bob Golding, Mika, Paul Zerdin, Michael Buble, Andre Rieu and the Johann Strauss Orchestra, Jason Manford, Diversity, Adam Hills, Lady Gaga, Les 7 Doigts de la Main, Katherine Jenkins, Hal Cruttenden, Bette Midler
Running time:
3hrs 30mins

Production information displayed was believed correct at time of review. Information may change over the run of the show.

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Run sheet

King's Head, Islington London
January 24-February 15