Preview: New autumn season, The Alhambra, Bradford

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The job of the theatre critic is not to be uncritical. The clue is in the title. There has been, thus far in 2014, very little to criticise about the Bradford Alhambra theatre.

Celebrating its centenary this year, the venue managers have played a blinder. Lion King and War Horse were the two major attractions around which the celebratory season – and first half of 2014 – was built, both landing in Bradford earlier this year.

The Lion King was a particular coup, Disney launching the first national tour of the multi-award winning show from the sometimes beleaguered city.

The celebrations continue apace and the theatre can add Singin’ in the Rain to the roster of Olivier Award-winning shows it has hosted in the year that marks 100 years since it was created. Singin’ in the Rain opens the autumn season and already looks set to repeat the box office success of the shows it follows in 2014.

Screen star Maxwell Caulfield plays studio boss R F Simpson and Coronation Street favourite Vicky Binns is the ‘uniquely voiced’ starlet Lina Lamont in this classic musical, full of high energy choreography and a set design which is built to accommodate 12,000 litres of water.

Another highlight is the welcoming back to the venue of the Royal Shakespeare Company who will be staging Henry IV Parts one and two with Antony Sher playing Falstaff. Greg Doran, the man who runs the RSC is the man in charge of these productions and both his and Sher’s credentials make the show a safe bet in terms of quality.

If you sense a “but...” among all this quality, there is one. At least, there was supposed to be. The Alhambra has built its reputation – and it is a fine reputation – on staging big, brash and very popular musicals. In the early part of 2014, it felt as though a lot of that sort of work had been purged from the programme.

On first glance, it appears to have made a bit of a comeback in the autumn, with the likes of tributes to The Eagles, Queen and a dubious show called Viva La Drag! and a Motown jukebox musical all visiting in the autumn. On closer inspection, much of the work that might look at its best on a cheeseboard appears to have been scheduled for St George’s Hall.

There is a genuine stamp 
of quality through all the 
work at the Alhambra 
Theatre. Adam Renton, general manager of Bradford Theatres, says: “This year has been a very special one for the Alhambra Theatre, as it celebrates its 100th anniversary. It’s a privilege to be general manager of such an iconic venue at this current time. The Alhambra Theatre remains a prestigious venue attracting a diverse and exciting range of star names and live entertainment to the city of Bradford.”

While the date celebrating a century since the doors were actually opened to the public was celebrated earlier this year, the autumn sees the celebration proper take place with A Night of Variety on September 20. The special gala evening will hark back to the early glory days of the Alhambra when variety acts were staged to cheer the audience through two world wars. Michael Ball headlines the evening and is joined by Billy Pearce, Lesley Joseph, The Krankies, Joe McElderry, Joe Pasquale and dancers from Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures.

Within the 100 year history of the theatre, the past 
decade will stand out for a number of reasons, high 
up on that list is the current management’s commitment to bringing high quality dance to the city. Choreographer Matthew Bourne has brought a number of his shows to the theatre, including Edward Scissorhands and recently his all male Swan Lake completely sold out before it had barely got through the door. Bourne brings what is expected to be a thrilling adaptation of Lord of the Flies in December.

So without being entirely uncritical, it is safe to say that the Alhambra will be rounding off a celebratory year in some style.

For full season details visit www.bradford-theatres.co.uk and to book tickets for productions, or call the box office on 01274 432000.

The Barber Shop Chronicles is the West Yorkshire Playhouse's first co-production with the National Theatre. Picture by Marc Brenner.

Backstage with the man masterminding a new era for the arts in Yorkshire