Stage is set for a great year

Artscene picks the top 11 shows coming up in 2011

SISTER ACT

THE ALHAMBRA, BRADFORD

NOVEMBER 29 to DECEMBER 10

After taking the West End by storm this musical, based on the smash hit movie starring Whoopi Goldberg, is hitting the road not just in this country but across the world.

Thankfully, as it travels around the UK it stops off in West Yorkshire for a show which is so anticipated that tickets went on sale in Bradford almost a year before opening night at The Alhambra. So if you want to experience the fun of nuns taking on gangsters in this fantastic celebration of song, faith and dance, you'll have to be quick.

Please note: the full cast list has yet to be announced but Ms Goldberg is unlikely to be taking a role in this touring version.

JOHN CLEESE

LEEDS GRAND THEATRE

JUNE 2, 3 and 4

Unashamedly titled The Alimony Tour, arguably the most famous of all the ex-Monty Pythons has hit the road in a bid to meet the large costs of his divorce settlement.

Cleese's one-man show is currently travelling through every country you care to mention but comes to these shores this year and, for three night only, will be appearing on stage at The Grand.

He says the show will be "an evening of well honed anecdotes, psychoanalytical tit-bits, details of recent surgical procedures and unprovoked attacks on former colleagues, especially Michael Palin."

This is another show so in demand that it went on sale long before the performances.

DEEP BLUE SEA

WEST YORKSHIRE PLAYHOUSE

FEBRUARY 18 to MARCH 12

AS the jewel in Leeds's cultural crown celebrates its 21st birthday the Playhouse's spring season begins in style with Terrence Rattigan's powerful, thought-provoking play.

Adding a helpful sprinkling of stardust is actress Maxine Peake who will be taking on the leading role of Hester in this sometimes distressing story of love and loss.

Best known for appearing in mainstream TV shows like Channel 4's Shameless and BBC sitcom Dinnerladies, she's also tackled numerous weighty parts including that of moors murderer Myra Hindley. In recent times she's been widely recognised as a stage star in fast ascension.

THE LADY IN THE VAN

THE ALHAMBRA, BRADFORD

JULY 11 to 16

THIS Hull Truck production sees one of Alan Bennett's less well known works brought to life on stage by increasingly acclaimed director Sarah Esdaile.

The play tells the true story of his unusual neighbour. Parked at the bottom of the writer's garden is a van. With a lady in it.

Miss Shepherd is a curious and enigmatic woman. Bennett knows very little about her. She used to drive ambulances in the war, might have been a nun, sells pencils and pamphlets and has an unexplained aversion to piano music.

The arrival of this show has only just been announced by The Alhambra with tickets going on sale on January 17.

CINDERELLA

THE ALHAMBRA, BRADFORD

MARCH 8 to 12

After weaving his magic on the classic that was Swan Lake, choreographer Matthew Bourne turned his attentions to another famous story back in the 1990s.

Swan Lake received the same inventive twist, shifting the action into 1940s London just as it was being bombed by the Luftwaffe.

Now Bourne has revisited his balletic fairytale and takes it on the road, stopping off at Bradford for just one week on the current national tour.

Using Prokofiev's original score as a starting point, this Cinderella essentially remains a rags-to-riches story, albeit one with a few clever, contemporary twists along the way. Expect something more surprising, sparkly and just a little bit more sexy.

CALENDAR GIRLS

LEEDS GRAND THEATRE

March 7 to 19

This proved a huge hit when it came to Leeds last year, not least because it arrived on the doorstep of the ladies who inspired the story, the members of the Rylstone Women's Institute in nearby North Yorkshire.

And the line up of ladies for the 2011 cast is equally packed with big names. It includes Lynda Bellingham, Jennifer Ellison, Trudie Goodwin, Ruth Madoc, Bernie Nolan, Lisa Riley, Gwen Taylor.

Even the fellas are made up of a few instantly recognisable faces. Joining the cast is the former Coronation Street heartthrob Bruno Langley as Lawrence the photographer. Joe McGann also appears as John, the man who dies of leukaemia and inspires his wife and her friends to pose naked for a charity calendar.

AVENUE Q

THE ALHAMBRA, BRADFORD

JUNE 6 to 11

Another coup for The Alhambra as they sign up another smash hit from both the West End and Broadway.

This unique cast of human and puppet characters has captured the imagination of international audiences, packing theatres in London and New York, but only now is it going on the road for everyone to enjoy.

Despite the apparently childish appeal of using foam and fabric to tell a story, this is a very grown-up musical dealing with adult themes in a way which is somehow politically incorrect and remarkably inoffensive.

Taking an irreverent view of life, the story revolves around Princeton who moves onto a new street, Avenue Q, and learns numerous lessons about the real world courtesy of a bizarre selection of neighbours.

It's a modern classic which has to be seen to be believed.

CARMEN

LEEDS GRAND THEATRE

January 17, 22, 29 and FEBRUARY 1, 5, 7, 9

Bizet's celebrated opera receives new life with this new production courtesy of Leeds-based Opera North, who always like to do things a little differently.

Sung in French, this three-hour epic gets an interesting twist from American director Daniel Kramer, who spent a long period of time in Leeds during 2009 when he helped sculpt the debut opera for singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright.

The resulting production, a joint venture which saw Opera North perform Prima Donna at the Manchester Festival, was staggering in both concept and execution.

So expectations are high that he'll heighten every element of this passionate, murderous masterpiece.

KING LEAR

WEST YORKSHIRE PLAYHOUSE

SEPTEMBER 23 to OCTOBER 22

One of the other major highlights of the Playhouse's 21st birthday year is this, a new production of one of Shakespeare's darkest tragedies.

Taking the reigns will be the artistic director Ian Brown who has also enlisted a giant of stage and screen to take on the lead.

Tackling King Lear will be Tim Piggot-Smith, better known for appearing as policeman and detectives on countless TV dramas, not to mention one of his first appearances in ITV's Jewel in the Crown.

He's also a highly respected stage actor and was recently nominated for an Olivier Award for his portrayal of Ken Lay in the smash-hit play Enron.

THE SOUND OF MUSIC

LEEDS GRAND THEATRE

JUNE 7 to 25

Tickets for this, arguably the musical of all musicals, went on sale nine months in advance, such was the anticipation.

The excitement sparked by TV talent contest How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria? continues to reverberate with audiences still lapping up this perennial tale of Nazis, nuns and love in an Alpine climate.

The full cast has yet to be announced and it hasn't been confirmed whether Connie Fisher will be appearing as Maria.

But producers have confirmed that Jason Donovan, who's fast becoming something of a veteran of musical theatre, will be appearing as the male lead of Captain von Trapp.

'TIS A PITY SHE'S A WHORE

WEST YORKSHIRE PLAYHOUSE

May 7 to 28

A tragic death sparks a forbidden passion and a brother and sister seal an erotic, but fatal pact with each other. Inside a corrupt and violent Italy, they cling to each other with what they feel is right.

But plot and counter-plot threaten to overwhelm Annabella and Giovanni as they struggle to keep their forbidden love secret. By turn darkly comic and brilliantly horrific the play moves towards its fateful conclusion.

As potent today as it was in 1633, Ford's tragic play is one of the most powerful and controversial ever written.

This exhilarating new production is set in 1962 and brought to the stage by director Jonathan Munby.

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