Thursday, 27 November 2008

Radio Interview With Fran

Just found this little gem a radio interview for Radio Teesdale with our Fran

Another Old Article

And Another Old Press Article By our Fran.

I'd Do Anything star Francesca lands her dream job - About CSWY

I know this is an old article but I have only Just come across it  one of Frans first interviews when she got the role of Lucy in Can't Smile Without You.

Published Date: 17 October 2008 By LIAM RUDDEN
Arts and Entertainment Editor

TO borrow a line from her leading man, it appears Francesca Jackson was the one and only when West End supremo Bill Kenwright began his search for an actress to play Lucy in his new musical, Can't Smile Without You.
"I came out of the Nancy house on the Sunday and on the Monday was in his office singing songs for him to see if I was suitable for this job," smiles the 24-year-old, who got her big break when she was selected to appear as a contestant in I'd Do AnyADVERTISEMENT

thing, the BBC talent search to find a Nancy for Cameron Macintosh's new West End production of Oliver!

Jackson discovered that Bill Kenwright, who had been a judge on the BBC's second talent search, Any Dream Will Do, had been an avid viewer of I'd Do Anything and two weeks after she left the show, while the other girls were still battling it out, Jackson was signed up to her first national tour, which calls in at the Festival theatre next week.

"It was lovely. I just had to make sure that he was happy with me, and he was, and I was offered the part," she says happily.

All's well that ends well they say, but it could have been very different as Jackson was already an established West End performer when she opted to take the TV route.

"I'd done a three-year degree at Mountview drama school and had been in the ensemble for Tonight's The Night," she explains. "I'd also played my first lead in the West End, which was Joanne in Rent. From that I went straight into the Nancy house. So I was scared of the risks.

"What was going through my mind was the fact that if I was absolutely awful it could end my career. But at the same time it is the biggest and best audition you'll ever get. You'll never again get the chance for that many people to get to see and know you."

Although Jackson took advice from her friend Connie Fisher, who won How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?, she admits that the show wasn't quite what she had expected.

"My friend Connie won the first one so she'd kind of let me know what it was all about. However, I think I'd Do Anything was very different to How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? because the BBC had worked out how to do it. They filled our days with more and more missions and knew what they wanted in interviews. They knew what questions to ask.
"It was a hell of an experience. It was terrifying and brilliant all at the same time. Very scary."

Luckily it paid off and next week Jackson shares the Festival Theatre stage with Chesney Hawkes as the 90s pop icon makes his musical debut in the show, which features more than 30 of legendary singer/songwriter Barry Manilow's best known hits.

"He is the nicest, down-to- earth person I have ever worked with. He has no airs and graces. He doesn't stress about anything. Just goes on relaxed, comes off relaxed, never changes," says Jackson of her co-star.

"When my mum said, 'It's Chesney Hawkes', I said, 'I don't know who that is'. When she said, 'You know, The One And Only,' I thought, brilliant."

Can't Smile Without You finds 37-year-old Hawkes playing Tony, the lead singer of an aspiring band on a visit to New York where they stumble across the latest TV auditions to find the next pop sensation. When Tony is offered a chance to perform, the other band members give him their blessing.

But before he can realise his dream, he is caught up in a tragic sequence of events which leave him fighting for his life. Left with no memory, his dreams are shattered. His only hope lies in the power of the music he loves and his feelings for a girl called Mandy – enter 23-year-old Siobhan Dillon, another How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? graduate, as Tony's love interest.

"I play Lucy, Tony's fiancee," says Jackson, before explaining the apparent conflict in roles. "She is Tony's fiancee but she is cheating on him with his best friend. When Tony gets back from New York he gets in a fight and loses his memory. He can't remember that he's marrying her, so when she asks him if they can split up so that she can start seeing his best friend, he says yes.

"She does get nicer as the show goes on but I do get some boos when there are Chesney fans in, which makes it a brilliant part to play because I never know how the audience are going to take me."

With the book by Tim Prager and based on an original idea by Bill Kenwright, this new musical, which comes with Manilow's blessing, includes classic numbers such as I Write The Songs, Mandy, I Made It Through The Rain, Can't Smile Without You and of course, Could It Be Magic.
"I was a bit of a fan of Barry Manilow when I was a kid. He was on my i-pod already when I got this part," beams the actress. "Still, it was surprising when I got into rehearsal to discover how many songs of his I actually knew. Songs I heard but never realised were his. His writes incredible pop songs.

"We've been told that he's trying to come to see us. He phoned Bill Kenwright during a notes session after one of our previews and spoke to Chesney. He also wants us all to come and see him at the O2."

Although the viewing public only became aware of Jackson earlier this year, the Welsh-born actress – she originally comes from the village of Ystradgynlais – had already appeared in numerous stage productions, starting with the role of Percy the Polar Bear in a nursery school production.

Later she would join the Swansea Amateur Dramatic Society where she was noticed, and at 13 played Bet, Nancy's side-kick, in the London production of Oliver!

Roles in the National Youth Musical Theatre productions of Whistle Down The Wind and Bugsy! followed, as did Rod Stewart's Tonight's the Night and Rent.

She still has her ambitions however. "I'd love to play Linda in Blood Brothers, Fantine in Les Mis, Ellen in Miss Saigon, Elphaba in Wicked . . . there are so many musical theatre roles I'd like to do, but I'd also like to get into television and do some straight acting, without the singing for a bit."

And as for the role of Nancy? "I would still love to play Nancy," she admits. "If that show lasts on the West End for a few years then I would love to go back and audition in the normal way to see if I could get the job. Absolutely. So you never know, you might see me there yet."
And that would be magic.

• Can't Smile Without You, Festival Theatre, Nicolson Street, Monday-Saturday, 7.30pm (Thursday/ Saturday matinees 2.30pm), £8.50-£30, 0131-529 6000

It's all in the stars

FRANCESCA JACKSON admits that she lives by Cosmic Ordering, 'an art' she discovered while still a struggling actress working in a call centre to make ends meet.

"When I was out of work before getting a part in Rent, I was working in a call centre and waitressing," she says. "I worked at the call centre for just under a year. There were so many out-of-work actors there. It was so depressing because I was doing a 9am-6pm job and trying to see a light at the end of the tunnel and hoping to get an audition. My mum told me she'd found this Noel Edmonds' book about cosmic ordering and I started to read it. That's what I used to help me get through that tough time."

So how does cosmic ordering work? Well, every night, after a hard day's song and dance, Jackson pops a note under her pillow, hoping her dreams will come true. So far it seems to be working.

Steve Burbridge Can Smile Without The Show

A review thats about as welcome as a skunk at a lawn party, from Steve, reads like he was as happy as a fish in the desert

But hey for those fans of the show and the cast it's worth reading (as long as you take it with a pinch of salt) to make you laugh especially at how seriously Steve took the show instead of the way it was intended to be taken -

I'm sure the cast would like to see him up doing the show......... Then they could get there own back

Anyone got any tomatos they want to through I suggest Steve for the stocks.

Steve Burbridge Review (if you can call it That more like a Rant

Apologise to the cast but as I say it's worth a reading for a laugh....... Fran and co We love you and love the show unlike Steve

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Darlington First Review

Can’t Smile Without You, Darlington Civic Theatre
11:46am Wednesday 26th November 2008

CHESNEY Hawkes has been out of the spotlight since his 1991 smash hit, The One and Only, writing and producing music and touring with his band, and this musical, featuring 27 of Barry Manilow’s songs, could be the big break he’s waited all this time for.

The plot involves five British lads who go to New York to audition and meet Jeff, a glitzy showbiz entrepreneur (a nice comic turn from Howard Samuels). Jeff’s very taken with Chesney Hawkes’ character, imaginatively named Tony Lowiman (geddit?) but he wants to send the rest of the band home. Following a weekend spent solo at Jeff’s home, Tony strikes up a relationship with Mandy, but waiting at home is his fiancée Lucy, who’s really in love with his best friend Scott.
All’s well in the end, of course, and there are frequent breaks for Barry Manilow’s polished, schmaltzy pop. The band and the vocals are excellent, although I was a little concerned that Hawkes’ voice might not hold up. Manilow’s range is considerable and Hawkes is nearing the end of the tour and it shows. If Bill Kenwright takes Can’t Smile Without You into the West End as planned, Hawkes is going to have to look after those vocal chords.

Even if you’re not a fan of Manilow, he’s written so many decent pop songs it’s hard not to like at least some of them.

Hawkes lacks the charisma required for a romantic lead, but he’s a likeable chap and he sings well.

■ Until Saturday. Box Office: 01325-486555

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

A Couple More Pics Unearthed

Press Shot From Liverpool 

Fran And Ashley From Daily Mail Before Fran's Controversial Exit

Another CSWY Review

I've just stumbled across this review today that I thought you might like, along with a few different pics including Siobhan and Chesney, Edward Handoll, Howard Samuels and Our Fran.

Can't Smile Without You

Take two or three popular ingredients, including one of the world's favourite singer songwriters, the phenomenally favourite medium of the TV reality shows, two reality-TV show contestants, a 90's Popstar and Bill Kenwright's ideas, directorial and production skillsand what is the result?  In this case we get "Can't Smile Without You", the new Barry Manilow Musical.
Based very loosely on one UK bands attempt to enter a reality TV show in the USA. Tony Lowiman (Chesney Hawkes) and the members of his band whilst on a stag weekend in LA blag an audition for a TV show, but Jeff (Howard Samuels) wants a solo artist and that would be Tony.  Jeff's PA Amanda (Siobhan Dillon) dislikes Tony at first but his new song 'Mandy' melts her heart, this instant mutual attraction is shattered by Tony's return to the UK. Tony's fiancé Lucy (Francesca Jackson) believing the wedding may be off turns to Scott (Edward Handoll), band member and Tony's best man, for comfort. Returning to the UK Tony is attacked after the band's first gig, leaving him critically injured with a total loss of memory. His ability to play music and memory for most songs is however not affected.
How will Tony, Lucy, Scott and Mandy progress? Will Tony's memory return?  To which lovely lady will he say 'Can't Smile Without You'!
Chesney Hawkes, himself a singer songwriter is still touring with his own band. Probably most remembered for the pop song 'The One and Only' I had the pleasure of seeing him in the musical 'MacGregor's Trap' during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1995. He makes a very handsome and musically talented Tony.
Leading ladies Siobhan Dillon and Francesca Jackson both experienced the buzz and hard work associated with Reality TV shows. Siobhan, in 'How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?' and Francesca, in the recent 'I'd Do Anything'. I had to ask both ladies what it is like to be ever associated with the set of the show they are working on having the dreaded bilateral stairs. After watching them sing live week after week there is no doubt both these ladies are superbly talented.
Edward Handoll as Scott has previously visited Edinburgh, like Chesney, whilst performing in the Fringe Festival. His tall dark good looks and dreamy voice are a perfect foil for Mr Hawkes, who needs to watch out for his co-star. Edward not only sings, he plays guitar and piano.
Howard Samuels as Jeff, provides most of the comedy, one scene in particular to look out for is The European Music Awards where they do a pastiche on 'Copacabana'.
The other members of 'The Romantics' are Michael Kantola as Dougie, Gavin Stenhouse as Flynn and Robin Johnson as Pat. Hats off to these ultra talented young men who along with Edward Handoll not only play live on stage they move up and join the band on guitars and drums. The other members of the band are MD, John Maher, AMD, John Rutledge, Matt Tubman, Rosie Nicholl, Mark Ferrell and Matt French.
The other performing members of the company are Reuven Gershon, Sam Palladio, Kate Ray, Jade Steele and Richard Taylor Woods.
'Can't Smile Without You' is a great fun musical enjoyable whether you like Barry Manilow or not. The superbly talented cast are well worth watching from an aesthetic point of view and also to enjoy brilliant musicality. For further information see for information on 'Can't Smile Without You' and all other current Bill Kenwright productions.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Congratulations To Jessie on Her Opening

For Fan Reviews and Further reviews of A Little Night Music be sure to check out the Jessie Buckley Blog.

Stephen Sondheim: A Little Night Music

Menier Chocolate Factory

London, 24 November 2008

Like many a great romantic comedy before it, from A Midsummer Night's Dream to The Marriage of Figaro, the sexual entanglements in Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music work themselves out as the characters go out into the garden. And as the sun sets on Trevor Nunn's elegiac new production for the Menier Chocolate Factory, I for one couldn't resist being moved by the resolution of the plot when the six main characters finally pair off into the right couples and dance the 'Last Waltz'.

If some of Nunn's large-scale productions of musicals in recent years have seemed unfocussed, here he seems to revel in the intimacy of the Chocolate Factory. It's extraordinary to experience such a vocally demanding piece so close to the performers, who, incidentally, make a highly-calibre ensemble. There again, the spatial limitation of the venue is very much to the benefit of retaining the domesticity of the work, which could seem overblown and less intense in a large theatre. Here, Nunn makes intensity the motivation for everything that goes on in the show – mostly the sexual frustration felt by the main characters, none of whom can have the person best suited to them in the beginning, but the inner tension of the young man Henrik and the tension caused by the repression of the Countess by her husband are no less important.
Nunn responds musically to the piece, too, understanding the waltz as the key signifier in the musical working out of the plotline. Lynne Page's choreography comes into play here with as hypnotic a staging of the opening tableau as one could hope for, in which she's helped by Hartley T A Kemp's imaginative and utterly outstanding lighting design. Though the main set is sparse, consisting of semi-mirrored doors that open out in Act 2 to reveal the garden, David Farley's designs use props efficiently to make the transitions between scenes, and the period costumes are exquisite. Some of the walls open outwards to create new divisions, too, for instance for the Egerman house, and items such as trees, a chaise longue and a bed enhance the sense of place, but for me Kemp's lighting was the cornerstone of the visual element of the production.
It was considered controversial to cast Hannah Waddingham as Desirée Armfeldt, but Nunn explains in the programme that the decision stems from Bergman's film Smiles of a Summer Night, on which the musical is based and in which the actress Armfeldt 'sees her fortieth birthday on the horizon and realises that the time has come for her to take all important life decisions concerning the future of herself and her child'. The tradition of casting someone closer to 50 than 40 in the role is therefore not necessarily true to the text, and by bringing down the average age of the cast Nunn has added energy to the sexuality that infuses the story.
It really works. Waddingham is totally glamorous in the part, a blonde vision in a creamy dress, but anyone worrying that she's too young need not fear. This Desirée still has her eye on the passing years, but the emphasis here is on transition rather than arrival at middle age. The connection between Desirée and her lover, Fredrik, is white-hot from the very beginning, and it provides the line that runs through the show. Waddingham's achievement is in creating the artificial veneer of charm and then allowing the cracks in her composure to show. At this performance, tears streamed down her face during a touching rendition of 'Send in the Clowns': the words come to the fore rather than the voice, and it's deeply moving.

Opposite her, Alexander Hanson is an ideal Fredrik: masculine, with a wonderfully firm baritone and the ability to be emotionally expressive throughout. Alistair Robins is brilliantly buffoonish as the stupid Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm, again a fine singer, but it's Kelly Price who stands out, as his wife, Countess Charlotte. Price ensures that Charlotte comes to the fore as the instigator or controller of several subplots yet always leaves one with the knowledge that deep down she just wants her husband to notice her. Maureen Lipman gave a scene-stealing turn as Madame Armfeldt – I'd gladly see the show again just for her comic timing – and in spite of some strain during 'Later', Gabriel Vick generated just the right amount of intensity as Henrik. Making her professional debut as Anne, Jessie Buckley (who came second in the BBC's I'd Do Anything competition) shows her prowess as an actress and gives a mature performance that belies her years; however, I sense that the high-lying tessitura causes her problems in places.

Jeremy Finch is a serviceable Frid, enjoying the chance to sing a number that was cut from the Broadway production: 'Silly People', in which the servant observes the overcomplicated sexual behaviour of his masters (more interesting for the incisive lyric than the music). Kaisa Hammarlund is excellent as Petra, the confidante of Anne Egerman and lover to both Frid and Henrik, but for me her rendition of 'The Miller's Son' at this performance just stopped short of making the impact it could; Grace Link was the surprisingly confident child actor playing Fredrika Armfeldt at the show I saw. Excellent support comes from the large-voiced Mr Lindquist of Lynden Edwards and Nicola Sloane's sharply-characterised Mrs Segstrom, and the rest of the ensemble – John Addison, Charlotte Page, Laura Armstrong and Florence Andrews – are equally talented.

I had worried in advance about how successfully Jason Carr would be able to reduce the orchestration for just seven instruments (piano, harp, violin, cello, double bass, woodwind and bassoon), because it's usually a string-heavy show that is favoured by symphony orchestras. But in fact he's done a great job: the orchestral passages sound perfectly full, and most of the detail of the originals is still present. Just occasionally there was poor coordination between stage and band, but on the whole Caroline Humphris's tempi were well judged at this performance.
In short, there are no major weaknesses about the Menier's production of this perennially appealing show, which runs until March. Don't miss it.

By Dominic McHugh

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Chesney Article About CSWY - Darlington

Although the following article doesn't mention Fran it's still quite a nice article that I thought people might enjoy

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Stoke Review of Can't Smile Without You

Theatre Review: Can't Smile Without You – The Regent, Hanley (PICTURES)
Tuesday, November 18, 2008, 09:20

THE thought of one-hit wonder Chesney Hawkes starring in a show based upon the music of Barry Manilow could be either a dream come true or the worst nightmare – depending on taste.
Thankfully, Bill Kenwright's production ensured Can't Smile Without You enjoyed a hugely successful first night at the Regent Theatre.

Chesney Hawkes as Tony With Siobhan Dillon and Jade Steele in Can’t Smile Without You at The Regent Theatre.

The story follows the fortunes of Tony Lowiman, played by Hawkes, and his band, the Romantics.

Their search for fame takes them to the U.S. where Tony falls for the conveniently named Mandy (Siobhan Dillon), but remains true to his fiancée Lucy (Francesca Jackson), who is meanwhile enjoying an illicit romance with Tony's best friend Steve. This love tangle is given a twist when Tony acquires a head injury and forgets about his romantic interests – both old and new.

The script is very much written around the music, resulting in an amusing, tongue-in-cheek introduction to the songs. For example, on their return to the U.S., the Romantics are faced with a crisis as cabaret singer Lola had ran off with Rico leaving the club Copacabana
in a bit of a fix.

Performances, all supported with a live orchestra, were consistently strong. Mandy (Dillon) sang with clear harmony throughout the show, including a poignant version of Could It Be Magic.
Hawkes also showcased his talents well as a solo artist in, for example, I Write The Songs, and as a band member in upbeat numbers such as New York Rhythm. Howard Samuels's portrayal of loud-mouthed talent-show host Jeff also stood out as he delivered an alternative version of the title song relating to lost profits rather than romance.

This contrast of styles provides diversity and a fresh edge to Manilow classics. However the production stopped short of being hilariously funny or as fully credible as a romantic drama. This was of little consequence as the audience clearly loved it.

Cheerful and cheesy, Can't Smile Without You provides a night of pure escapism, and is not just for Manilow fans. The show runs until Saturday. Call the box office on 0870 060 6649.

Fern Basnett

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

A Couple More Pics Unearthed

Fran - Acting or Giving The Other Contestants What For?

Fran Outside Bristol Hippodrome

Fran with Siobhan and Chesney 

New Poll

With the end of the first leg of Can't Smile Without You Tour is fast approaching, decided it was high time we had a poll for what other roles you would like to see Fran in.

If there is a role you think Fran would be great in and it isn't in the list no fear, add it in the comments or email me.

Multiple votes are allowed but please try not to select everything I know it may be difficult to decide as Fran would be good at anything.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Further Pics

It turns out that the last lot of IDA photos were care of Rachel Tucker Herself so many thanks Rachel for some great pictures. 

Rachel & Fran Looking A Little Nervous

Fran Meeting Laura Wells After a Performance of CSWY

Fran With Abbie Tabberer In Nottingham after CSWY

Guys keep the fan pics and reviews coming. 

Friday, 7 November 2008

Manilow Magic @ Theatre Royal

Published Date: 07 November 2008
If Barry Manilow is not appearing in person at Nottingham's Theatre Royal this week then his fans can revel in the next best thing.

Chesney Hawkes plays the lead role of Tony in the UK tour of Bill Kenwright's brand new musical love story Can't Smile Wihout You.

He meets a girl on his New York stag night, falls for her and then loses his memory after a fight when he returns to England.That's the plot but this is really a Manilow-fest, packed with more than 30 of his songs and backed by a class band under the direction of John Maher.

In support are excellent performances from 23-year-old Siobhan Dillon, who first came to the nation's attention as runner up in the BBC's hit TV show How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?, and Francesca Jackson,finalist from recent TV hit I'd Do Anything.

Performance Times: Evenings 7.30pm. Saturday matinee 2.30pmTicket Prices: £12- £30.50 Box Office: 0115 989 5555.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

New Pics

I know most of you have probably seen most of the Nancy images on the other blogs but for those of you who haven't enjoy - Also be sure to check out some of the new shots from the What's on Stage outing to Rent Remixed Last November.

Denise & Fran @ Londons Rent Remixed Press Night

The Nancies Have a PJ Party !!

The Girls Looking Glam - I think this was from the Final Stage of Audtions looking at the outfits

The Girls 

Fran Hiding In the Back

All Dressed Up - Fran Hiding Round the Back Again

The Nancies give there feathers a test run

The Cast of Rent Remixed

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Nottingham Review - This Time It's Good News

Review: Can't Smile Without You, Theatre Royal
Tuesday, November 04, 2008, 06:51

MAMMA Mia has a lot to answer for. Take a band's back catalogue, throw in a perfunctory story and stir. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't (Shang A Lang anyone?).

If you adopt the same thinking to Barry Manilow songs, just how far up the cheese-ometer will it go? Thankfully, not that far, because if you want a thoroughly escapist night out with some fine musicianship, top singing voices and a knowing glint in its eye, I urge you to beat a path to the Theatre Royal this week.
Can't Smile Without You, does exactly what it says on the tin. It's a night of pop tunesmith Manilow magic.
There may be a story about a singer meeting a girl on a his stag weekend in New York, falling in love, and coming back to Blighty, only to be injured in a fight in which he loses his memory.
But it's only a device to get us thinking about when the next hit will be played – and whether true love will find a way.

Chesney Hawkes takes the lead role of Tony Lowiman (crossword fans should be able to work that one out!) and he is more than ably accompanied by Francesca Jackson as fiancée Lucy and Siobhan Dillon as television executive PA Mandy (cue for a song perhaps?)
The band, under the musical direction of John Maher, are extremely tight, with some of the arrangements enhancing what Manilow has already given us.
The Theatre Royal audience for opening night lapped up this piece of musical theatre with many suggesting on the way out a return later in the week.
It's the next best thing to a concert by the man himself. What better endorsement do you need?

Comments (1)
It was as corny as a Kansas wheatfield - but I loved every minute of it!Chesney Hawkes' voice is PERFECTLY suited to the songs and there was some very fine comic acting by Howard Samuels.The supporting cast were all 100% believeable despite it being decidedly 'tongue in cheek' and the band were just wonderful. The rendition of 'Sweet Heaven' alongside another song was worthy of the closing act of Les Miserables.I thoroughly enjoyed it and quite frankly, if I weren't 46 years old, I'd have Chesney Hawkes' babies!Well done to all concerned.
Yvette, Mansfield Woodhouse

Saturday, 1 November 2008

2 New Pics

When the Nancies performed live at the Wicked Matinee during the competition avid theater fan Laura Allenby was on hand to get the following great shots that she has been kind enough to share with us.