If you have a night free this week, I urge you to head down to The Core Theatre (formerly Solihull Arts Complex) for Solihull On Stage's exuberant production of Fame. From beginning to end the cast exuded such an infectious energy it was an absolute delight to spend an evening in their company.
Following the story of a group of students attending the High School of Performing Arts, the audience meet an array of colourful characters, from the fame-obsessed Carmen to the endearingly shy violinist, Schlomo. You need to have a solid set of principle actors in order to pull off this show, as they each have to capture the many facets of college life. Well, I am delighted to say that SOS had this in bundles.
It was an incredibly well cast production, with each principle bringing their characters beautifully to life. I must start with congratulating Dani Godwin on such a brilliantly slick production. It is clear that she and the rest of the creative team have worked immensely hard; there was not a microphone slip-up, a sound balance issue, a lighting cue missed or a paused moment. It really was a tour de force.
But then, the crowning glory was the plethora of talent on stage. Sophia Bailey made for a stunning Carmen Diaz, delivering a faultless performance. You could hear a pin drop in her rousing final solo, In LA, as she commanded the stage with her excellent characterisation and spine-tingling vocals.
Schlomo was charmingly encapsulated by Matt Branson and paired with Bailey they shared a lovely moment in Bring On Tomorrow. Meanwhile, the onstage pairing of Sue Lyons (Serena) and Sam Turner (Nick) was perfect, from Lyons’ rendition of Let’s Play A Love Scene to Turner’s I Want To Make Magic, they were both in excellent voice.
Good performances came from Suzanne Brittain (Mabel), Louis Simmonds (Tyrone) and Abi Soley (Iris), but before I begin listing everyone, I may as well say that the highlight was the entire ensemble on stage. Pinpoint harmonies, synchronised dancing (courtesy of choreographer/co-director, Sarah Golby) and a fabulous band under the musical direction of Mel O’Donnell – the show blended together in a cocktail of vibrant colour and sound.
What a show. Get down to The Core Theatre if you can, it’s a show not to miss.
Bring on the Bollywood is a new production from the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry in association with Phizzical; it brings colour, humour and a taste of the exotic to the stage.
In a story with its roots very much in Indian cinema and culture, we are introduced to the Pawar family mainly living in India, with a daughter enjoying life in London. Dr Katrina Pawar is summoned home to her brother Lucky’s wedding. She dreads the trip as her mother; a professional matchmaker, is determined to find her a nice husband, Katrina is not interested. On the plane she spots Ronny who, despite him talking to himself, she finds quite attractive. He is on a journey to scatter the ashes of his wife and collect Holy Water for his father. Obviously their paths cross again and a fledging romance is born. Meanwhile Lucky is determined not to marry his fiancée Rekha and enlists Katrina’s help in breaking the engagement without causing the family to lose face and upset their mother.
Sohm Kapila is the Bollywood loving Katrina; she captured the torn loyalties between tradition and progression with conviction. Her dancing and singing were entrancing. The multifaceted Ronny Kappor was portrayed by Adam Samuel-Bal who captured the essence of the unlikely hero. A beautiful character performance was delivered by Nikkita Chadha as Rekha; there was a touching vulnerable side to her, but a determination to be happy. Many people can recognise the overpowering Mother (Sakuntala Ramanee) and slightly hen-pecked Father (Rohit Gokani). This couple were responsible for many of the laughs of the show.With plenty of humour, it is a well observed comedy, accessible to all.
The show looks spectacular; the costumes are stunning and move beautifully during the dance numbers, with music and dancing playing a large part in this show, as you would expect. You are transported to a world of colour, rhythm and energetic, yet graceful dancing.
With laughs, love, colour and music this is a show that has the feel good factor – a sheer delight from beginning to end.
Curtain Up! opened at the Garrick last night, playing in their lovely, intimate studio space. The instant disappointment was to see the low turnout for the show, which I’m sure was a shame for the cast, because the audience buzz is so crucial to feed off in a performance.
What can sometimes turn into a bland concert with song after song and no real substance was cleverly and comically re-imagined in this show. There was a little storyline, which helped the group to flit from one style of musical to another and it was pleasing to see an array of lesser performed musical theatre songs.
One of my particular favourites of the night was the opening number Invocations And Instructions To The Audience, from Sondheim’s The Frogs. Performed by Jamie Jones and Alfie Kentesber, it is a hilarious introduction to the audience of what you should or shouldn’t do in an auditorium! Some particularly lovely performances came from Daniel Roberts and James Rowney, both shining in their individual songs. Rowney also surprised and delighted with a little ventriloquism turn.
Abbie Mead’s performance was sweet and understated, if a little quiet. She has the voice, she just needed to sing a little louder, however her vocals elegantly complemented Roberts’s in their beautiful and harmonised rendition of Falling Slowly from Once. And there was a brilliant nod to The Producers by Alfie Kentesber, as he performed a re-imagined version of Betrayed inspired by the songs already performed in the show.
However, the performance of the night came from Jamie Jones. From his oozing elegance as Norma Desmond in With One Look to his emotion-fuelled Rose’s Turn, he really did standout. His comic timing, stage presence and performance were second to none.
Angharad Saunders was queen of the keys and as the group all joined together for the finale, the harmonies were clear. It would have been great to have more ensemble numbers to showcase those harmonies. And it would have been much better for the cast if they had a larger audience.
Written, set and performed at the height of World War II, Flare Path was inspired by the real life experiences of playwright Terence Rattigan, who served as a tail gunner in the RAF. Playing at The REP until Saturday 30 April, Justin Audibert’s touring version gloriously retains the authenticity of this triumphant and engaging glimpse into wartime.
All of the action takes place in the reception area of The Falcon Hotel, which sits adjacent to an RAF airbase and follows the story of a group of men who are planning to spend the weekend with their wives when the arrival of a last-minute mission and a Hollywood movie star complicates things somewhat.
A beautifully constructed set brings the audience right into the room with the performers, while the snappiness of Rattigan’s script ensures the action moves on at pace and some clever technical effects reproduce the parallel strips of an aerodrome flare path. Lynden Edwards owns the stage as the charming, if slightly conceited star, Peter Kyle, who arrives to tell his former co-star and lover Patricia, now married to RAF pilot Teddy, that he still loves her. Patricia resolves to tell her husband she plans to leave him, but when Teddy and his team are called away on a mission everything changes.
Hedydd Dylan is a slightly young Patricia, but poignantly captures the struggle between old flame and loyalty to her husband, while Daniel Fraser shines as Teddy, whose stiff upper lip and strutting banter with the boys masks his hatred for flying and combat. The play’s pivotal scene where he confesses his ‘low moral fibre’ to Patricia is beautifully acted by both.
Meanwhile Claire Andreadis steals the show as the dotty Doris, a waitress married to a Polish pilot serving with the RAF who just happens to be a Count. She switches masterfully between happy-go-lucky ditz and concerned wife when the Count, played with intelligence and humour by William Reay, doesn’t return with the other boys. Good support comes from Jamie Hogarth as Teddy’s loyal tail gunner Dusty Miller and his delightfully daft wife Maudie (Polly Hughes).
There's a very moving juxtaposition which typifies wartime life. One where men drink beer one minute, fly deathly, emotionally-scarring missions the next and drink beer again the next. It’s more than just a play; it's a slice of history, a moment in time that's no doubt every bit as believable and moving as it would have been when it premièred in 1942.
It's also masterfully subtle; not a lot happens but at the same time everything does. It’s a story about the everyday but the extraordinary, of love and loss, of camaraderie but above all about the absurd horror of war and the quiet bravery of those fighting it.
The story is poignant in places, nostalgic throughout and as wholesome as something The Falcon’s dowdy hotelier Mrs Oakes (Audrey Palmer) might cook up.
More than 70 years on director Justin Audibert and his team have helped Rattigan’s script to shine once more in this beautiful revival.
When Oscar Wilde’s only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, was published in 1890 in a magazine, the editor was so fearful of its indecency he removed around 500 words without Wilde’s consent or knowledge.
More than 125 years later the story which so inflamed those who felt it violated Victorian laws of public morality, is still subject to much study, debate and analysis.
In Tin Robot Theatre’s radically adapted version of Wilde’s story, Gray is a movie star in the burgeoning, fickle world of 1930s Hollywood. It’s a masterstroke; a powerfully apt setting for Wilde’s exploration of aestheticism and hedonism.
Instead of a portrait, Gray is the subject of a film by director Basil Hallward who is infatuated with Gray and believes his beauty has helped him create his best work. Through Hallward, Gray meets Henry Wotton, a hedonist aristocrat in the original story but a brash production company boss in this version, and is taken in by his radical views of life; moved by Wotton’s insistence that he should ‘seek new sensations’ and greatly disturbed by the idea that his youth is temporary and that the world is only his ‘for a season’.
Gray’s wish that only the film will fade and his youth will remain comes true and his increasingly amoral existence corrupts the reel while he remains eternally young.
The homoerotic coding in Wilde's story has been subject to much analysis and here Carver makes this more explicit. Gray is depicted as a closeted Hollywood heartthrob whose hedonism results in homosexual experiences and hardcore drug use; bringing into focus the plight of real life Hollywood actors like Rock Hudson and Tab Hunter.
Aside from the bold and clever repositioning of the story, there are some genius touches in this production which are perfect for the Old Joint Stock’s intimate performance space.
There’s no crew, just one lighting technician; cast members provide sound effects from the side of the stage by using minimalistic but extremely effective props; running their fingers round the top of glasses and scrunching up plastic bottles to create palpable tension. Their echoing lines represent the tortuous thoughts in Gray’s increasingly plagued mind.
The standard of acting is really very high. Joel Heritage captures Gray’s descent from charming, attractive movie star into increasingly tortured debauchee. Jack Robertson is outstanding as the gangster-like producer Harry Wotton and Adam Carver is masterfully subtle as fawning director Basil Hallward. Meanwhile Grace Hussey-Burd and Touwa Craig-Dunn provide great support as the ill-fated actress Sibyl Vane and her brother Jim.
At times some of the story feels a tad too nuanced and the production placed an expectation on the audience to be more than familiar with the original story to fully appreciate it. At just an hour in length it’s a tour de force, but after an atmospheric build up the end does come rather quickly and Gray’s descent into a chaotic existence as he continues to grapple with his sexuality feels a little rushed.
That said, the extremely high quality of acting, ingenious use of sound and the boldness and originality of the story means there is a great deal to enjoy.
Having the ingenuity and bravery to take on a story as famous as this and reimagine it so dramatically is itself a feat for which Carver deserves the highest praise. This is a brave, bold, atmospheric and inventive adaptation of a classic.
This adaptation of The Picture Of Dorian Gray was written and devised by the company and directed by Adam Carver.
Stephen Schwartz has many a musical to his name and tonight, within the beautiful surroundings of Kidderminster's St Mary's Church, On The Floor Theatre Company presented an accomplished performance of one of his many notable works, Godspell.
Inspired by the parables, the musical creatively mixes these tales with both comedy and pathos, combined with a modern soundtrack.
Matthew Tweedale led the cast exceptionally well as Jesus, accompanied by a talented 12-strong cast, who were delightful from the offset. From the excellent harmonies to the abundance of energy, it was highly enjoyable.
This show is a great vehicle to showcase the array of talent in a group and each of the individual soloists suitably shone in their respective numbers. Particular highlights included the mesmerising and harmonious performance of By My Side from Sarah Richards and Jess Richards, Ryan Donnell's tingling vocals in All Good Gifts, the moving Finale and the crowd-pleasing We Beseech Thee, led by Doug Forrester.
The production team of Darren Richards, Cheryl Skidmore and James Bradley have created a simple yet more than effective show. With a combination of elements that made the audience chuckle, juxtaposed to the incredibly poignant end scene, it made for a well-balanced production.
Although a recorded track was used, it did not detract or affect the standard of performance and aside from some minor microphone interference it was a pleasure to spend an evening in the company of such a talented bunch of people.
With the increasing need to fill seats in an auditorium, it is not often that an amateur company can afford to go out on a limb and stage a little-known musical. Bravo then to Backstreet Theatre Company for bucking the trend this week at the Prince of Wales Theatre Cannock.
Working is one of those shows which won countless awards and drew critical acclaim when first staged across the pond on Broadway, but without a hit song to grab mass attention it failed to make a lasting impression, except amongst perhaps the most ardent of musical theatre fans. With music from big Broadway names including Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Godspell) and Lin Manuel-Miranda (whose latest show Hamilton is currently the hottest ticket in New York), the show explores the working lives of every-day people; from cleaners to shopkeepers, firemen to craftsmen, housewives to business tycoons. A series of musical numbers interspersed with monologues creates a series of vignettes in place of a straight storyline, which give just a glimpse into the world and thoughts of each individual.
Michele Windsor’s clever staging sets out this disjointed structure from the offset, with the audience introduced to a stage full of people from all walks of life. Combined with a specially-commissioned set, designed to great effect by Neil & Michele Sidaway, the staging and choreography brings the various aspects of the scene to life, moving seamlessly from school classroom to building site to call centre. My only criticism of the technical aspect were the rolling lights which almost blinded the audience at the end of each number - a minor note in what was technically a well-staged production; yet a key problem which saw many of the audience members around me looking away from the stage rather than being able to view the final bars of each routine.
The energy and teamwork across the cast is palpable, particularly in the musical numbers, which are each delivered with great attack and assuredness. The variety of the musical numbers means this show is the perfect vehicle for showing off the range of vocal talent in the company with strong solo performances across the board, in particular from Faye Watson, Sara Hilditch, Diana Whylie, Jack Knight and Gayle Allen (to mention but a few).
This is truly an ensemble piece with the large cast all playing numerous roles and the majority switching from fronting a number or monologue to providing chorus support throughout. Everyone on stage deserves credit for the contribution that they bring to the show. The slickness of the production and the attention to detail in the characters, which stood out whether at the front of the stage or hidden amongst a group of performers, is testament to this.
In the monologue sections, Faye Meacham and Jordan Davis also stood out for their natural, believable approach to their characters. Delivering a monologue is perhaps the most exposing challenge onstage to an actor – more so than singing a solo where at least you have a band to back you. With a monologue, every little action and sound produced is scrutinised by the audience so it is essential that every word can be heard, and any movement made is both believable and necessary. On opening night there were a number of lines that got lost in the cavernous space at the Prince of Wales, just from lack of diction or performers racing through the script, but hopefully this is something that can settle down through the run.
If you are only ever looking for a traditional plot-based musical and tunes you can hum along to as you leave the theatre, then this may not be the show for you. Yet, for musical theatre afficianados and anyone wishing to support local theatre that dares to be different, Backstreet’s production offers a rare chance to see this under-performed show.
Doris Day’s 1953 movie about the gun-totin’ tomboy from Deadwood Dakota remains a perennial favourite with musical lovers, and rightly so. The combination of Day’s punchy performance and Howard Keel’s largely underplayed (but never under-sung!) Bill Hickock is close to perfection, and there is a large supporting cast of Wild West characters to support the (typically) light story.
So it’s great to be able to report back on an exuberant and quite daring production by Stafford Operatic at The Gatehouse this week. Eschewing traditional scenery with vistas and rooms for an open stage with a large built stage towards the back, this was a production that really relied on using every member of the company to create the atmosphere for the story. And this was achieved with real relish by the large company, from a pre-show setting the scene for The Golden Garter, through several moments where company members mimed actions to songs on the stage-within-a-stage – as the story is so much about theatre and the act of acting this was a very well devised device that didn’t outdo the action in front – through to the beautifully simple staging of The Black Hills of Dakota that allowed the audience to really settle back and enjoy the fantastic choral singing of the company.
I noticed, looking through the programme before the start, that every member of the company had been given a character and name, from Potato Creek Johnny (a prospector) through Tricksie (a “painted lady”) to the delightfully named Madame Mustache (a lady poker player). This must have helped the ensemble to develop the sense of character needed to bring this production to life. Full credit must go to director Nicholas Maxwell-Earnshaw for developing this ensemble and really allowing them to create such vivid characterizations.
There is a problem, however, for any company tackling this evergreen story in the stage adaptation; it is far too long and, in long passages of act 1, actually quite boring. My 7 year old co-reviewer, who is a big fan of the film, was very restless during act 1. The film comes in at 1 hr 40 minutes long. Act 1 of the stage version is nearly 1 hour 30 minutes, and most of the song additions to the score are not a patch on the original film soundtrack (Careless with the Truth, Adelaide, Men). And this is a big problem I’ve felt each time I’ve see the show. These three songs all come in the first, exceptionally long scene of the stage play. I’ve always hoped a production would be brave enough to take a big red pen to this opening scene – it really would help the production overall. No matter how committed the performances are, it is still long.
In her first leading role Emily-Jayne Nicholls acts Calamity with conviction and humour, and possesses a very clear pretty singing voice. Although the voice does not totally convince for the whole of Act 1, where a more rugged belting tone is required to put across Calam’s big numbers, she fared much better with the big ballad Secret Love in Act 2.
Likewise her partner, Will Wood, acted Bill Hickock with charm, but lacked the muscular sound to completely convince as the dangerous gun slinger. Even when accompanying himself very effectively on guitar for Higher than a Hawk, the feel of the song was very different from the rest of the score, and, as nice a performance as it was, it felt out of place compared to the rest of the show.
Good support came from Vicky Webb and Tom Gosling as a convincing Katie Brown and Danny Gilmartin, and especially Dan Tillsley as a quite angry but very funny Francis (with an “I”) Fryer. Special mention must be given, from the company, to the brilliantly gurning Dave Stacey as Rattlesnake the Stage Coach driver.
Well done to Musical Director Laura Foxcroft and Choreographer Hannah Morris. The musical numbers were performed with confidence and real character. I’ve rarely seen an amateur performance use the ensemble so well to create the atmosphere, and allow the whole show to flow so smoothly. Overall a very enjoyable, and thoroughly committed performance.
It’s a classic tale of good versus evil; an enduring story originally penned by Robert Louis Stevenson. Exactly 130 years after the great wordsmith wrote the novella, productions of the musical version of Jekyll and Hyde are helping to keep this glorious story’s legacy alive.
Though the musical didn’t debut until over a century after the story was written, it has become one of the most performed shows by amateur groups.
Bournville Musical Theatre Company treads where many have before and holds its own with the very best of them in this refined production.
Phil Snowe impresses as Jekyll, handling what is a very demanding leading man part commendably. The transition between Dr Jekyll and his vicious alter ego Hyde is distinct and believable with the constant struggle between good and bad coming across well as the genius Jekyll’s increasingly risky experiments to expunge all evil from the world go badly wrong.
Chloe Turner is mesmerising as a show-stealing Lucy Harris, another of the story’s tragic figures who dreams of a life much better than the one she has at the Red Rat brothel. Turner is note perfect in a beautiful rendition of Someone Like You and when you think it can get no better dazzles further in A New Life. Her characterisation and poise are a delight to watch and wouldn’t look out of place on a professional stage.
It’s a credit to the quality of the society that Claire Brough, as Jekyll’s long-suffering fiancée Emma Carew, has equally impressive vocals; combining beautifully with Turner’s in a rendition of In His Eyes which brings the house down.
Adam Heeley is wonderfully sleazy and menacing as the pimp and proprietor of the Red Rat, Spider.
Meanwhile John Clay stands out in a number of high-quality supporting roles as the majorly General Glossop. Kris Evans and John Morrison have suitable gravitas as Simon Stride and Sir Danvers Carew, while Jonathan Eastwood and Jill Hughes are wickedly upper class as Lord Savage and Lady Beaconsfield.
Despite the best efforts of Jekyll’s friend John Utterson (Rob Wheeler) Jekyll becomes more and more consumed by his experiments and the grizzly story reaches its climax with Snowe’s impressive rendition of The Confrontation.
The production's chorus members are a credit to the society in a show which requires every member to have an on-stage persona. The harmonies were excellent throughout and the energy never drops; Girls of the Night is a particular highlight.
Sadie Turner’s choreography is sharp, compact and well-executed, particularly in numbers like Facade and Murder.
An atmospheric set transports the audience back to Victorian England and well-executed lighting helps the action move on at pace, with a few small hitches with the sound dropping out - not enough to detract from the action.
Meanwhile Chris Corcoran's band ably belts out what must surely be one of the all-time great musical soundtracks.
Director Terry Wheddon and his team can rest assured this thoroughly engaging production does Stevenson’s classic justice.
Studley Operatic took to the stage last night for a delightful production of the classic tale of the young, feisty red-head, Annie. Packed with recognisable songs, this regularly performed tale is always a crowd pleaser and also allows groups to showcase their young talent.
Millie Stanway took on the title role (which is alternated with Caitlin Speirs) and it was clear that she had a raw talent - understandably nervous at the start, she grew into the character and it was utterly endearing. The rest of the principle roles were well cast, with some of the richest and sumptuous vocals of the night coming from Richard Smith as Oliver Warbucks. His rendition of NYC was faultless. There was good support from Vicky Khawaja as Grace, Hugh Duck as Drake and Ian Thompson as Franklin D. Roosevelt, with a particular highlight being the glorious harmonies in Tomorrow within the Presidential Cabinet.
However, some of the most impressive performances of the night came from the trio of Michael Bentley, Jonathan Boxall-Southall and Cassie Rivett as Miss Hannigan, Rooster Hannigan and Lily St. Regis, respectively. They brought the slimy trio to life with excellent comic timing and great singing.
Bentley's Hannigan was sheer perfection. To take on such an iconic female character, he was following in the footsteps of Paul O'Grady and Craig Revel-Horwood, and he more than did the role justice. It was a well balanced performance, with a super rendition of Little Girls. The audience clearly loved it.
Boxall-Southall and Rivett also garnered many a laugh through the night and when they joined forces with Bentley, Easy Street made for the musical highlight of the evening.
Aside from some clunky scene changes, which I'm sure will improve during the run, Studley Operatic have worked exceedingly hard to bring this classic to life. Under the direction of Kevin Hirons and Alison Hirons, with musical direction from Norma Kift, they have created an honest and charming production of this iconic story.
Well done to all involved.
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