Talent is not hard to find in the Midlands. However, the most astonishing thing to uncover is finding a show brimming with so much talent that there is not one single weak link. Last night, BITA's performance of In The Heights was simply astonishing. It left me speechless. The outstanding professionalism of the show was a testament to the whole company.
This Tony award-winning show is no mean feat to take on. With music and lyrics by the immensely talented Lin-Manuel Miranda, it's wonderful score is insanely complex.
Backdropped by a wonderful set designed by Andrew Exeter (who's lighting design complemented well), we were immediately transported to Washington Heights.
We quickly meet Usnavi who dreams of returning to the Dominican Republic. The protagonist of the piece, the role is played exceptionally well in the more than capable hands of Jack Christou. Leading the ensemble with prowess, he shines in all numbers, particularly the iconic ensemble pieces In The Heights and 96,000.
Erin Chalk's Nina and Martha Graham's Vanessa were vocally stunning, their delivery of Breathe and It Won't Be Long Now, respectively, were spine tinglingly good. With characterisation and vocals unfaltering from all, other stand out performances came from Dec Foster as Benny with Matt Perry as Kevin and Vicki Addis as Camilla, successfully portraying characters beyond their years as Nina's parents. However, the shining example of this came from the delightful Amy Evans as Abuela. Conveying the mature Latino with sheer conviction, she encapsulated the role beautifully.
Towering support came from Billy Vale as Sonny and Mollie-Mae Hallahan as Daniella, with a cheeky cameo from Dan Sharrock as Jose.
Under the accomplished talents of Chris Passey, Attiye Partridge, Ben MacSkimming and Lindon Barr, the space was filled with energy from beginning to end. With visually breathtaking choreography, the entire cast have delivered a superlative show. Bloody brilliant.
Theatre1 is a relatively new production team who works to bring professional standard contemporary musicals to the Stafford audience. I am pleased to say that their latest offering, I Love You Because by Ryan Cunningham and Joshua Salzman not only fulfils this brief in spectacular fashion but also has as much heart as the precocious cast has talent.
I Love You Because is a modern day musical adaptation of Pride and Prejudice where the traditional gender roles have been flipped on their head. It starts with lovesick poet Austin Bennet (Sam Parton) going off to meet his girlfriend Catherine but discovers she has cheated on him. Heartbroken he resorts to going on a blind date (arranged on a Jewish dating site) with his commitment-phobic brother Jeff (Sam Simkin) where they meet best friends Marcey and Diana (Sarah Russell and Alex Smith). Marcy is recently getting over a 2-year relationship and Diana is in a perpetual cycle of monogamy. After a less than auspicious start, Diana and Jeff begin a casual yet strictly undefined relationship, and Marcey takes on Austin as a kind of project to help him win back Catherine.
On the face of it, Marcey and Austin are as different as chalk and cheap wine from a box. However, whilst Marcey derides Austin for living a regimented life, she has her own set of “rules” which she has to adhere to following her break up, even at the expense of her true feelings. In a scene mirroring one of the central tenets of Pride and Prejudice, Marcey overcomes her reservations to declare she loves him anyway. This isn’t good enough for Austin however, and he leaves her. As the plot develops we find out whether Jeff can get over his commitment issues, and whether Austin and Marcey can get over their seemingly irreconcilable differences and find happiness.
Rarely will you see a show where you care so much about the characters. Sam Parton’s Austin is wonderfully awkward and every one of his mannerisms is as precise as every one of his meticulously pressed shirts. It was a wonderful piece of acting – both hilarious and heartwarming in equal measure. Opposite him is Sarah Russell. Her performance is deeply human and her beautiful vocals were as effortless and free as Marcey’s spirit. Together, they made a wonderful pair and the whole audience were rooting for them from start to finish.
Jeff is a superb character to play and Sam Simkin did the job brilliantly. His were the loudest and rudest of moments, yet even his tiniest facial expression had the audience in stitches. He gave a masterclass in comic timing, as well as a spectacular array of Donald Trump shirts. Alex Smith was the perfect complement as Diana – world weary a yet secretly craving someone to keep her safe. Together they were simply adorable.
Special mention goes to Hannah Morris and Max Birkin who both played multiple roles, no easy thing, but both shone as the local bar keepers, or therapists who encourage you to drink, and had a couple of great numbers on their own.
The staging was wonderfully simple and yet brought the story to life, especially the clever use of the projector. The band were also on point and were perfectly balanced with the cast to produce a wonderfully rich sound all the way through. Some of harmonies were just stunning.
The beating heart of this show is the relationships which we can all relate to, brilliantly portrayed by a wonderful cast of young actors. Get yourself down to the MET at Stafford’s Gatehouse and see this superlative production.
Sometimes a visit to the theatre turns out to be something special, and this proved to be the case with the hugely talented Starbuck Youth Theatre production of the Alan Menken and Glen Slater musical Sister Act. Having seen this show many times, with varying degrees of success, I must confess to approaching with great interest the way this particular company, a Youth one, would handle such a notoriously difficult show. Staged at the Coach House Theatre Malvern and playing to a capacity audience it soon became apparent we were in for a special treat. The split-level set with band underneath worked remarkably well in this particular theatre.
Sister Act is a team show on many levels. We have the nuns in the convent, the baddies trying to find our heroine, and the various individuals who happen along the way. The show is dependent though on the strength of the central character Deloris, who having witnessed a murder is hidden away in a convent with a bunch of zany nuns. Olivia Mitchell is outstanding as the central character. This young lady who is just seventeen is professional in every way. Her singing, acting, and dancing would grace any theatre in England. Her vocal ability is outstanding and she never ceases to act from her first appearance to the very last. She is well supported by Alice Ryan as the stern and unsympathetic Mother Superior. A performance made all the more creditable in that she is just 14 years old. Other members worthy of mention in such a wonderful team are Charlotte Wallis as Sister Mary Roberts, with the most superb vocal strength and range, Lucy Darby who just was Sister Mary Patrick in every way, and Holly Russell as a very old but lively Sister Mary Lazarus. For the men, we had the excellent singing voice and acting of Jack Giblen as Police Lt. Eddie Souther, Wilf Jenkins as an hilarious dancing Monsignor O’Hara, and Joshua Grainger as the gangster Curtis Shank, who we all hated from his first controlling scenes with Deloris– a strength to his acting ability! He was ably supported by his three sidekicks, (Anand Patel, James Thomas and Edd Pope) who had the audience in stitches as they hilariously tried to make the ladies swoon in the number Lady in the Long Black Dress.
It is though as I say a team performance with no weak links in the entire cast and full credit must go to Director and Choreographer Sarah Pavlovs. Here we have a director with a keen eye for detail and a secure knowledge in her own ability to bring the very best from her Company. Staging, angles, “pictures” on stage are all there. She has pulled off a theatrical success where many adult companies have failed. Musical direction was in the capable hands of the experienced and talented Chris Corcoran and his band. Lighting and sound supported the show in the most professional manner . A team show in every way.
At the end of the show the entire audience (and I mean EVERYONE) gave a wonderful and greatly deserved standing ovation to this extremely talented team of youngsters. As I said at the start of this review……this was something special.
Joan Evans. Pictures by pixeled onions
For more information on Starbuck Classes and shows follow @StarbuckTheatre on twitter and facebook and visit www.starbucktheatrecompany.co.uk
Legally Blonde has been doing the rounds this year on the youth and amateur circuit. Having recently announced another UK tour, it is a show brimming with catchy numbers and MYTS delivered a performance packed with energy and enthusiasm.
The 44-strong cast took to the stage with beaming faces and it was a pleasure to watch a company relishing their time in the spotlight.
Leading the way was Molly Harriman as Elle Woods, who pushed her nerves to one side and delivered a fine performance. She was capably supported by Alex Young as Emmett, who delivered a great vocal, although he doesn't seem to realise how talented he is, which made the performance that little more endearing.
Jack Foster made for a brooding Callahan, with a vocal and stage presence that surpassed his years, his rendition of Blood in the Water was exceptionally good. Meanwhile, fitness queen Brooke, was feistily played by Holly Reid-Foulkes, whose voice also impressed. Pleasing cameos came from Greg Woods as Kyle, Jacob Brown as Mr Woods and Sophie Pearce as Chutney, whilst Elle's friendship trio of Serena, Pilar and Margot (Anissa Hussein, Megan Richardson and Lucy Travers) showcased great vocals and tight harmonies.
Elsewhere, taking on the role of the smarmy Warner, was Jack Saunders, whose vocals blended beautifully with Harriman's and he delivered just the right dose of cockiness. Whilst, Cydney Beech was perhaps the sassiest Vivienne I have ever seen grace the stage. Showcasing excellent acting skills, she really made the character her own.
There's a whole array of wonderful characters in this show and there were many other members who stood out, but a special shout out must go to two performers in particular. Firstly, Lydia Thomson as Paulette was a sheer joy to watch. Her hilarious characterisation, mannerisms and vocal was unwavering, with a smashing performance of Ireland and some great riffing in Bend and Snap, which leads nicely into the impressive performance from Charlie Allen-Smith, whose sass levels in the Bend and Snap were off the scale. What a talented little performer he is, I was crying with laughter (in a good way of course!)
The creative team, comprising of Director Hannah Morris, Assistant Director Sam Simkin, Choreographer Ed Costello and Musical Director Laura Foxcroft, have put together a show that epitomises what youth theatre is all about - providing a platform for young people to showcase their talent to the community. These groups are fundamental to nurturing the talent of the next generation so go out there and support them!
Stafford Festival Shakespeare’s annual production in the shadow of Stafford Castle is fast becoming one of the foremost annual Shakespeare productions in the country, and for good reason. Not only does the castle create a truly impressive backdrop, but the creative and imaginative approach to Derek Gask’s production in placing each narrative in a different point throughout history brings a unique take on some of Shakespeare’s most performed work.
This year’s production, The Tempest, has been lovingly shaped to drop the audience right into the 1930’s Italy. We are treated to a more modern opening featuring music and dance, used to great effect to invoke the atmosphere of the calm before the eponymous storm. When the storm does hit the unfortunate travellers, the traditional dialogue begins in earnest, sharply contrasted by the modern dress, set and effects. For the remainder of the opening act, we are introduced to Prospero, deposed Duke of Milan, (Coronation Street's Stephen Becket) who rules his remote island kingdom alongside his daughter, Miranda (Grace Carter) and his two servants; the son of the witch Sycorax, Caliban (Zephryn Taitte) and the seemingly all-powerful spirit, Ariel (Gavin Swift), who does Prospero’s bidding in return for the promise of freedom. As we watch the marooned travellers discover the Island one by one, the drama more or less unfolds in the traditional sense, with the exception of vivid and colourful costume choices.
The second act reaches a fine dramatic climax and is well acted by all of the principals. In particular the comedic punctuations of Stefano (Jonathan Charles) and is relationship with Trinculo (James Hornsby) and Caliban, who decides to take Stefano as his new God and master.
Prospero is one of Shakespeare’s most definitive characters and has been portrayed by some of the brightest stars in the British theatre pantheon. TV Veteran Stephen Becket is a worthy addition to this long line and gives a fine performance, capturing all the different facets of the character’s personality. The sudden transitions between doting father to embittered exile to menacing sorcerer were all well-judged and he commanded the stage from start to finish. Another highlight was Gavin Swift’s menacing lurking performance. He spent much of the play in the background yet was always a presence which it was hard to ignore. Swift is also a talented musician and dancer and uses the latter to bring a great physicality to the role.
Setting the play in the 1930’s was extremely creative and was done so with an extremely deft touch, the bulk of the that which marked the setting as being in this period comes at the beginning.
The costuming is an eclectic mixture of period costume, military uniform and shaman-esque robes and props which represent all of the supernatural elements of the story. The special effects and illusions bring a different aspect to it which definitely pleased the packed house.
The Tempest is an imaginative take on Shakespeare’s classic and will hopefully delight both real Shakespeare aficionados with its contemplative exploration of the shows themes, as well as first-timers who will undoubtedly enjoy the humour in this fine production.
If the audience’s reaction this evening is anything to go by then QMTS have brought this classic show back to life with energy and enthusiasm this week at The Core.
An impressive (if a little bulky) set, colourful costumes and some imaginative choreography from Stacey Cornes, in the limited space the company had, all added to a great evening’s entertainment.
The young people in the cast opened the show with a rousing rendition of Food Glorious Food and they were clearly enjoying themselves from the start. A well-drilled chorus brought life to the wonderful musical numbers in the show such as Who Will Buy? and Oom-Pah-Pah. Their singing was polished with some impressive harmonies and the pictures that Director Michelle Faruggia (Director) created on the stage were lovely to see.
The company had a great line-up of principals and it is always good to see that there is a wealth of talent within the chorus to allow several of the cast to have solos and cameo roles and to perform these with confidence and professionalism.
Oliver (Billy Stait) grew in confidence throughout the evening and showed real emotion throughout. He won the audience over with his rendition of Where is Love. He worked well with Leah Haddock as Dodger.
Gareth Knipe portrayed a thoughtful and rather melancholy Fagin and one of the highlights of the show was his performance of Reviewing the Situation. Whilst, Mr Bumble (Roy Vears) and Widow Corney (Sharone Williams) brought the humour of their scenes out well with clear and confident singing voices.
Paul Stait owned the stage as Bill Sykes from the moment he entered and had the audience gasping in shock at his treatment of Nancy. The role of Nancy was portrayed wonderfully by Emily Fouracre. Her rendition of As Long As He Needs Me brought the house down, and rightly so. She was also ably supported by Mary Johns as Bet. Other strong supporting performances came from Erik Olsen and Karina Harris as Mr and Mrs Sowerberry, being creepy enough to represent the undertakers of old London Town and yet bringing out the humour of their song That’s Your Funeral well.
If I had any slight criticisms, it would be that the lighting relied too heavily on follow-spots and was often distracting from the performances of the principals’ songs – a general lighting state would be more effective and allow us to concentrate on the performers themselves. I would also like to see a little more pace in the more dialogue-heavy scenes to move the story on and keep the momentum of what otherwise was a lively and colourful show.
Special mention should go to Steve Greenway (Musical Director) and his wonderful orchestra who made a great sound and maintained a good balance with the singers throughout.
All in all, a show for the company and the dedicated production team to be proud of!
As something of a Dickens obsessive, I have struggled to ever find anything on stage which comes close to his timeless characterisation and superb naming of the wealth of personalities who appear in his works. The eccentricity and perfect parodying of some of the characters in his novels have never really been replicated with any degree of success for me.
Until Saturday night.
Performing for just one night at The Old Joint Stock in Birmingham was LoveHard, a comedy duo who write and perform their own work.
Tyler Harding and Jacob Lovick's latest tour de force, Murdered By Murder, is set in the home of Lord and Lady Titan in 1930's Devon, ominously named Drenchblood Heights. The production is about 5 guests who turn up to attend a murder mystery evening at the aforementioned creepily named residence, who number Mayor Turnbridge, the local Vicar and Reverend Bellsniff and his rather strange wife, and an extremely annoying, rather dim and pretentious couple called Fortescue Butch Cassidy and Arabella Aribata.
They are all ably attended by a butler appropriately named Shivers and later on we are introduced to the detective who has to come to the residence when the murder mystery evening turns sour, Alistair Bye, nicknamed Ali Bye.
As a backdrop to the murder mystery, there is some consternation among the guests about a jewel thief who is on the prowl in the vicinity.
There is some well performed and appropriately arranged keyboard music in the background at the right moments, which adds to the quality of the production, provided by Nick Charleworth.
The two writers/performers portray all the parts between them. It is an absolute masterclass in characterisation; they move between all the characters which they are playing with ease and professionalism, leaving the audience alternately rolling with mirth and in genuine suspense awaiting the next twist in the tale. There are some beautifully choreographed moments (such as the comedic flash backs which help the audience remember the different elements of the story) and some quite hilarious ad lib-ing and improvisation, which includes them both reminding each other where the fictitious door is on the stage.
What is also astounding is the depth of characterisation which is achieved by the superb writing. As the performance unfolds, we learn of all the different foibles affecting the guests, and all the secrets which they are hiding. With shades of 'Abigail's Party' ringing in our ears, we watch as all the lives of the people unfold before us with excellent comic timing and pace, and there are no 'loose strings' at all by the end.
I must confess to never having seen anything quite as unique as this. The energy which they both inject into the performance is astounding, and it truly seems like there more actors on the stage than just the two of them.
It is not surprising that they won awards at the Edinburgh and Brighton Fringe runs in 2016.
It was said of Dicken's masterpiece 'The Pickwick Papers' that there was a 'sense of the Gods gone wandering in England'. 'Murdered By Murder' is right up there and wandering alongside those same Gods; I'm sure Dickens himself would have been full of praise for this production.
A trip back to the 80’s is on offer this week at the Belgrade. The stage adaptation of Footloose leaps into town with a show packed full of energy.
Ren moves with his mother from Chicago to the small backwater town of Bomont. He finds life as a newcomer and outsider difficult, he struggles to be accepted no matter how hard he tries. As he gets to know Ariel, the daughter of the local preacher, he starts to learn the secrets of the town, including the reason that dancing is banned. Ren makes it his mission to bring back dancing to Bomont and breathe some life back into the town.
The cast double up as the band with some of the actors playing more than one instrument. Keeping in character and often executing dance moves, at one point they were even on roller skates.
For a relatively small cast, the sound coming from the stage is incredible, a testament to the strong voices of all the cast. Hannah Price played Ariel with conviction and depth. Ren (Joshua Dowen) was always full of passion and extreme energy, his lively numbers were as strong as the quieter moments.
The scene between him and the Preacher (Reuven Gershon) was filled with tension and emotion. With a more developed part in the show than the film, Gareth Gates was Willard, one of Ren'a first friends.
The portrayal of the character was always on point and added some moments of humour. His number Mama Says was one of the stand out moments of the show, as was the surprise removal of his dungarees for some of the female audience members, whilst Maureen Nolan delivered a very heartfelt solo Can You Find it in Your Heart?.
With a stage so full of energy from beginning to end, it was hard to know where to look at times as everyone was giving 110%. The dancing was sharp, fast and a joy to watch.
By the end audience members on their feet dancing, ollowed by a deserved standing ovation.
While there are substantial differences to the film, the main elements are there, enough to please fans. This is a feel good show that is guaranteed to get your feet tapping and leave you smiling.
This 1980 musical, based on the 1933 film of the same name, is known to be difficult to stage because of the casting of the lead characters, and especially because of the amount of tap dancing needed to bring Harold Arlen’s sparkling score to life.
Quarry Bank Musical Theatre Society tackled this show with confidence from the opening curtain, rising as it does to show 13 pairs of chorine legs mid-rehearsal for the show-within-a-show Pretty Lady.
From the off Zoe Russell’s choreography paid homage to the Golden Age of both Broadway and Hollywood, with large vibrant chorus lines and also dancing patterns that made me wish there was some way to see the Busby Berkley inspired shapes from above.
The four leads are very well cast. Dominating the first half of the show – quite rightly – is the magnificent Natalie Baggott as the quite frankly monstrous Broadway diva Dorothy Brock. She possess a wonderfully engaging stage personality and a remarkable voice, full of warmth and humour. Alongside her Fleur Petford shines as young Peggy Sawyer who, at the start of the show is just desperate to obtain her first job, but grows, following an accident to the star, Brock, to assume the leading role in the show. It is a transition that Petford handles very successfully, shy and engaging at the start, and fully leading the show by the end.
As the show’s director Julian Marsh, Carl Cook is both the hard-nosed business man, but also very warm and human, and Richard Cope, as leading man Billy Lawler, demonstrates both good tapping skills and also full throated top notes reminiscent of old style leading men like Gordon MacRae and John Raitt.
Excellent comic support comes from Gillian Horner, Adrian Raybould and a raft of well-drawn supporting characters. The excellent music comes from a well-balanced 14 piece band under the expert direction of MD Richard Ganner.
One slight caveat; during the climactic 42nd Street number there is a very sudden dramatic event (no spoilers here!). However there was no narrative in the dance to lead up to and explain this event. The music certainly reminded me of the Girl Hunt ballet from The Band Wagon, and some of that storytelling would have helped to clarify this moment.
However this was a small moment in an otherwise very enjoyable evening. I was accompanied by my two junior reviewers, both dancers and musical fans. I only had to look at them regularly during the show to see that they were thoroughly engaged in the show, especially during the big dance numbers.
More than sixty years after the original production of The Pajama Game hit Broadway, the show is still a regular on the am dram scene.
Bournville Musical Society does the classic musical justice in a charming production at the Crescent Theatre.
Quaint and old-fashioned – The Pajama Game is everything you’d expect of a 50s Broadway musical with a plot about as simple as they come.
Sid Sorokin (Steve Kendall), the new, no-nonsense superintendent at the Sleep-Tite pajama factory, falls for factory worker Babe Williams (Rhian Clements), who also happens to be the leader of the grievance committee.
The couple’s blossoming romance gets a little complicated when factory owner Mr Hasler (Jonathan Eastwood) won’t give the workers a raise and Sorokin is forced to side with him – much to the dislike of Babe.
Steve Kendall is charmingly self-assured as the cocky but ultimately good-hearted Sorokin and he and Rhian Clements, who plays Babe with real maturity, make a thoroughly convincing pair.
Elsewhere John Morrison stands out as the bumbling Vernon Hines – a man who keeps the factory workers on their toes and drives his girlfriend Gladys Hotchkiss, played thoughtfully by Natalie Buzzard, insane with his jealousy. Morrison’s characterisation is always particularly strong and this performance here is no exception.
Jonathan Eastwood is entertaining as the factory’s miserly boss Mr Hasler and Jill Hughes is a joy as his long-serving secretary Mabel. Elsewhere Rebecca Lowe’s characterisation as ditzy factory worker Poopsie is delightful too.
The society won the NODA award for best musical for an exceptional production of Jekyll and Hyde last year and the society admirably tackles an altogether different animal this time round.
But in truth the show feels rather dated - it’s all just a bit twee and lacks pace and energy in places – particularly in a mammoth first act. It’s not the society’s fault though and the cast and chorus handle every piece of singing and choreography that’s thrown at them very well - there’s just not a great deal to work with in terms of the story and, to an extent, the musical numbers.
However, highlights include the hilarious and well-choreographed I’ll Never be Jealous Again featuring Vernon and Mabel and the delightful duet Small Talk with Sorokin and Babe.
Director Anne-Louise McGregor should be proud of this charming production – as should musical director Chris Corcoran and his band for belting out the show’s plentiful score and Sadie Turner for her crisp choreography.
This is a sterling attempt to breathe life into a somewhat outdated show.
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