More than 30 years since Kevin Bacon’s iconic performance in Footloose hit the big screen its status as a classic remains untouched and after watching Solihull youth group SOSage’s production it’s easy to see why.
The story follows handsome Chicago teenager Ren McCormack’s (Lewis Evans) move to the small town of Bomont to live with his aunt and uncle after his father leaves home.
Ren feels stifled by Bomont’s stuffy conventions, personified by the town’s starchy reverend Shaw Moore (David Winfield) and worse still for the boy who can’t stand still; there’s a ban on dancing in Bomont.
Ren finds himself getting into a series of minor scrapes as he upsets the apple cart in his new home but undeterred sets about bringing the townspeople around to his ways with charm and charisma; traits the leading man in this musical desperately needs and which Evans has in spades throughout.
Evans looks and sounds the part; thoroughly convincing as the heartthrob new kid who has an uncanny ability to bring everyone on side. Unsurprisingly an ability to sing, dance and even rap are required for the role but not at the expense of acting. In this sense a scene towards the end of the show when Ren has a heart-to-heart with the stubborn Shaw Moore about their respective losses was particularly strong.
As the story unfolds it becomes apparent reverend Shaw’s animosity is in fact a result of his own sorrow, which he sings about in the touching number Confess. And encouraged by Ren’s boundless enthusiasm for life the sense of loss which has enveloped the town, following a tragedy which involved reverend Shaw’s own teenage son, begins to breakdown.
Ren quickly takes a shine to the reverend’s daughter Ariel and in this vocally demanding part Zoe Wheat is the one who really shines. The chemistry between the pair is excellent and Wheat has a cracking voice; soft in a lovely rendition of Almost Paradise with Ren when it needs to be, but then belting in numbers like Holding out for a Hero.
Ariel is at logger heads with her well-meaning but strict father for much of the story and in scenes between the two their acting brought across the age-old struggle between a teenage daughter and her protective father very strongly.
The difficulty of youth productions is casting youngsters who can act old and Winfield very ably leads a number of such performances of which Eilidh Evans as his concerned wife Vi and Jess Shannon as Ren’s droll mother, Ethel, stand out. Shannon’s intelligent performance in her scenes with Ren are particularly enjoyable and the mother-son chemistry is utterly believable despite them being no doubt very close in age.
It’s a mark of the quality of the production and casting that there are so many commendable performances. Ariel’s friends: Georgie Beth, Lizzie Mclurgh and Abi Cody are a delightful threesome; both funny and convincing with well-delivered gags and voices that blend well in Somebody’s Eyes.
Special mention must go to Matt Smith as Ren’s new friend Willard Hewitt. As the hot-headed but hapless country boy whose dancing is as bad as his ability to talk to girls, he delivers a performance of great humour and maturity and stole the show in the second act as he recalls the advice of his dear mother in a comedic rendition of Mama Says – well supported by his three chums. The audience’s reaction to this number said it all.
It was also delightful to see such a vibrant chorus supporting the production with some very young members remaining focused and energetic throughout.
I can say in all honesty this was a show which trumped many adult shows I have seen, both in terms of performance standard and entertainment value. Director Emma Talibudeen and her team should be extremely proud. The iconic final number remains one of the all-time toe-tapping, modern musical classics and the show was rightly given wild applause as the curtain fell.
It is worth remembering that groups like this give young people their first experience of the stage and in many cases they will go on to become the next generation of amateur performers in the area and even perhaps go on to have careers in performing arts. On this evidence the burgeoning number of amateur groups in Solihull needn’t worry at all about the future.
A big thumbs up for this thoroughly-entertaining production.
In the company of GMTG (Guild Musical Theatre Group) we were transported back to the 40s film noir era tonight within the walls of the Guild of Students at University of Birmingham.
City of Angels weaves two storylines together - the writer determined to turn his book into a screenplay and the screenplay itself. As characters entwine, the fallout is a musical with a rich jazz score - music which was superbly delivered by the talented band, under the musical director Geddy Stringer.
This show poses many a challenge, not least the fact that parts are set in black and white and others in colour. A task ably taken on by the lighting team. With the crossover of stories, these small lighting elements and the clever use of costumes made for a different and exciting piece of theatre.
Stine, the writer, was endearingly played by Cam Wilson. At times, his characterisation was reminiscent of Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors. Meanwhile, Stone (from the screenplay) was played with utter conviction by Jimmy Van Hear. Between these two talented gentlemen, Act 1 closed memorably in the number You're Nothing Without Me. Assured performances came from Charlie Harris as the slimy director Buddy Fidler and Tom Ling as Munoz; both garnered many a laugh throughout the night. Special mention to Ling for holding up that Spanish accent!
There was also strong support from the ladies, particularly Oolie/Donna played exceptionally well by Millie Harris. Her performance oozed the charisma of the 40s, with a highlight being You Can Always Count On Me as she transitioned between her ‘screenplay’ character and ‘real’ character. Combined with the vocals from Emily Anderson as Gabby, their charming duo What You Don't Know About Women proved popular with the audience.
Under the direction of Rebecca Maynard, GMTG have taken on a very difficult piece of theatre, but tackled it head on and clearly embraced all the challenges it threw at them. With a talented ensemble of singers delivering beautiful harmonies throughout, GMTG is a society to watch and appreciate.
Judy Garland’s story is one of success and personal struggles. End of the Rainbow looks at the time close to the end of her life as she tries to revive her career with six weeks of shows in London.
We join her and her Fiancée Mickey Deans (Sam Attwater) as they arrive in her suite in London. Already there is her devoted pianist Anthony Chapman (Gary Wilmot) ready to help her prepare for the run of shows. Judy (Lisa Maxwell) is in many ways like a spoilt child, she expects to get her own way, when she doesn’t she pouts and throws things. The two men in her life try to look after her but have different motives and very different ideas as to what is best for her.
Lisa Maxwell seems made for the role of Garland, she has the stature and a voice that rings through the rafters. The character is both powerful and needy, manipulating and desperate. Her highs and lows are portrayed beautifully; every song is a reminder of a star lost too soon. While Maxwell’s Garland flies off the handle at the slightest thing, the constant calm and steadying hand come from Gary Wilmot’s Anthony is the perfect counterbalance, an understated but sublime performance. By the end of the show you are unsure if Deans is the good guy or not. Sam Attwater seems to tower over his Judy, which helps when he is manhandling her at the height of her tantrums. His frustration is palpable as he does his best to look after his lover and client, as well as his own interests.
This tragic tale is sprinkled with humour and witty one-liners. The songs bring the story to life and remind you why Judy Garland became a legend. An evening of charismatic performances and emotion.
End of the Rainbow runs at Belgrade Theatre, Coventry until 27 February.
Having seen Starbuck Theatre Company perform I Love You Because last year, expectations were high. Not only is there an abundance of talent in this small group, but they also celebrate the brand new. This year they have taken on the UK premiere of The Guide To Being Single, written by Kaitlin Gilgenbach, with music and lyrics by Alexi Kovin.
Performed in the beautifully quaint Norbury Theatre, it was a lovely way to escape a cold February evening. The show follows a group of twenty-something friends who have concluded that it is easier if they stay single. On the release of a brand new book called The Guide to Being Single – by an anonymous author – they try to follow the rules. However, as some relationships unravel, others just get started. It’s a sharp, witty, comedy musical.
Aside from a few balance issues and a small technical hiccup with the microphones initially, which was dealt with incredibly professionally, the show was simply charming. Jack Scott-Walker was utterly endearing as the hapless Zack who just can’t get anywhere on time. As his relationship with Heather (assuredly played by Louise Beadle) crumbles, he turns to ‘the book’ for guidance on the recommendation of his friend (and Cubs player) Derek.
Derek was exceedingly well played by Robert Dearn – considering he only had five rehearsals to settle into the role. Dearn’s ‘play-it-cool’ Derek bumps into Jackie in a bar. Little does he know that Jackie is the Cubs publicist. Both of them are desperately trying to follow the rules of the book, but one thing leads to another and, as the song says ‘it’s better the second time’.
Unfortunately Dean Bayliss (the original Derek) had to step out due to illness, however he more than placed his mark on the show with a wonderfully designed set and clever use of projections throughout, which added to the modernity of the show.
Sarah Pavlovs was a superbly feisty Jackie, with an excellent voice to match. Between her and Dearn, they garnered many a laugh through the night from their bickering and making up.
However, what made this show different to so many others were the little snapshots of other people’s lives through the story. The little outtakes that cut to Jackie and Heather’s friends, Liza and Stacy, were hilarious. Holly Russell’s Stacy and Sophie Watson’s Liza were laugh-out-loud funny. Not only that, they both had brilliant voices too. Plus, kudos to Edd Pope as Dude, who wins the award for playing the most diverse selection of roles in the show, from a Texan talk show host to a cab driver.
Under the stellar musical direction of Chris Corcoran the combination of voices and band brought this show to life. The modern, jaunty sounds made for entirely different musical experience and it was highly enjoyable.
Congratulations Starbuck Theatre Company, you’ve done it again!
Mounting a musical production on a small stage is no easy challenge and in the beautiful but intimate space of Sunfield Community Theatre there was a risk that the show would be overpowered by the technical limitations. Despite a few clumsy set change hiccups and and mic issues on opening night however, the company manage well with the resources on hand to deliver a charming production that was well-received by the sell-out audience. They are well supported by a fantastic band who, under the direction of MD James Bradbury really bring the show to life, without overpowering the performers in the small space.
Set in the inter-war years at a time of prohibition, Thoroughly Modern Millie follows the story of country girl Millie Dilmount as she begins to make her way in the new ‘modern’ lifestyle in New York City. The audience is immediately transported back to the Roaring Twenties as the curtain opens to reveal a classic monochrome montage of the cast set against the New York skyline. It is the attention to costume design that really stands out from the start and Wardrobe Mistress Sheila Davies deserves a special mention for the subtle yet effective costuming throughout.
Chloe Turner leads the company with great energy in the title role of Millie, delivering an assured, confident performance and with strong vocals throughout. She blends very well with Rhian Clements (Miss Dorothy) in their duet How The Other Half Lives and they are joined by their two romantic suitors (Ollie Edwards and Peter Holmes) to create a beautiful quartet Falling In Love. Together the four carry the show well, jumping as it does from romance to farce and from complicated patter songs to tap routines in elevators effortlessly.
Typically in these productions there is always a supporting role that has the potential to win over the audience and steal the show. Learning an entire role in mandarin is no mean feat and credit is due to Jenni Bradbury (Bun Foo) and Lewis Doley (a delightfully charming Ching Ho) for their credible performances.
Thoroughly Modern Millie taps on until Saturday 20 February.
I have learned something this evening; that Louisa May Alcott wrote her classic tale of the Four March Sisters in 1860s America in two volumes. While they have more recently be published in the USA in one volume, as the author intended, the have been commonly split in this country, with the second volume being given the [publisher’s] title of ‘Good Women’.
This is relevant to my review of the Swan Theatre Amateur Company’s spirited production of Little Women as, being familiar with the plot of the whole story, I went into the theatre armed with tissues, and prepared for the well-known tragic moment late on in the book. But in this adaptation, by Peter Clapham, the story concludes at the end of Alcott’s first volume, with the return of the Patriarch, the happy engagement of Meg and John, and most importantly Beth’s recovery from Scarlet Fever. No tissues needed when watching this Little Women then. Just a very warm, cosy feeling, as you spend two and a half hours in the company of this delightfully happy family.
Curtis Fulcher’s production does well setting the mood, and the set (Fulcher and Andy Hares) is very appropriately and practically designed; having the bottom of the stairs visible was a very nice touch.
The characters were all very well drawn. The eldest, calmest sister Meg (Nicola Theron), the youngest, sweetest sister Beth (Samantha O’Byrne), the playful, teasing Amy (Poppy Cooksey-Heyfron), and, of course, the helter-skelter tomboy Jo (Emily Catherine). All four sisters were distinct, and yet immediately close as a family should be. As befitting her character’s place in the centre of the story, Catherine’s performance was the strongest, and always held the stage with assurity and excellent physical presence. Her unspoken actions when she shows her disapproval of Meg and John’s relationship were very well projected.
Good support came from Nicholas Snowdon as the playful but loyal Laurie, Jane Wooton as the loving cook Hannah, and especially the scene-stealing Michelle Whitfield as the hard-hearted Aunt March.
If the adaptation feels a little slow and genteel in Act 1 (no fault of the performers), it certainly moves along with much more drama after the break. The cast rose to the challenges well, and the production was very warmly received by the large audience in the Swan Theatre.
Little Women runs until 20 February at Swan Theatre, Worcester.
Within the intimate confines of the Old Joint Stock Theatre, Birmingham audiences were treated to the raucous sounds of Green Day, as Old Joint Stock Theatre Company presented American Idiot.
Having already played to sell-out audiences for over a week, it is clear to see why this show is one not to miss. The undeniable talent on stage (and behind the scenes) results in a professionally polished production.
Through Green Day’s music, the audience are taken on a nostalgic journey through the early 00s. An eclectic group of characters set the scene, with Johnny (Jesus of Suburbia), Will and Tunny driving the plot.
Green Day originally wrote the American Idiot album as a response to the reality of a post 9/11 world, effectively depicted in the rapidly cut video footage at the beginning of the show, it then instantly bursts into the familiar American Idiot opening and the entire ensemble fill the space. With impressive vocals from the outset, the audience know they are in good hands with this company.
Johnny, played with gritty determination by a vocally pleasing Gavin Whichello, is the main protagonist longing to escape suburbia. Along with his friends Will and Tunny they are set on leaving their hometown, but there’s many an obstacle along the way. As they break into the five-movement number, Jesus of Suburbia, Will discovers his girlfriend is pregnant and is left behind as Johnny and Tunny head for the city. Tunny was played in earnest by Roddy Lynch. The rich tone of his voice complemented the gravelly tones of Whichello, then adding in the strong, powerfully anguished voice of Nicholas Tuck (Will) they were a formidable trio as they tackled the iconic Green Day soundtrack.
Along the way we are introduced to a variety of different characters, from the Favourite Son who drives Tunny to join the army, to St Jimmy, the tormentor. Richard Haines as Favourite Son made a suitably suave cameo, with vocals to match, contrasted to that was the brash manipulator St Jimmy, expertly played by Adam Carver. His stage presence was continually felt throughout the show.
There were also pleasing vocals from Elle Knowles as Will’s girlfriend Heather and with the addition of choreography from Sarah Haines, the show moved along at a swift pace. However, some of the most impressive vocals of the night came from Alanna Boden as Whatsername, with 21 Guns and Letterbombs standing out in particular.
A certain highlight was Holiday with harmonies that made the spine tingle and as the show came to a close, the band took to the stage amongst the cast, as they performed an optimistic rendition of Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).
This was not just a strong principal cast; every single person in the show played their own role and more than did it justice. Under the accomplished direction and musical direction of Richard Haines and Adam Carver, Old Joint Stock Theatre Company continually deliver the highest quality performances.
Brief Encounter is an enduring classic. 70 years on and audiences are still moved to tears by the intensely moving storyline. Recently, the show became available to amateurs and The Fellowship Players were wise to pick up on this as swiftly as they did. It was abundantly clear from the sold-out audiences that this is an ever-popular story.
This particular adaptation is from Kneehigh’s Emma Rice (the soon-to-be Artistic Director at Shakespeare’s Globe). Mixing drama and music, this is a challenging production to tackle.
As we are transported to the quaint little tearoom at Milford, the set design (by David Tonks) is simple and effective. One of the obstacles to overcome on a fairly intimate stage is how to effectively portray a train station. The addition of lighting, sound and smoke - to replicate steam trains pulling in and out - was incredibly effective, a credit to Stan Vigurs, Sam Evans and Colin Mears.
When Laura Jesson stumbles into the tearoom one day with something in her eye, Dr Alec Harvey comes directly to her aid. The fallout is a passionate love story, as they promise to meet each other every Thursday. The characters around them serve the purpose of setting context, as well as providing some comic interludes to balance out the intensity of the production.
It is however Laura Jesson and Alec Harvey that ultimately drive this production forward. Played wonderfully by Jennifer Mears and Dan Holyhead, they made for an idyllic match. With emotion-fuelled performances from the moment they walked through the door during the pre-show natter, you were instantly enthralled by their story and under the clever direction from Rachel Holmes, you felt part of the action.
The only small quibble would be the music, although parts were completely fitting with the story, there were moments when it felt unnecessary. However the choral number at the beginning of the second half was charming, particularly Craig Hobson’s vocals, which shone in the ensemble pieces.
The comic relief provided from the hapless quartet of lovers, Beryl (played by Rebecca Holmes), Stanley (Stephen Ralph), Myrtle (Michelle Jennings) and Albert (Alan Lowe), were a stark juxtaposition to the unattainable love Laura and Alec strived for, which made the performance all the more poignant.
Also, special mentions to Sam Evans who delivered an assured performance as Laura’s emotionless husband, Fred and the pleasing vocals from Naomi Leeanne Millard as Hermione.
All in all, The Fellowship Players delivered an evening of thoroughly enjoyable and powerful theatre; they wholly deserve the sell-out audiences they have received.
Wolverhampton Grand was rightly filled to the rafters tonight as the UK tour of Jersey Boys arrived in town. Painting the story of Frankie Valli, The Four Seasons and their rise to fame, the show is packed with the group’s iconic catalogue of songs.
We are immediately introduced to Tommy DeVito (played by Stephen Webb), the charismatic leader of the Variety Trio. However, after a few scuffles with the law, the trio become a solo act, but on discovering the dulcet tones of Frankie Valli, he sets out to form a new quartet.
Having seen the show on the West End, it is always a pleasure to see the touring version and it certainly did not disappoint. With talent in abundance on stage, Matt Corner was a natural in the role of Frankie Valli, with effortless vocals that shone throughout the night. Complementing this was the rich, deep tones of Nick Massey – beautifully depicted by Lewis Griffiths, whilst the timid and talented Bob Gaudio was superbly played by Sam Ferriday.
As hit after hit was expertly delivered by the quartet, the glistening harmonies were a treat for the ears. The musical undeniably showcases the talent of these four Jersey boys and is a fitting homage to their music.
With a hilarious feature performance from Damian Buhagiar’s as Joe Pesci, these additional comic turns aided the pace of the production. Under the musical direction of Andrew Corcoran, the music sounded fresh, vibrant and revitalized in this uplifting story.
The Jersey Boys plays at Wolverhampton Grand until 20 February.
More than 80 years after John Steinbeck's iconic novella Of Mice and Men was published it remains one of the most controversial and studied texts of the American literary canon.
Steinbeck later referred to his gritty, heart-breaking story of two men pursuing the American dream as 'a tricky little thing designed to teach me to write for the theatre' and The REP's production is more than worthy of the literary giant's masterpiece.
A neat performance of an enchanting folk ballad by the cast, with live accompaniment from a stage-side fiddle player grows in volume and transports the audience to 1930s Dust Bowl California as the story of hapless duo George Milton and Lennie Small unfolds.
William Rodell shines throughout as the intelligent but uneducated George who suffers his gentle giant pal Lennie's well-intentioned but inevitably troublesome follies as the two go in search of work to fund their dream - a piece of their own land they can live off in freedom.
The chemistry between Rodell's George and Kristian Phillips' Lennie is delightful; amusing and moving in equal measure. Phillips is excellent as the physically strong but mentally challenged Lennie; the very essence of the boy who loved something so much he hugged it to death.
The two find work at a ranch and set about earning enough money to fulfil their dream with the help of long-serving ranch hand Candy; played with a charming vulnerability by old pro Dudley Sutton. But just when it seems their plan is coming together Lennie's love of petting things lands him in a heap of trouble when an encounter with the wife of Curley (Saorise-Monica Jackson), the boss's ill-tempered and insanely jealous son, has disastrous results.
Ben Stott delivers an intense, if slightly jerky, performance as Curley while Jackson, making her professional stage debut, impresses as his discontented wife. Elsewhere Neil McKinven stands out as both the boss and the brash ranch hand Carlson, particularly in a touching but funny scene where he convinces the old man Candy to dispense with his ageing dog; played by the lovely Airedale Arthur, who didn't put a paw wrong.
Dave Fishley is memorable as the bitter stable buck Crooks, who is banished from living with the other workers for being black; nowhere in the piece are Steinbeck's messages about segregation and loneliness more apparent.
Characters not involved in scenes remained seated in character on the dimly lit edges of the stage; a neat touch which builds the atmosphere. And the few scene changes in the production are all orchestrated by cast members; choreographed extremely effectively to aid continuity.
As Lennie's well-meaning but disastrous actions finally land him in trouble he cannot escape, the story reaches its moving climax as a tearful George, played beautifully in the final scene by Rodell, is forced into one final act of friendship. The brevity of the second act leaves one wanting more but only serves to enhance the impact of poignant conclusion.
Steinbeck's themes of friendship, loneliness, dreams and the hopelessness of America's Great Depression are conveyed as effortlessly as he intended in Roxana Silbert's polished and atmospheric production. It's a tale about two friends but at the same time so much more.
Of Mice and Men runs at The REP until 13 February.
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