It’s Fair Shares for All as crisis, rations and pork pies take over this 1947 English town in the mist of Austerity Britain. But all is not well as further ration cuts means that Gilbert and Joyce must hatch a plan to get some meat and Steal The Pig. Meat inspector Wormold (Geoff Bird) appears to dictate the full force of the law on this little town and to ensure that everyone gets their fair share. It’s a tale of greed, comedy and wartime community spirit as Walsall Operatic Society present Betty Blue Eyes at the Lichfield Garrick. It is a fun night filled with great music and a story that reminds us there’s always Another Little Victory For Little England'.
Stiles & Drewe’s score is the spitting image of a 1940s Vera Lynn track with a great composition of joyous wartime treats and 'We'll Meet Again' style solos. It is the musical direction of Ian Room that leads the stunning band for this week's performance and it is a pleasure to listen to such a great cast with such a strong orchestra.
Casting was also a treat - Connor Bacon leads well as the hopeful Gilbert Chilvers, a protagonist in the unlikely form of the town’s local chiropodist, notably a song that quotes ‘tinial infection, fetty fungle growth step into my parlor I can cure you both’ brings comedy from this character fairly early on! His vocals blend nicely with his onstage wife Joyce (Ruth Harvey) and their onstage relationship works well, heightening the storytelling of this show. But good things come in threes, as their 74 year old incompetent mother (Trish Humphreys) becomes the centre of the comedy, particular in act two for the climax in Pig No Pig - a great number.
Other commendable performances include Ian Shephard as the pig-loving Henry Allardyce who, when paired with Connor Bacon, their rendition of Betty Blue Eyes became a real heartwarming number. Mrs Allardyce (Steph Coleman) was also a prominent figure, not only in the community, but also in this performance. Coleman provided a real atmosphere to the stage in her scenes. A strong female ensemble also shone in the number It’s An Ill Wind where the choreography and staging hit a real high.
Congratulations must go to the direction of Richard Poynton whose staging covered the Garrick nicely and his appearances throughout the show were a nice cameo touch! The direction blended well with Jess Lambert’s choreography. It is often understated and hard to choreograph an amateur dramatic group with such a large ensemble, but Lambert treats this with ease and really relates her movement to the period. Steve Rainsford’s lighting complimented Scenic Project's new 1940s bunting covered set and shifts nicely between the musical numbers and the scenes.
But the star of this show is of course, Sratchbuilt Productions ingenious puppet... Betty; characterized by Eleanor Shepphard's on stage actor-puppeteering, which heightens the life of this little puppet.
Despite a few opening night glitches, it was a real treat and highlights a beautiful authenticity to what was Austerity Britain! Trot along to Betty Blue Eyes at the Lichfield Garrick this week and oink your way to the front row to experience a night of frivolous pig puns!
Chess moves in to the Core Theatre with an accomplished cast.
The concept album of Chess was first released in 1984, later staged in the Prince Edward Theatre, London in May 1986, and continues to be a popular musical today. This Rice-Abba musical is essentially a love story that develops when an American chess player, Freddy Trumper (David Steele), and his girlfriend Florence (Jen Collins) travel to Italy to defend his title against Russian opponent Anatoly Sergievsky (Daniel Thomson). Sergievsky then secretly plans to defect to the West after falling in love with Florence.
Tim Rice’s original idea was to write a musical about the effects of the Cold War and had first approached Andrew Lloyd Webber to write the score. Producer Richard Vos later introduced Rice to Ulvaeus and Andersson and soon after the team of three set out to create the well-sold concept album. The stage show adaptation, following a rocky start, underwent rework before moving to Broadway Carnegie Hall where it became a success.
The story, first half set in the Italian mountain village of Merano, the second in the hotels and temples of Bangkok, features hit singles One Night In Bangkok and I Know Him So Well and the score embraces all of the instantly recognizable Ulvaeus and Andersson melodies, harmonies and arrangements that we really do know so well.
This exciting stage production by Knowle Musical Society, headed by the most capable of directors Andrew Johnson, features very strong vocal performances by the three principal actors and indeed by the whole cast. A truly charismatic execution by David Steele is complemented by Jen Collins who seizes the star role with her beautiful voice surely designed to steal your attention. This is especially apparent in the Act 2 duet You And I (sung with the equally excellent Daniel Thomson), where the lovers absorb the stage and exude real, emotional warmth.
Proficient vocalist Dan Peet convincingly plays The Arbiter, complemented by an excellent portrayal of Molokov the Russian Second, by the equally talented Jonathan Busk. Walter played by Steve Hayes, who is clearly no stranger to the stage, plays the American Financial Advisor and CIA Agent charming us with his clear-cut acting, talented spoken voice and self-assured singing and Phill Sproston confidently plays the part of The TV Presenter.
Svetlana (Sophia Bailey), Anatoly’s estranged wife, joins us in Act 2 with an outstanding performance of Someone Else’s Story. Bailey later teams up with Collins to duet the timeless classic I Know Him So Well allowing the audience to savour a performance not far reaching from the Paige and Dickinson version that hit the UK no.1 spot in 1985.
On each side of the stage we are treated to flown-in TV screens that live-stream the chess games and the clever, transitional set is moved around quickly by stage crew and cast members to create the ever-changing scenes. With a strong supporting cast and artistically fitting choreography designed by Abi Soley, the Society have clearly worked passionately to achieve this high standard, clearly well-received by the audience.
Special mention must go to the superbly talented orchestra, headed by Musical Director Kris Chase-Byrne, certainly a musical indulgence and a highlight of the evening for me.
Runs to 11 March.
Within the four cosy walls of the Old Joint Stock Theatre the audience were transported to the bustling streets of New York City as four people’s lives cleverly entwine in Adam Gwon’s beautiful tale, Ordinary Days.
This sung-through musical has been superbly crafted by the talented Old Joint Stock Theatre Company. Directed by Karl Steele, the entire space was used exceptionally well, immersing the audience into the action from the very start. From the subtle audience interactions, to the minimal staging it was utterly captivating.
All four performers were mesmerising. James Edge charmed as Jason. Edge possessed a genuine vulnerability onstage, particularly highlighted in Hundred-Story City, making for a sublime performance. Paired with Lisa MacGregor, who excellently portrayed Claire, there was a poignant growth to her character. Opening the second act, their duet of Fine was superbly delivered and considering the small space in which to play in, you felt like you had travelled across half of the city with them.
Alicia Barban’s Deb was a sheer masterclass in characterisation. She held the audience in the palm of her hand with her engrossing acting ability, and she had a great voice to match. Calm was the ideal vehicle to showcase her skills as both actor and singer, and cast alongside the endearingly wonderful Duncan Burt as Warren, there was a real spark to their onstage relationship. Barban and Burt brought much of the comedy through the night, with Dear Professor Thompson / Life Story garnering many a laugh.
But it was when the whole company joined together in the latter of Act Two that spines tingled. There is no denying the standout moment in the show was the Rooftop Duet / Falling and I'll Be Here. The simplistic design came into its own as a plethora of colourful umbrellas began to rotate above the stage and papers flew out over the audience, there was a real sense of euphoria. Instantly juxtaposing, MacGregor’s solo I'll Be Here, punches you in the gut. As tears welled in the eyes of other audience members (as well as my own), you could hear a pin drop. Performers and audience alike are exposed from the offset, and the intimacy of the Old Joint Stock really heightened the entire evening’s experience.
Under the accomplished Musical Direction of Nick Allen, the Old Joint Stock have yet again showcased talent in abundance and the entire show was nothing short of stunning.
There was no better way to escape a rather drab Friday night, it is simply theatre at its most wondrous.
Good Morning Baltimore! as Blue Coat School in Coventry wake up to their week run of the legendary hit musical Hairspray! The tale of a young girl who just wants equality, friendship, the hottest kid in town and to dance on live TV! It is a story that strikes all the chords just in the right places and Blue Coat’s production is no different.
The underlying struggle in the musical is the historic racism that existed in the US during the black civil rights movement. There are several moments in the musical which remind you about the real figures involved – a rather striking line by Little Inez (Natalia During) ‘like that Rosa Parks on the Bus’ really reminds you of the tone this musical comes with and the cast and creative have dealt with this through maturity and professionalism. One character that personifies this struggle and hope is Motormouth Mabel – the mother like figure to the black community. Tenishia Prah provided an emotional performance as Motormouth which climaxed during her solo I Know Where I've Been. Alongside Tenishia Prah, Max Edwards also graced the stage with professionalism as Corny Collins, a character who really drove the story.
The strength of the piece relies on Olivia Evans who led the piece well as the fiesty, hairsprayed-bopping Tracey Turnblad with some great moments and a strong chemistry with her on stage romantic interest Elliot Barker as Link. Likewise, Oliver Briers and Joseph Edwards brought a strong comedic presence to the stage as Wilber and Edna. One other special mention is deserved to Arthur Page who made a split second - but utterly hilarious - performance as Mr Pinky.
Other standout performances have to go to Pheobe Downing as the innocent Penny, Stephen Wanjohi as the slick and smooth SeaWeed Stubbs – notably a strong characterized chemistry existed between the two of them which worked well during the shows hit love ballad Without Love. Finally, Chloe Cuckson bought a brilliant character to the antagonist Velma Vontussle and her voice impressed during Ms Baltimore Crabs.
Laurence T-Stannard’s musical direction was slick, professional and a mirror of the soundtrack. The performance from the student band was a treat for the ears and the fact that they were led by a student is simply inspiring. The band were the absolute climax of this production and their on-stage presence added to the space. Kaur Dhaliwal’s set design was intricate and set the scene well.
Corey Baker Wyatt's lighting design added a real vibrancy and colour to the stage especially noticeable during larger numbers like Big Doll House and You Can't Stop The Beat which included a classic confetti canon ending – a nice touch.
I must also add that the programme design itself was a real treat whilst writing the review- full of photos of rehearsals and a very high quality design it gives the production a professional feel.
You can't stop these teenagers this week at Blue Coat so be the Nicest kid in town and grab tickets!
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