The name on everyone’s lips is going to be Natasha J Barnes judging by the exceptional performance she delivered at the wonderful Wolverhampton Grand last night. Stepping out as funny girl, Fanny Brice, Barnes was beyond stunning in the role. Her characterisation was sublime; her acting a delight and her voice was something other worldly. Her crisp, warm vocals sent shivers down the spine and she well and truly held the audience in the palm of her hand. You laughed with her, you cried with her and that is testament to her excellent performance. At the end as she held back tears as the crowd clambered to their feet, it was so incredibly clear why she took the West End by storm when she stepped into the role that Sheridan Smith had been lauded for.
Funny Girl is undoubtedly a joyous show, yet manages to retain its integrity with a heart-wrenching storyline. With a rich score, the perennial favourites were delivered exquisitely. From People to I’m The Greatest Star and the Act One closer, Don’t Rain On My Parade, each number gloriously filled the auditorium. Although this show is very much held together by the sheer magnitude of Barnes’s performance, the rest of the cast are undoubtedly the glue that brings this show together.
Darius Campbell’s velvety tones suit the suave Nick Arnstein and his onstage chemistry with Barnes is palpable. A particular highlight was their playful duet You Are Woman, I Am Man, which contrasted well with their touching rendition of Who Are You Now? Great support came from Nova Skipp as Mrs Brice, who played well against the lovely Joshua Lay as Eddie. His impeccable dancing was a joy to watch and his unrequited love for Fanny Brice is beautifully evoked. The ensemble ooze an energy that makes this show so watchable and quite simply, Funny Girl is a hit.
Musical Director Ben Van Tienan led the orchestra with unswerving prowess, his enthusiasm shone from the pit and the music was simply divine. Under the direction of Michael Mayer, Funny Girl is a show brimming with heart and led by a star.
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!
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