Many theatre fans will be more familiar with Frank Wildhorn's hugely successful musical adaptation of Robert Louis Stephenson's gothic horror, but Eric Gracey's imaginative and atmospheric adaptation for Blue Orange Arts is every bit as compelling. Audience members walk straight into a dimly lit 1930s jazz club with live pianist, ornate table lamps and owner greeting them as they walked into the auditorium.
As the show progressed the thoughtfulness of the staging shone through - the catwalk style, jazz hall stage split the real performance space of the intimate theatre, allowing action to take place either side to convincingly represent different locations with absolutely no scene shifting or movement of props necessary.
Regular scene transitions were instead aided with thoughtful lighting, ingeniously simplistic costume changes and soulful interludes of classics like Putting On The Ritz and I Get A Out Of Kick You, effortlessly crooned by Nicola Foxfield, who beautifully plays doomed bombshell Rose, and Sarah Gain, who combines well as Jekyll's unfortunate fiancée Alice.
Oliver Hume gives a compelling performance as a jittery, eccentric and intellectually tortured Jekyll, who later transforms into a menacing Hyde. The contrast could have been better exploited with a more obvious change in the tone of his voice and some of the nuances demonstrated so expertly by Horobin. But in truth this is nit-picking an otherwise excellent and gripping leading man performance with not a single slip up, despite a number of scenes where he was required to quickly recite very complicated scientific theory.
Daniel Blacker shone as the sharp-tongued but supportive John Utterson - Jekyll's increasingly concerned solicitor and friend. And Stuart Horobin produced a show-stealing multi-role performance, slipping effortlessly from one character to the next. Aided with nothing more than the odd change of coat and a pair of spectacles; each of his four characters was unique and utterly convincing to the point it was at first difficult to work out if the same person was playing them. One moment he was a seedy cockney nightclub owner, the next the upper class doctor friend of Jekyll, the next a salt-of-the-earth detective and finally, and perhaps portrayed most impressively of all, Jekyll's increasingly beleaguered servant, Paul.
The grisly story unfolds with pace, clarity and a gritty realism with scenes in the second act made all the more menacing by the stark contrast of an intentionally pedestrian opening ten minutes. Bravo to Eric Gracey, director Mark Webster and all involved. This is a thoroughly entertaining, thoughtful and polished portrayal.
In recent years the Belgrade Theatre has been the place to see a traditional pantomime, this year's offering is no exception.
From the moment you take your seat your eyes are treated to a fiesta of lush colour and sparkle. The sets and costumes are a delight, especially Dame Clarabelle Crumbles’ creations ranging from a cupcake to a cocktail.
Writer, Director and Dame, Iain Lauchlan brings his experience and presence to the stage with great effect. The comic chemistry between him and Craig Hollingsworth (Willy Crumble) creates many laughs, especially the unscripted moments. Not all of the comedy is provided by the Crumbles however. Dork (Blake Scott) and Maurice (Andrew Gordon-Watkins) work together as hapless sidekick and master giving the audience cause to laugh and boo. There is a gentle sprinkling of adult humour throughout the show with Dame Clarabelle and some of Maurice’s slightly saucy posturing, however none of this is picked up by the children.
There are some lovely songs in the show sung beautifully by Beauty (Jessica Niles) and her Dad (Declan Wilson). Charlie Bowyer plays the Prince turned Beast with confidence, the gradual emotional transformation of the character is clear. At times it feels as though the love story and moral tale are put to one side for the comedy, but this is a pantomime, there for laughs, and on that score it certainly delivers.
This is a true family pantomime in every way, a glittering treat for everyone to enjoy.
The Christmas season is upon us, and that can only mean one thing in Theatreland – every playhouse enticing family audiences in with their own versions of classic stories, either in traditional Pantomime, or in family plays, or, as in the case of this version of Treasure Island, something that sits somewhere between the two.
The story has been adapted by Steve Eagles from Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel of adventure and swashbuckle, and the production is certainly given a very energetic and committed performance by every one of its cast, which mixes experienced stage professionals with students just out of college or still studying at Birmingham Ormiston Academy.
Gianni Cantone and Charlotte Swarbrick lead the company confidently as young Jim Hawkins and his friend Jesse (a welcome addition to the story, demonstrating, as the writer adds in his notes, that “girls have adventures too”). Ian Crowe (Long John Silver) and Barry Shannon (Doctor Livesey/Israel Hands) lead the experienced cast members, also adding to the very effective live music throughout the show.
It’s a shame to have to report then that, sadly, the story overall is a bit of a confused mess. If it wants to be a panto, where is the villain to boo? There are a few moments of traditional audience participation, which my seven year old co-reviewer eagerly joined in with, but confusion about who the real villain is. Silver is played (very well) as a loveable rogue, ultimately forgiven. His partner, Israel Hands, is shown to be the more villainous of the two, and does indeed encourage booing, but only appears in this guise in one very short scene in act 1. When he reappears in act 2 he is immediately drunk, no threat to our heroes, and, worst of all, leads us into a dream (or should I say nightmare) featuring two utterly ridiculous full sized parrots, who’s only function seemed to be to waste a bit of time with a couple of terrible cracker jokes. The end of the story was perfunctory in the extreme. It felt like there was something missing.
If the story wants to be a family play, there needs to be more drama to balance out the comedy. I also felt the character of the Mermaid Princess, very well sung by Ella Vize, was problematic, as she never actually interacted with the people she was trying to help. The “fairy” character can often also act as narrator in these stories, but it just felt disjointed that she never actually spoke directly to the other characters. My seven year old partner also asked why she “just flapped her hands all the time”.
As I said before, the performances were all thoroughly committed to ensuring the audience had a good time. And on this press night they certainly got a good response at the end of the show. But there were a sizeable number of BOA students in the audience supporting their colleagues, and responding to them personally and not necessarily their characters. I do feel that, when faced with a more mixed age audience, with less personal connection to the cast, the actors might struggle to get such a response. I hope not, as their energy alone deserves much credit.
I shall leave the final words to my young companion, who had the following comments to make on the evening; “It was really funny. I liked Jim and Jesse, when they fell out, and became friends again. I liked the storm scene; that was clever. There were some bits I didn’t understand; when the parrot [Beaky Rascal] did his song I couldn’t understand any of the words. And they didn’t need the parrot scene [with the two full sized parrots]. It was a really silly idea to put that in. But I did have a good time.”
Sister Act is a favourite amongst amateur theatre society’s since the rights were released, it is a difficult show, with complicated harmonies, dancing and even staging! The team behind St Augustine’s Musical Theatre Company have taken on a beast and brought a brilliant piece of theatre to the crowds in Solihull.
With a fully sold-out run ahead, it is clearly an audience pleaser and STAGS MTC has worked extremely hard on bringing this complex musical to life. A stellar cast of nuns are the centrepiece of this show, they are engaging, hilarious and utterly brilliant. Sister Mary Patrick is played with absolute gusto by Nicola Palfrey, with a beaming smile throughout and an endearing hyperactivity which really brings the character to life. Alice White also delivers a sterling performance as the timid Sister Mary Robert. Her voice effortlessly reached an abundance of high notes and her rendition of The Life I Never Led was perhaps one of the strongest I have seen on the amateur circuit.
Special mentions also to Sarah Furmage as Sister Mary Lazarus who delights in her role, with excellent comic timing she garnered many a laugh from the packed-out audience. As well as a commendable performance from Rachel Pattinson as the Mother Superior, and Diane Bennett who was hilarious as the ‘crazy’ nun, Sister Mary Martin of Tours.
The male cast supported well, with Kieran Corrigan, Davyd Bagby and Richard Haddock highly entertaining as the terrible trio of TJ, Pablo and Joey, led by a wily Richard Gosnay in the role of Curtis. Corrigan certainly has some suave dance moves! Another highlight was Nigel Jones who was fabulous as the Irish Monsignor and although a slightly nervy start from Robert Restell he confidently tackled Eddie’s big number I Could Be That Guy.
It is of course the leading lady that really shines. Such a demanding role for any performer, Loretta Parnell became Deloris with some fantastic acting and a powerful voice. One thing that you could not fault about her performance was her diction, some jokes that sometimes can get lost to an audience, she delivered excellently.
There were unfortunately times where the pace dropped, mainly due to some complicated staging, but the cast dealt with this exceedingly well and tried to regain the pace as quickly as they could. The beauty of this musical is that it is packed full of toe-tapping numbers that instantly lift the spirit and this ensemble were not afraid to take these big numbers on. Harmonies were crisp under the musical direction of Stephen Powell and Liane Hughe’s brought the big numbers to life through carefully crafted choreography, which was well-executed by the entire cast. All under the directorial hand of Veronica Walsh it was a beast to tackle, but tackle it they did.
Congratulations STAGS MTC and all the best for the rest of the run.
Redditch Operatic Society brought a piece of South Dakota to the heart of Redditch last night with their rootin', tootin' production of Calamity Jane.
A popular choice amongst theatre groups around the Midlands recently, it's always a musical that you can't help but hum and smile along to.
The stage was crammed full of enthusiastic individuals and first night nerves were banished quickly. Taking on the title role of the feisty Calamity was Lisa Lilwall, her passion for performing clearly shone through. She was matched exceedingly well with Mark Williams as Wild Bill Hickock, who's stage presence and rich tone was pleasing to the eyes and ear. The duet of Secret Love was a particular stand-out moment.
A crystal clear vocal and all-round performance from Emma Hopcroft as Katie Brown was a highlight, every so often reminding me of Allyn Ann McLerie's portrayal of Katie Brown in the film, it was a delight.
Supporting was Sam Smith as Danny Gilmartin, a star turn from Ryan Allen as Francis Fryer (especially in a Hive Full of Honey) and Tim Eagleton as the ever-flustered Henry Miller. Eagleton delivered an endearing and enjoyable performance throughout.
There may have been some first night stumbles, but this did not deter from the spirited performances from the entire cast, both lead and ensemble. The incredibly large cast over-spilled the Redditch Palace stage as they ably sang through the classic numbers such as Windy City and Deadwood Stage. However, it was in the second half when the ensemble really made their mark. The Black Hills of Dakota was beautifully harmonised, credit also due to Musical Director Tom Porter.
The pacey production was well directed by duo Jean Chalk and Pauline Elliker and difficult scene changes were well-masked.
All in all it was a charming performance of this classic piece of musical theatre, so head on down to Redditch Palace Theatre this week. The show runs until Saturday 21 November.
As Motormouth Maybelle sings towards the end of act 1 “We’ll be serving up a whole damn feast.” And that’s certainly what Bilston Operatic Company did last night with their effervescent production of Hairspray.
Based on the 1988 John Waters’ film, the musical first danced onto Broadway in 2002 and has been hoofing it’s oversized dresses and shoes in theatres all over the world regularly since. Rarely has a musical comedy got so many things just right, that it almost guarantees a sure-fire hit every time it’s performed.
However that does not mean it’s easy to perform. Far from it. The script may be sharp and witty, the excellent score a series of great pastiche numbers in various 1960s styles, but the whole show requires real commitment from a large cast, particularly as almost all the songs feature backing vocals, either on stage or off. It is a great credit to MD Ian Stevenson and his talented group of (largely very young) performers that, a few technical balancing glitches aside, were confidently handled on the first performance. They will only get stronger as the week goes on.
Also this is a massive dance show, and in this production the dancing is very much the star of the show. Producer/Choreographer Laura Canadine presents a series of stylized numbers all catching the mood of the period, and also helping to tell the story, which is no easy feat. Welcome to the 60s was a particularly good example of this, bringing several characters to the fore, while allowing the company to shine as well.
The only downside of a review like this is I cannot possibly do justice to every performance, but leading the company as the perennially cheerful and optimistic Tracy, Rebecca Luter easily holds the story together as she sings and dances her way seemingly effortlessly through the endless routines.
The show is often remembered for the part of Edna, Tracy’s mother, always cast with a male performer. Here Adam Starr seemed slightly uneasy at the start, and early dialogue (a lot of which has to be very carefully timed with the music, never an easy task) was rushed and barely comprehensible. However, in the scene leading up to Welcome to the 60s he found his feet, and from the moment be appeared in his great feathered dress in the middle of the number there was no looking back. From that moment he delivered an assured and charming comedic performance that always stayed the right side of Drag Queen grotesque. His duet with his jovial, loose limbed husband Wilbur, played by the excellent Phil Jackson, will long live in the memory for it’s great interpretation of old school Vaudeville and low comedy.
Jack Cottis (a sweet voiced Link Larkin), Niamh Allen (BOOOO!!), Laura Wynter (what a great soul voice), Adam Lacey (so cooly smooth) and Alicia Barnes (a classic WASP bitch!) all made very strong contributions, but for me the show was stolen by Francesca Holt’s nerdy Penny. It was a performance of brilliant physical comedy, giving just a hint of the voice and dance talent that emerges with the butterfly-like transformation at the end of the show.
Final mention must go to the whole ensemble, who work tirelessly to bring the fun classic to endless life. The audience reaction at the end of the show was thoroughly deserved.
Spitfire Theatre Company is a little unusual; the cast is a 50/50 mix of students and professional actors. It’s an interesting concept and one that gives wonderful results.
There is an element of farce to this play. Algernon and Ernest are carefree and well to do young men, both living double lives. Ernest wants to settle down and marry Gwendoline and lead one life, here is where his problems start.
Christopher Round is Ernest (or is he?) he is suave and cunning while being vulnerable when it comes to Gwendoline. Every snap change of mood is played beautifully. His nemesis is Algernon (Janeks Babidorics) he is the perfect foil, he lives for the moment until he is smitten. The pair create some wonderful moments in the second act. Gwendoline (Romy Alexander) is a young lady who knows what she wants, she is one of the selfie generation, but she meets her match in Cecily (Christina Constance Bower). One of the highlights for me was their first meeting, everything about the scene was a delight to watch.
Oscar Wilde's play is given a slight twist in this production, the dialogue is faithful (on the whole) to the script but the telegrams and diaries are replaced, physically by mobile phones. The attitudes of Gwendoline and Cecily are also more modern than the script suggests. It sounds like it shouldn’t work, but it adds an extra element and relevance. The characters also at times play to a camera crew as in a fly on the wall documentary.
With a stripped back set and an intimate venue the acting and the characterisation shone. A thoroughly enjoyable evening of engaging performances.
WBOS Youtheatre have proved themselves to be a formidable force to be reckoned with after their blistering production of Les Miserables.
Undoubtedly this is a challenging show for any group to tackle, and also rarely performed, as it is only available to school and youth groups. None of this seemed to phase the more than competent team. Cast and crew united to deliver one of the most stunning productions I have seen on the amateur circuit. The word amateur does not even touch this show; the performers were beyond their years with their portrayals of these iconic characters packed with passion, accompanied with vocals that thrilled the ear.
We are quickly introduced to the ruthless Javert played with unquestionable confidence by Callum Rogers, between him and Aidan Cutler’s Valjean they were a superb battling duo. Another fantastic duo was the comedic partnership between Josh Edge and Lucy Pritchard, which sparkled; they did absolute justice as the Thernardier’s. Master of the House was an absolute highlight of the show, garnering many a laugh from the audience.
The youngest members also proved themselves to be more than competent in the limelight, with excellent performances from Will Foggin and Arabella Yardley as Gavroche and Little Cosette.
Special mentions also to Dan Hardy and Jessica Williams as Marius and Cosette, Alastair Winning as Enjolras and Charlotte Edmunds as Eponine. Each captured their characters especially well, however, it was Aidan Cutler’s Valjean and Nav Chahal’s Fantine that stole the show. It was not only their utterly beautiful voices, but they each delivered a performance of thorough conviction; I’m more than sure you will find them both treading the West End boards in years to come. Both dazzled as they performed the signature songs of the show I Dreamed A Dream and Bring Him Home.
The sheer amount of time and effort that has gone into this production is more than admirable. You have to pinch yourself and remember how young these performers are.
Director Ben Cole and Musical Director Jack Hopkins are both previous Youtheatre members and are shining examples of the talent that has come out of this group. The direction is slick, with no falters or pauses and the musical direction is nothing short of sensational. The spine-tingling harmonies are a credit to Hopkins and the brilliant ensemble, particularly in At The End of the Day and One Day More.
WBOS Youtheatre’s motto is ‘an amateur company with professional standards’. No truer words can sum up this production of Les Miserables. Parents, Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles will be glowing with pride after seeing this performance and rest-assured this reviewer cannot wait to see what WBOS Youtheatre has in store next, because there is no doubt that this is the talent of tomorrow.
Congratulations one and all.
This Halloween, in Birmingham’s Blue Orange Theatre, audience members witnessed the chilling events that engulfed the cast of Night Project Theatre in their fantastic production of Sweeney Todd.
The musical thriller, by renowned composer Stephen Sondheim, is a popular choice of production for many groups; however this performance stood out from the rest for a number of reasons.
Firstly, director Ian Page’s casting decisions were nothing short of perfect. Hannah Lister who plays Johannah sings as sweetly as a bird and Kaz Luckins’ comedic timing as Mrs Lovett is brilliant. We also have a captivating performance from Benedict Powell, whose voice and expression fit the role of Anthony beautifully. Powell’s vocals are wonderfully crafted and a treat for all. The cast have excellent chemistry on stage, particularly during the sections of duets. Jez Luckins and Duncan McLaurie are a brilliant duo both vocally and visually as Beadle and Turpin. Phil John’s performance as Pirelli is comedy beyond measure, as is Dan Jones’ portrayal of young Tobias.
The casting of Sweeney Todd himself was an unusual choice and this intrigued me from the beginning. Thom Stafford plays a gritty, almost contemporary ‘East-End’ depiction of Todd, and he really makes this role his own. His insane emotions are in this production made relatable, unlike the madness that is usually the focus of Todd’s character. He and the director have crafted a new representation of the character, one that is more ‘real’, encapsulating the theme of the final number; that Sweeney Todd could be anyone or anywhere. The cast on the whole were charismatic and delivered an exciting show.
The proximity between the audience and the performers was intimate and inclusive. Although the stage space was quite small, the set was cleverly designed to allow swift and discreet scene changes. The set had its own character, comedic at times, and the lighting was complimentary to the characters’ changing moods. It was great to have the actors interact with and move into the audience easily; a benefit of using this enclosed space.
Looking at the presentation of music, I was very impressed with the standard of the vocals. Even for a small cast of twelve, a range of different styled voices worked together to create a strong chorus packed with intricate harmonies and impeccable timing. I commend Chris Corcoran, musical director, for the shaping of the vocal work, with particular emphasis on diction and expression.
Whilst the band performed excellently, unfortunately at times the music was lost underneath the louder vocal sections and general stage noise. This could have been more well-balanced within the theatre, as the music of this play has such an emotive character and I feel this did not always come across. Some of the choices of midi ‘voices’ on the keyboard didn’t fit the mood, meaning the arrangement didn’t lend itself to the dramatic style of the score; however I cannot flaw its timing.
Overall, this was a fantastic production, filled with humour, charisma, originality and lots of blood and gore! What more could you want this Halloween?
Nothing short of spectacular. This is the only way to describe Brownhills Musical Theatre Company’s Rock & Roll to Broadway at times. A riot of colour, beautiful choreography and gorgeous vocals, this was more of a full production than concert, with an undeniably talented company and featured some solo performances which were of West End quality.
The format is very clever – the first act featured mostly musicals, with numbers tied together in neat segments like Victoriana and Children’s fantasy. Not only did this lend the programme a massive diversity of numbers, but also allowed a seamless transition between them. It worked extremely well and offered a wonderful journey through some of Broadway’s greatest hits.
The production started with a section called “Airport Swing” – a mixture of songs from the musical Catch Me if You Can, and an arrangement of Come Fly With Me and Fly Me to the Moon. We were immediately treated to a full company routine, either in flight uniform or 60’s dress, with fantastic choreography supplied by Michele Windsor & Charlotte Fletcher. The scale and scope of this was repeated time and time again, and I shudder to think at the amount of work which went into this production.
We then moved into Children's fantasy, which focussed on the younger members of BMTC. Emily Hardy gave a charming rendition of Naughty from Tim Minchin’s Matilda, with great vocals and just the right amount of feistiness. This section also contained what was arguably the best performance of the night. Charlotte Fletcher’s version of the seemingly ubiquitous Let it Go from Disney’s Frozen left the audience speechless. It is a very difficult number to sing and Fletcher sang it to perfection. With such power and brilliant control, it is astounding to think that she has no professional work in her previous theatre credits. She also featured in a superlative rendition of In His Eyes with the precociously talented Helen Norgrove.
The Norgroves featured heavily in this show with Director, Jamie Norgrove providing a fantastic turn as Sweeney Todd alongside Alison Room as Mrs Lovett. Their A Little Priest was extremely funny and a worthy addition to the evening. The act finished with a New York section and included a wonderful piece of set where a taxi suddenly transformed into luggage. Born showman, Richard Ainslie ended the half with New York, New York, supported yet again by the wonderful company.
The second act consisted of pop hits from 4 decades. The production team made the courageous decision to mix up the order, instead of just performing everything chronologically. This definitely paid off and provided the show with a rock and roll 1950’s ending which was absolutely spectacular. Before this we opened with the 60’s, before leaping ahead to the 80’s, then the 70’s and finally the 50’s. Although seemingly random, the order definitely worked. The highlight of the opening two sections was undoubtedly was Nick Allen with Something Inside So Strong, ably supported by the company’s children. He has a wonderful tenor and absolutely nailed this song.
One highly positive aspect of the show is that performers who feature numerous times in the opening act took a back seat in the second half allowing others to shine. It was a very impressive display of the wealth of talent on offer. This was also the case going into the 70’s section. The vocals were as impressive as the platform shoes. My personal favourite was Tiger Feet, as sung by Richard Ainslie and the rest of the male company. Helen Norgrove and Kathryn James’ Chiquitita was also delightful.
The 1950’s section worked spectacularly well as a Finale. Not only did they have the whole cast dancing, the rock and roll numbers came one after the other and it was a superlative close to a brilliant show. There was so much to be commended. The band were on point all night. They achieved a fantastic sound for a 6-piece ensemble. The costumes were bright and vibrant, and the direction superb. The biggest plaudits has to go to the talented cast, however, their undeniable hard work shone through all night and made this an absolute must see for all.
Rock 'n' Roll to Broadway runs until Saturday 7 November at the Prince of Wales Theatre Cannock.
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