Birmingham School of Performing Arts opened in February of this year with the core value that “everyone is valued, and each performer has something to bring to every production.” This was their first production, and each performer was indeed given a moment to show what they had to offer.
Welcome to Theatreland was an enjoyable, if slightly uneven production. But even this uneven quality was commendable as BSPA’s Directors, Jordan and Ralph Toppin-McKenzie took the decision to devise a piece around their young performers, rather than just present a traditional show. The first half of the show was devised in workshops by the students themselves and did have a distinctly student quality to it, being a series of very short scenes (many of which worked quite well) which didn’t always flow easily into each other. The second half, a well-crafted backstage story set in the 1950s, was scripted by the directors, and here is where the real story lies. Jordan and Ralph are prepared to trust these performers to create work, and present what they create. But they are also demonstrating to their students that, if you continue to learn from us, you will hopefully improve to create something of the quality that we can write. And how great it was to see a theatre school really try something different.
The song choices were eclectic (Alicia Keys, George Benson, Sondheim and Kander and Ebb) but all the songs were chosen for the part they could tell in the story, not because they were well known crowd pleasers. And the young cast made a good attempt at the different styles, led by Nicole Spragg, who opened the show with an assured performance of Empire State of Mind, her rich soulful voice very well suited to the contemporary songs in the show. Phoebe Shepherd, on the other hand, seemed particularly at home in the more traditional musical theatre numbers; her performance of the Sondheim classic Broadway Baby was a highlight, showing great maturity in a song normally performed by much more experienced singers. Edie Davies demonstrated a big Broadway sound on several numbers, and Emilie Shephard and Jodie Ince’s performance of Stephen Schwartz’ notorious Meadowlark again showed great control and maturity. All the rest of the cast worked really hard in scenes and songs to bring this show to life, and were greeted very warmly by the audience at the end, justification for all the effort they put in.
BSPA has made a strong impression with their bold decisions and interesting performance in this first production. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for this enterprising theatre school.
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