Thursday, 18 July 2019

Rock of Ages - High School Edition (BHMTC Youth Group)

So let's kick this one off with the obligatory caveat that the performance I am reviewing was the Final Dress Rehearsal and therefore not the absolutely complete item and performed to an almost empty theatre, still some minor tweaks to be made and if I am honest there is the opportunity for this cast to 'blow the roof' off the venue.

Had a brief chat with Chris Psaras, part of the Creative Team behind this production and I detected that the scale of the job might have been underestimated, after all this is a Rock Musical based in the 1980s about to hit the stage in the hands of performers, none of whom would have been born at the time these songs were hits and might even wonder who Starship, Twisted Sister or Foreigner are, let alone their status in the history of Rock Music. However Chris, Sally Evans, Jo Greswell and Martin Francis need not worry as my belief is that audiences will have 'nothing but, a good time' experiencing this one and it will likely live long in the memory.

Narrating (or as he might want to call it dramatic conjuring) the story is Lonny, self-proclaimed 'Sound God' and played exuberantly by Kurt Sanders, the setting on the Sunset Strip in the legendary Bourbon Room owned by Dennis Dupree, portrayed in true 'aging hippy' style with some soulful vocals by Matt Hickman.

Cue a love story between wannabe rocker Drew Boley (or should I say Wolfgang Von Colt !), an authoritative performance from Joshua Hawkins and aspiring actress from Kansas, Sherrie Christian an explosive vocal and stage presence by Rhi Luckins.

Attempting to clear 'The Strip' of sin and debauchery and replace it with 'clean living' are German developers Hilda Klineman, the epitome of a dominant German mother delivered by Elle-May Davies and her son Franz played enthusiastically and energetically by Lewis Everall. Putting herself up as champion of the people against these developments is Anita Bath a quietly stunning performance from Megan Luckins, ultimately and quite unexpectedly falling for the quaint charm of Franz.

In an attempt to save the Bourbon Room, Dennis coerces Stacee Jaxx, played with outstanding characterisation and earthy vocals by James Callaghan to stage the last gig of his mega-band Arsenal there, leading to Sherrie (who by now thinks Drew only sees her as a friend) falling for the rather unattainable Stacee, who in turn convinces Dennis to remove her from her waitress job.

Keeping up ? Well with nowhere to go and on the streets, enter Justice Charlier, proprietor of the Venus a Go Go Club, played with some style and a knockout vocal (somewhat akin to Aretha Franklin) by Emma Pryce to take Sherrie in and give her a job as a dancer.

Some quietly unassuming presences on stage but, with obvious stage talent that was eminently noticeable came from Connor Wilson as both Sherrie's Father and the Mayor (a great vocal for Sister Christian), Ellie Hudson a leading light in the dance numbers and unmistakably the smallest physical presence on stage but, the greatest in charm and application from Holly Edwards.

Difficult to include everybody by name, yet all of the cast contribute to overall quality of this show. Finally, I won’t give away the remainder of the storyline or whether Drew and Sherrie get together in the end, you’ll have to buy a ticket and find out yourself and I seriously recommend you do, performances run from 18th to 20th July 2019.

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Friday, 12 July 2019

Godspell (Musical Youth Theatre Stafford)

Stephen Schwartz's Godpsell is probably one of the most adaptable musicals available for performance, as long as the story (primarily based on the Gospel of Matthew) remains intact, the opportunities are limitless, it is therefore strange that it probably doesn't get the interest and performance time it probably should.

MYTS under the skilled direction of Hannah Morris have taken up that gauntlet and brought a bright, vibrant and engaging production to the Stafford Gatehouse Theatre, enhanced by some innovative musicality from Laura Foxcroft and inventive choreography from Kevin LaMey, all the more exceptional considering the size of the cast and the sheer volume of brightly clad and energetic performers on stage for some of the numbers.

Leading the performers as a commanding Jesus is Greg Wood, delivering a measured performance and always in control of the storytelling, complemented by a more exuberant portrayal of Judas Iscariot by Charlie Allen Smith, eating up the stage with some enthusiastic speeches and moves.

There are some particularly memorable vocal performances, specifically an entrancing rendition of the classic 'Day by Day' by Philippa Ford, a soulful and touching 'All Good Gifts' from Leo Foetu-Foster, Tabitha Carr's powerful 'Turn Back, O Man' and Charlie Tiernan as John the Baptist's rallying call to the masses 'Prepare Ye'.

It seems unfair not to mention by name, the leading players who all front a song at some point and equally all have striking vocals in different ways, so watch out for Lydia Thomson, Lai Ellin, Sophie Pearce, Alex Lewis (enjoyed the Donald Trump impression !), and Brogan Pugh. I would also challenge anybody not to be holding back the tears after an intense rendition of 'On the Willows' from Hannah Stephenson, Madison Lovelace and Eve Keeling.

If you are in the Stafford area and looking for a night of stunning entertainment from a glittering array of local youth talent then this is the show for you (not to mention a class score from the pen of Mr Schwartz !) and you only have a few performances to catch before the run ends on Saturday 13th July 2019.

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Saturday, 6 July 2019

Footloose (SAOS Youth Theatre)

Footloose is very much a story of struggle, whether it's Reverend Shaw Moore's struggle to come to terms with his son's death, Willard Hewitt's struggle to take his relationship with girlfriend Rusty to the next level or any of the other intertwined storylines. As an audience there are complex patterns to understand and it takes some very clear direction to the cast in order to create a performance that delivers those stories in an entertaining way, it is without doubt that Rachel Davies as Director/Choreographer and George Stuart as Musical Director have managed to achieve this with some style.

However without a stellar cast it wouldn't be possible to supply the outstanding performance that this was, a stage almost groaning under the weight of youth talent has the audience in the palm of their hands from the opening notes of the overture.

Leading this stunning array of performers are Joe Simmons as Ren McCormack and Sami Brasenell as Ariel Moore who supply frankly gargantuan performances across all the disciplines of acting, singing and dancing.

Harvey Zaffino produces a genius piece of character acting as Willard Hewitt (the 'Mama Says' number is nothing short of sublime) and Maddy Rock is a commanding presence and vocal as frustrated girlfriend Rusty.

Playing adults in a youth production can be difficult but, three performers in particular make this look a lot simpler than it is, Thomas Homer is a tower of stage presence as Reverend Shaw Moore, Amelia Humphries is a characterful and vocally rich Vi Moore and Amy Sefton is utterly believable and with an equally powerful vocal in the role of Ethel McCormack, Ren's mother.

Oliver Craven - Francis excels as bad boy Chuck Cranston, complemented by William Shillingford and Harry Fox as comical sidekicks Lyle and Travis, who do nothing for Chuck's image but, raise many a laugh from the audience.

Acting as semi-narrators are Urleen, Wendy Jo and Carol Ann played respectively by Hannah Shillingford, Annie Fellows and Sophie Ruddick, it’s almost impossible to comprehend the depth of vocal talent on stage and these three performances are a major part of that rich talent.

I could easily mention every member of the cast who all bring something to the overall performance but, if you’re looking for a couple of small, yet memorable moments, they would have to be Stephen Drew’s confident Cowboy Bob and Hatty Humpherson’s delightful cameo as Betty Blast.

Mama says it doesn't matter if you're a King or you're a clown but, you'll probably be the latter if you don't buy a ticket for one of the remaining performances as the run sadly ends with two performances on Saturday 6th July 2019.

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Thursday, 4 July 2019

Chicago (Wolverhampton Muscial Comedy Company - MUSCOM)

Strangely the hot and oppressive auditorium at the Colton Hills Community School Theatre added something to this performance of Kander & Ebb's, Chicago from Wolverhampton Musical Comedy Company as the atmosphere felt even more like that of a club, complemented by James Maddison's quartet of musicians, who despite being small in number filled the room with those jazz sounds.

Some considerable recognition must go to Director/Choreographer, Kimmy Corsellis and her assistant Denny Robinson, as the dance shoes of the great Bob Fosse, who will forever be linked with this musical are big ones to fill but, fill them they did with an abundance of dance numbers in the style of the man himself and performed by an outstandingly talented cast.

Pascale Mellor is a vivacious and stage commanding Velma Kelly alongside Harriet Hommers as a sultry and stunningly characterful Roxie Hart, despite the fact that both characters are dripping in unlikable traits, one cannot help but, be engrossed by their story. From 'All that Jazz' to 'Nowadays' both actresses give everything to their parts, which considering the heat is probably far more that we might imagine.

Liam Sargeant creates a striking persona as Billy Flynn, the lawyer who ultimately gets Roxie off her murder charge but, really only does it for the money and love. There is no doubt his performance is full of the necessary 'Razzle Dazzle' and he has a sophisticatedly dominating control of every scene in which he appears.

Amos Hart, discarded husband of Roxie, is a genuinely likable character that the audience can only feel for and Dan Smith takes that likability as far as he possibly can, getting great audience reaction, particularly at the end of the 'Mr Cellophane' number.

Johann Davis brings her trademark velvety voice to the role of Matron 'Mama' Morton and has an authoritative air as the mother figure of Cook County Jail, granting favours based on what can only be described as bribes.

Good isn't it, grand isn't it, great isn't it, swell isn't it, fun isn't it ? Well that's for you to decide by grabbing one of the few remaining tickets and being part of the experience yourself.

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Friday, 28 June 2019

My Fair Lady (Norbury Players)

It's a little known fact that George Bernard Shaw didn't want Pygmalion to be made into a musical or that Rodgers & Hammerstein had a crack at the job before Alan Jay Lerner and Fredrick Loewe finally created the classic we all know and love. What makes this version from Norbury Players, currently running at the Norbury Theatre in Droitwich, memorable in its own right are some epic performances, not least of all from Beth Smith as Eliza Doolittle who creates a flawless character and combines it with an outstanding singing voice.

Andrew Bartlett is a creative and animated Professor Henry Higgins, genuinely finding it hard to relinquish a relationship/friendship with Eliza that he never expected to develop and Andy Brown's distinctly military and upper class Colonel Pickering is the perfect foil for both of the lead characters, acting in some ways as a referee to their initially opposing views and approaches.

Tam Weir's thoroughly entertaining Alfred P. Doolittle engages comically with the audience and is at the centre of two exceptional scenes belting out the songs 'With a Little Bit of Luck' and 'Get Me to the Church on Time' alongside friends Jamie (Mark Ewins) and Harry (Matt Jeans).

Whilst this isn’t a musical particularly about love there is the rather relentless yet charming way in which Frankie Blincoe-Deval as the besotted Freddie Eynsford-Hill pursues Eliza and we are led to believe spends every waking minute on that street where she lives.

Anne Lane puts in the supporting performance of the night as Mrs Higgins, putting Henry squarely in his place and is run a close second by Teresa Bufton as Housekeeper, Mrs Pearce, creating an ideal matronly persona with some wonderful facial expressions and James Cowlishaw as Professor Zoltan Karpathy, he who uses the science of speech in somewhat nefarious ways.

It's to the credit of Glynis Smith, Director and Ella Wainwright, Choreographer that the relatively confined stage does not appear overcrowded by quite a large ensemble cast, particularly in some of the outdoor scenes, complemented by powerful music from Keith Lewis and his Band this is a wonderful production of a well loved musical.

You've only got a few performances to catch this one which finishes on Saturday 29th June 2019, so if you want to meander down the street where this story happens, grab a ticket quickly and with a little bit of luck you'll have an extremely enjoyable evening.

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Friday, 21 June 2019

Hello Dolly! (Walsall Operatic Society)

Recently revived on Broadway with The Divine Miss M (Bette Midler) in the leading role, Hello Dolly! is currently running at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, presented by Walsall Operatic Society and with an equally divine and intoxicating Vicki Hardy as Dolly Gallagher Levi meddling matchmaker amongst many other talents.

Whilst her success in matchmaking is prolific, her attempts to find a match for 'half a millionaire' Horace Vandergelder, an imposing and authoritative performance from Craig Smith, seem to singularly fail, perhaps because she has eyes for him herself.

Her latest attempt at matching Mr Vandergelder is with millinery shop owner Irene Molloy, a charming and beautifully voiced portrayal from Lizzie Buckingham who finds herself more attracted to Vandergelder's chief clerk Cornelius Hackl, played with great self-assurance and stage presence by Adam Gregory who has skipped work and Yonkers to spend a day in New York with fellow clerk Barnaby Tucker, an athletic performance from Alex Woolliscroft who in turn also finds love with Minnie Fay assistant in Mrs Molloy's shop and played by a delightfully captivating Hannah Bird.

Completing the array of couples are artist Ambrose Kemper, exuberantly played by Chris Room a suitor for Vandergelder's rather teary niece Ermengarde, a wonderful piece of characterisation from Eleanor Shephard.

It would be easy to get confused as the storyline weaves around the different partnerships and their links with each other but, some insightful direction from Adam Sarka Lacey and engaging choreography from Jessica Lambert keeps the audience attention in the right place at the right time, complemented by some well known tunes, expertly delivered by MD, Ian Room and members of the Midlands Concert Orchestra.

Highlights are many but, watch out for a beautiful cameo performance from Gill Westwood as Ernestina and the ‘Put on Your Sunday Clothes’ number which epitomises what musical theatre is all about and rightfully received a rousing response.

Only very few performances to go as the run finishes on Saturday 22nd June 2019 so before this parade passes by, grab yourself a ticket and make sure you say Hello to this Dolly.

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Saturday, 15 June 2019

Half a Sixpence (BMOS Musical Theatre Company)

There’s something terribly enduring about the story behind ‘Half a Sixpence’, poor guy inherits money only to lose his childhood true love, wins her back but, the money still comes between them and only when it is lost completely do they finally find that love again. If your heart can’t be wrenched and a tear doesn’t come to your eye at some point, it’s debatable whether you’ve really understood the storyline.

BMOS Musical Theatre Company have created atmosphere and empathy by the bucket load, some expressive and intelligent choreography from Suzi Budd and expansive direction from Stephen Duckham make this a sheer delight from beginning to end, complemented perfectly by David Easto and his orchestra’s interpretation of David Heneker’s now incredibly well known score.

On stage there is an impressive line-up of talent led by Daniel Parker’s totally authentic and entertaining portrayal of Arthur Kipps partnered with the golden voice of Annabel Pilcher as Ann Pornick, probably the human equivalent of two halves of a sixpence in a stage partnership.

Jake Genders brings both comedy and originality to the role of Chitterlow and the Walsingham Family are all the embodiment of class snobbery, led by a jewel of a performance from Jo Smith as Mrs Walsingham alongside Carys Wilson as a likeable and vocally outstanding daughter Helen and Lee Navin as slightly untrustworthy son, yet outwardly complete gentleman Young Walsingham.

Part of Kipps’s life and trying to keep him grounded throughout are a trio of girls and boys from Shalford’s Drapery Emporium (run with an iron rod by Mr Shalford, played with equal iron resolve by Patrick Pryce). The Boys, living in the meagre shop basement, Pearce (Alex Nicholls), Buggins (Andrew Treacy) and Sid (Neil Ward) are an affable team, working well together or as individuals and the Girls, Kate (Morgan Bebbington), Flo (Rosie Harvey) and Victoria (Charlotte Boyer) continue the amazing female vocals (particularly in harmony), all six a massive part of the success of this show.

It’s fair to stay that the ensemble cast are brimming with talent as well, with some great cameo performances from Kier Poutney, Sian Patterson, Lucy Homer and Adam Wheeler.

Sadly if you don’t already have a ticket it’s too late to catch the run as it finishes on Saturday 15th June 2019, keep on eye on the web site for the next production from this amazing company though.

BMOS Musical Theatre Company Web Site