Friday, 15 November 2019

Evita (Concordia Amateur Operatic Society)

Another theatre that has been turned-over to Argentina in the 1940s is the Concordia Theatre in Hinckley, Leicestershire as their resident company present a vivid and vibrant production of Evita to an appreciative audience.

Much credit must go to Choreographer, Lisa Marsh, filling the stage with evocative Latin American dance, complementing and bringing to life the music from Musical Director, Sarah Bright and the finely tuned direction of the action from Director, Nanette Goodman. This is definitely not a circus but, very much a show designed to not only entertain but, to inform and educate, lofty ideals that are absolutely achieved, I personally found myself experiencing many emotions from smiling to crying, sometimes both at the same time.

Principal character actors are nothing short of excellent, Emma Clift as Eva delivering controlled and clear vocals and appearing likable even when she is taking personal advantage of people and situations, Ashley Bright as a totally engaging and energetic Che, a masterpiece of musical theatre stagecraft and Mark Benn as an imposing and in many ways intimidating Juan Peron together command the stage and deliver the story with consummate ease.

Lee Rice is an effortlessly melodic Magaldi, believing he has found the woman he wants in Eva, only to be scurrilously brushed aside on her way to the top and Phillippa Millhouse takes full advantage of her limited time on stage as Peron's Mistress to flawlessly yet dramatically deliver 'Another Suitcase in Another Hall'.

Evita is one of those musicals where the ensemble cast are as valuable (if not more so) than the principals and the large array of supporting players (both adults and children) provide rock solid support whether dancing, singing or acting as a multitude of characters in an equally diverse array of situations.

This production is very slick and a really appealing piece of entertainment, to coin a phrase it would be surprisingly good for you to buy a ticket and see for yourself but, you don't have much time as the run ends on Saturday 16th November 2019.

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Thursday, 14 November 2019

Evita (Cradley Heath Amateur Operatic Society)

Let's hear it for the CHAOS Tour, well it might not be a tour but, it probably could easily grace other venues and in (almost) the words of the song, it's being an incredible success at least that is my view based on this performance. Let's be clear that Evita needs some considerable on stage presence and craft to be successful and inspiring, something it absolutely should aspire to be and that doesn't come without some innate skill from the whole team behind the production and some hard graft in the rehearsal room.

Steve Humpherson (Director), Richard Lathbury-Howell (Assistant Director/Choreographer) and Chris Handley (Musical Director) have created something both inspiring and successful if the response from the audience is anything to go by, a delightfully smouldering piece of musical theatre that tells the story of Eva Peron through all the good and bad of her life and the impact she has on those around her.

Starring as Eva, Liz Compton powers her way through song after song and an array of emotions (as well as costumes), somewhat riding roughshod over the men in her life to achieve her aims of success whilst constantly being taunted by Paul Gardner in the narrator role of Che Guevara, a towering portrayal that is the glue that binds the whole piece together, appearing regularly to keep things on track and state the obvious that may not be as palatable as the storyline would like to suggest.

Chris Psaras is an enigmatic and emotional Juan Peron somewhat seduced by Eva into pursuing power and glory a little outside of his normal sphere and J. Paul Murdock oozes charisma as Augustin Magaldi, Eva's first male stepping stone to the top. Playing Peron's Mistress pre-Eva is Jennie Wall, it's a strange part, one scene, one iconic song and if you don't make impact nobody even remembers who you were, fortunately Jennie picks this one up and proceeds to 'smack it out of the park' with a memorable rendition of 'Another Suitcase in Another Hall'.

What makes this production so evocative is the air of tense Latin American heat created by the ensemble cast, whether it's the Dancers in the 'Buenos Aires' number or the Generals in 'The Art of the Possible' there is always that nervous feeling that keeps you on the edge of your seat and keen to see the next development.

I should also say that lighting (in the capable hands of Paul Finch) and the set (under the ever reliable control of Peter Hazelwood and his team) also play a part in building that atmosphere.

This is a premiere for the Dudley Area of a well known piece of Musical Theatre and the bar has been set at more 'pole vault' than 'high jump' level for the rest to aim at. Suffice to say that things will reach a pretty pass if you don't buy a ticket and see this production which runs until 16th November 2019.

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Wednesday, 13 November 2019

The Sound Of Music (Evesham Operatic and Dramatic Society)

In what is the 60th Anniversary of the original stage production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's 'The Sound of Music' it is I guess no surprise that many operatic/musical theatre companies have chosen this classic for their production in 2019. My latest viewing is currently running at Evesham Arts Centre and is the offering from Evesham Operatic and Dramatic Society transporting the audience back to those distressing days during the Nazi invasion of Austria but, made somehow tolerable by the engaging storyline and the musical elements we all know and love.

Much I am sure to the chagrin of the adult cast, I have to say the Von Trapp Children (in this case Team A) are a group of little stars who light-up the stage both with individual character and team togetherness. I would normally give the prize for cuteness to whoever is playing youngest child Gretl and there is no doubt that Effie Howdle is an audience pleaser that evokes the appropriate reactions from the crowd but, she is run to a photo finish by Louisa Gould as Marta (I’d be surprised if there isn’t a stage star in the making there). This shouldn’t however take anything away from incredible performances from Lauren Bridges (Brigitta), Woody Palmer (Kurt), Abigail Roberts (Louisa), James Cook (Friedrich) and a beguiling portrayal of eldest daughter (the one who doesn’t think she needs a governess) Liesl by Marie Emond.

Gail Andrews is an effectual and pleasing Maria, playing the part with great personality opposite Michael Bowen as a strong and yet impressively understated Captain Von Trapp using pauses and looks to great effect in order to own the stage when necessary. Alison Roberts provides a dominant vocal and on stage persona as the Mother Abbess, intense and convincing role adoption from Gemma Bailey as Elsa Schrader, memorably creating great musical moments in the ‘How Can Love Survive’ and ‘No Way to Stop It’ numbers and complemented by some comic additions from Phil Dobbins as Max Detweiler.

Steve Roberts as butler Franz, Sue Emond as housekeeper Frau Schmidt and Alistair Hutton as love interest for Liesl and Telegram Boy, Rolf Gruber (authentically clad in appropriate uniform, including shorts) all deliver convincing performances. Nuns a plenty adorn the stage when required, not least during the ‘Maria’ number, performed admirably by the Mother Abbess, Rebecca Barclay (Sister Bertha), Tracey Wallbank (Sister Sophia) and Nuala Wooltorton (Sister Margaretta).

Credit to the Creative Team of Greg Pearson/Amanda Golding (Directors), Oliver Lister (Musical Director) and Bethaney Rimmer (Assistant Choreographer) for creating an entertaining piece which runs until 16th November 2019 and is well worth a viewing.

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Friday, 8 November 2019

All Shook Up (WBOS Youth Theatre)

Probably recognised as a Jukebox Musical based on the Elvis Presley Songbook and full to the brim with recognisable tunes although it is strange to think that the cast will not have been born at the point these songs were released. Whilst that may be the case it doesn't mean that a youth cast cannot deliver a really compelling and entertaining performance, something that WBOS Youth Theatre certainly do to an exemplary level.

Audiences are treated to an interesting storyline with multiple interlinking relationships, at times one might even wonder who is in love with who which poses a further challenge to the actors, one they absolutely have the measure of and one shouldn't underestimate how difficult this could be during a performance.

At the centre of the story is heart-throb roustabout Chad (we never find his surname) and played with some panache by Joe Simmons, who arrives in a dreary little town only to be the catalyst to turn it upside-down. Arriving at a honky-tonk (for the uninitiated a country music bar) owned by single mother Sylvia, played authoritatively and with a sturdy vocal by Jess Millinchip and occupied by an array of local characters.

Mechanic Natalie Haller (played with considerable stage presence and musicality by Holly Page) is fatally attracted to Chad but, struggling to approach him whilst being pursued by the rather socially awkward Dennis (the performance of the night form Luca Marandola). Her father Jim (played with great confidence by Tom Rantell) having lost his wife is also seeking a relationship and falls for Miss Sandra, caretaker of the Town Museum (a delightfully bubbly performance from Tia Rose McDonald).

Conservative Town Mayor, Matilda Hyde, played commandingly by Molly Duckhouse, patrols the town looking to assert her authority, with Sheriff Earl, a man of few words but, a great character performance from James Bratt-Wyton. Matilda's son, Dean (a gloriously under-stated and vocally powerful performance from Will Foggin), looking to rebel against his forced military upbringing, hooks-up with Sylvia's daughter, Lorraine (a stunning performance from Jessica Sennett).

I would forgive anybody for being confused at this point but, now let's reveal that Natalie dresses-up as a guy and calls herself Ed, in order to get closer to Chad ! If you really want to understand how this all plays out and who ends-up with who then you of course need to buy a ticket and find out for yourself and not only will your confusion subside but, you will also witness a team of youth talent wider than the principal players, that must be going places, deal with a complex plot and some well known and loved songs as if that was an every day task.

Credit equally must go to the management team of Ben Cole (Director/Choreographer), Claire Flavell (Choreographer) and Oliver Bennett (Musical Director) who have taken the vast talent available and created a richly entertaining experience for the audience.

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Thursday, 7 November 2019

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (St Alphege Musical Production Society)

Whilst one of the most well known Musical Movies of the 1950s (1955 to be precise) Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is surprisingly rarely performed as a stage production on either the professional or amateur circuits and I suspect this may be down to the scary volume of choreography involved, whilst there are some timeless songs such as 'Bless Your Beautiful Hide', 'Wonderful, Wonderful Day' and 'Spring, Spring, Spring' it is probably the dance routines that it is particularly remembered for and that may lead to it not being a regular choice.

Fortunately for the audience at Solihull Core Theatre this challenge does not remotely concern Director/Choreographer, Robert Bateman or Assistant Choreographer, Ellen Tozer (who both appear in the production as well, a frightening level of commitment and talent) and leads to an action packed performance, filling the stage to almost overflowing.

Leading the cast are Richard Bateman as Adam Pontipee, eldest of the seven brothers and Nicky Ginns as his unwitting bride Milly Bradon, thinking she is about to commence an idyllic life on a farm in the hills, only to find that she is to be cook and cleaner for seven backwoods hicks. Both of these lead players have powerful vocals and captivating stage presence but, there is something rich and earthy about Nicky's voice that makes it really enjoyable to listen to and particularly appropriate for the era and the songs concerned.

Adam’s six brothers are Benjamin (Sam Walton), Caleb (Gregory March), Daniel (Kieran Scott), Ephraim (Luke Davies), Frank (Robert Bateman) and youngest Gideon (a winning performance from Nicholas Brady). It is fair to say that the sheer volume of movement these guys are expected to remember, not to mention dialogue and songs, is bordering on insane but, remember and execute they certainly do, in an authentic and professional way.

On the female side of the equation alongside Milly are Dorcas (Emma Kelly), Ruth (Audrey Martin), Liza (Alex Wheat), Martha (Becky Wicketts), Sarah (Melanie Bott) and Alice (Ellen Tozer) delivering equal amounts of action as skilfully as their male counterparts but, also exceptional levels of naive charm as girls who have been fundamentally protected from the wilder elements of the male of the species.

An extensive adult and youth ensemble cast create atmosphere in abundance for every scene in tandem with Musical Director, Phil Ypres-Smith's band, which means that the whole production delivers on every level, telling a story that is fundamentally about love and not believing everything that a first impression might look as if it is telling you.

Chances are you may not get an opportunity to see Seven Brides for Seven Brothers again soon and this particular production ends its run on Saturday 9th November 2019 so get hold of a ticket by whatever (legal) means you can, otherwise you'll be sobbin' like those women.

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Friday, 1 November 2019

The Sound Of Music (Nottingham Operatic Society)

Seemingly incredibly popular for societies in the Midlands currently, Rodgers & Hammerstein's 'The Sound Of Music' in its 60th year is undoubtedly a classic of the musical theatre genre and allows performers of all ages to contribute to the overall production. One can always rely on Nottingham Operatic Society to 'pull out all the stops' and deliver a spectacle that will live on in the memory and Dave Partridge as Director/Choreographer and Morven Harrison as Musical Director have done exactly that at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham.

Settling into my seat I can see a sizable orchestra which is always a good sign and the opening 'Preludium' proves the power that such a group of musicians can create, then joined by a plentiful array of nuns, led by Kate Taylor as an exceptionally voiced Mother Abbess, burst forth with Latin Chants that really engage the audience attention.

Abby Wells is a lively, energetic, bordering on feisty Maria Rainer, full of emotion and with a melodic and entrancing voice, her ability to move from penitent nun to joyful governess in an instant is a skill in its own right and allows her to bring something different and interesting to every scene. This works exceedingly well when playing in contrast to Paul Johnson's much more reserved, perhaps even aloof at least initially, Captain Von Trapp and the two create a magnetic relationship on stage (even before a connection is obvious it is difficult not to see the character attraction).

Principal regular, Simon Theobald is a slightly self-obsessed yet utterly delightful Max Detweiler, always able to bring a subtle quip and smile to any occasion and Louise Grantham as Elsa Schraeder is a joy with an outstanding voice that is clear as crystal and unwavering characterisation.

What, I hear you shout, of the children, led by Laura Fiddes as eldest daughter Liesl, not quite certain that she should have to accept a governess but, finally realising one can make a useful confidant, a soft and lilting voice that portrays her mood very well. Joined on this occasion by her siblings from the Green Team including a very confident Gretl played by Grace Hindle, an assured Kurt from Harrison Ince, alongside Daniel Lane (Friedrich), Evie Midgley (Louisa), an unflappable Felicity Holman (Brigitta) and  Isabella Gallager (Marta).

Zak Charlesworth is composed and charming as Liesl's love interest, Rolf Gruber, Shaun Hanrahan militarily precise as Franz, butler to Von Trapp and probably the performance of the night comes from Linda Croston as Von Trapp's housekeeper, Frau Schmidt, played slightly differently to the norm and much more interactively with Maria and the children which allows her natural wit and charm to come to the fore.

An extensive ensemble cast creates the atmosphere that is absolutely needed in many of the scenes and this is an all round enjoyable entertainment phenomenon that you only have very few performances to catch, so grab whatever tickets there are left before it's too late to experience these hills as alive as they are.

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Thursday, 31 October 2019

Jesus Christ Superstar (Birmingham Institute of Theatre Arts)

Before settling down to watch this production I noticed a quote from Chris Passey one of the Creative Team (a guy with more passion than a passion fruit !) suggesting that there had been only three hours rehearsal per week, yet over a period of a year to create what we were about to see, how can anything with such a protracted rehearsal period and such an extensive gap between those rehearsals really deliver is my immediate thought as the lights fade and Chris (who is MD amongst many other roles) displays even more of that passion and fervently strikes up the band.

Took all of about thirty seconds for those thoughts to fade and an overwhelming sense of 'this is going to be something to remember' to engulf me as the choreography in the opening scene from the other member of this dynamic production duo, Attiye Partridge, graphically creates a picture that starts to tell a story that is probably very familiar to most fans of the musical theatre genre.

From the moment Max Eade as Judas delivers the opening lyrics to 'Heaven on Their Minds' it's obvious that this is a voice made for the part and other similar roles. I'm immediately thinking what is this guy going to do with the title number and I wasn't disappointed, his characterisation of the disconnected member of the chosen twelve was spot on, an all round tremendous piece of stagecraft.

There is a brooding quality to Dec Foster as Jesus, as if he isn't really sure why people are so attracted to his religious philosophy but, feels the need to nurture his followers and lead them in the direction he somehow inherently knows is the right one. Jesus is a tough sing even for the most experienced of performers and it is therefore to his immense credit that he carries the role and the vocal so well, not least of all a powerful rendition of 'Gethsemane' that had the audience completely captivated, leading to a rapturous round of applause.

Completing the trio of lead characters is Lorna Highley as Mary Magdalene, delivering a soulful and sensual performance as the follower who ultimately falls for Jesus. I could sense a voice with some real power and 'belt', feeling perhaps she was holding something back initially, the sheer dominance of a deep and rich vocal, eventually let rip mid-way through 'I Don't Know How to Love Him' and she never looked back.

Whilst everybody may seem to be taking this journey along with Jesus, there is always an opposing view, represented in this case by the Jewish priests, Matt Pandya is a dominant force as high priest Caiaphas maintaining the guttural bass tone and imposing presence so synonymous with the role, complemented superbly by Jack Smyth's much higher registered Annas and orchestrating between them the demise of Jesus, if only they knew that this would lead to a much expanded level of worship for the figure of Christ.

Jesus Christ Superstar may be built around the three main characters but, it wouldn't have the appeal it has without some of the iconic supporting characters, Louis Wharton is a commanding Pontius Pilate coping admirably with what appeared to be a microphone malfunction in his first song and then proving how strong his vocal really is in the 'Trial Before Pilate' scene. James Luckins is an extremely entertaining Herod, getting only a short scene in the role on stage but, making every second of it count. Maddy Rock (Simon Zealotes) and Liam Wragg (Peter) both enthusiastic disciples of Jesus and creating equally intense acting and vocal performances for their respective key scenes.

There is only so much that one can cram into a review and it isn't possible to mention everybody by name but, this is undoubtedly a team effort including a supremely talented ensemble cast, a dedicated and hard working creative team and a band that almost lift the stage up with the cast on it.

You only have four performances left before the chance to see this incredible show and some of the best local youth talent disappears forever as the run finishes on Saturday 2nd November 2019, so grab a ticket (there aren't many left) and find out 'what the buzz' really is all about !

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