Friday, 30 November 2018

West Side Story (West Bromwich Operatic Society)

When you hear the trio Bernstein, Sondheim and Robbins by default one must think of the musical West Side Story, whether it's 1957 on Broadway or 1961 Movie. West Bromwich Operatic Society have brought an emphatic
 production of this universally well known and liked masterpiece to the stage in 2018 under the intelligent direction of Simon Pugh, some impressive choreography from Steve Elias (ably assisted by Lisa Metcalfe) and flamboyant (much in the vein of Leonard Bernstein himself) musical direction from Adam Joy.

Tom Fletcher is a confident and vocally polished Tony, playing opposite a winsome Jessica Williams as the somewhat overly protected Maria, they make beguiling star-crossed lovers in the true Romeo & Juliet style. Emma Wetherall is powerful both in the vocal sense and as the character of Anita, alongside a convincing and skilled performance from Matt Williams as Bernardo.

Must admit to a double-take at Daniel Smith as Riff, having seen him only recently as Tony in another production, portrayals of both characters nothing short of immaculate. Tilly Thompson is compelling as tomboy and wannabe gang member Anybodys with Elliott Mann persuasive as jilted boyfriend driven to kill, Chino.

Upholding the law during what is never ending friction between natives and immigrants is Greg Yates as the experienced and somewhat cynical Lieutenant Schrank with sidekick, streetwise cop Officer Krupke played by Steve Coussens.

Dave Hogan's enthusiastic yet somewhat overawed Gladhand add some comedy value to the otherwise confrontary dance at the gym 'Mambo' number.

At the real core of the story is the conflict between Jets and Sharks, portrayed sometimes in dialogue, sometimes in song but, more often than not in dance and it takes some capable dancers to bring the choreography to life. Such an abundance of that life comes from Jets, Alex Woolliscroft (Action), James Brett-Wyton (Arab), Harvey Zaffino (Baby John), Dave Sharratt (Big Deal), Frazer Shine (Diesel) and Nick Myatt (Snowboy) and Sharks, Neil Ward (Pepe), Adam Robinson (Indio) and Richard Howarth (Luis) interpreting the intricate moves with some class.

Whilst the boys are trying to defend their patch, the girls are dealing with the challenges of day-to-day life and the cultural divide that they really don’t want or understand. Whether it’s Chloe Lowe (Graziella), Rose Broadfield (Velma) and Nicola Howarth (Minnie) on the New York side or Molly Williams (Consuela), Jo Perry (Rosalia), Francesca Charlton (Francisca), Natalie Jackson (Teresita), Beth Logan (Estella) and Gemma Scattone (Margarita) on the Puerto Rican side, the internal turmoil and external fear is well represented.

It's hard to pick a specific highlight in what is a production full of them but, the 'Gee, Office Krupke' number is a delight as is the Dream Ballet Sequence which strangely didn't make it into the Movie.

You only have three more opportunities to catch this exquisite piece of musical theatre so stay 'cool' and 'pretty' while you head off to the box office for any remaining tickets.

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Saturday, 24 November 2018

White Christmas (Redditch Operatic Society)

There is something particularly enduring about Irving Berlin's White Christmas that it is difficult to put your finger on, whether it is all that snow, the captivating storyline or just the title track is probably down to the individual but, Redditch Operatic Society deliver a warm and entertaining version of what is very likely the ultimate classic.

Tony Jay's exemplary direction, Paula Lacey's definitive choreography and Joe George's interpretation of Berlin's score, serve to provide something that not only entertains but, also engages the audience in what is a maze of stories that could very easily lead to confusion but, in actual fact leads to empathy with the relationship challenges and miscommunications that many will no doubt have suffered themselves.

Whether it's the velvety tones of Paul Mitchell as Bob Wallace, the multi-talented Ryan Allen-Rose as Phil Davis, the delectable Laura Woodall as Judy Haynes or the enchanting Emma Samson as Betty Haynes this is a perfect combination of talents to lead a substantial cast of local talent.

Ann Mayor is a magnificent Martha Watson, attempting to control the life of ex General Henry Waverly, played with precision by Tim Eagleton whose granddaughter Susan, played at this performance with some style by Kirsty Vale is a budding star in her own right.

Roz Chalk and Kelly Mitchell provide a beautifully giddy partnership as Rita and Rhoda, John Reeves is a forthright Ralph Sheldrake, Samuel Smith executes a lively performance as Mike Nulty and there is some magical characterisation from Matt Bridgwater as the very funny Ezekiel Foster.

It’s not often that Dancers get much of a mention in reviews, unless of course the principal players are by nature dancers but, there is a team of Tappers and Hoofers including Hannah Finch, Sophie Hill, Carole Massey, Deborah Mitchell, Danielle Purkess, Cassie Rivett, Joy Sidaway and Lisa Smith who add that little bit extra to this production.

You only have a couple of performances left to experience that snow, snow, snow, so get some tickets while you still can.

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Friday, 23 November 2018

Hairspray (St Augustine’s Musical Theatre Company)

If you are looking for a 'feelgood show' it's difficult to look much further than Hairspray, now enshrined in the history of the musical be it stage or screen. St Augustine's MTC have managed to gather together a glittering array of voices and persona's for this production and Producer/Director, Veronica Walsh has weaved some magic on the stage at The Core Theatre, Solihull. You might have the voices and personalities but, can they move effortlessly around the set and continue to tell the story once the music starts, well they can and that must be down to some fluid choreography from Liane Hughes and the skilled musicology of Stephen Powell.

Leading the on stage performances is the distinctly powerful voice of Naomi O'Borne as Tracy Turnblad and the deceptively soulful tones of Bryony Harrison as Penny Pingleton partnered respectively by Jake Reeve-Yates as a slick and 'ever sparkling', Link Larkin and a dynamically engaging Louis Simmonds as Seaweed J. Stubbs, they make an appealing quartet that the audience are just willing to succeed in their quest to overcome prejudice

Delivering yet another marvellous performance is the almost omnipresent (at least when it comes to local musicals) Mike Bentley as Edna Turnblad with Mark Hughes as delightfully comic husband Wilbur, the '(You're) Timeless To Me' number is splendid. Rachel Pattinson is a divinely irritating Velma Von Tussle with some of that characteristic obviously in the genes of daughter Amber, played by the silkily voiced Emily White.

Completing the principal cast are James Gough as a dashing Corny Collins, Elisha Beech as an almost hypnotic Motormouth Maybelle, Aliyah Aserie (at this performance) as a feisty Little Inez and Liane Hughes as authentically domineering mother Prudy Pingleton.

Look out for a great little cameo from Matt Collins as Mr Pinky, some stunning vocals from Dynamites, Chimuka Mudenda, Irene Aserie and Roxanne Burke and a very funny portrayal of the Prison Matron in ‘The Big Dollhouse’ from Alison Tumber.

With such a mass of scenery to manipulate it seems unfair not to mention Stage Manager,  Tony Walsh and his team who manage to complete every move without problem and without causing any impairment to the pace of the production.

So, you know you can’t stop the beat and you’ll want to experience it and hear the bells, so get yourself some tickets while you can before the run finishes on Saturday 25th November 2018.

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Wednesday, 21 November 2018

The Wizard Of Oz (Trinity Musical Theatre Company)

L. Frank Baum's tale that proves there is 'no place like home' is a highly popular piece both on the professional and amateur stage and that is very likely because it has universal appeal, no matter what age or beliefs you might have. This particular production from Trinity MTC has its own appeal created by some captivating staging from Producer/Director, Andy Poulton and enhanced with some preeminent choreography from Lindsey Grant and some distinguished musicality from MD, Karl Babarczi.

Casting is imperative as this story can inspire or dishearten on the back of the principal performances, it is therefore a delight to experience Lydia Tidmarsh's authentic and supremely vocalised Dorothy Gale, Kian Terry's captivating Hunk/Scarecrow (not once did I see the character slip), Wayne Butler's forthright Hickory/Tinman and Chris Dowen's endearing and emotional Zeke/Cowardly Lion. Focused characterisation, believable interaction and some significant singing voices, carry the story along through each mini-adventure/trial.

Playing the villainous foil to this quartet is a single but, outstanding performance from Phaedra Brickwood as the Miss Gulch/Wicked Witch of the West, provoking some audience reaction and sporting some striking green make-up that I imagine might still be present in patches for some time after the performances have ended.

Steve Taylor confidently performs the role of the Wizard of Oz/Professor Marvel and there are some splendid supporting performances from Naomi-Leeanne Millard as Aunt Em/Emerald City Guard, Garry Homer as Uncle Henry and Jamie-Leigh Butler as Glinda the Good Witch of the North.

There is also an extensively sized ensemble cast all adding their own little piece to the ultimate stage jigsaw but, if I remember correctly it was W.C. Fields who said ‘Never work with children or animals !’ a statement that is only too obvious as Chihuahua Yorkshire Terrier Cross, Ivy shamelessly steals the show as Toto.

You certainly won’t want to miss this opportunity to ease on down that Yellow Brick Road even if you might have been there before as many have, so book your tickets before this journey ends on Saturday 24th November 2018.

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Thursday, 15 November 2018

White Christmas (Cradley Heath Amateur Operatic Society)

If the best things happen while your dancing, it's also true that some really great things happen in Stourbridge Town Hall on a Mid-November Evening, epitomised by this production of White Christmas, absolutely a classic and a heartwarmer to nicely build everybody up for the festive period.

Irving Berlin knew how to write a musical and this is one of his best, brought to life by an accomplished cast, you won't see Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Vera Ellen or Rosemary Clooney but, you will see a leading cast of equal calibre. Adam Compton is a sophisticated Bob Wallace, Richard Cope a dashing Phil Davis and real life sisters Liz Compton and Salli Gage are deliciously entrancing as Betty and Judy Haynes, all four with perfect vocals and dance moves might have you blinking and wondering if you've suddenly drifted back to 1954 when the movie was released.

Peter Goldsmith brings some military grit (with a soft centre) to the role of General Henry Waverly and a highlight performance comes from Kay Woodhouse as busybody housekeeper Martha Watson, a particularly touching and effortlessly performed number, 'Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun' takes on a greater meaning when you realise that Kay (Martha) is real life mother to both Betty (Liz) and Judy (Salli).

J. Paul Murdock brings some 'show biz' personality to the role of booking agent and ex army buddy Ralph Sheldrake, John Ward is an extravagantly camp Stage Manager, Mike Nulty with Francesca Handley and Jennie Wall as endearingly ditzy dancers Rhoda and Rita.

There are a couple of gem performances at either end of the age spectrum, the youthful Georgina-May Philpott as granddaughter to Waverly, Susan (or should I call her 'Broadway Sue') and stage stalwart Mike Bradley as handyman and he of few words, Ezekiel Foster.

Managed to grab a few words with Stage Director, Steve Humpherson in the interval and delve into the multiple family links within the cast, beyond those already mentioned it is also true that Adam (Bob) and Liz (Betty) are husband and wife in real life. It's credit to Steve's ability as a Director, Chris Handley's skills as a Musical Director and Emma Newton's flair as a Choreographer that this is the triumph of a production that it is and the audience were absolutely singing and happy as they left.

If you are dreaming of a White Christmas, this could make your dream come true but, it only runs until 17th November 2018 so get your hands on a ticket before it's too late.

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Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Jesus Christ Superstar (Evesham Operatic and Dramatic Society)

If it is possible to associate the phrase 'the iconic musical' with any one specific piece, Jesus Christ Superstar is probably that piece and a musical from the stable of Lloyd Webber & Rice probably deserves that association.

EODS have stuck pretty much to the standard approach to this story which has been interpreted in many ways over the years, probably a more modern costume approach than perhaps a true traditionalist might expect but, Director/Producer/Joint Choreographer Alison Roberts (in charge of her first musical) has delivered an effective and energetically dramatic production. Assisted ably with some choreographic input from from Gail Andrews, Kirsty McKay and Bethaney Rimmer along with Musical Direction of some exceptionally well know numbers by John Wood.

John Dix plays Jesus in an intense style, right up to an emotional crucifixion scene and does complete justice to the notoriously difficult 'Gethsemane' number. Dean Bayliss is a cool and brooding Judas with a dynamic voice and completing the leading trio is Rhianna Jacobs with a melodic and poignant performance as Mary Magdalene.

There are more than a fair share of supporting roles in Jesus Christ Superstar and this cast has character actors/singers to fill all of them. Jonathan Barclay is a slightly hitleresque Pontius Pilate, Greg Sheppard Pearson a popularly comic King Herod, Nigel Smith a growlingly dominant Caiaphas, Ken Knight a persistently questioning Annas, Nathan Warren an enthusiastically supportive Simon Zealotes and Simon Edwards a quietly concerned Peter, particularly about his denial of Jesus.

There is a dazzling array of disciples, priests, dancers and guards for the ensemble cast to get their 'performing' teeth into which makes for just the right level of spectacle and story to be portrayed to the audience. Some highlights include the ‘The Last Supper’ scene, ‘The Temple’ scene and the ‘Superstar’ number.

Only a few performances left before this show finishes on 17th November 2018, so grab some tickets and find out ‘what the buzz’ is really all about.

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Friday, 9 November 2018

The Full Monty (Bilston Operatic Society)

If you are expecting to see a group of Sheffield Steelworkers having been made redundant and taking their clothes off to the strains of Tom Jones's 'You Can Leave Your Hat On' accompanied by the sounds of a thousand screaming northern housewives, you might be slightly confused by the musical version which has been very much Americanised by David Yazbek and is now set in Buffalo, New York.

Having said this the story is the same and revolves around the core characters of Jerry Lukowski and Dave Bukatinksy, out of work and losing all confidence as their wives are now the 'bread winners' and looking for a way to regain some independence and take back some control of their lives. Dominic Smith is a convincingly outspoken yet secretly scared Jerry, playing opposite a dominant Amy Frost as frustrated ex-wife Pam who has moved on and is keen to see Jerry take control of his future and do the same.

Joseph James is the self-conscious Dave, wrongly concerned that his body shape no longer makes him attractive to any woman, least of all concerned wife Georgie played impeccably by Laura Canadine. Ex foreman Harold played with increasing nervous anticipation by Mike James has yet to tell his wife Vicky (a sublime piece of character acting from Joy Brown) about his job loss and continues to shower her with gifts when all she really wants is him.

The aptly named ‘Horse’ trying to regain his youth played with complete accuracy by Patison Harrigan, rather geeky ‘mother’s boy’ Malcolm attempting to prove that there is more to him than anybody might imagine played with consummate skill by Stephen Burton-Pye and the well endowed Ethan, continuously attempting an athletic feat that only leads to his constant injury, a piece of hugely entertaining stagecraft from Jake Winwood.

Pull theses six ‘misfits’ together, for one night only and you have ‘Hot Metal’ a group to rival The Chippendales in every way you didn’t think possible.

Let’s not forget two almost show stealing performances from Owen White as Jerry & Pam’s son Nathan and Sarah Houghton as brazen accompanist Jeanette, delivering some of the best ‘one liners’ you’ll ever hear on a stage.

Yet again I find an obscene level of talent in the production team with Laura Canadine not only on stage in a leading role but, also taking the reins as Producer/Director, ably assisted by Dan Tomkinson as Musical Director and Robin Morrison as Production/Stage Manager.

You’ll have to buy a ticket if you want to find out if the guys go all the way but, even if they didn’t (and I’m not revealing that secret), this is a night of entertainment not to miss and there are very few performances left as the run finishes on Saturday 10th November 2018.

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