Thursday, 19 March 2020

Rent (Unity Productions)

In the midst of a Global Pandemic and with virtually everything musical or theatrical cancelled or deferred for a considerable period, it came as a bright light in the dark to find that Unity Productions were able to 'Live Stream' a performance of their current production, Jonathan Larson's 'Rent', on YouTube.

Whilst I am sure the experience in the room would have been much more atmospheric and I feel for a stunningly talented cast who must be beyond disappointed that they are unable to perform to a full house, this remote video view still showcased how Unity are and will continue to be a 'tour de force' in the theatrical performance arena.

David Gregory's direction is intense and yet delivers a rich storytelling experience, complemented by some invigorating and visually bewitching choreography from Anna Forster and a powerful interpretation of Larson's score from Adam Joy and his musicians this is a performance worthy of any stage in the world.

Rarely is casting quite as perfect as here, opening with Dan Wright's potent portrayal of narrator and struggling filmmaker Mark and Cy Wooldridge's emotional and consuming enactment of once successful yet now struggling musician Roger, one is never quite sure on which basis they have a friendship, certainly it reaches many highs and lows throughout the story and there must be something deep rooted in their connection.

George Stuart's quietly substantial and durable performance as anarchist professor Collins is a delight to watch, his rendition of 'I'll Cover You' at Angel's funeral is one of the musical highlights of the production and talking of street percussionist and drag queen Angel, a pivotal role if ever there was one and played with exuberance, charm and supreme confidence by Adam Partridge.

Virtually all of the characters in Rent are going through some form of emotional turmoil, probably the deepest in this state is club dancer Mimi and Laura Stanford manages to deliver an array of conflicting sentiments in the role in addition to another of the musical highlights as she duets with Cy Wooldridge for 'Light My Candle'.

Rhian Heeley delivers a powerful performance as Ivy League educated lawyer Joanne, now finding herself in a loving yet somewhat volcanic relationship with stage performer Maureen, a delectably feisty presence from Melanie Glazzard, together they produce my penultimate musical highlight with another duet 'Take Me or Leave Me'.

Previously on the inside of these friendships but, now on the outside having married into money is Benny played with authority by Justin Randle, probably the most conflicted character and therefore needs a great piece of acting which it certainly gets.

This is a small and tightly knit cast providing an exceptional performance and my final musical highlight is the iconic 'Seasons of Love' containing a stunning solo from Attiye Partridge but, it seems unfair not to mention the supporting cast in full who are Chloe Turner, Attiye Partridge, Elise Evans, Alex Thompson, Gemma Birch, David Page, Anna Forster, David Gregory, Vic Addis, Gavin Whichello, Kitty Roberts and Lily Moore.

Normally I would provide a link to book tickets for remaining performances but, sadly this 'Live Stream' was a one-off and we can only wait to see what Unity Productions will offer when performance venues open again, personally I am hoping for a bit of Sondheim as I can see them doing amazing job with something like Company or Into the Woods !

Friday, 13 March 2020

Annie (Knowle Musical Society)

Always a great story is that of 'Little Orphan Annie' and very popular on the amateur musical circuit, the latest incarnation of which is from Knowle Musical Society running at the Core Theatre in Solihull and if you're looking for a night of great entertainment that covers the whole gamut of emotions, this is the show for you. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll probably be humming along with a number of recognisable tunes but, most of all you'll leave with a smile on your face.

Apologies to all the adults in the production but, you chose to work with children and animals so you must have known what that would mean! Absolute show stealer of course is Molly the hound in the role of Sandy, very comfortable on stage and even managed to make an appearance during one of the set changes when I am sure she was supposed to be supervised.

At this performance the role of Annie was taken by Evie-May Humphries, a confident and incredibly well projected performance supported by the orphans of Team Mop, Emily Simpson (Pepper), Daisy Green (Duffy), Chloe Richards (Molly), Hermione Nash (Tesse), Masey Potter (July), Neve King (Kate), Abbie Sayer (Sienna), Brooke Murphy (Lola) and Tianna Moyens (Nancy) selected I suspect to deliberately make the life of Miss Hannigan a misery which they do with consummate ease.

Talking of Miss Hannigan, Helen Gibbs brings some perfect characterisation to the role, frustration, some anger and perhaps just a little too much of the 'falling down water'. One might understand why she has come to the state she has when one meets her brother, the incredibly shady 'Rooster' Hannigan, played with untrustworthy style and a powerful vocal by Richard Perks and accompanied by the flighty Lily St Regis (named after the hotel it would appear, although we aren't sure which floor), played with a great deal of charm by Dani Branson.

Annie has to have a happy ending and we know that will be with tycoon Oliver 'Daddy' Warbucks, an animated and endearing performance from Laurence Marshall, alongside his secretary Grace Farrell a stunning portrayal both visually and vocally by Louise Keeling.

This is of course a team performance with an eager ensemble cast and some outstanding cameo roles to mention, Simon Chinnery's gloriously vocalised and smiling Burt Healy, Vince Holly's perfect butler Drake, David Pratt as a spirited Harold Ickes and of course the lovely Boylan Sisters (Jill Lackey, Jan Seabridge and Sue Johnson).

Why not lose yourself for a night in a classic story with some well-known tunes but, you only have until Saturday 14th March 2020 to grab that chance and a ticket.

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Thursday, 12 March 2020

Our House (Kidderminster Operatic & Dramatic Society)

There's a small slice of Camden Town suddenly appeared in the West Midlands in the form of the Our House Musical (based on the songs of Madness) currently resident at The Rose Theatre in Kidderminster and performed with gusto by Kidderminster Operatic & Dramatic Society.

It's difficult not to be overwhelmed by the energy that the cast put into telling the conflicting story of Joe Casey and his response to that simple equation of making the wrong or right decision. Some creative direction from Hollie Christian-Brookes and energetic choreography from Hannah Kearns make this a supremely entertaining production to experience, add Chris Passey's authentic interpretation of the classic Madness tunes and you really have a feast of entertainment.

Jack Simpson delivers a splendid and soulful portrayal of Joe Casey, both good and bad incarnations, seamlessly slipping from one character to another with the assistance of the occasional cast double and a personal dresser in the form of Scott Denton who must have been kept unstintingly busy throughout the performance.

Love interest Sarah, played stylishly by Lucy Passey is the steadying influence that eventually brings the good side of Joe to the surface despite her obvious attraction to his darker elements, her rendition of NW5 was simply sublime.

Picking up the award for entertainment value must be Josh Dibble (Emmo) and Elliot Bowden (Lewis) best friends of Joe and probably as laddish and comic as it is possible to be, always good for a laugh and torn between the different personas of Joe.

Much drier comic value comes from Sarah's best friends Billie and Angie, played with sharp wit by Claire Rutland and Molly Parmenter respectively, the slightly caustic interaction between these characters and Emmo/Lewis is probably some of the funniest I have witnessed.

Stalwart performances from Jill Parmenter as Joe's resilient and loving mother Kath Casey and Julian Richards as Joe's deceased father, watching over him and feeling the result of every decision he makes but, without being able to intervene.

Of course there always has to be a 'bad guy' character that is designed to lead astray and that comes in the form of Reecey, played by Tom Paine with just enough attitude and bravado. It's also fair to say the Darren Richards as construction tycoon Mr Pressman is almost equally shady, particularly when trying to evict Kath.

Definitely a totally enjoyable night of entertainment supported by an enthusiastic ensemble cast, frankly how can you go wrong with that and a score of Madness Hits, so head off 'on the wings of a dove' and get your tickets while you can before the run finishes on Saturday 14th March 2020.

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Friday, 28 February 2020

Oklahoma (SOSage Factory)

Probably the most classic of musicals, Oklahoma by Rodgers & Hammerstein just never stops packing the audiences in, there is no doubt that it has stood the test of time and continues to do so with this performance by SOSage Factory (a nice play on words) the youth arm of Solihull Operatic Society and currently running at The Core Theatre in Solihull.

From the opening line of 'There's a bright golden haze on the meadow (pronounced with a southern drawl as 'meddar')' lustily projected from off-stage by Charlie Loughran as Curly, I know I'm in for a treat. Charlie plays the part with ease, bursting into song at will whenever required, had he been around in 1955 when they were casting the movie, Gordon MacRae may never have been given the part. Anna Sutton as Laurey matches her love interest for voice and stage presence, particularly accentuating the mischievous yet vulnerable aspects of the character delightfully.

Dan Bradbury is a vociferous and entertaining Will Parker continuing the theme of strong voices alongside probably the voice of the night from Kathryn Ritchie as a richly flirtatious Ado Annie the girl who can't say no but, isn't sure if she wants to give 'all er nothin' for a permanent and lasting relationship.

Ross Evans creates an intense and brooding character as Jud Fry, it is difficult not to feel that he is just misunderstood and the characterisation is strong enough to elicit fear and pity equally from the other characters and the audience.

James Newman gives a strongly comic performance as pedlar Ali Hakim, his eye for the ladies getting him into constant trouble and needing his 'gift of the gab' to extract himself although ending-up hitched to the raucous laugh of Gertie Cummings, played with style and flair by Erin Craddock.

Commanding the stage as the authority figures are Eliza Clark as an animated Aunt Eller and Ruari Silcock as a domineering Andrew Carnes, let nobody cross either as they are both handy with a gun.

Credit to Producer, Emma Talibudeen for delivering an authentic and engaging performance from the actors already mentioned and an extensive ensemble cast of talented youngsters. Stunning choreography from Sarah Golby throughout the performance only adds even more to the watchability, not least of all the Dream Sequence and the 'Many a New Day' number, complemented by Mel O'Donnell's exemplary musical direction.

Only a small number of performances left to catch this one and it would be a scandal and an outrage if you missed it !

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Thursday, 23 January 2020

Beauty and the Beast (Stourbridge Pantomime Company)

If you’re in the West Midlands and looking for some outright pantomime fun, you won’t be able to do much better than Stourbridge Pantomime Company, currently performing at Stourbridge Town Hall with their production of something a little less traditional but, equally if not more entertaining, that being Beauty and the Beast. If you’re expecting an array of eating, drinking and cooking utensils parading around to the sounds of ‘Be Our Guest’, you’ll be disappointed but, you will get something much more flamboyant and engaging.

Richly colourful costumes, some stunning dance numbers choreographed by Amy Williams, singalong songs (including a terrific Gloria Estefan medley) from George Stuart and his musicians, an authentic set adorning scene after scene from Margaret Taylor and her stage management team all expertly moulded into an unforgettable night of entertainment by Steve Humpherson, simply something you don’t want to miss.

In the title roles Sophie Ruddick has almost dropped straight from the Disney Movie and totally charms as Belle with Jonathan Hunt managing to walk the tightrope of a dual role as Prince Danton/ The Beast and doing so with great effect, the two performing effortlessly together to deliver emotion in every way to the audience.

Delivering that continual battle between good and evil are Sami Brasenell's, Good Fairy Flora with a delectable Welsh accent and an engaging smile, opposed by Julia Tromans as the rather nasty Belladonna (a class piece of baddie acting and annoying the audience), I had better not call her a Bad Fairy, she'd probably take exception and cast a spell on me ! I should at this point also mention Ben Simpson as Monsieur Le Fou, one word, scary, is all it needs but, a great piece of characterisation.

David Shaw's quintessential dame, Madam Fifi explodes on to the stage in a multitude of costumes and a volley of jokes and double entendre, finding no problem in dishing-out various forms of physical admonishment to son Jacques, played with energy and a likeable twinkle in her eye by Hattie Rudge.

Belle's sisters (of the ugly variety, although I feel more ugliness of soul than face) are played with broad Black Country twang and considerable comedy value by Dawn Shillingford (Whitney) and Emily Jeavons (Britney). Couldn't help at one point, feeling sorry for them in their vain attempt to endear themselves to village hunk Gustave, played with considerable 'joie de vivre' by Ricky Hammond but, my feelings soon changed as they ran riot over their poor unsuspecting father Alphonse, played in true 'Baron Hardup Style' by Peter Goldsmith.

Running the local Beauty Parlour are a quick-witted pair in the form of Marcel (Adam Chester) and Monique (Sammy Tromans), full to the brim with one-liners and panto sarcasm, eliciting some of the largest and longest laughs from the audience (although I would steer clear of their establishment if I were you, anywhere that Whitney and Britney frequent probably isn't achieving its objective !).

This is Panto at its best and supplemented by an ensemble cast that bring everything to life, put simply you shouldn't miss this and it runs until 25th January 2020.

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Thursday, 12 December 2019

Chicago (WBOS Musical Theatre )

I suspect that the enigma that is Bob Fosse spends a lot of time looking down from above on performances of productions with which he will be eternally linked, however he won't always be able to think to himself, 'that's exactly how I wanted it to be'. Ben Cole as Director/Choreographer, Ian Room as Musical Director and James Maddison as Assistant Musical Director will I am sure have made him (and John Kander/Fred Ebb) think exactly that as right from Adam Partridge's opening speech quoting murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treacherythe audience is entertained and enlightened with the seamier side of life in 1920's Chicago.

This production is packed full of intense and incredible performances from both principals and ensemble cast, Claire Flavell's powerhouse Velma Kelly never reduces in intensity from the classic 'And All That Jazz' right through to my own personal favourite number 'Nowadays' and is matched every step of the way by Jessamine Cox's commanding Roxie Hart.

It appears that everybody 'wants' Billy, not everybody however will get John Wetherall's lucid and engaging performance of lawyer Billy Flynn, those who see this production and do should count themselves lucky. As they should to see Tim Jones's touching portrayal of the downtrodden, overlooked yet totally impressive performance as Amos Hart, his delivery of 'Mr Cellophane' is absolutely spot on in every way.

Sarah Moors delivers an authoritative and dominating performance as Matron 'Mama' Morton whilst retaining some of those 'Mother Hen' traits and probably the performance of the night comes from Andy Foggin as newspaper reporter Mary Sunshine with both impressive voice and characterisation.

There are some outstanding cameo character pieces, not least of all Leann Barnett's vociferous Go-To-Hell Kitty and Beth Logan's pleading Hunyak, I believe she is not guilty, sadly the judge on this occasion didn't. Joining Velma and Hunyak in the quintessential 'Cell Block Tango', Liz (Helen Figures), Annie (Amy Evans), June (Sarah Pickett) and Mona (Rose Broadfield) create a dance story that proves very few women in 1920's Chicago were to be trusted and that any form of dispatch gun, knife or poison are an opportunity, I'll leave it to you to decide if their partners 'had it coming' or not.

If you're looking for a night of outstanding musical theatre in this pre-Christmas period, you should seriously get yourself over to the Dormston Mill Theatre in Sedgley for WBOS Musical Theatre’s Chicago, you’ve only got two performances before it’ll be too late.

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Friday, 6 December 2019

Cinderella (Kinver Light Operatic Society)

Panto has hit Kinver with traditional exuberance as a gloriously entertaining team take the audience to Hardup Hall in the village of Stoney Broke for a night of song, dance and comedy shenanigans, created with some swagger by Sam Houlston (Director) and Nina Best (Musical Director).

Emma Davies is a delightfully innocent Cinderella around which the story revolves, protected by Ray Howell as her upright father Baron Hardup until he mistakenly gets hitched to money-pursuing Cathy Moreton, an entertainingly comic performance as the Baroness.

Sadly a consequence of this liaison are two further daughters, the grotesquely ugly yet stunningly hilarious Gertrude and Grizelda, barnstorming performances from Brian Ashmead-Siers and Claire Jackson who take advantage of Cinders and considerable vocal exchanges with an enthusiastic audience.

Trying desperately to pursue Cinders despite her distinct lack of reciprocal feelings, Ricky Dowell is a completely engaging Buttons building a touching rapport with the audience. Real love interest comes in the form of Alex Thompson’s well chiseled Prince Charming initially attracted to our heroine as he swaps roles with aide Dandini (the powerfully voiced Paul Costello) and finally enchanted by her at the ball in the guise of Princess Sunshine.

One cannot become a Princess without some magic, provided by a Fairy Godmother, played with glittery persona and intoxicating voice by Amy Danks. Comedy interludes are provided excellently by Deb Neale and Georgia Jackson as Bodgett and Leggett, played with local Black Country accents and traditional slapstick actions, including a very messy and exceedingly funny wallpaper and paste scene.

In a production with the dance team and ensemble full of beautiful ladies, it’s always great to see at least a couple of guys, sadly few in amateur productions but, Joe Hall and Jack Smith provide some balance to the crowd scenes and dance numbers, choreographed with style by Sophie Bishop.

Highlights are many but, my particular favourites include a rendition of The Four Seasons ‘Oh What a Night’ by the Prince, Dandini, Chambers (the Prince’s courtier, played commandingly by Dan Cowdrey), Joe and Jack, plus the Prince and Cinders delivering Extreme’s ‘More than Words’ to great audience acclaim.

It can be tempting for Panto to be moved away from the traditional in order to differentiate a production but, this one proves that is completely unnecessary in order to engage and entertain an audience. Running only until 7th December 2019, that only allows limited chances to shout ‘oh no it isn’t’ so grab a ticket while you can.

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