Saturday, 26 January 2019

REVIEW: Broadway Nights - The Forum Theatre, Romiley.


A capsule, showcase musical extravaganza of famous Broadway musicals lay in wait for us on a cold, January evening at Romiley Forum, home of NK Theatre Arts. The production team of John Dean, Hannah Gorst and Ben Taylor had laid on a sumptuous feast of musical theatre to suit all tastes and age ranges. From the very modern ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ through to ‘West Side Story’ and back again. Backing tracks of a high calibre were used throughout and served the well drilled cast to good effect.

At the beginning of each showcase segment came a narration to give the plot synopsis for each show to orientate the audience’s understanding and plot setting. Songs out of context often don’t work without some dialogue. I thought the scattering of dialogue, linking the songs, worked well overall and gave the talented cast opportunity to show character acting for which this group are renowned.

Costuming was simple and representative of the time, place and themes of the shows and simply staged on a large, open stage with back-lit cloths. The audience were seated, cabaret style, but on oblong tables which did obstruct the whole stage view but didn’t detract, overall.

The first act gave us 'Billy Elliot' with an enthusiastic ensemble number depicting the oppressive time and place of the plot. Not a lot of the Billy, dancing, was shown but a couple of numbers from the show gave us a taste of this show’s overall feel. Billy, performed by Sam Jeffries is a real star in waiting, enigmatic to watch and a lovely voice. His mum, Dawn Wrigley showed her excellent acting. The ensemble used chairs in a balletic sequence which was entrancing as they moved in slow motion. This segment segued into 'Mamma Mia', a jukebox musical of stage and screen. The highly watchable Lauren Sankson delivered super pop vocals to suit this show and there was some excellent interplay between the girls and the boys in 'Voulez Vous'. I did feel it didn’t have as much narrative clarity as the first segment but if you are familiar with the whole show you will know that that is also clunky.

Act one ended with the ever popular ‘Les Miserables’ and showed some fabulous choral singing and individual soloists. Congratulations! It was a pleasure to watch and listen to Emily Roberts as she breathed life into the timeless ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ and Chris Saxon’s ‘Bring Him Home’ was stirring and controlled. The Thernadiers’  'Master Of The House’ again was a comedic turn with excellent interpretation by Dominic Stannage and Jennie Wallis Getcheffsky. ‘One Day More’ blew us out of our seats. It was stunning.

Act two opened with the ensemble milling through the auditorium to begin ‘Seasons Of Love‘ from Rent and moving onto the main stage to show some capable and controlled Blues solos from a couple of members of the cast. Even if you don’t know this song, you cannot escape it’s infectious chorus and harmonies, well sung by the whole cast.

Our next show was the timeless classic ‘West Side Story’. A cool, dance opening from The Jets then Heather Schofield and the Puerto Rican girls gave ‘America’ a run for its money with their stylish dancing. John Dean showed his lovely vocal tone in ‘Maria’ before the excellent ‘Gee Officer Krupke’ from the boys. This was a highlight of the night and we completely forgave the slightly out of sync click track timing which you recovered in a heartbeat. Well done. This number was excellent.

The audience went wild for Frankie Valli and the 3 (!) Seasons in the ‘Jersey Boys' segment. John Dean, again, with the brilliant Ben Taylor and Callum Stretton and Jake Ridgeway really had the room rocking, clapping, singing and swaying as they belted out the classic songs and moves from this legendary group of yesteryear. Ending with a rousing ‘Oh What A Night!’ the falsetto vocals of Callum Stretton were a knockout. Great work boys. You really captured the essence of that group and your costumes were fabulous.

Our final showcase treat was ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ telling the fictional, US set, story of a high school student with social anxiety who fabricates a relationship with a deceased student and pretends to his family that they were good friends. Accidentally, he finds himself the social media face of loneliness and friendship thus raising social awareness of the theme of teen suicide. I do not know this show at all and it certainly gave us a taste for a treat of a show. Hannah Gorst and Dawn Wrigley gave powerhouse vocals as the mothers and the Jersey Boys reappeared as the lead males in this section, showing their competency in acting and singing roles. Great vocals from all principals throughout.

Thank you for a highly entertaining and varied evening of musical theatre which was a sumptuous feast to suit all tastes. This group of amateur performers showcased a wealth of talent and the ability to engage with a wide audience. The production team creatively interpreted some classics and newer shows and translated them into sections of drama and music which would leave most people able to understand the basic premise of the show.

Reviewers - Kathryn Gorton and Beryl Reece Brennan
on - 25/1/19

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