Strictly Musicals - May 2019

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Review Author: Joe Clarke 

Centenary Theatre Company opened their 2019 season this week with the revue show ‘Strictly Musicals’ at the Brindley Theatre, Runcorn.  Let me point out that this show contained three directors, six choreographers, one musical director, a mixed cast of seventy-five adults and youth and a seventeen-piece orchestra!  I think that it’s fair to say that this show must have been a logistical nightmare in both rehearsals and during the technical rehearsals – but in no way did this show.  I think it’s also fair to say that, even though it was ‘only’ a revue show, it was up there with amongst the best shows I’ve ever seen as a NODA representative. 

The show’s clever direction enabled the audience to watch each specific section, knowing what each section contained due to the elaborate projections on the front cloth.  Each section had a specific title (Disney on Stage, West End Kids, Centenary Classics, From Screen to Stage, Musical Hidden Gems & Broadway Blockbusters).  The changes in between musical numbers in each section was cleverly choreographed to ensure the transition was seamless which kept the pace to the overall production.  The transitions were particularly very good during the West End Kids section.  At the end of each section, the audience were treated to some rehearsal footage and/or footage in memoriam of previous members of the company.  This clever idea enabled the audience to become emotionally invested in the company as a whole, thus I was left feeling as it I really wanted to become a member.  Throughout the whole show, each group of members on stage were made up of different age groups, which only reinforced the ‘community’ feel and promoted the ‘togetherness’ of the whole company.  It was a pleasure and a delight to see so many older members of the company, singing and dancing.  It was also pleasing that they were incorporated into some of the more energetic dance routines.  It’s not often I emote or ovate, but I was moved to tears three times in the first act alone.  I was also the first member of the audience that rose to applause at the end of the show – it was THAT good!

Simon Pickup was the musical director for this production.  Simon beautifully conducted his 17-piece orchestra that were placed on-stage.  It was SO pleasing to watch the orchestra throughout the show.  With over 40 orchestrations to play in this show, it’s fair to say that they worked hard!  Again, this paid off.  The orchestra were nothing short of amazing and it was an absolute pleasure to listen to each section!  Well done to all involved!

I normally have a problem with the quality and/or levels of sound at The Brindley Theatre – not this time!  The quality of the sound, the levels of the cast mics and the blend between cast, orchestra and audience, was excellent!

There is nothing more to say about the lighting other than it was simply stunning!  It was one of the highlights for me.  I noticed every nuance of the closing of the spotlights at the end of a number to the fast movers with coloured gels that reflected the lyrics of the song!  Breath-taking lighting design!!

Costumes were great also.  Each section had section-specific costumes, therefore, I’m sure that a lot of cast members were frantically changing costumes backstage in-between numbers.  Not one cast member was late onstage (although we did have one member make an entrance before their time)!

The set was very minimal with a few levels to ensure coverage of the stage.  The focus was on the production itself, so an elaborate set wasn’t needed.

The show opened to the fantastic orchestration with the entire cast emerging from the wings to stand and deliver a spine-tingling version of ‘Can You Feel The Love Tonight’.  Entangled with intricate harmonies and wonderful pas de deux’s, this whole section was a wonderful opening and really set the level for the evening.  Excellent choreography from Kirstin Dunn - I loved the contemporary feel.  Each singer(s) performed brilliantly and sang beautifully, a highlight being ‘Part of Your World’ by Olivia Pryer and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (Pat Jackson & Anita Warbuton).

The West End Kids section opened with a brilliant version of Matilda’s ‘Naughty’.  The high level of engagement, energy, commitment and professionalism from the youth was excellent!  The staging and harmonies during ‘When I grow Up/Naughty’ was very moving.  Highlights for me were Seussical’s ‘It’s Possible’ which was amazingly choreographed by Ceris Shadwell and the fantastic solo performance of Finlay Scott during Billy Elliott’s ‘Electricity’. 

Centenary Classics, choreographed by Helen Gorry, was a tribute to the late Malcolm Fellows (MD for Centenary) and a real tear jerker.  We got to hear the amazing cast vocals in ‘Spread The Love Around’ (Sister Act) and ‘We’ll Meet Tomorrow’ (Titanic).  There were also some brilliant solo performances from Lisa Connor (Everything’s Coming Up Roses) and Shelia Cummings (Something Wonderful).

The From Screen to Stage section was brilliantly choreographed by Jo Novoa Bradley and gave the cast a great ability to showcase their dance skills.  All That Jazz was brilliantly sung and danced and the links between the dances in this section were particularly seamless.  My highlight was the fabulous ‘Make Him Mine’ from The Witches of Eastwick – a brilliant but under-performed show.  This was sung by three vocal matriarchs in Sara Cragg, Beth Warbuton and Hannah Young – wonderful!

Musical Hidden Gems was a true delight!  I loved the simplicity of it.  It was under-choreographed/staged, at times, and it worked brilliantly.  All of the numbers were fantastic!  Aimee Clare and Marcus Cameron’s ‘Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In’ was simply outstanding – a vocal masterclass!  The harmonies from the whole cast sounded equally good and members of the audience gave this number a standing ovation! Patsy Robert’s version of ‘Broadway Baby’ (Follies) was a tour-de-force and The Ladies Who Lunch song was very funny and entertaining.  The simplicity of the staging in ‘Sunday’ (Sunday in the Park with George), along with the great wall of sound, was stunning!

The final section ‘Broadway Blockbusters’ had some brilliantly choreography.  Hannah Young’s ‘Defying Gravity’ was up there with Rachel Tucker’s version and I say that with a true heart! It thoroughly deserved yet another standing ovation from members of the audience.  There were various other highlights in this section.  The tap dancing in the 42nd Street number, the beautiful soprano singing from Robyn Murphy’s ‘Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again’ and the outstanding version of Sara Cragg’s ‘Memory’ will be forever etched into my mind!

I cannot stress just how good this revue show was!  God only knows I haven’t used nearly as many superlatives as I should have!  Every single thing about this was breath-taking.  It made me laugh, it made me cry.  It made me happy and it made me stand up a number of times.  It made me want to join in and be a part of this wonderful company.  It was a pleasure to watch young and old(er) come together as a community and share genuine love and support on-stage.

I sincerely thank Centenary Theatre Company for their kind hospitality and wish them all the very best for the rest of their season.

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