NODA Review - Centre Stage Proms
Society: Centre Stage
Production: “Centre Stage Proms”
Date: 2nd August 2019
Venue: Bridewell Theatre
Report by: Simon Jones & Carly Hilts
It’s not often that from the first moment you walk into a theatre that you know something special is about to happen. Usually there is a curtain, blackout, or some small staged distraction to provide you with some entertainment before the main show starts. However, in this instance it was different. We were dropped right into it: the sight of a 26-piece orchestra setting up in their various sections whilst the lighting held a subdued blue wash over the proceedings, the smoke swirled around the assembling players, and the pianist warmed up rattling through the more finger-crackingly dextrous passages of “Rhapsody in Blue”. This wasn’t going to be your usual show. All things pointed to this being an evening that was out of the ordinary and awesome. All the signs were there, and we were not disappointed.
This was a show…no, a spectacle, which didn’t follow the usual show format. Instead we were treated to a fast-paced series of orchestral pieces, and ensemble and solo numbers which took us through all facets of Musical Theatre – linked together nicely by conductor and emcee Hayden Taylor.
A truly fantastic night of which your entire company should be very proud and which, on the whole, would be worthy of any professional stage.
Owing to the nature of the show and subsequently, these reports, it wouldn’t be practical to list everyone and their individual contribution to this barnstormer of a production – instead, I will work through in order either the numbers that really stood out and shone (though they all did!), or the individual cast member that really contributed to making them so. But I would say that if you are not individually mentioned, this is no slight or “bad press” for you as you all contributed massively to the success of this piece that was so finely balanced that everyone played their part and added that little extra bit of “showbiz” that brought it so wonderfully to life.
The orchestra kicked off the evening with a splendid opener drawn from a variety of shows and this really set the tone and standard for what we were to expect with excellent chorus work and support and some stand-out vocal contributions from Joe McWilliam and Yvette Shiel throughout. There is something almost magical about a full ensemble and orchestra carving their way through “You cant stop the beat” which, if you don’t end up almost out of your seat, tapping your feet or clapping then you must be close to death.
“Chess Game #1” – This was delicately played by the orchestra with absolutely beautiful flute work. Combined with the exquisite dancing and movement which followed every musical nuance from Sara Ramirez it was an atmospheric and emotional start to our show. It was so well matched and balanced that you didn’t have the orchestra supporting the movement, or the dancer subservient to the music – instead it was a lovely symbiotic piece where you all performed as one.
“Phantom Sequence” – Excellent lighting and atmosphere here set us off on our journey into the dark underworld of Charlie Houseago’s Phantom who was suitably menacing and controlling. A perfect foil was provided by Kaylen Rose’s Christine whose innocence and confusion heightened the frisson and imbalance of love, power and control between these two. Both were vocally impressive and totally emotionally invested in the parts, however there were some slight issues with Kaylen’s intonation in the harmony passages which detracted slightly, but overall an enjoyable scene.
“I’d Give my Life for You” – delivered and performed flawlessly by Sophie Shrimpton-Garcia. There was such emotional power in the delivery here that it felt the audience were on a knife edge throughout - a great piece well sung and acted with exactly the right level of raw emotion.
“Lion King Medley” – aside from the amazing coordinated chorus movement and not enviable task of singing reams of Swahili in this orchestral soundscape, we must mention your two percussionists, Tom Daly & Liam McCloud who drove this piece from the inside through all the time & rhythmic changes and kept the energy and drive dialled all the way to eleven.
If there is someone who can perform “Morning Person” better than Gemma Louise Zirfas then I’d be very happy to see it! She had such a command over the comedy of the piece and her super expressive-face (now, don’t take this the wrong way) lends itself to the comedic delivery of this hilarious piece – ably aided by the “birds” of Sara Ramirez and Peter Stonnell it gave us some excellent comic relief.
As if to bring us all crashing back to reality we had another emotional onslaught from Miss Saigon in the shape of “You Will Not Touch Him” which again, through beautifully sung and acted performances from Inti Conde and Sophie Shrimpton-Garcia, lurched the audience back into the world of raw emotion. Both of them showed excellent vocal technique and support throughout this song.
“Anthem Quartet” was another real treat – arranged by AMD Dominic Bull, this was a proper spine-tingling moment. In its original format it’s a great song, but split up between the four outstanding vocal performances of Charlie, Inti, Joe and Tim Pocock it was utterly sublime. The blending of the 4 distinct vocal styles worked amazingly well with the harmonies between Charlie and Inti being particularly precise and well matched.
Next we had a classic war of the sexes between “Officer Krupke” and “Wash that Man Right Outta my Hair”. In “Officer Krupke” we had a super high octane performance from everyone in the piece – if they weren’t climbing over or jostling each other, they were playing up to the respective “respected” professions, superbly manifested by Will Hunkin, Peter Stonnell, Francois Vanhoutte and Basil Zafiropolos and royally lampooned throughout! This was a well -coordinated, well sung and brilliantly delivered ensemble piece. I would have happily sat through at least 2 encores of this!
“I’m Gonna Wash” was a similarly wonderfully put together ensemble work – the clusters of girls, each with their own cliquey and self-assured behaviours, were very amusing. Again, Gemma delivered in spades here with splendid support from Grace Jenkins and Amber Mears-Brown and the rest of the chorus. Special mention has to go to Siobahn McConnon for her asides and ruthless and merciless haranguing of a man in the audience which added an extra lovely level to this excellent number.
The final two numbers of this roller coaster first half ramped up that already high energy to give us “The Club” and “Blackout” from “In The Heights” – this was a true stage spectacle with every conceivable space turned over to the club and “no space left un-danced”. We loved this entirely – with splendid vocal work to get around master Lin Manuel’s verbal outpourings we saw accomplished and impressive performances from Joe, Hannah Steiner, Inti, and Charlie Smith. The overall feel of the piece was so immersive – again it was hard not to just get up and join in, especially when the trumpet and trombone were laying into the Latin vibe. Following on from this, “Blackout” gave us a different tilt and contrast – with great work by Tom and Alexis Rose which brought us to the end of a whirlwind first half.
The “Overture/Nightmare” gave us another full company spectacle to enjoy – brilliantly staged with a looming, grasping and fractious atmospheric chorus which added a nice touch to the staging. Another wonderful performance from Inti, and excellent work from Gemma (showing she can handle tragedy as well as she can handle comedy) and Ben Roberts.
Another massively encore-worthy orchestral sequence followed in the form of “Chicago”, which was danced splendidly by Yvette and Sara, who really captured the essence of the music and the seedy, sexual, barely concealed undertones of the piece. The orchestra then took the reins for a breakneck jaunt through the rest of the piece – setting off at such a pace that it was impossible not to be carried along with them…Absolutely brilliant throughout – tight, precise and most importantly, HOT!...
“The Stampede” again gave the chorus some excellent coordinated movement work to do and the orchestra again came out of the stalls in full power for this. Very evocative and atmospheric.
We have seen Will Hunkin in a number of shows over the last year or so and he has always been a standout performer – and none moreso than here with his bittersweet rendition of “Out There” – Superbly delivered with excellent vocal tone and characterisation brilliantly encapsulating the naivety of Quasimodo.
Siobahn McConnon delivered a show-stopping performance of “Just Around the Corner” with delicious lashings of audience interaction, facial expressions and movement. It felt such a secure and solid performance and she held the audience in the palm of her hand and toyed with them mischievously with excellent comic timing. Vocally accomplished with excellent diction and comedy…Most definitely a lesson in “how to do it”.
“No One Mourns the Wicked” was incredibly well performed pulling on some of the previous soloists to great effect – brilliant ensemble work from Charlie Smith, Grace, Holly Walker and Tim all lead by the excellent Sophie as Glinda. Another tour-de-force from the chorus who supported well and never intrusively.
Alexis Rose’s time to shine came with “As if We Never Said Goodbye” which she sang brilliantly with a huge emotional range and dramatic feeling. It was an excellent “spotlight” moment which was supported through all its range by the orchestra who built their sound beautifully and swelled dramatically without swamping Alexis and allowing her to ride over the top.
“The Jellicle Ball” was a lovely dance number from Peter, Yvette, Stefania Sguera and Sara which combined beautiful graceful movement with dramatic poise which was perfectly aligned with the orchestra and a delight to watch. Excellent use of the space to develop the ideas and musical themes.
Another absolute highlight of the show came next with “Is You Is, Or Is you Aint my Baby” arranged by Caitlyn Jeffery. The six-part female ensembleblew us away in terms of the delivery but also in the balance between parts, vocal textures, and sheer steaming sultriness – Congratulations to Grace, Holly, Alexis, Heather, Gemma and Lizzie Lister for your accomplishment here.
Charlie Smith’s “If I Can’t Love Her” was vocally perfect – Strong in all areas of his range and dramatically delivered with exactly the right amount of emphasis throughout. A joy to watch and would have been worthy of an encore indeed.
Keeping the drama and emotional tension up, we were treated next to “A Boy Like That” which aside from being one of my favourite numbers from West Side Story was incredibly well performed by Yvette and Sophie. It was lovely to see the contract between Sophie’s performance here and the earlier Miss Saigon numbers – showing her range of vocal characterisation and persona. Yvette’s vocals were teeming with raw and fraught emotion which contrasted so well with the light, pure innocence that Sophie gave us. Excellent vocal timing and blending, especially at the end.
And so, to the final piece – and what better way to end a Proms of Musicals than with “One Day More”. Lovely characterisations through this from Siobhan and Basil, Charlie H and Charlie S and Inti (plus his brilliantly delivered tenor line). When you were all singing together with the chorus, it was like being hit with a solid wall of sound – full of different facets, characters and emotions but arriving at the audience as one and rounding off the evening perfectly.
The orchestra, must get a special mention here. We all know these musical songs from either seeing them on stage, or repeatedly listening to them on well played CDs or downloaded onto whatever player you have – But in the world of amateur theatre and musicals it’s so so rare to put on a show and have anything even approaching the orchestral support that is afforded on the professional recordings. This is really what set this evening apart from the rest. You were perfectly in-tune with the singers and what was required of you at all times. Never once becoming overpowering or drowning the singers, but instead keeping that solid and reliable pulse going to support and carry them through. A massive round of applause for you all!
This show was the brainchild of Hayden Taylor and he had clearly spent a lot of time and effort getting it right, polished and ready for an audience. The orchestra were well drilled and professional, as mentioned above, and the selection and order of the numbers were well thought-out. His linking monologues were very insightful and showed us a bit of the “man behind the baton” which was nice as this brought us all a little closer together.
Samantha Herriot’s choreography was brilliant throughout and she really tailored the movement and dancing to the cast that she had, not to mention the music. The Intividual or small ensemble dance numbers were beautifully constructed and showed a great understanding of not only her own discipline, but a deeper appreciation and understanding of the music. We particularly like the balcony chorus movements which featured through the show as this gave us a complimentary (and not distracting) barometer to the action either on the stage or in the music – like a more animated Greek chorus. You really created something wonderful in this show.
With a cast of this scale and a theatre of this layout, with the split level stage and balcony PLUS the huge orchestra you really have to be on top of the sound. It seems that you have hired in a professional company to deal with the sound and I applaud you massively for this. This was definitely the best solution to ensure that your cast, chorus and orchestra were fully heard and balanced wherever they were in the theatre.
Nathan Long’s lighting was well executed and entirely complimentary to all the different and varied musical scenes. I always find that if you don’t notice the lighting overtly and everything flows smoothly, then the lighting team has done their job well. I’m pleased to say that this is 100% the case here.
Yvette Shiel’s co-ordination of the company dress came across very well – although there was no “costume” or colour scheme per se, it all fitted together very well with nobody standing out, or drawing the eye as “out of place”.
This was a good robust and functional programme printed on quality paper stock which was well designed and laid out by Emma Newman. It’s nice, for a show like this, to hear from the chair and creative team about their thoughts and drivers for putting on a show of this nature. It was also great to see that the orchestra were given their own biographies too.
Front of house
As ever, the welcome afforded us by Centre Stage was warm and friendly. Your front of house process is efficient and quick which is always good to see and experience...Always nice to have a brief catch-up with Cortina on the door too!
Simon Jones & Carly Hilts
Regional Representatives NODA London District 1