NODA Reviews

Date of Review: Wednesday 12th November 2014

Reviewer: Sue Hartwell NODA East District 7 Representative

Jesus Christ Superstar is an extremely demanding rock opera, using sung narrative from the Gospels within the lyrics written by Tim Rice to portray the last seven days of Christ’s life and crucifixion. The action centres around the personal struggle between Jesus and Judas and this was brought dramatically to life by the very powerful and emotional performances from both Richard Foster as Jesus, in his first production with BSMTC, and James Humphreys, a very accomplished and talented performer with the company over many years, as Judas. They were admirably supported by the other principals. Alex Outlaw gave an impassioned and convincing performance as Mary Magdalene, her solo “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” deeply moving. Mike Sykes brought an air of formidable authority to his role as Caiaphas, ably assisted by Jay Brown as The Priest and, for this production, Annas the High Priest was cast as a woman, which worked well with Cat Quigley in the role. Together, this trio plot with Judas to have Jesus arrested and killed. A good performance, too, from Graham Tarran, as Simon Zealotes, bringing a necessary hint of rebellion in his musical number “Poor Jerusalem”, with Jesus and the Ensemble.

The opening scene in Act II with Jesus and the Apostles at The Last Supper was extremely well-acted and effective, as was the musicality of the emotional number “Could We Start Again, Please?” with Mary and Peter, played here by Garry Bray, another new-comer to the company. There were other moments of pure dramatic pathos, notably in Gareth Cheesman’s role as Pilate, as he struggles with his personal dilemma over convicting Jesus. In vivid contrast, Seán Burke’s fun performance in his cameo role as Herod, with his well-executed comic song and dance routine with the maids, was a welcome touch of light relief from the mounting tension.

The open set was simply devised, with the use of bleachers and stark metal towers, and an effective lighting plot creating just the right atmosphere. Just occasionally, the follow-spot was not accurately placed, particularly noticeable during Mary’s solo, leaving her sometimes in shadow, though this did not detract significantly from the drama of the scene. The costume plot was an interesting mix of hippy, modern and more formal dress attire, which for the most part worked well and was visually pleasing. Musically, the cast accomplished a very high standard, coping extremely well with the complexities of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s dramatic score.

The small eight-piece orchestra, under the superb direction of Stephen Kenna, maintained a good balance throughout the performance, but the pit choir voices were sometimes difficult to hear, due, possibly, to a slight imbalance with the sound system.

The choreography that Jim Snell had devised was a little blocky and repetitive in some of the full company scenes due, perhaps, to the large cast having to cope with a reduced depth of stage. However, the final dramatic scenes of Jesus’s flogging and crucifixion were astonishingly powerful and brought to a close a very memorable and creditable performance, solid proof of a well-directed production, many months of rehearsal by the cast and the professionalism which BSMTC strive for in their productions.

This was a departure for the company from their more usual musical shows, but one which, in the words of their President Bernie Bush, “ticked all the right boxes” and has obviously proved to be popular with both the cast and their audiences, with “sold out” notices for almost all performances. Well done!

Date of Review: 12th November 2013

Reviewer: Sue Hartwell NODA East District 7

This classic Rogers & Hammerstein II musical is always a challenge to perform, both technically and dramatically, on the smaller stage, but with good direction and choreography from Jim Snell and well-chosen cast, this talented musical theatre company have, once again, pulled it off!

During the prologue, to the accompaniment of the “Carousel Waltz”, dynamically played by the small orchestra under the expert baton of Stephen Kenna, the opening scene was a delight of colour and movement, complimented by the pleasing backdrop of the amusement park set, complete with turning carousel. The dancing bear, acrobats and balloon sellers all added to the carnival atmosphere, which contrasted dramatically with the first stirrings of the attraction between Billy Bigelow and Julie Jordan, scornfully watched over by the carousel owner, Mrs. Mullin.

In his first leading role with the company, Tom Evans gave a fine performance as Billy Bigelow, full of character, his “Soliloquy” particularly moving; Alex Outlaw, with her soulful voice, was delightful and fully convincing in her role as Julie Jordan, their duet “If I Loved You” illustrating beautifully their hesitant but growing love for each other.

Tash Crossley, as the fun-loving and slightly skittish Carrie Pipperidge and James Humphreys, well-cast as the ambitious and slightly pompous Enoch Snow, were well-matched too and brought a light touch of humour to their characterisations, their duet “When The Children Are Asleep” particularly enjoyable.

Cath Dickerson’s talent and confidence as a performer was evident in her role as Nettie Fowler, with lovely contracts between her big chorus number “June Is Bustin Out All Over” and her emotive solo “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, which brought a tear to my eye during Billy’s tragic death scene.

The quality of the vocals from both principals and chorus were exceptional thoughout the performance, evidence of Stephen Kenna’s mastery as Musical Director and his quiet command over his musicians. Mike Sykes was great as the evil Jigger Craigin, as was Anne Senior in her role as feistly Mrs. Mullin. Bernie Bush entertained us in his cameo roles as Starkeeper and Dr. Seldon and young Millie Smith, as Billy and Julie’s troubled teenaged daughter Louise, gave an accomplished performance, particularly in the delightfully choreographed ballet scene with Sam Jackson.

Completing the strong cast were Bob Wells as mill-owner Mr. Boscombe, Gareth Cheesman as the policeman, Jay Brown as the Sea Captain, Robert Connor as Enoch Snow Jnr and Anthea Kenna and Carrie Everett as the two Heavenly Friends. For this performance, the Snow family’s children were played by Lily and Sam Moss, Abby Springham, Reuben Stevens and Liberty Wingham.

The chorus and dancers, too, made a significant contribution to the vitality, musicality and drama of the show, the finale was particularly poignant and emotionally moving. I would just question whether the tap dance routines and the burlesque sequence in the ballet were appropriate to the time and place in which the story is set, as they seemed slightly out of place to me.

But, overall, the entire cast, colourful costumes, visually pleasing set, good lighting and sound management and efficient backstage crew, all contributed to another high-standard and much enjoyed performance from Bishop’s Stortford Musical Theatre Company. Well done!

Reviewer: Sue Hartwell:

As we entered the auditorium, we were greeted with the iconic view of the young fiddle player sitting on the roof of “Tevye”s little wooden house on an open stage, depicting the small Jewish community in the village of Anatevka in 1905’s Russia. Thus was the scene set for this well-known, but rather sad, story of the village milkman and his struggle to maintain the traditions of his faith, race and culture against the growing threat from both local Tsarist forces and within his family, with his three eldest daughters’ rebellion against arranged marriage.

The demanding role of “Tevye” was well portrayed by Mike Sykes, who gave us a powerful but whimsical characterisation, with Anthea Kenna as his argumentative, but loyal, wife “Golde”. The three daughters and their suitors were all well matched. I particularly liked the duo of eldest daughter “Tzeitel” (Mary Gibson) and “Motel” the tailor (Luke Weller), who managed to add a little lightness in their attempts to flout with Jewish tradition and marry for love, despite the village matchmaker “Yentle”‘s efforts (played by Ann Senior).

The music for “Fiddler On The Roof” is mournful, but somehow enduring and was tunefully played by the small orchestra under the expert direction of Stephen Kenna. The majority of principals were confident in both dialogue and vocals but, sadly, this was not the case with some of the company numbers. The setting for “Sunrise, Sunset”, one of the most poignant numbers of this musical, was over-crowded and lacked inspiration. The men’s chorus, too, seemed a little “off-key” and hesitant in their delivery. In contrast, the “Sabbath Prayer” scene earlier in Act 1 had been quite evocative and “Tevye’s Dream” one of the few “light-hearted” moments.

Overall, the performance lacked vitality and pace. Although it is appreciated that most musical theatre groups have limited “get-in” and technical rehearsal time prior to opening night, this was sadly evident in the timing of the scene changes and had the effect of slowing down the whole performance.

The costume and properties plots were, in the main, authentic to the period, but the footwear for the male principals and chorus, apart from boots for “Tevye” and the Russian soldiers, was modern, moulded, trainer-like shoes and the “Rabbi” even wore brown ones!

By the end of the evening, I was left feeling slightly disappointed, as this talented musical theatre company usually deliver a very high quality performance. However, as this was only the second night, I’m confident that the standard improved as the week progressed.

Reviewer: Sue Hartwell

Since 1963, in 50 years of unbroken productions, this society has, in addition to the main production in November, performed a Spring show.  This has usually taken the form of a concert, with the audience seated at tables.  For this 50th Anniversary, the society’s committee felt that something a little different was required, with a more technically challenging auditorium production.  As a result, the cast were invited to suggest one or more favourite songs they had performed from previous productions and one of the society’s members, James Humphreys, took up the challenge of both writing a dialogue linking the songs together and directing the piece.  So, “Box Office Romance” was created – centred around the gossip and comings and goings of the management and staff of a packaging factory – the Hot-Box Boxing Company – during a typical working week, with the various sub-plots and affairs of the heart between the various characters brought to life.

James had also imaginatively created a set using large packing cases, with a different component part of a scene painted on each side.  This could have potentially been disastrous, but the backstage crew, under the management of Mick Rowe, together with members of the cast, ensured smooth and accurate placement of the various boxes to create the backdrop and props for each scene.  I particularly enjoyed the transformation of one of the factory’s packing benches into the motor coach taking the staff on their Sunday outing to the seaside.  In contrast, I felt that an earlier scene in the men’s locker room, depicting urinals, had not been so attractive or appealing!

With no Musical Director or orchestra, the cast had to rely on backing tracks, which, in the majority of cases, worked well and did not pose any problems for the performers, though occasionally the volume was a little too loud.  This was evident in the lovely soulful solo from HMS Pinafore “Sorry Her Lot Who Loves Too Well” and the Sigmund Romberg classic “One Alone”.

By the very nature of a 50th Anniversary celebration, this was an all-inclusive production, giving the opportunity for every performing member to take part, which for some proved just a little too demanding, perhaps.  But it was evident that the cast were having an enjoyable time and coping well with the previously unknown script, although my thoughts were that some of the dialogue was unnecessary to the plot.  This meant that the length of the performance was over long and the audience’s attention was waning by the end of the evening.  Having said that, it is difficult to decide which musical numbers to include, or exclude, in a production such as this and the audience, I’m sure, enjoyed listening to some of their favourite show songs from the the past 50 years in this entirely new concept.

Date of Review 20th November 2015

Reviewer: Sue Hartwell NODA East District 7 Representative

W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan’s comic operettas still have a place in 21 st century live theatre and this was very evident in the company’s latest offering of “The Pirates of Penzance”. The society is very fortunate to have the services of Stephen Kenna as a producer and musical director. Stephen has won many awards for his G & S productions at the annual Buxton International G & S Festival and brings his vast experience to local theatre, accomplishing a very high standard from the cast.

As the audience settled down during the overture, a nicely mimed piece was played out by members of the cast and children, depicting the young boy Frederic’s mistaken apprenticeship to a pirate instead of a pilot and the christening of Mabel, the youngest daughter of the Major-General, thereby setting the theme for the story.

The use of a single standing set, by Paul Lazell, depicting, in Act 1, a Cornish coastal rocky inlet and in Act 2, a ruined chapel by moonlight, appropriately lit, provided realistic backdrops to the action, with colourful and authentic costumes of the period sourced from The Costume Store. These added much to the visual quality of the performance, although I personally felt that it would have been more appropriate to dress the more mature “girls” of the chorus as chaperones and not try to portray them all as young beauties in their lovely white crinolines – this, for me, did add a slight touch of ‘pantomime’ – was that intentional?

Nevertheless, the quality of the singing, some of it in eight-part harmony, was a joy to listen to and much appreciated by the supportive audience. The whole cast had clearly benefited from Stephen’s musical direction and he ensured that the orchestra under-scored sympathetically throughout the performance.

As Frederic, James Humphreys’ performance was commanding and mesmerising, his talent as an actor and singer well-matched by that of Alex Outlaw’s as Mabel, whose glorious voice accomplished those top notes with apparent ease. They were well-supported by Anthea Kenna, as Ruth, Frederic’s former nurse-maid, who’d mistakenly apprenticed him to the gang of Pirates and joined them as a maid of all work. Anthea has a natural talent for comedy roles and this was borne out well in her performance.

Mike Sykes was relishing his role as the swashbuckling Pirate King, supported well by Graham Tarran as his Lieutenant Samuel and young Jonathan Whitmore was captivating as Major-General Stanley, his eccentricities well-portrayed and masterfully accomplished in his “Model Major General” song – a breath-stopping moment! Charlotte Tarran, Tash Crossley and Lorraine Berry, as the Major-General’s other daughters, Edith, Kate and Isabel, were also evidently enjoying themselves in their musical numbers “Stop, ladies, pray” and “What ought we to do?”

Bernie Bush was comical as the Sergeant of the bungling policemen, using every ounce of his imposing figure to good effect. I also enjoyed young Keziah Farrow’s “dance” around the policemen during their well-known chorus – a nice touch by choreographer Elsa Springham, who had also devised some delightful choreography for the company’s chorus numbers.

Messrs. Gilbert & Sullivan, I’m certain, would have much enjoyed this rollicking performance of one of their most popular operettas, which has lost none of its original humour and is still very relevant today. Thank you, Bishop’s Stortford Musical Theatre Company, for an evening’s feast of singing and comedy – well done!