Cardiff Musical Theatre Festival - 25 - 27 October 2002

CARDIFF MUSICAL THEATRE FESTIVAL - 2002 Two of the three productions I saw at the festival were concert versions and both proved how a good story, characters and music can convey the heart and soul of the story and have the same impact without scenery and technical effects. Any musical which can do that classifies it , in my opinion, as a truly great musical. CAROUSEL - 25 October 2002
Carousel is my favourite old musical and the concert performance was excellent. The BBC concert orchestra supported the cast and what a joy to hear the score performed by a full orchestra and the overture was a fantastic start to the evening sending a tingle down my spine as it reached it culmination.

The staging of the concert was minimal in that there were two white benches on stage with some fallen leaves and blossoms beneath them. The ensemble were to the side of the orchestra and a white fence separated the ensemble and orchestra from the main playing area. The setting for this Carousel was the 1950’s and the concert included much of the dialogue between the songs thus enhancing the narrative.

The cast were uniformly excellent with Andrew Halliday in fine voice and character as Billy, equally matched by Zoe Curlett as Julie Jordan. Both worked well with each other capturing the emotional rollercoaster ride of their relationship and the final scene as Billy finally tells her he loves her can never fail to move. Sophie Louise Dann and John Owen Jones were the surprisingly well matched couple of Carrie and Mr Snow. They had great characterisation and singing and had a rapport with each other again creating believable characters and bring out the humour in their roles making their scenes very enjoyable to watch.

Claire Moore was Nettie and it is harder to imagine a more suited voice to ‘June is Bustin’ out all over’ and ‘You’ll Never walk alone’.

Nigel Richards was a very roguish Jigger, bounding with seemingly endless energy on his path to Billy’s demise. Frank Thornton and Rochelle Smith as the Star keeper and Louise completed this excellent cast who all managed to show what a wonderful show Carousel is and how a great cast and full orchestra can never fail to keep this show fresh.

BABES IN ARMS - 26 October 2002

Babes in Arms is a new show to me, albeit being over 60 years old itself, but the production at Cardiff shows what a great fun show it is. This is a new production of the classic film and I believe the script has been rewritten in places.

It is the classic ‘lets put on a show and save the day’ story. The theatre in question is forced to put on a play of the direst form, but the company show the New York director the true talent of the company at the expense and in conjunction with the play.

The cast of largely unknowns is excellent, full of energy, talent and make it such an enjoyable production to watch. The Score includes ‘My Funny Valentine’ (with Valentine being the name of the character being sung about), ‘The Lady is a tramp’, and ‘Where or When’. Alexandra Jay and Joshua Dallas are the two instigators of the show as Billie and Valentine with Tiffany Graves, Simon Coulthard and Alicia Davies as Dolores (the bright, sparky, slightly drama Queenish hoofer), Gus (the comic, fun but endearing) and baby Rose (the former child star who, despite appearances, is thoughtful & kind). The above principals were all excellent in creating strong characters, performing songs full of energy and showing that the next generation of musical performers are definitely people to look out for.

The dances, including a fantastic tap routine, were well choreographed and slickly performed. The ensemble provided strong support and as a whole the company came across as one cohesive team putting this show on.

Added to this cast were Graham Hubbard as the Texan playwright who not only wrote but also starred & directed his dire play. Graham was excellent as the slightly highly strung Lee whose ‘masterpiece’ is cleverly interrupted in what he considers his finest hour. Lee’s stage professionalism and improvisation was stretched to the limit with the singing postman, talking moose plus several ‘comics’ as he tried to continue with his Davy Crockett impression.

Kevin Colson and Julia Sutton complete the company as the theatre manager & Rose’s mother plus an initial turn as Val’s parents doing Vaudeville.

The staging was on a whole quite simple with many scenes backstage at the theatre and backdrops changing the different locations.

It is a shame that this production is not continuing as it deserves to be seen more and hopefully another production, ideally with this cast, will be picked up soon.

RAGTIME - 26 October 2002

Ragtime is one of the best shows I have ever seen and I was very much anticipating this concert performance and it proved to be a superb evening.

I have to admit that when the casting was initially announced I was not overly enthusiastic with the choices but any reservations I had were completely unfounded. The cast was excellent and I was extremely impressed with Graham Bickley, Kenita Miller, Laurence Hamilton, Matthew White, Tim Howar and Rebecca Thornhill who I felt shone through. Everyone was excellent but I felt that they had truly captured the characters they were playing and in Tim’s case several characters.

Laurence Hamilton was just superb as Coalhouse, his was a performance which captured the heart and soul of Coalhouse and the inner turmoil he faced came through in his performance. He was a slick mover and had a great voice. Kenita Miller may be small in statue and what a voice, it had such a deep richness and she captured the innocence of Sarah with a wonderfully expressionate face and demeanour. Maria Friedman’s mother came across and spirited and bolder than other ‘mothers’ and her confrontations with father showed a deeper frustration of what she had become. From her first meeting with Tateh there was an obvious spark between them which came out more later on in the story.

Graham Bickley was just superb as Tateh. He had captured the character, motivations and despair of Tateh perfectly and throughout act 1 his eyes had a continual look of hopelessness and deep anger at the America he had come to. I would gladly like to see him as Tateh again in a full production. Matthew White was younger brother and what a passionate performance ! Beneath the surface this constant anger brimmed and an intensity as he despaired at his brother in laws opinions and his desire to help Coalhouse. He was excellent and again would be someone I would like to see in the role again.

Dave Willetts was father, set in his ways, bigoted and unemotional detached man who only learns when it is too late that his beliefs are not always the way to go. His trust in his fellow men not to kill Coalhouse is crushed and his cry of despair as they do teaches him a very hard lesson. Dave Willetts is not someone I usually warm to as a performer but I was pleasantly surprised here as I thought he played the character very well and had captured the personality and thinking of Father.

Tim Howar was Houdini and many other characters and he is such a great performer. He came across with such energy and bounce playing everything from the loudmouth at the ball game to Houdini with his gentle encouragement to his fellow immigrants. It was a pleasure to watch him perform.

Rebecca Thornhill was the vaudeville star Evelyn Nesbit and although Evelyn is not one for long Rebecca certainly made her memorable with a very expressionate face and bright personality with a big P !.

Excellent support was also there from Jeffery Dench (Grandad), Gareth Snook (Willie Conklin amongst others), Cavin Cornwall (Booker T Washington),and Gillian Bevan as Emma Goldman. Finally the two children, Jordan Calvert and Leah White were excellent. They gave very strong natural performances creating good characters and had a good rapport with all the adults around them.

The only minor niggles I had were that the lighting, on the whole, was very bland and failed to create any atmosphere for the piece. The lights showing behind the stage did not bear any relevance to what was going on and a plain backcloth or images of the era filling the space would have been better to bring the vast area behind the stage in. Some of the minor ensemble did show some lack of confidence in the material they were performing and JP Morgan and Henry Ford should have had proper costumes. Sound was not always spot on and members of the ensemble could not always be heard when they had individual lines. Only minor things but with a bit better planning these could have been addressed.

A great evening which was thankfully captured for the camera and I hope there is a full production soon.