JOSEPH Rowntree Theatre Company’s summer show is restricted to only two performances. Big cast, bags of energy and enthusiasm, fun idea for a show, and it would surely have merited a longer run.
Decent house last night, and an even bigger audience is expected tonight, with all proceeds going to the JoRo Theatre, as is the case with all JRTC productions.
This one is directed by Helen ‘Bells’ Spencer, who played the lead in Hello, Dolly! in February and now pulls the strings with aplomb.
She pops up in two numbers too (Beauty And The Beast’s Tale As Old As Time with Catherine Foster and an amusing pyjama party revamp of City Of Angels’ What You Don’t Know About Women with Foster, Connie Howcroft, Nicola Strataridaki, Jennie Wogan-Wells and Tessa Ellis).
Meanwhile, her children, Tempi and Lao Singhateh, enjoy a sweet, humorous cameo in Matilda’s When I Grow Up, where adults sing the children’s lines.
The show’s concept is playful, radical too, and has the potential to be rolled out again. Imagine alternative worlds – a multiverse – where musical favourites take on a new life with a change of gender, era, key or musical style, arranged with glee, joy and flourish after flourish by musical director Matthew Peter Clare for his smart band.
The opening ensemble number Pure Imagination, from Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, is an invitation for the audience to use exactly that, as songs are freed from the chains of their usual presentation.
Blood Brothers’ That Guy, without a change of lyrics, is now sung by two females, Ashley Ginter and Scarlett Rowley, who later thrives on Jennie Wogan-Wellss’ choreography in the dance number Electricity from Billy Elliot.
In His Eyes, from Jekyll & Hyde The Musical, makes the reverse switch, given to James Willstrop and Ryan Richardson in a stand-out first half duet.
Porgy & Bess’s Summertime blossoms anew in a barbershop setting, Jennifer Jones leads the dance ensemble in a swish Luck Be A Lady from Guys And Dolls, and Nicola Strataridaki has the last word in her slick duet with Chris Gibson in Lady Is A Tramp.
In a shift from major key to foreboding minor, Connie Howcroft deep-freezes Frozen’s Let It Go, the closing line, “The cold never bothered me anyway”, now so chilling.
In the oh-so-right choice of first-half climax, Rosy Rowley rivals Meat Loaf’s braggadocio in Dead Ringer For Love (from Bat Out Of Hell), while a series of men take on Cher’s swaggering responses. Always an over-the-top number, it becomes a company pile-on as everyone joins in, beer bottles in hand, and heavy metal-haired guitarist Mickey Moran strides to the front for a rock god solo. Moran, by the way, is outstanding throughout.
The second half opens in Matilda’s classroom before Jennie Wogan-Wells delivers the night’s most moving solo: transforming Les Miserables’ Bring Him Home into a mother’s prayer for her son to return safely from the First World War trenches.
Nick Sephton’s It’s All Coming Back To Me Now (from Bat Out Of Hell) is powerfully, sombrely reflective, Rachel Higgs’s Part Of Your World, from The Little Mermaid, is the second belter to benefit from the switch from major to minor; Steven Jobson and Richardson make you know I Know Him So Well in a new way and Rosy Rowley and Abi Carter likewise transform La Cage Aux Folles’ Song On The Sand.
The most impactful reinvention of all, made all the punchier by Wogan-Wells’s choreography, is Cell Block Tango, where Richard Goodall, Gibson, Richardson, Jack James Fry, Jobson and Willstrop’s murderers in toxic orange prison overalls brag about their deeds, as the dancers strut around them in familiar Chicago style.
Tessa Ellis turns Beauty And The Beast’s Evermore into a Sixties ballad in Dusty Springfield or Petula Clark style; Howcroft, superb again, and Wogan-Wells vie for centre stage in The Wild Party’s Let Me Drown, and Rosy Rowley has the audience on its feet, after some insistent cajoling, for the finale, as she deepens Frankie Valli’s lead vocal in Jersey Boys’ Who Loves You?
Musicals In The Multiverse turns out to be out of this world. A sequel will surely follow.
Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company in Musicals In The Multiverse, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, tonight (30/6/2023) 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 501395 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.
Coming next from Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company
JOSEPH Rowntree Theatre Company will present a full-scale production of the musical whodunit Curtains, from the creators of Cabaret and Chicago, Fred Ebb and John Kander, at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, from February 7 to 10 2024.
British-American composer, singer-songwriter, dramatist and author Rupert Holmes wrote the book for this 2006 comedy mystery set in the 1950s. Ebb ebbed away (RIP September 11 2004) before its completion.
The song What Kind Of Man? attacks theatre critics. Ouch!