York Stage Musicals, Jukebox Divas, Rowntree Park Amphitheatre, York, tonight and tomorrow, 7pm. Box office: yorkstagemusicals.com
BLOWN away by the reaction to York Stage Musicals’ first ever open-air shows last month, artistic director Nik Briggs was quick to replicate the format for a second set of three shows.
Last time, the concert theme was a celebration of musical theatre’s favourite hits, performed by six professional performers with YSM history, accompanied by musical director Jessica Douglas’s crack band at Rowntree Park.
Now, Briggs assembles another quintet of professionals, whose ambitions took hold in their YSM days; cruise-ship crooner Conor Mellor returning from the first show, joined by Sophie Hammond, back home in old York after musical theatre training in New York; Grace Lancaster, Best Leading Female winner in the 2020 Great British Pantomime Awards, here with added sax appeal too; BBC Pitch Battle finalist Eleanor Leaper and Kinky Boots principal Dan Conway.
Party dresses have made way for leather jackets and fishnets for the girls, suits for sharp informality for the boys, while Jessica Douglas, celebrating her birthday at the keyboard last night, has put together another band line-up of all the talents: Neil Morgan, on guitar, Christian Topham, on bass, Clark Howard, on drums, and Sam Johnson, on keyboards.
Under Tech247’s ever-changing lighting of the igloo stage on the amphitheatre bandstand, YSM’s 85-minute show is performed to a socially-distanced audience, divided into ‘Bubble Blanket’ spaces on the embankment, everything running smoothly, from the exhilarating singing to the stewarding on a night for woollens, not rainwear. Hopefully, the occasional sound glitch can be ironed out for tonight.
Jukebox Divas turns the spotlight on the ever-extending branch of musical theatre that builds shows around a collection of pop hits, as opposed to songs written expressly for a show. Briggs and Douglas’s programme is up to the minute, accommodating current hit shows Beautiful, + Juliet and Moulin Rouge, as well as the well-established Queen and Abba vehicles We Will Rock You and Mamma Mia! and Eighties’ rockathon Rock Of Ages.
The Jukebox format means the show can find room for an Elvis chart topper (Sophie’s all-action A Little Less Conversation) and close with a couple of Katy Perry belters (the ensemble Firework and Sophie-fronted Roar).
Dan, so smooth and sweet of tone, leads the way with Can’t Stop The Feeling; Conor’s I Want To Break Free and Eleanor’s Somebody To Love are early highlights; and Dan and Grace’s Under Pressure is a stupendous duet, stamping their own character on a Mercury and Bowie rock landmark.
You want the perfect balance of solo showcases, duets and ensemble set-pieces, and Jukebox Divas delivers. Step forward Eleanor’s The Winner Takes It All, Sophie’s No One But You, Dan’s My Eyes Adored You, Grace’s Natural Woman and Conor’s I’d Do Anything For Love, climbing every mountainous peak of Meat Loaf’s rock-opera showstopper.
You will hugely enjoy the interplay of Sophie, Grace and Eleanor in The Weather Girls’ It’s Raining Men, Harden My Heart and Girls Just Wanna Have Fun and even more so in Lady Marmalade, as they grow ever more assured in performing together, and when the five unite, you know why Briggs was so keen to stage this show.
Can’t Help Falling In Love suits its boy-meets-girl arrangement, Every Rose is full of drama and if one song encapsulates what we have missed in not being allowed to fill theatres with song and joy in these ever-more gruelling Covid times, it is Don’t Stop Believin’, a high point for singers, band and audience alike.
How apt the night should end with a mighty Roar. Theatre and music will continue to find their voice, whatever this pandemic throws our way. Do keep believin’.