REVIEW: York Stage Musicals At Rowntree Park, Rowntree Park Amphitheatre, York, tonight and tomorrow, 7.30pm. Tickets update: Sold out.
NIK Briggs and Jessica Douglas were “so sick of bad news about the arts”, the York Stage Musicals duo decided they had to “do a thing…anything”.
Three weeks later, the director and musical director are staging three nights of open-air, socially distanced, family-favourite concerts of musical-movie hits at the Rowntree Park Amphitheatre in YMS’s first ever outdoor show.
The three-night run that began last night sold out within a week. Quick work all round, not least by Adam Moore’s Tech 247, who set up the stage in only two hours yesterday afternoon.
“A huge thank you to our audience tonight!” tweeted producer Briggs afterwards. “We loved performing for you!!”
They did indeed. Emily Ramsden, Ashley Standland, May Tether, Joanna Theaker, Richard Upton and late addition Conor Mellor, professional performers all, with York Stage credits to their name, could not have looked more glad to be back on a stage when theatres remain in the dark but thankfully outdoor shows are on the rise.
Tonight and tomorrow, the singing six will take to the blow-up polytunnel stage again, attired in black, cocktail party dresses on one side, suits on the other, Upton and Standland in white shirts, Mellor more informal in a black T-shirt.
Picnicking audience members sit in Covid-secure designated bubbles, arranged in a crescent on the grass hillside opposite the bandstand stage that could, indeed should, be used more often each York summer.
As evening turns to night over the unbroken 100-minute span of the concert, the light show within the tubing matches the songs’ subjects and moods, while also picking out keyboardist Douglas’s fellow musicians: drummer Andy Hayes, guitarist Neil Morgan, bassist Rosie Morris and keyboard player Sam Johnson.
Songs from Hairspray, Grease, Cats, Cabaret, West Side Story and The Greatest Showman are to the fore, and a selection on the theme of Green is particularly inspired. Likewise, the teasing introduction seeking a diva to sing Hopelessly Devoted You that settles on…Conor Mellor, who should have been away at sea this month, after returning to York from his Caribbean cruise-ship shows in April, but is still grounded by the pandemic.
Highlights are many, from Ramsden’s All That Jazz and Saving All My Love For You to Tether’s Memory and Theaker’s Cabaret; Upton’s Luck Be A Lady to Tether and Standland’s Summer Nights. Mellor hits the heights in Kinky Boots’ Soul Of A Man, while Upton and Theaker’s Elephant Love Medley, from Moulin Rouge, is the fast-moving arrangement of the night.
How else could the show end but with Dirty Dancing’s uplifting I’ve Had The Time Of My Life, although social distancing ruled out any attempt at the film’s infamous climactic lift.
If Covid-19’s social-distancing requirements have reinforced the suitability of the Rowntree Park Amphitheatre for open-air shows, then at least something good has come out of these killjoy times for the York musical theatre and live music scene.
Delighted by the response of singers, musicians and audiences alike to these Rowntree Park shows, Briggs says: “It’s just been overwhelming. I knew us ‘Theatre Crew’ who work in it were desperate to get back, but we didn’t appreciate how much it meant to our audiences!! Here’s to Bravery going forward. Give us a space and York Stage will get a show on.”
Alas, that show will not be September’s Covid-scuppered production of Kinky Boots, but in mentioning “Bravery”, Briggs is echoing the sentiments of one of last night’s outstanding numbers, This Is Me from The Greatest Showman. “I am brave, I am bruised…And I’m marching on to the drum I beat, I’m not scared to be seen, I make no apologies, this is me,” the lyrics assert.
Such positivity, in the face of understandable Covid fear, is the way forward, step by step, drum beat by drum beat, for deeply bruised live entertainment. Not recklessness, no-one would suggest such a course so irresponsibly, but a combination of ambition and practicality, as shown by Briggs and Douglas.