KANDER & Ebb wrote Cabaret, Chicago and Frank Sinatra’s signature song, New York, New York.
In truth, Curtains is not on a par with those peaks, being a musical, satirical comedy and whodunit rolled into a play within a play that excels at none of them.
A recipe with so many rich ingredients might have even Paul Hollywood worried, and what happens here is that nothing quite satisfies, although that is no fault of the Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company’s exuberant cast, director Alex Schofield, musical director Scott Phillips and orchestra alike.
The comedy sometimes has to strive too hard in its clunky send-ups of theatre group tropes and murder mysteries alike. Under Scott Phillips’s ceaselessly exuberant musical direction, his wind and brass players are full of oomph, as the songs are given maximum welly, particularly by Jennie Wogan-Wells’s Georgia Hendricks, Jennifer Jones’s Niki Harris and Rosy Rowley’s redoubtable Carmen Bernstein, but they fall well short of K&E’s Seventies’ best.
The whodunit interweaves with the hapless play within a play, a boisterous but seemingly plotless Western by the name of Robbin’ Hood, but it never has the grip, rising tension or intrigue of a Christie murder mystery. The more the plot thickens, somehow the more it doesn’t, because the musical must go on, in theatre tradition…but just too much is going on.
This 2007 American musical, with a book by Escape (The Pina Colada Song) hitmaker Rupert Holmes, is set in 1959, backstage and on stage at the Colonial Theatre, Boston, Massachusetts, where the exasperating, line-forgetting leading lady of a new musical mysteriously suddenly dies (much like her performance, not so mysteriously).
Everyone, cast and crew alike, is a suspect for forensic interrogation by Lieutenant Frank Cioffi (Steve Jobson), the unconventional local detective with a passion for musical theatre. So much so, he keeps making suggestions to improve the musical (within the musical, not the K&E musical itself, which might have been a better idea).
You will enjoy the running in-joke of the song In The Same Boat forever being re-written in search of a better tune before Cioffi has the brilliant idea of running all five versions together in the best ensemble number of the show.
Unlike Holmes’s humour, Jobson has a lightness of touch to his performance, at ease with song and script alike, his Cioffi being plucky and persistent, and suddenly romantically involved too.
In a show where individual performances surpass the material, Wogan-Wells has fun as the indefatigable Georgia, taking over from the murdered lead, while Ben Huntley revels in being the Englishman abroad and aghast, Christopher Belling, the director with the waspish tongue and ocean-wide ego.
Curtains is too long, too convoluted, never as funny as a Mischief send-up, but JRTC’s production values are good, from costumes to lighting and Ollie Nash’s sound design. Choreographer Sarah Colestead, principals, featured dancers and ensemble, are kept busy by the flow of song after song and in turn keep the stage busy with commotion in motion.
As usual, JRTC will be raising funds for the JoRo, adding to the £23,000 donated from past productions. That all helps to keep the curtain up, even if Curtains doesn’t raise the roof, despite the committed performances.
Curtains for Curtains, a whydoit dud, but roll on JRTC’s upcoming shows, Helen Spencer’s second instalament of Musicals In The Multiverse and Beauty And The Beast.
Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.
YORK company Pick Me Up Theatre will stage the northern premiere of Mel Brooks’s musical Young Frankenstein in the New Year after the late postponement of last autumn’s run at the Grand Opera House.
Andrew Isherwood has picked up the directorial reins for this stage conversion of Brooks’s comedy horror movie, produced in York by artistic director and designer Robert Readman.
Rehearsals re-started in early December for the January 31 to February 3 run at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, with the original principal cast still in place and Helen Spencer assisting with production management.
“This show is by the creators of the record-breaking Broadway sensation The Producers,” says Robert. “The comedy genius Mel Brooks has adapted his legendary comedy film from 1974 into a brilliant stage show of Young Frankenstein. I saw the West End production and loved it.
“Every bit as relevant to audience members who will remember the original as it will be to newcomers, the musical has all the of panache of the screen sensation with a little extra theatrical flair added. Young Frankenstein is scientifically proven, monstrously good entertainment.”
In Brooks’s spoof, the grandson of infamous scientist Victor Frankenstein, Dr Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced “Fronk-en-steen”, he insists), has inherited his family’s castle estate in Transylvania.
Aided and hindered by hunchbacked sidekick Igor (pronounced “Eye-gore”), leggy lab assistant Inga (pronounced normally), devilishly sexy Frau Blucher (“Neigh”!) and needy fiancée Elizabeth (“Surprise”!), Frederick finds himself filling the mad scientist shoes of his ancestor.
After initial reluctance, his mission will be to strive to fulfil his grandfather’s legacy by bringing a corpse back to life. “It’s alive!”, he exclaims as his experiment yields a creature to rival his grandfather’s monster. Eventually, and inevitably, this new monster escapes.
Working in tandem with Thomas Meehan, Brooks gleefully reanimates his horror-movie send-up of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, with even more jokes, set-pieces and barnstorming parody songs that stick a pitchfork into good taste. Among those songs will be Puttin’ On The Ritz, Please Don’t Touch Me, He Vas My Boyfriend, The Transylvania Mania and There Is Nothing Like A Brain!, among many more Transylvanian smash hits.
Leading Pick Me Up’s cast will be former world squash champion James Willstrop, continuing his transfer from court to stage player as Dr Frankenstein after his Captain Von Trapp in Pick Me Up’s The Sound Of Music at Theatre@41, Monkgate, last Christmas.
Starring opposite him again will be Swedish-born Sanna Jeppsson (Maria in The Sound Of Music), here cast as Inga, while Jack Hooper, Mr Poppy in York Stage’s Nativity! The Musical in November 2022, will be Dr Frankenstein’s puppy dog of an assistant, Igor, “the classic Hammer Horror sidekick with a hump that keeps moving around”.
Helen Spencer (Mother Abbess in The Sound Of Music and Dolly Levi in Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company’s Hello, Dolly!) will play Frau Blucher, “the very stern housekeeper with surprising hidden depths”; Jennie Wogan-Wells, the Narrator in York Musical Theatre Company’s Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat last May, will be ingenue Elizabeth Benning, Frankenstein’s fiancée from America. “Think Legally Blonde,” says Helen. “Very conscious of her image; very high maintenance, throwing a spanner in the works when she turns up.”
Craig Kirby (Tom Oakley in Pick Me Up’s Goodnight Mr Tom) will be in Monster mode and further roles will go to Tom Riddolls as Sgt Kemp, Sam Steel as Bertram Bartam and Andrew Isherwood, fresh from directing Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None for Pick Me Up last September, can be spotted as The Hermit as well as directing.
A supporting ensemble will play Transylvanians, students and more besides. Choreography is by Ilana Weets and the orchestra will be led by musical maestro Sam Johnson.
Readman had to call off Pick Me Up’s Halloween double bill of Emma Reeves and Lucy Potter’s The Worst Witch and Young Frankenstein at the Grand Opera House due to unforeseen circumstances. It has not been possible to re-mount Rosy Rowley’s production of The Worst Witch, featuring a young cast, but Young Frankenstein will take over the JoRo slot allocated originally to Pick Me Up’s now jettisoned production of Chicago, whose principal casting was in place, but whose rehearsals were yet to start.
Helen Spencer is relishing the resumption of rehearsals for Young Frankenstein. “Ilana had already put us through a huge amount of tap-dancing work: a very delayed return to tap in my case, having not done it since school, and she’s been very patient,” she says. “We’re having such fun again.
“Young Frankenstein is very silly with some brilliant numbers and really vibrant comedy, and we’re very lucky to have such amazing actors. Robert says it’s the best principal cast he could have wished for, such a safe pair of hands and so skilled that it would have been such a shame not to have done it. Thankfully we’re going ahead in January.”
Pick Me Up Theatre in Young Frankenstein, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, January 31 to February 32024, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk
NEWSFLASHES…Curtains…The Hollywood Sisters…Joseph Rowntree Theatre Musical Theatre Awards…Musicals In The Multiverse…
JOSEPH Rowntree Theatre Company’s next show will be Curtains, the 2007 Broadway musical mystery comedy with a book by Rupert Holmes, lyrics by Fred Ebb, music by John Kander and additional lyrics by Kander and Holmes.
What’s the plot? Boston’s Colonial Theatre is host to the opening night performance of a new musical in 1959. When the leading lady – a fading Hollywood star and diva, who has no right to be one – dies mysteriously on stage, the entire cast and crew are suspects.
Enter a local detective – and musical theatre fan to boot – who tries to save the show, solve the case, and maybe even find love before the show reopens, all without being killed.
Delightful characters, a witty and charming script and glorious tunes await you from February 7 to 10 at 7.30pm nightly plus a 2.30pm Saturday matinee. In the cast will be Steven Jobson, Jennifer Jones, Jennie Wogan-Wells, Rosy Rowley, Jonathan Wells, Paul Blenkiron, Ben Huntley, Jennifer Payne, Anthony Gardner, Chris Gibson and Jamie Benson, among others.
Proceeds from ticket sales on 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk will go to the JoRo.
AFTER raising £1,000 for York Mind at their sold-out December 1 concert at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York close-harmony quartet The Hollywood Sisters – Helen Spencer, Cat Foster, Rachel Higgs and Henrietta Linnemann – willreturn there for another charity Christmas show with special guests next December. Watch this space for further details.
THE inaugural Joseph Rowntree Theatre Musical Theatre Awards will be launched formally in January. Watch this space.
Set up by the JoRo, the awards will run annually. “We’ve put out requests to all the companies that do full-book musicals in York, not specifically at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre,” says York actress, singer and director Helen Spencer, who is helping to run the awards with co-founder Nick Sephton. “At least seven companies have said they want to be involved.
“The way it works, each company nominates a judge; the judges will get together at the end of the year to decide who the winners are, with such categories as Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Choreographer, and then the awards ceremony will be held at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, Oscars style, in January.”
Explaining the concept behind the awards, Helen says: “The idea is to celebrate the amazing musical theatre scene we have in York and the amazing community we have that puts on these shows. This is a chance to celebrate all that creativity in our city.”
TO quote CharlesHutchPress, from the June 30 review, “Musicals In The Multiverse turns out to be out of this world. A sequel will surely follow.”
Happy to report that this Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company revue will return to the JoRo in June 2024, dates yet to be confirmed.
Directed by Helen Spencer, the show’s modus operandi is “playful, radical too, and has the potential to be rolled out again,” as CharlesHutchPress wrote of June’s inaugural two-night run.
“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”. More details of the sequel will follow.
THE Hollywood Sisters will be joined by friends for a night of musical cabaret in aid of York Mind at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, on Friday at 7.30pm.
The luscious close harmonies of the Hollywood Sisters will be complemented by guest appearances from “the finest talent York has to offer”: The Rusty Pegs, Jennie Wogan-Wells, Richard Bayton, Nicola Holliday, Matthew Clare, Connie Howcroft, John Haigh and Mark Lovell.
“Expect an evening of music, song and sprinkle of festive cheer to kick off December,” says Hollywood Sister Helen ‘Bells’ Spencer. “All profits from the evening will go to mental health charity York Mind.”
The Hollywood Sisters, Cat Foster, Henrietta Linnemann, Rachel Higgs and Bells, met in 2020 when they were cast together in York Musical Theatre Company’s Hooray For Hollywood, Paul Laidlaw’s nostalgic, whirlwind journey through the sounds of a bygone era from the MGM, Warner Bros, RKO and Universal studios, staged that November at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre.
“We instantly forged a special bond and after the show finished, we kept in close contact,” says Bells. “Many meet-ups over tea and cake later, the Hollywood Sisters were devised.
“In honour of the show we met on, and because we all have a shared love of vintage glamour, we kept the Hollywood part of our name and style as a group. Now we’re delighted to be welcoming back John Haigh and Richard Bayton, who were also in Hooray For Hollywood. We can’t wait to all be singing together again!
“Added to these crooners, we couldn’t be more thrilled to have guest appearances from three phenomenal female vocalists, Jennie, Connie and Nicola, and we’ll all be accompanied by the brilliant Rusty Pegs, Matthew Clare on piano and Mark Lovell on double bass.”
Friday promises a relaxed cabaret-style event with the bar open throughout. “There’ll be music from across genres but always featuring gorgeous harmonies and a few festive numbers to get December started with some cheer!” says Bells.
“We also have a raffle with some amazing prizes to be won: £100 meal voucher, Tea for Two in Malton, art prints, Prosecco and much more. If you can’t make the gig but would like to buy a raffle ticket to support York Mind, please head to our just giving page and leave your email address.”
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!
COLET Court School in London has its place in British musical theatre history.
It was at this Barnes prep school that Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice – whatever became of them? – first staged Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, performed by the school choir as a 15-minute pop cantata.
The original West End production opened in February 1973 at the Albery Theatre; the soundtrack LP followed in 1976, and many a revival and tour since then. Jason Donovan, Donny Osmond, Phillip Schofield, Joe McElderry, Gareth Gates, Steps’ Ian H Watkins and Lee Mead have all donned that famous coat on the London stage.
Some things change – Colet Court School became St Paul’s Juniors in 2016 – but some things don’t. School choirs (from Knavesmire Primary and Wiggington Primary Singstars) still feature in York Musical Theatre Company’s Joseph.
This week’s run is selling well, very well. No change there. Go, go, go, Joseph ticket seekers; there’s not a second to be wasted. Saturday’s matinee has sold out and only the last few tickets are available for the evening performances.
One significant change to report in this 50th anniversary production: Songs still refer to Egypt, but director-choreographer Kathryn Addison has switched the setting to the Yorkshire farming community of the 1920s/1930s with a “Peaky Blinders vibe” to Joseph’s brothers. “They were a nasty bunch,” she reasons, as waistcoats and caps flatter than Yorkshire vowels adorn the stage.
Antony Gardner’s Pharaoh is still the expanding Elvis Presley of the Las Vegas rhinestone years, albeit more of an Elvis tribute act on the Scarbrough sea front, where he rules the roost from his casino.
Always in shades, but never one for the shadows, his Song Of The King is a gloriously daft Presley pastiche, thank you very much, typical of the joy that percolates through Lloyd Webber’s plethora of musical magpie styles and Rice’s witty, storytelling lyrics.
Egypt, Yorkshire, wherever! Lloyd Webber and Rice take in Parisian chanson for Those Canaan Days, sung with a wonderfully exaggerated French cabaret accent by Anthony Pengelly, who also makes his mark as Potiphar, lounging like Jacob Rees-Mogg in the House of Commons. Later they veer wildly to the Caribbean for Adam Gill’s Benjamin Calypso (a kind of forerunner of 10CC’s reggae chart topper Dreadlock Holiday).
Any other changes? Joseph, son of Jacob (Rob Davies), is one of ten, rather 12 brothers, two of them strictly sisters as they are played by Lauren Charlton-Mathews and Rachel Higgs but credited as brothers and looking the part in their Great Yorkshire Show farming gear.
The leads are new to York Musical Theatre Company but not new to the musical theatre scene: husband and wife Jonathan Wells and Jennie Wogan-Wells, living their dream theatrical life in their dream roles as Joseph and the Narrator respectively.
The bearded Wells looks more like the Bee Gees of the Saturday Night Fever Seventies era all in white, later adding shades and a red waistcoat, rather than stripping down in Joseph and his amazing bare chest tradition.
He has the toothpaste smile, the twinkle in the eye, the handsome swagger, for the Dreamcoat dreamboat, and he sings with warmth and boy band appeal, if a little diffidently in his first rendition of Close Every Door. Go, go, go, for it, Joseph! Don’t hold the drama in check!
Since childhood days of listening to the soundtrack LP, Knavesmire Primary teacher Wogan-Wells has craved playing the Narrator. Aside from opening the show on her laptop, with pupils on screen on Zoom, this is not an Are You Sitting Comfortably, Then I’ll Begin narrator. She is on her feet, dancing, singing, even fitting in a cameo as Mrs Potiphar, and no-one sings more through this sung-through musical than her. Her singing is top notch throughout, full of personality and power.
The set is a familiar construction: a scaffolding edifice with a mezzanine level and stairways either side, populated by the young choir, the rest left empty to accumulate the ensemble work of the 23-strong adult cast.
Musical director John Atkin has fun with Lloyd Webber’s chameleon ability for constant change, from ballad to pop anthem and more besides. Director Kathryn Addison has even more fun, sheep puppets, megamix finale and all. Rehearsals were a delight, and it shows in this radiant show, one that captures the innocence of Lloyd Webber and Rice’s bygone days and puts summer rather than a spring in your step.
Now, go, go, go for those last few tickets before they’re gone, gone, gone.
Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, York Musical Theatre Company, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York. Performances at 7.30pm tonight and tomorrow; 2.30pm and 7.30pm on Saturday. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.
KATHRYN Addison directs York Musical Theatre Company in Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s ever popular, ever colourful 1968 debut musical at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, from tonight.
From the book of Genesis to the musical’s genesis as a cantata written for a London school choir, Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat has grown into an iconic musical theatre staple with its story of the biblical journey of Joseph, son of Jacob and one of 12 brothers, and his coat of many colours.
Here husband and wife Jonathan Wells and Jennie Wogan-Wells lead the cast as Joseph and the Narrator respectively.
“I directed it in 2015 with my Year 3 and 4 pupils at Knavesmire Primary School, where there are 120 children in those classes – and they knew all the words,” recalls Jennie of her past involvement at the helm of Joseph.
“Now I’m playing the Narrator – a very important role! – who knits the whole show together. It’s a bit of a dream role for me as my parents had the LP and I remember spinning round and round to Potiphar with my brother in the front room because it gets faster and faster.
“Now I get to play the Narrator, indulging in my childhood dream to be in the show.” What’s more, the choir from Jennie’s school will be singing at the Thursday evening and Saturday matinee performances. (Wigginton Primary School will provide Years 4 to 6 pupils to perform tonight, Friday and Saturday night.)
“They’re obsessed with it! We practise every lunchtime, and yes, they’ve learnt all the colours in the dreamcoat! It’s nice because parents and teachers remember it from their own childhood, and now, for the children, it will be the first time they’ve been on a stage away from the school.”
Director-choreographer Kathryn Addison was born in the year that Joseph made its debut (1968). “It started as a 15 to 20-minute school musical, so look how it’s grown since then,” she says.
It changes again in her hands: rather than 12 brothers, it becomes a story of a family: brothers and two sisters (although credited as brothers). “It’s not an issue. We still acknowledge the brothers who have ‘not turned up’ – and we’ve been really lucky in the casting. We’ve neither had to drag people in and nor would we have wanted to,” she says.
“I was in York Shakespeare Project’s all-female Henry V, and it isn’t about gender. It takes gender out of it. It’s not about male/female but who’s right for a role and what can they bring to it?”
Kathryn is “staying true to the spirit of Joseph”. “That’s really important,” she says. “I think Lloyd Webber is a bit ‘Marmite’, but like every writer or composer, there are things you like, things you don’t.
“I feel this musical has an innocence that allows people to really enjoy it as a company show, and it’s felt like a company in rehearsal. It feels tight and there’s a collective will. There’s been no egos in the rehearsal room and nor will there be any on stage.”
The cast of 23 will be complemented by 21 children from Knavesmire Primary and 17 from Wigginton Primary at this week’s performances. “It’s just fun for all of us,” says Jennie.
“If you’re enjoying it on stage, then the audience are going to enjoy it too. Rehearsals have been great fun and I’ve really looked forward to them.”
Nothing delights more than Pharaoh’s Song Of The King: the Elvis one, performed this week by newly married Anthony Gardner. “There’s no point trying to make it anything else than it is: some Elvis impersonator going down to sing on the Scarborough sea front!” says Kathryn. “So you recognise that and crack on with it! Let’s bring out that style as director/choreographer.”
Jennie says: “Kathryn has a clear vision, with room for nice little mood changes and quirks, and it’s great to have that freedom within it. It’s got great balance.”
It all adds up to a show that appeals to children and adults alike. “Everyone enjoys themselves, and it’s rare in being a show that brings people to the theatre that don’t normally go. It’s always nice to do that, for people to realise that theatre is open for them.”
Jennie is enjoying performing alongside husband Jonathan’s Joseph. “It’s been lovely to do the show together, though we’ve done that before, but we’ve never been principals together before,” she says.
“The Narrator is the framework of the show. It’s that whole thing of me telling the story to the children, so it’s a busman’s holiday really.
“During the rehearsal weeks, I can switch off more than him. He’s always humming the tunes, singing in the car, but it’s very much our life at the moment. We’re going to be bereft when it finishes, but it’s been really lovely as I’ve been able to rehearse at home with him.”
Kathryn has her own fond memory of bygone Joseph performances. “I did the show with my dad, playing Jacob, more than 30 years ago. That really tugs at my heartstrings, but also I’m at the stage when being on stage is quite hard work, and I’ve done a lot of directing and choreographing, though this show is much harder to direct than I’d first given it credit for because it’s sung through,” she says.
“But I love the show. It’s a passion project, and to be able to work with a group of people on a community project, where it’s all about the whole company working together, has been a really positive process for me.
“From the start, I’ve seen this story as being based in Yorkshire; these farmers in the 1920s/1930s, with a bit of a Peaky Blinders vibe to it. They were a nasty bunch to their brother! So we travel from the Yorkshire farms to Scarbados and that sea front, our Las Vegas!
“When I think of Joseph and Scarborough, I think of Mark Herman’s film of Little Voice, with the lights on the sea front at night. And a casino; that’s where I see Pharaoh.”
As for the Technicolor Dreamcoat of the title: thank you to Ripon Amateur Operatic Society for providing wardrobe services.
York Musical Theatre Company in Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, 7.30pm tonight until Saturday plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee (sold out). Ticket update: limited availability for tonight and tomorrow; last few for Friday and Saturday.Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.
Hello, Dolly!, Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, 7.30pm tonight; 2.30pm, 7.30pm tomorrow. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk
THE Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company’s fifth production as the JoRo’s in-house fundraising troupe since 2017 is their “most ambitious yet” and first to be directed by company regular Kathryn Lay.
She brings experience of directing for several Gilbert & Sullivan companies to the task, along with a familiar right-hand man for this bright and breezy production, husband Martin Lay, a figure in constant motion in white tie and tails as conductor and musical director in the dozen-strong orchestra pit.
Hello, Dolly!, with its book by Michael Stewart and music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, had its day as the longest-running show on Broadway after its 1964 debut, further buoyed by Gene Kelly’s 1969 film starring the irrepressible Barbra Streisand.
Based on Thornton Wilder’s 1938 farce The Merchant Of Yonkers, re-written as The Matchmaker in 1954, it is a lightweight, gently amusing piece, not dissimilar in spirit to those works from the other side of the Big Pond, G&S’s light operas. Or, you could call it “an absolute hoot”, as the JoRo’s publicity puts it.
The setting is 1885 New York, where wily widow and meddling matchmaker Dolly Levi (Helen Spencer) has her eye on hooking tight-fisted half-a-millionaire Horace Vendergelder (Alex Schofield), a man short on joy and even shorter on humour.
Ever chirpy Dolly has calling cards for all manner of skills she claims to have, but resourcefulness is her primary asset, along with an ability to confuse all around her in pursuit of her goal. Spencer triumphs, both in song, especially her ballads, and as leading lady with an artful yet appealing air and bags of brio. Vandergelder is a stick in the mud, all the more so for Schofield playing him so straight.
The path to love may not run smoothly, but Hello, Dolly! is giddy with a supporting bill of billing and cooing involving Stuart Sellens’s Cornelius Hackl and Jennie Wogan-Wells’s Irene Molloy, alongside Jamie Benson’s Barnaby Tucker and Jennifer Jones’s Minnie Fay. They make a swell foursome, amusing, smartly attired and characterful in their singing.
“Flouncing around in a feather boa”, Sophie Cooke is a good sport as Ernestina, the butt of Dolly’s meddling with a voice to launch a thousand cough lozenges. Abigail Atkinson and Jonathan Wells make their mark too as artist Ambrose Kemper and young Ermengarde.
Supporting roles and ensemble players add to the jollification, particularly in the big numbers, whether beneath twirling brollies or on waiter duty in Lorna Newby’s lively choreography.
Tickets are in limited supply for tonight’s show and tomorrow’s matinee with better availability for tomorrow night’s finale. All proceeds go back to the JoRo in support of York’s community theatre and the chance to put on more big musicals with big casts to match.
Kipps, Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company, at Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, tomorrow, 2.30pm, 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk
FLASH, bang, wallop, what a picture of joy as Jennie Wogan-Wells’s Ann Pennick leaps to catch the wedding bouquet at the finale to Kipps on opening night, fully three years after the Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company acquired the rights to this Half A Sixpence re-boot.
Under the pandemic’s shadow, the JoRo’s in-house company moved the production dates three or four times, recalls director Kayleigh Oliver in her programme notes. Kipps may advocate “singing a simple tune”, but there has been nothing simple about the “Herculean effort” of staging a show whose cast is in its 37th incarnation. Yes, 37.
It remains “a simple story about a simple bloke who just wants a simple life”, as first conjured in HG Wells’ subversive 1905 novel depicting a simple soul, caught between the head and the heart.
Half A Sixpence made cheeky charmer Tommy Steele’s name in David Heneker and Beverley Cross’s stage show and 1967 film musical. In 2016, it re-emerged as Kipps in a refreshing revamp co-created by impresario Cameron Mackintosh with seven new numbers by alchemical songwriting duo George Stiles and Anthony Drewe to complement Heneker’s original songs.
Significantly too, the radical, overtly political new book is the sprightly work of Downton Abbey’s Julian Fellowes, the upstairs-downstairs chronicler who tools Kipps with rigidity-busting, robust humour rooted in the clash of the English classes with its accent on having the ‘correct’ accent. It is still a romantic tale, but now has much more of the punk spirit of Richard Bean’s socialist comedy knees-up, One Man, Two Guvnors.
Jamie Benson’s Arthur ‘Artie’ Kipps is a warm-hearted innocent abroad, an orphaned Folkstone apprentice draper who is suddenly bequeathed a fortune. Out goes a childhood vow to Ann; in comes the properly nice Helen Walsingham (Jennifer Jones) and a “world of upper-class soirees and strict rules of etiquette” that leaves him all at sea on the Kentish coast.
More to the point, Fellowes depicts high society as mercenary snobs, typified by Stuart Sellens’s James Walsingham and Helen Spencer’s scene-stealing Mrs Walsingham, the dragon mother desperate to bring Kipps’s new money into her crusty family via Helen’s entwining with Kipps
Just as the Walsinghams work on exploiting Kipps’s innocence, so Chris Gibson’s story-spinning artful dodger thespian Chitterlow seeks to entice him into backing his new play in his lovably rakish manner beneath his unruly wig.
That elicited the song The Joy Of Theatre, one of the high points of this perky show that so affirmed everyone’s delight at being back in the JoRo, whether on stage or in the auditorium.
From lovable Benson to jocund Gibson, spirited Wogan-Wells to thoroughly decent Jones, self-pitying Spencer to Jane Woolgar’s Lady Punnet, Ben Huntley’s food-loving Buggins to Alastair Bush’s foppish photographer, there is so much to enjoy in the performances and singing, supported ever enthusiastically by the ensemble. Not forgetting the opening cameos of Ben Wood as Young Kipps and Kate Blenkiron as Young Ann.
Jane Woolgar’s costumes could not be more colourful; musical director James Robert Ball’s orchestra have a ball with songs older and newer alike and Lorna Newby’s choreography consistently brings a beaming smile. Never more so than in the stand-out Pick Out A Simple Tune, led by the banjo-playing Benson before the Flash, Bang, Walloping finale. Stick it in the family diary for tomorrow: Kipps is indeed “the pick-me-up we so desperately need in grey February”, as Kayleigh Oliver puts it. Book NOW for Kipps with everything.