York Light Youth and York Light Opera Company principals team up for York premiere of School Of Rock next week

Emma Louise Dickinson’s headteacher Rosalie Mullins and Jonny Holbek’s Dewey Finn rehearsing with the ensemble for York Light Youth’s School Of Rock

YORK Light Youth’s tenth anniversary show will be the York amateur premiere of School Of Rock, ready to rock at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, from November 8 to 11.

Directed by Sue Hawksworth, this technically and musically challenging musical – music by Andrew Lloyd Webbber, lyrics by Glenn Slater, book by Julian Fellowes – will be performed by a cast combining young performers aged ten to 17 and adults from the York Light Opera Company in equal numbers: a unique occurrence for York Light.

Among the adult cast will be Megan Overton and Maddy Hicks, who both performed in York Light Youth’s first show, Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, in 2013 and are enjoying their return to the group.

Based on Richard Linklater’s 2003 American film, the storyline follows Jonny Holbek’s Dewey Finn, a failed wannabe rock star, who decides to make some cash by teaching at a prestigious prep school. Soon he discovers his students to be clueless about rock’n’roll, but he vows to mould them into a rock band to enter Battle of the Bands.

Bella Smith, Jonny Holbek, Finley Walters and Ollie Lee rehearsing a number in School Of Rock

Along the way, Dewey finds romance, self-worth and a proper job as he initiates the children and their parents in the beauty of rock.

Director Sue Hawksworth was formerly assistant director of York Light Opera Company for 18 years, working on diverse productions ranging from The Sound Of Music and Oliver! to South Pacific and The King & I, and she is no stranger to working with young people.

Assistant director Gavin Shaw has performed in many musical theatre productions, appearing as Officer Krupke in York Light Youth’s West Side Story in 2016. Martin Lay is the musical director, a post he has held for York Light Youth since 2019.

Playing opposite Jonny Holbek in his relentless lead role will be leading lady Emma Louise Dickinson’s formidable headteacher Rosalie Mullins. Jonny and Emma Louise last appeared together as Che and Eva Peron in York Light’s 2022 production of Evita.

For those about to rock: School Of Rock band members Ollie Lee, Finley Walters, Sam Brophy and Bella Smith

Flynn Coultous and Georgia Foster take on the roles of Ned Schneebly, Dewey’s long-suffering flatmate, and his girlfriend, Paty Di Marco. Best friends Flynn and Georgia have been performing together since they were seven and five respectively, ten years in total.

Flynn joined York Light Youth for Hairspray in 2019 and played a loud and comical Joe Vegas in last year’s production of Fame.

School Of Rock is unique among musicals because not one, but two bands play live on stage. The adult band, No Vacancy, features cast members and musicians Jonny Holbek, Mat Tapp, Ant Pengally and Kathryn Lay, along with musicians Ben Huntley on guitar and Mike Hampton on drums.

Jonny Holbek’s Dewey Finn rocks out with the ensemble in the School Of Rock rehearsal room

The young band, School Of Rock, comprises four highly talented musicians who have achieved great things already. On keys will be Sam Brophy, a 2022 finalist in the BBC’s Young Chorister of the Year competition. On guitar will be Ollie Lee, whose band Bangers And Thrash won Minster FM’s Battle of the Bands in 2019, when he was nine.

Double bassist Bella Smith took up playing bass guitar less than a year ago, very similar to the trajectory of her character, Kate, a cellist turned bass guitarist. Completing the line-up will be Finley Walters, already an accomplished drummer at the age of ten. Invited to perform at the RSL Virtual Music Festival in 2021, he opened with a solo drum performance.

“School Of Rock is a celebration of music, friendship and the power of self-expression,” says York Light chair and publicity officer Helen Eckersall. “We’re confident that audiences of all ages will thoroughly enjoy it. Don’t miss the York premiere of this amazing show.”

York Light Youth in School Of Rock, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, November 8 to 11, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

REVIEW: Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company in Hello, Dolly! ***

Helen Spencer’s Dolly Levi in Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company’s Hello, Dolly!

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.

Review by Charles Hutchinson

Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company’s Hello, Dolly! will be their most ambitious show yet

Helen Spencer: Leading the Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company in the role of Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly!

THE Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company are putting on their Sunday best from tonight until Saturday in Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart’s Broadway classic Hello, Dolly!.

This 1964 musical adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s 1938 farce The Merchant Of Yonkers will be staged by the JoRo’s in-house fundraising company with glitz, glamour and a troupe of tap-dancing waiters in their most ambitious performance to date.

Noted for such musical theatre favourites as It Only Takes A Moment, Put On Your Sunday Clothes and the title song, Hello, Dolly! follows strong-willed widow and self-proclaimed meddling matchmaker Dolly Levi in her wooing of wealthy but tight-fisted Horace Vandergelder, while she spreads joy and confusion among everyone she encounters in 1885 New York.

Premiering on Broadway on January 16 1964 with Carol Channing in the title role, Stewart and Herman’s show played for 2,844 performances, making it – at the time – the longest-running Broadway musical in history.

The show has been revived several times on the New York stage, most recently in 2017 with Bette Midler in the title role, while Barbra Streisand famously starred in Gene Kelly’s 1969 film version.

Playing Dolly for the Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company (JRTC) will be Helen Spencer, a regular in the company’s shows and on the wider York theatre scene, who works as a psychiatrist in the NHS.

Platform to entertain: Hello, Dolly! principals Jamie Benson’s Barnaby Tucker, left, Helen Spencer’s Dolly Levi and Stuart Sellens’s Cornelius Hackl

Hello, Dolly! will be even more special for her, beyond the lead role, because she will be sharing the stage with her two children in their first theatrical performance.

This will be JRTC’s fifth full-scale production, following on from their flash, bang, walloping hit Kipps: The New Half A Sixpence Musical last February, with a continuing focus on producing high-quality, low-budget productions to maximise profits to give every penny straight back to the JoRo.

Taking the reins this time is Kathryn Lay, who steps off the stage to make her JRTC directing debut, alongside her husband Martin Lay as musical director. Both have been performing with the company since its inception in 2017.

“Hello, Dolly! perfectly showcases the company’s diverse and talented members,” says Kathryn. “There’s a large ensemble, which has allowed us to embrace our inclusive ethos, and the variation in roles really plays to everyone’s strengths. It’s a feel-good musical and the cast and creative team are having a wonderful time bringing it to life.

“The Joseph Rowntree Theatre is such a valuable asset for the York community, helping make theatre accessible for wider audiences. So, as well as being treated to a wonderful evening of entertainment, you’ll also be supporting a great cause and helping to play a part in keeping theatre alive in York.”

Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company, Hello, Dolly!, at Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, February 8 to 11, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee.Tickets: £15, under 18s, £13, on 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company cast members rehearsing the title number in Hello, Dolly!

Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company’s cast for Hello, Dolly!

Dolly Levi: Helen Spencer

Horace Vandergelder: Alex Schofield

Cornelius Hackl: Stuart Sellens

Irene Molloy: Jennie Wogan-Wells

Barnaby Tucker: Jamie Benson

Minnie Fay: Jennifer Jones

Ambrose Kemper: Jonothan Wells

Ermengarde: Abigail Atkinson

Ernestina: Sophie Cooke

Rudolph: Nick Sephton

Mrs Rose/Ensemble: Vanessa Lee

Judge/Manny/Ensemble: Ben Huntley

Clerk/Ensemble: Lois Cross

Louis/Ensemble: Cameron O’Bryne

Harry/Ensemble: Gary Bateson

Hank/Ensemble: Jack James Fry

Ensemble: Michelle Atkinson; Helen Barugh; Victoria Beale; Pamela Bradley; Ashley Ginter; Lorna Newby; Jennifer Payne; Susanne Perkins; Zoe Sellens; Heather Stead and Jane Woolgar

Production team

Director: Kathryn Lay

Musical director: Martin Lay

Assistant director/choreographer: Lorna Newby

Assistant director: Rosy Rowley

Producer: Stuart Sellens

Stuart Sellens’s Cornelius Hackl, left, and Jamie Benson’s Barnaby Tucker