Hooray for the Hollywood Sisters as they raise funds for York Mind at Friday concert with musical friends at Theatre@41

The Hollywood Sisters: Cat Foster, left, Rachel Higgs, Helen ‘Bells’ Spencer and Henrietta Linnemann

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.”

Richard Bayton, left, and John Haigh: Guest singers at the Hollywood Sisters And Friends charity concert

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.”

“We instantly forged a special bond,” says Helen ‘Bells’ Spencer, left, one that led to the Hollywood Sisters’ formation

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.”

https://www.justgiving.com/page/hollywoodsisters-1700920962362?utm_medium=fundraising&utm_content=page%2Fhollywoodsisters-1700920962362&utm_source=copyLink&utm_campaign=pfp-share

“Due to popular demand, we’ve added a few extra tickets, so grab them before they’re gone,” advises Bells. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

The poster artwork for Hollywood Sisters And Friends at Theatre@41, Monkgate on Friday night

REVIEW: Black Sheep Theatre Productions in Falsettos, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, until Saturday ***

Lovers’ kiss: Dan Crawfurd-Porter’s Whizzer, left, and Chris Mooney’s Marvin in Falsettos. All pictures: Chris Lever

FALSETTOS, William Finn and James Lapine’s “very Jewish, very gay” 1992 Tony Award winner, had been made unavailable for the British stage after a London production met with opposition over a lack of authenticity and accuracy.

However, negotiations spanning two years have paid off for “art with a point” York company Black Sheep Theatre Productions, whose director, Matthew Clare, has acquired exclusive UK rights to present the off-Broadway hit.

It would be good to see such persistence rewarded at the box office, but York theatregoers’ resistance to try out unfamiliar works is long established. Nevertheless, the support from Wednesday’s audience was admirably vocal from start to finish.

Matthew Warry’s Jason makes a move on the chess set. Is he a pawn in a game between his father, Chris Mooney’s Marvin, and his mother, Nicola Holliday’s Trina?

Falsettos pairs 1981’s March Of The Falsettos, a humorous study of men’s immaturity, with 1990’s Falsettoland, a graver piece penned in reaction to the devastating impact of the Aids epidemic on New York’s gay community.

In 1979, New Yorker Marvin (Chris Mooney) leaves his wife Trina (Nicola Holliday) and son Jason (Matthew Warry, aged 13) to live with Whizzer (Dan Crawfurd-Porter), his younger lover. They have known each other for nine months, says Whizzer; ten, insists the older, more hooked Marvin. They are arguing already.

Naively, Marvin expects to retain a tight-knit family. A subject he has discussed with his psychiatrist, the neurotic, insomniac Mendel (James Robert Ball), who in turn becomes a listening ear for latest client Trina. So much so, they marry, setting up the family unit Marvin had envisaged.

Nicola Holliday’s Trina with James Robert Ball’s Mendel mid-exercise

All this is expressed in song in a sung-through musical full of Sondheim emotional truths and vexatious Woody Allen humour (especially in Ball’s Mendel). All have their say, not only Marvin and the fast-exiting, exasperated Whizzer, but Trina and Jason too. Mendel listens and listens, cross-legged and looking as awkward as the conversations.

On opening night, sound balance favoured band over voice in this first act, meaning not everything was clear to the ear, for all the heart-felt, often beautiful singing. Such a hindrance to comprehending fully what was going on was detrimental to the show’s impact at this juncture, and the standalone March Of The Falsettos number in luminous white only added to that sense of bafflement.

Ollie Kingston’s choreography was fun here, but that scene came and went like a ghost. Such are the limitations of a sung-through structure, where more narrative would be helpful.

Fresh impetus in Falsettoland: Rachel Higgs’s Cordelia. left, and Helen Spencer’s Dr Charlotte

Post-interval, frustration vanishes. The voices can be heard far better; the singing is more dramatic; the songs are superior, as two storylines play out two years later in 1981: Jason’s preparation for his bar mitzvah and Whizzer’s reunion with Marvin under the spreading cloud of Aids.

Into the story, and very welcome too, come Marvin and Whizzer’s lesbian neighbours, Dr Charlotte (Helen Spencer), struggling with the rising tide of Aids patients, and girlfriend Cordelia (Rachel Higgs), forever cooking up another nibble.

Just as Marvin and his family learn to grow up, so Falsettoland is a far more mature piece than March Of The Falsettos. It is better balanced too with the presence of Charlotte and Cordelia being all important. Spencer brings gravitas; Higgs, puppyish devotion, amid the “hospital bed humour”.

Performances all round settle down as the night progresses to match the high quality of the singing. Ball’s Mendel is the comic driving force; Jarry delights as Jason, being pulled hither and thither but remaining single-minded too; Holliday’s resolute Trina handles the big ballads with aplomb.

Hospital drama: Dan Crawfurd-Porter’s bed-ridden Whizzer with Helen Spencer’s Dr Charlotte, left, Rachel Higgs’s Cordelia, Chris Mooney’s Marvin, James Robert Ball’s Mendel, Nicoloa Holliday’s Trina and Matthew Warry’s Jason (seated)

In a heightened drama without conventional heroes and villains, the gay characters of Marvin and Whizzer are depicted with three-dimensional complexity, devoid of any stereotyping. They play chess, they play squash, they bicker, they learn, their love blossoms, and in turn the stage chemistry of Mooney and Crawfurd-Porter grows too.

Staging Falsettos has been a passion project for Matthew Clare, who leads his four-piece band with suitable conviction from the keyboards, while Kingston’s choreography is alive to both humour and dramatic effect and the building-block set design is practical and amusingly adaptable.

Art with a point? Yes, indeed. Black Sheep Theatre Productions and the JoRo are to be commended for bringing Falsettos to York’s attention. The more variety there is to the city’s theatre portfolio, the better, when playing safe would be the easier path.

Black Sheep Theatre Productions perform Falsettos at 7.30pm tonight and tomorrow;  2.30pm and 7.30pm, tomorrow. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

How York company Black Sheep Theatre secured the exclusive UK rights to “unavailable” American musical Falsettos

Dan Crawfurd-Porter’s Whizzer and Chris Mooney’s Marvin in rehearsal for Black Sheep Theatre Productions’ York premiere of Falsettos

YORK company Black Sheep Theatre Productions is running a list of Eight Reasons Not To Miss Falsettos in emphatic block capitals on Facebook ahead of next week’s York premiere at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre.

One reason: the limited availability. “Falsettos is a show that is not available for licence in the United Kingdom for normal theatre companies to perform,” it reads. “Falsettos is only available by special agreement with the composer, William Finn, and Concord Theatricals for production by Black Sheep Theatre Productions and is very unlikely to be done in the UK any time soon.

“If you miss this production, you won’t be able to find another one any time soon,” it re-emphasises.

For a barrier-breaking LGBTQ+ American musical where “love can tell a million stories”, that statement only tells half the story. Let director Matthew Clare fill in the rest as Black Sheep stick to their mission of making “Art with a point”.

“It’s been done only once before in the UK by a semi-pro company, off-West End, in London. It lasted for a week – there was a big backlash against it as a very gay and very Jewish musical,” he says.

“No-one in the cast was Jewish and lot of the Hebrew in it was pronounced wrongly, leading to a letter being signed by prominent members of the Jewish community and published in the Guardian. Miriam Margolyes and David Baddiel spoke on the matter, and in the light of that letter, pressure was put on to close the production. That’s what happened.

“Subsequently, the performing right were not available in the UK and that’s still the case, but now I have attained exclusive rights for Falsettos in the UK.”

Father and son in conversation in Falsetttos: Chris Mooney as Marvin with Matthew Warry as 12-year-old Jason

How come? “Concord Theatricals have the rights in America, so I contacted them. That was nearly three years, during Covid, saying when everything gets back to normal, how could I make a production happen?” recalls Matthew.

“They initially said, ‘No, there are no rights in the UK’, but I kept pushing and through thatI got in touch with William Finn, the composer.”

First by email, then in conversation. “I talked openly with him, saying I wanted to be faithful to the piece. He’s Jewish, and we have Jewish representation on the production team,” says Matthew.

“My vision for our production was discussed by Concord with William, and they then said, ‘that’s fine, we agree for you to do it’.”

Permission was granted in spring 2022, a rights fee was agreed and paid, and Matthew then dealt directly with Concord in the UK. “It’s still heavily managed by them,” he says. “I’ve talked to them about twice a month, as I also did Elegies For Angels, Punks And Raging Queens through them, and because of that they’ve now kind of backed off over the last two months.

“They did stipulate that the child in the show – Jason – has to be male and there could be flexibility with other casting, though it all has to be as stated for gender. The cast also has to have an understanding of Jewish customs, such as  bar mitzvahs, and we made sure the cast was au fait with everything by day one of rehearsals.”

Written by Finn and James Lapine, Falsettos is a Tony Award-winning sung-through musical that combines 1981’s March Of The Falsettos and 1990’s Falsettoland  in its late-Seventies, early-Eighties story of Marvin (played by Chris Mooney), who has left his wife, Trina (Nicola Holliday) and 12-year-old son, Jason (Matthew Warry), to be with his male lover, Whizzer (Dan Crawfurd-Porter), and struggles to keep his Jewish family together in the way he has idealised.

Nicola Holliday rehearsing the role of Trina, Marvin’s ex-wife and mother of Jason

“It’s a beautiful and heart-breaking story that explores the definitions of maturity and masculinity through this non-traditional family, and via a character who is immature at the start, as the AIDS pandemic comes to light,” says Matthew.

The cast of seven is completed by James Robert Ball as psychiatrist Mendel Weisenbachfeld, Helen Spencer as Dr Charlotte and Rachel Higgs as her girlfriend Cordelia. Together they must “bring their characters to life and present them in the most realistic and emotionally impactful ways”, as championed in another of the aforementioned eight reasons to see Falsettos.

“In this show, we have a fairly large representation of LGBTQ+ people in the cast and production team, and that brings with it an understanding of the roles and how to play them,” says Matthew of a musical whose characters and roles have played “a significant role in promoting diversity and inclusivity in the theatre community”.

“It’s important that these characters are presented in a realistic and sensitive manner, hooking audiences and ensuring the best possible show for you to watch!

“The themes are timeless, delving into the importance of acceptance, the strength of chosen families, defining masculinity and maturity, and the resilience needed to face life’s challenges. Its messages of love, compassion and unity resonate across the generations and continue to be relevant in our ever-changing world.

“That’s why we did Elegies For Angels, Punks And Raging Queens too. Theatre with a point is the best kind of theatre, and I want people to think and reflect on what they’ve just seen after the show.”

Black Sheep Theatre Productions in Falsettos, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, August 9 to 12, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Copyright of The Press, York

Take a seat: James Robert Ball, left, in the role of Marvin and Trina’s psychiatrist, Mendel Weisenbachfeld, with Chris Mooney’s Marvin James 

In profile: James Robert Ball, who is playing Mendel Weisenbachfeld

SUMMING up his role in Falsettos, James Robert Ball says: “Mendel is a middle-aged Jewish psychiatrist, an intellectual, but he’s a nervous wreck, trying to solve his own problems by solving everyone else’s.

“He’s treating the main character, Marvin, who has left his wife, Trina, because he’s gay and has stopped the charade of living a married life with a woman. Mendel starts treating Trina too, meddles his way into the family, then marries her and becomes the new father figure to Marvin and Trina’s son, Jason.”

Assessing Falsettos’ characters, James says: “They’re all very fleshed out. No-one is the hero. No-one is the villain. They each have their own neuroses and manipulate someone else but they all have heart too.

“The show is kind of a close observation of family dynamics and messy modern dynamics at that.”

James is a musical theatre composer and lyricist, musical director, actor, author, piano and singing teacher, pianist, accompanist and “Sondheim obsessive”. “I’m a freelance professional musician,” says the piano, trombone and clarinet player. “When I’m in shows as a musician, I’m a professional; when I’m doing a show like this, I’m an amateur.”

Director Matthew Clare originally had James in mind to be the rehearsal pianist, but his performances for York Stage as Mr Mushnik in Little Shop Of Horrors in July 2022 and Baron Bomburst’s spy Goran in a Vulgarian double act with Jack Hooper’s Boris in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in April demanded further roles. Step forward James’s Mendel Weisenbachfeld.

James Robert Ball’s psychiatrist Mendel in conversation with Nicola Holliday’s Trina in Falsettos

“The core of what I’m good at as an actor is that there isn’t much acting required, because Mendel is quite like me, and it’s a ‘schticky’ character again, having done Mr Mushnik with a similar vibe and similar characteristics,” he says.

Broad, physical humour marked out his double act with Jack Hooper in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. “We put a lot of work into that partnership, and particularly for the kids in the audience, it was perfect old-time vaudeville humour,” says James.

“I had a great time working with Jack – it takes loads of effort to look that silly and get that beat going.”

Humour of a different dynamic is at play in Finn and Lapine’s “emotionally truthful” musical, one rooted in verbal volleyball before gradually turning into “hospital/deathbed humour” (or gallows humour, to use a more familiar term). “It’s all about the awkwardness in the moment, like in Woody Allen’s films,” says James.

“Stephen Sondheim is a useful reference here. It’s similar to Into The Woods in how the patter of chatter is translated into song, and how there’s a contrast in song styles with the ballads being more melodic.”

Did you know?

JAMES Robert Ball’s debut novel, A Botanical Daughter, will be published in March 2024. He teaches singing and performance at York Stage School.

Did you know too?

JAMES Lapine has collaborated frequently with Stephen Sondheim, as well as William Finn, in his career as a stage director, playwright, screenwriter and librettist, not least on Into The Woods.

All your favourite musical songs, but not as you know them, in Joseph Rowntree Theatre Co’s Musicals In The Multiverse

Helen Spencer directing a rehearsal for Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company’s Musicals In The Multiverse. Picture: Jenny Jones

JOSEPH Rowntree Theatre Company’s summer fundraising show, Musicals In The Multiverse, will be their “most ambitious concert production ever”.

Staged at the JoRo on June 29 and 30, this out-of-this-universe show will be directed by Helen Spencer, last seen on that stage in the title role of JRTC’s Hello, Dolly! in February.

“We have some of the best talent York has to offer in our 36-strong cast, so it’s been a joy to cast,” says Helen. “We were delighted after the success of Hello, Dolly! to welcome a lot of new members and this concert is the perfect showcase for the ever-growing JRTC as we invite the Yorkshire community to this epic show.

“It’s our ‘most ambitious’ concert in that it’s the biggest cast we’ve had for a summer show and it’s much more of a production than just a concert: more numbers, more choreography, more cast members, and the concept itself is more ambitious and challenging.”

Introducing the show’s concept, she says: “Musicals In The Multiverse will be an exciting evening of musical theatre favourites with a twist. In the parallel universes of this musical multiverse, you’ll hear the songs that you know and love, but with their traditional presentation turned on its head, so they are different but still recognisable. This means gender swaps, minor to major key swaps, musical style swaps and more!

“The concept came from a conversation among JRTC members about songs they would love to sing but would never get the opportunity to do so in a fully staged musical production, for example due to the gender, age etc of the character in the original setting.

“We pride ourselves on being an inclusive and welcoming artistic space for all. The concept for this show allows our wonderfully talented and diverse cast to perform songs that explore and celebrate who they are, to push some of the traditional musical theatre boundaries and ultimately honour some of the best musical songs ever written.” 

Cast members in an early rehearsal for Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company’s Musicals In The Multiverse. Picture: Jenny Jones

Accompanied by a five-piece band, Helen’s cast will perform a mixture of solos, duets, small group and full ensemble numbers on a set list featuring songs from Les Miserables, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Rent, Blood Brothers, Company, Bat Out Of Hell, The Little Mermaid, Jersey Boys, Chicago, Guys And Dolls, Beauty And The Beast, Frozen and Billy Elliot.

“As well as showstopping songs from a whole cast bursting with vocal talent, our strong core of dancers will perform several spectacular featured dance numbers, such as Electricity from Billy Elliot,” says Helen.

“Every song in the show will have at least one twist. Our tagline ‘Expect the unexpected in the multiverse’ is absolutely right. The most basic shift will be from male to female voice, for which we have to change the key. Then we have musical style changes for songs that were classical or musical theatre pieces into jazz or blues numbers.

“There are era swaps too, moving songs contextually into a different era so that the words take on a different meaning. Bring Him Home, from Les Miserables, is moved from 19th century France to Second World War Britain, sung beautifully by Jennie Wogan-Wells as a mother to her son on the front, wanting to bring him home safely.”

In the shift from major key to minor, two Disney numbers change dramatically. “Frozen’s Let It Go, sung by Connie Howcroft, and Little Mermaid’s Part Of Your World, sung by Rachel Higgs, take on a more sinister, evil vibe,” says Helen. “Let It Go becomes a much darker song, less Disney, more jazz.”

Focusing on the gender swaps, Helen says: “Often we’ve not changed the gender within the song, so the sexuality of the song becomes different. For example, Rosy Rowley sings Meat Loaf’s Dead Ringer For Love from Bat Out Of Hell and takes Frankie Valli’s lead vocal in Who Loves You from the musical Jersey Boys.

“That’s one of the things we’ve loved about the rehearsal process: people have the chance to sing songs they now feel comfortable with, so we’re proud of supporting of that aspect of the show, because of the gender diversity in the cast.”

As consultant psychiatrist and JRTC regular Helen swaps Dolly’s red feathers for the director’s hat, she is joined in the production team by musical director Matthew Clare, choreographer Jennie Wogan-Wells and assistant musical director James Ball.

“It’s a formidable new creative team for this adventure,” says Helen. “I have a huge amount of professional experience as a performer, vocal coach and company manager and I’m delighted to be taking the reins for this exciting project.

“Some of his arrangements are absolutely stunning,” says director Helen Spencer of musical director Matthew Clare. Picture: Jenny Jones

“Well known on the York musical circuit as a director, musical director and musician, this is Matthew’s first production with JRTC. However, he has close ties with the cast and the company, and he is most excited to be writing unique and innovative arrangements of some all-time favourites.

“I approached Matthew, who I’d worked with before, as he’s very good at rearranging music and parts and that’s what we needed for this show, altering songs in some way. Some of his arrangements are absolutely stunning, some are challenging to sing: he never does anything easy!”

As for choreographer Jennie, Helen says: “She has been a key figure in JRTC for many years, both on and off the stage, and we’re thrilled to have her experience, energy and vision as the choreographer in the multiverse. 

“We’re super-super happy to have Jennie doing it as she’s a really strong dancer in JRTC shows and she’d expressed a wish to get more involved in the choreography. She has the imagination to run with an idea, which is perfect for this show.

“We’ve also been lucky to get some really good dancers so that it’s not just a stand and sing show but has lots of great dancing in it.”

Helen will feature in the show in a “very tiny way”. “I’ll be performing in a fun number from City Of Angels, What You Don’t Know About Women, which is usually sung as a duet, but we’re doing it as a sextet where we’ve changed it from the 1930s to the modern day as a pyjama party for women bitching about men!

“I’m only doing it because I was feeling jealous about not doing anything at all on stage, though I’m a believer in stepping back as the director and giving everyone in the company as much chance as possible to shine,” she says.

“It felt right to do that as we’re determined to have featured parts for everyone, even if its’s just a featured line or a highlighted moment to show what an amazing company we’ve put together.”

Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company in Musicals In The Multiverse, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, June 29 and 30, 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk. All profits go straight back the Joseph Rowntree Theatre.

Making moves: Choreographer Jennie Wogan-Wells in action. Picture: Jenny Jones


Cast List:

Abi Carter; Alex Schofield; Ashley Ginter; Ben Huntley; Catherine Foster; Charlotte Wetherell; Chris Gibson; Connie Howcroft; Dan Crawford-Porter; Ellie Carrier; Helen Barugh; Jack James Fry; Jai Rowley; James Willstrop; Jen Payne; Jennie Wogan-Wells; Jenny Jones; Jono Wells; Kat Dent; Kathryn Lay; Lorna Newby; Meg Badrick; Nick Sephton; Nicola Strataridaki; Pamela Bradley; Rachel Higgs; Richard Goodall; Rosy Rowley; Ryan Richardson; Scarlett Rowley; Steven Jobson; Tessa Ellis; Vanessa Lee and Victoria Beale.

Did you know?

HELEN’S children, Temperance and Laertes Singhateh, aged ten and seven, will be singing in the show. “In When I Grow Up, from Matilda, adults will sing Matilda’s lines and Tempi and Laertes will do teacher Miss Honey’s lines, because the concept is, we’re all children but we happen to grow up,” says Helen. “It realy changes the song doing it this way.”

Did you know too?

HELEN Spencer worked in theatre professionally, touring Europe in her 20s, having studied for a music and drama degree.

She has been a consultant psychiatrist for 12 years since changing her career path. Initially she combined performing with her medical studies but then decided psychiatry should be her focus.

Now she is embracing performing and directing anew. “I love psychiatry, working for the NHS in my job, but part of my well-being is doing music and drama, so it’s good to be doing that too. If I don’t do it, I’m sad,” she says. “Being busy and happy is fine by me.”

Copyright of The Press, York

REVIEW: Jekyll & Hyde The Musical, York Musical Theatre Company

Steven Jobson’s Edward Hyde and Nicola Holliday’s Lucy Harris

York Musical Theatre Company in Jekyll & Hyde The Musical, York Musical Theatre Company, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, 7.30pm tonight; 2.30pm and 7.30pm tomorrow. Box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

ON the only previous time CharlesHutchPress encountered Leslie Bricusse and Frank Wildhorn’s Broadway musical, at Leeds Grand Theatre in July 2011, this was his verdict.

“In a nutshell, it is a very good performance of a not particularly good musical adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella that has but one memorable song, This Is The Moment,” he wrote, before concluding: “A deliciously wicked way to spend tonight or tomorrow awaits you”.

Eleven years on, This Is The Moment continues to stand out, but once more, Jekyll & Hyde The Musical’s story of love, betrayal and murder hits the mark in performance, this time under the gothic-inspired direction of Matthew Clare.

The aforementioned 2011 touring production relied on the handsome pop star chops of Marti Pellow in the dual role of upstanding, if obsessive Dr Henry Jekyll and his vengeful, sadistic, chemically altered alter ego, Mr Edward Hyde.  

Director Matthew Clare

Clare goes with freelance actor, singer and voice actor Steven Jobson, whose love of performing was triggered by witnessing The Phantom Of The Opera at the age of 14, another show that ventures deep into the dark side.

Jobson can certainly act; he sings Jekyll & Hyde’s difficult, impassioned, narrative-driven songs adroitly too, and you can hear why he is a voice actor as he switches between the urbane, educated, tenor airs of the romantic scientist Jekyll and the guttural bass growl of Hyde, ably retaining the distinction in song.

In one early moment, his agitated singing voice for Hyde becomes muffled in the sound mix, but let’s put that down to this being the first night.

Jobson is equally convincing in his physical transformations, never straying into Hammer Horror melodrama. His monstrous madman always lurks within, those inner demons brought to the surface by reckless scientific brio as much as by his experiments.

Alexandra Mather vowed to make Jekyll’s trusting, unknowing fiancée, Emma Carew, more three-dimensional than on the page, and she delivers on that promise in her characterisation, while her pure, operatic voice wholly suits the score.

Nick Sephton’s Sir Danvers Carew

Director Clare has decided to split the role of love-struck but fearful prostitute Lucy Harris between York musical theatre regular and radio presenter Claire Pulpher (next performance, Saturday matinee) and Scarborough professional Nicola Holliday in her YMTC debut. Holliday was on duty on Wednesday, growing into her performance the more she sang, conveying both Lucy’s untrusting, self-protective nature and quest for love.

Strong support comes from Anthon Gardner’s lawyer John Utterson and Nick Sephton’s Sir Danvers Carew, and the ensemble relishes Bring On The Men, choreographed sassily by Hannah Wakelam.

John Atkin’s band is in good order throughout, steering the path between big balladry in the Lloyd Webber mode and a sly wickedness more in keeping with Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street.

Costumes and wigs serve the primary role in evoking the Victorian era; the plain set design, by comparison, is a modern construction of metal stairways and a mezzanine level, more in keeping with a pop concert, but the use of blue lighting to denote Jekyll and red for Hyde is effective.  Everyone stands, no-one sits, such is the restless, unrelenting, unnerving progression from Jekyll to hellish Hyde.

Director Clare had called Jekyll & Hyde a “niche musical”, but he has successfully brought it out of the shadows, and in Steven Jobson he has found just the man for the job.

Review by Charles Hutchinson

York Musical Theatre Company determined to take “phenomenal” Jekyll & Hyde The Musical out of niche status at JoRo Theatre

Steven Jobson, who plays Jekyll/Hyde, and Nicola Holliday, in the role of Lucy Harris, pictured at York Castle Museum

YORK Musical Theatre Company are marking their 120th anniversary with a new staging of Jekyll & Hyde The Musical.

Directed by Matthew Clare, York’s longest-running amateur theatre company are presenting Robert Louis Stevenson’s story of love, betrayal and murder from May 25 to 28, when the epic struggle between good and evil comes to life to the pop-rock score of Grammy and Tony Award-nominated Frank Wildhorn and double Oscar and Grammy-winning Leslie Bricusse.

Jekyll & Hyde has been described as a “niche musical”, prompting Matthew to say: “It was first done in Texas in the 1990s and it’s true it’s not been done commonly. Maybe its subject matter is off-putting to those who want something more family orientated: Annie comes without seven murders, doesn’t it – and I once did 17 productions of Annie in one year!

“But given that the music is phenomenal, we stood the chance of getting a really good cast, doing some music nights with musical director John Atkin going through some of the score, and we ended up with a really good turnout for the auditions.”

Among those auditionees was Glyndebourne Academy alumna Alexandra Mather, who will play Emma Carew. “The music has some operatic elements and strong musical theatre ones too,” she says.

“So, the show has that crossover appeal between the populism of Lloyd Webber and the sophistication of Sondheim. It’s Phantom meets Sweeney Todd, with the big power ballads for the Lloyd Webber factor and the interplay of Sondheim in the ensemble scenes.”

Matthew Clare: Directing York Musical Theatre Company’s production of Jekyll & Hyde The Musical

Stevenson’s tale of two men – one, a doctor, passionate and romantic; the other, a terrifying madman – and two women – one, beautiful and trusting; the other, beautiful and trusting only herself – finds both women in love with the same man and both unaware of his dark secret.

A devoted man of science, Dr Henry Jekyll is driven to find a chemical breakthrough that can solve the most challenging of medical dilemmas. Rebuffed by the powers-that-be, he decides to make himself the subject of his own experimental treatments, accidentally unleashing his inner demons, along with the man that the world would come to know as Mr Hyde.

“It’s a really powerful story rooted in Dr Jekyll looking for a cure for his father’s dementia,” says Matthew. “Most people can probably sympathise with that emotion, that desire, but the issue is that he becomes obsessed with it.”

Alexandra adds: “Jekyll doesn’t have a way to pursue this through the proper channels because it’s a one-man crusade and he ends up having to push Emma away because of what he’s doing.”

Anthony Gardner, cast as lawyer John Utterson, joins in: “Hyde is a diminished part of Jekyll. He’s juxtaposed with Utterson, who has all the correct moral values and represents stability.”

Matthew notes how Hyde is the only honest character in the story. “That’s a really weird thing to say about your villain, who’s always within Jekyll.”

“It’s Phantom meets Sweeney Todd,” says principal cast member Alexandra Mather, describing the musical style of Jekyll & Hyde

How we might behave in any given situation depends on where we are in our lives, suggests Alexandra. “We are not constant,” she says. “Depending on where we are, it can bring out that other side.”

Anthony is playing “one of the more relatable characters”. “Utterson is Jekyll’s best friend but he’s also someone who steps out of the story and becomes a narrator, so as such his voice is one of the ones you can trust,” he says.

“He’s desperate to save his friend but he’s also blind to his faults so he’s always one step behind.”

Anthony has been “knocking around I don’t know how many companies all these years”, from York Light Opera Company to York Opera, the Bev Jones Music Company to York Musical Theatre Company. “But the draw to Jekyll & Hyde for me was very specific,” he says.

“I met my fiancée doing an abridged version at the ROSS Musical Theatre Performance School at Lancaster: a 45-minute version that still had all the murders and the full story.

“I had to play two characters: my first take on Utterson, a role suited to my style, and Spider; my now fiancée was playing Lucy Harris, the prostitute, and now she’s playing Lady Savage next week.

Devoted man of science: Steven Jobson’s Dr Henry Jekyll

“We’re due to get married next year. We got engaged over lockdown, and we’ll be getting married on Kirkgate at York Castle Museum, where, as it happens, we did the photocall for Jekyll & Hyde.”

Anthony’s bride-to-be is Elizabeth Vile. “No, she will not be keeping her maiden name! I had always thought I would go double-barrelled when marrying, but ‘Vile Gardner’ doesn’t quite work, does it?!”

Should you be seeking further reasons to be “immersed in the myth and mystery of 19th century London’s fog-bound streets” in Jekyll & Hyde, here are two more from director Matthew.

“Because of Covid, York Musical Theatre Company haven’t had a full-scale production for two years since Jesus Christ Superstar, just a couple of online concerts, so it’s great to be back,” he says.

“It’s also very interesting to have two performers playing Lucy – Nicola Holliday on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evening; Claire Pulpher on Thursday and at the Saturday matinee – and seeing how they play her in their different ways.”

York Musical Theatre Company in Jekyll & Hyde The Musical, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, May 25 to 28, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Copyright of The Press, York

York Musical Theatre Company’s poster artwork for Jekyll & Hyde The Musical

Rehearsals start for York Musical Theatre Company’s May show Jekyll & Hyde The Musical. Who’s in Matthew Clare’s cast?

York Musical Theatre Company’s artwork for Jekyll & Hyde The Musical

REHEARSALS are underway for York Musical Theatre Company’s May staging of Jekyll & Hyde The Musical.

“The production team were blown away by the high standard of talent that attended the two days of auditions in January, resulting in a very tough task in the casting of roles,” says company stalwart Mick Liversidge. “In fact, deliberation went on to the early hours of the morning after the final auditionee had left on the second day.

“YMTC feel that the resulting cast will deliver a fantastic show, worthy of marking the company’s 120th year. Rehearsals began on Monday and the cast couldn’t wait to get stuck into the sumptuous music of this fabulous show.”

Based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic story, the epic struggle between good and evil comes to life on stage to the thrilling pop-rock score of Grammy and Tony Award-nominated Frank Wildhorn and double Oscar and Grammy-winning Leslie Bricusse.

An evocative tale of two men – one, a doctor, passionate and romantic; the other, a terrifying madman – and two women – one, beautiful and trusting; the other, beautiful and trusting only herself – finds both women in love with the same man and both unaware of his dark secret.

A devoted man of science, Dr Henry Jekyll is driven to find a chemical breakthrough that can solve the most challenging of medical dilemmas. Rebuffed by the powers-that-be, he decides to make himself the subject of his own experimental treatments, accidentally unleashing his inner demons, along with the man that the world would come to know as Mr Hyde.

York Musical Theatre Company invite audiences to “be immersed in the myth and mystery of 19th century London’s fog-bound streets, where love, betrayal and murder lurk at every chilling turn and twist” in the May 25 to 28 run at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York.

Tickets are on sale on 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk. For the Early Bird discount of £2 off each ticket, use the promo code JEKYLL22HYDE when booking online.

Jekyll & Hyde cast:

Dr Henry Jekyll/Mr Edward Hyde: Steven Jobson
Emma Carew:  Alexandra Mather
Lucy Harris:  Nicola Holliday & Claire Pulpher (shared role)
John Utterson:  Anthony Gardner
Sir Danvers Carew:  Nick Sephton
Simon Stride:  Matthew Ainsworth
Lady Beaconsfield:  Helen Spencer
Lady Savage: Elizabeth Vile
Archibald Proops:  Ryan Stocks
General Glossop: Rob Davies
Bishop of Basingstoke: Ryan Richardson
Spider: Ben Caswell
Nellie: Erin Keogh

Ensemble: Eleanor Anson; Faye Addy; Danar Cantrill; Ellie Carrier; Sophie Cunningham; Bethany Edwards; Rebecca Ellis; Tess Ellis; Emily Hardy; Cameron O’Dent; Frankie Nicholls; Suzanne Perkins; Victoria Rimmington; Paula Stainton; Hannah Wakelam.


Director: Matthew Clare; musical director, John Atkin; production manager, Peter Jamieson;
wardrobe, Kathryn Addison.


York Musical Theatre Company seeks new recruits for May’s Jekyll & Hyde The Musical as part of 120th anniversary celebrations

York Musical Theatre Company’s poster for next May’s production of Jekyll & Hyde The Musical

YORK Musical Theatre Company is seeking to attract new members to take part in next year’s exciting shows to marks its 120th anniversary.

First up will be Jekyll & Hyde The Musical, directed by Matthew Clare, with musical direction by John Atkin, at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, from May 25 to 28.

An introductory evening will be held on Thursday, January 6 at 7.30pm at Poppleton Methodist Church Hall. “This will be a chance for anyone interested in being involved with the show to meet the production team and chat about auditions, rehearsals, the characters, the plot and the music,” says new committee member Mick Liversidge.

“There’ll be auditions for all character and ensemble roles on Saturday, January 15, from 11am to 3pm, and Tuesday, January 18, from 7.3pm to 9.30pm, again at Poppleton.”

Based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s thriller The Strange Case Of Jekyll And Hyde, the musical sets the gripping tale of a brilliant mind gone horrifically awry to a powerful pop-rock score by Frank Wildhorn, with book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse.

“Jekyll & Hyde The Musical should be a truly memorable show to celebrate York Musical Theatre Company’s 120th year,” says committee member and actor Mick Liversidge

In attempting to cure his ailing father’s mental illness by separating “good” from “evil” in the human personality, talented physician Dr Jekyll inadvertently creates an alternate personality of pure evil, dubbed Mr Hyde, who wreaks murderous havoc on the city of London.

As his fiancée, Emma, grows increasingly fearful for her betrothed, a prostitute, Lucy, finds herself involved dangerously with both the doctor and his alter ego. Struggling to control Hyde before he takes over for good, Jekyll must race to find a cure for the demon he has created in his own mind.

“The music for this show is sumptuous, with some fabulous moving numbers for the lead characters to perform, backing up a truly bittersweet story of love, passion, sex and murder, mixed with both the physical and mental struggles of Dr Jekyll to vindicate his medical theories,” says Mick.

To register for an audition, send an email to: auditions@yorkmusicaltheatrecompany.org.uk.
“The auditions are open to anyone who wishes to be involved in what should be a truly memorable show to celebrate York Musical Theatre Company’s 120th year,” says Mick.