GO, go, go, Joseph! Audition registration time is here for York Stage’s “dazzling” spring production of Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
“Alongside our main adult casting, we’re also looking for children aged seven to 12, at the time of the audition, to join our cast,” says producer Nik Briggs.
Auditions will be held this month, beginning with initial adult auditions on January 9 from 7pm, followed by children’s ensemble auditions on January 11 from 7pm and recall auditions on January 14 from 1pm, all at Theatre@41, Monkgate. Nik will aim to release the cast list within 48 hours.
Joseph was first written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice at the request of a friend of Andrew’s father, Colet Court School choirmaster Alan Doggett, for the school’s 1968 end-of-term concert.
The full-scale musical will be presented by York Stage at the Grand Opera House, York, from April 12 to 20, at 7.30pm, except Fridays and Sunday; Fridays, 5pm and 8pm, and Sunday matinee, 4pm.
Set in ancient Egypt, this vibrant musical tells the biblical story of Joseph, his coat of many colours, and his prophetic journey as he learns that dreams really can come true. Among the songs are Any Dream Will Do, Go, Go, Go, Joseph, Close Every Door and the Elvis pastiche Song Of The King.
YORK Stage director Nik Briggs likes to try out different shows for the Christmas season.
Whether staging the company’s one-off pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk, in the Covid winter of a socially distanced 2020 at Theatre@41, or his sparkling, exuberant Elf The Musical at the Grand Opera House in 2021, he has come up trumps.
This winter, he is presenting not one, but two shows, back at Theatre@41. By day, Mick Liversidge’s Mr Claus and Joanne Theaker’s Mrs Claus are to be found in their very busy house, preparing for the big day but still finding time to entertain children with 45 minutes of sing-a-longs, Christmas stories, interactive wonderment and Christmas songs aplenty each day until Saturday in Santa’s Sing-A-Long.
By night, diverse York Stage vocal talent is serving up a Festive Feast of Christmas songs, ranging from the traditional chestnuts to modern pop, washed down with lashings of musical theatre favourites, under the musical direction of Adam Tomlinson.
Always on hand with quips or quiz questions at the keyboard, he is accompanied by Rosie Morris on bass and Alex Woolgar on drums to one side of the raised end-on stage in an auditorium bedecked with festive lighting, a red bow and grey backdrop, decorations, ceiling baubles, a wood burner, Christmas stockings, tinsel tassels and assorted Christmas trees. Merry Christmas reads the lettering above the mantlepiece.
To the other side are gathered 11 singers, who will be a constant presence, either seated on chairs or stools and gazing stage-wards supportively, when not singing, or leaping up to take centre stage in solos, duets, trios or quintets or to share in an ensemble number.
In glittering party frocks, York Stage regulars Katie Melia, Jess Main, Tracey Rea, Cyanne Unamba Oparah, Hannah Shaw and Carly Morton are joined for the first time by Guildhall School of Music & Drama student Jess Parnell.
Alongside the bow-tied, dinner-jacketed Matthew Clarke, Stuart Hutchinson and Jack Hooper is Finn East, all in black at Friday’s performance, adding a Jack Black in School Of Rock vibe to the festive formality around him. Welcome back Finn. So pleased to see you restored to the York Stage ranks; we have missed you, big fella.
The first half opens with That Time Of Year (Olaf’s Frozen Adventure), a chance for all the company to loosen their vocal chords, before Matthew Clarke confirms It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas and Finn East reaches for his guitar in Chris Rea’s winter warmer Driving Home For Christmas.
Musical theatre is represented in the spot-on choice of Turkey Lurkey Time from Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s Promises, Promises, and those promises are certainly delivered by Carly Morton, Katie Melia and Jess Parnell.
Oh, what fun it is for Hutchinson, Clarke, Jess Main, Cyanne Unamba Oparah and Tracey Rea to sing James Lord Pierpont’s Jingle Bells, surely the jolliest ride to Christmas of all the seasonal favourites.
Rea’s rendition of Christmas Song, full of diva drama, leads off a run of solo numbers. Unamba Oparah, in red, turns up the heat in the cheeky Santa Baby, then Hannah Shaw impressively rides the Weimar cabaret-style twists & turns and mood changes of a woman scorned in Surabaya Santa, from Jason Robert Brown’s 1997 musical Songs For A New World: another inspired pick for a set list with room to surprise and seek out less familiar pearls. Whereupon Jess Parnell announces a new talent to watch with Christmas Lullaby, pure and midnight clear.
Songs from Christmas films are heralded by, what else, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas from 1942’s Holiday Inn, in a dreamy duet for a crooning Clarke and Melia. Bags of personality filter through the combative You’re A Mean One Mr Grinch, Jack Hooper and East jousting ever more grouchily with each retort from behind magic light books in the show’s comedic high point.
A Christmas at the Movies Medley, arranged delightfully by Tomlinson, sees out the first half in the merriest Christmas spirit.
Bohemian Rhapsody might not be an obvious choice for a Festive Feast, but Queen’s rock-operatic behemoth twice topped the Christmas chart, in 1975 and 1991, a month after Freddie Mercury’s death. What an second-half opener it proves in an ensemble number that showcases the company’s singing chops, nods to the iconic video’s torch-lit operatic Galileo section, then rocks out gloriously.
Another Christmas number one, 1983’s Only You, is transformed from the Flying Pickets’ a cappella sextet to Only Stu, Hutchinson flying solo with all the bleak midwinter yearning of Vince Clarke’s paean to lost love.
Melia seeks out a reviving cocktail mid-song in the breathless rush of the daffy I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas and Shaw’s Holly Jolly Christmas sure is perky and bright. Parnell excels again in the Basque folk carol Gabriel’s Message, to Tomlinson’s minimalist accompaniment, as the mood turns more reflective, and magical too, in the ensemble performance of another folk carol, Gaudete, as popularised in Steeleye Span’s 1973 a cappella hit. Stepping out from behind the keys, Tomlinson extracts spine-tingling choral interplay from his singers.
Joni Mitchell’s River, from 1971’s Blue album, was never released as a single but has become her second-most covered song. Here, company leading lady Carly Morton’s gorgeous version re-emphasises why, capturing the heartbroken Mitchell’s wish for a river she could skate away on.
Christmas can be a season of tears as much as good cheer, as represented in Festive Feast’s programme, but it feels right that the home straight should accentuate the joys, from Hooper’s It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year to Unamba Oparah and Shaw’s all-female reinvigoration of Baby It’s Cold Outside, a song that some considered to be coercive in its original man-cajoling-woman call-and-respond format.
Jess Main’s A Place Called Home is as warming as that wood burner looks on stage, and now is the time for what Tomlinson calls “a bit of a Christmas banger”. “I’ll try” says Morton, as she starts to climb the vertiginous vocal slopes of Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You…and duly hits the peaks, joined in joyful celebration by her fellow singers.
No better way to finish than with We Wish You A Merry Christmas, served a cappella, as York Stage revels in parading vocal prowess beyond the realms of musical theatre.
York Stage in Festive Feast, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York. Further performances, Tuesday to Friday, 8pm. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk (for Santa’s Sing-A-Long too).
BEAUTIFUL is “filled with the songs you remember – and a story you’ll never forget”, says Nik Briggs, director and producer of York Stage’s York premiere of The Carole King Musical.
Put another way, there are songs you know but may not know they are by Brooklyn-born Carole, whose story stayed in the background, much like Carole herself did until moving centre stage with Tapestry, before Douglas McGrath wrote the book for the musical. Tony and Grammy awards have ensued.
Leeds Grand Theatre played host to the first British tour in June 2018, and now Briggs delivers a sparkling York production every note as enjoyable, as lushly musical and, typical of Briggs, visually impactful too, with a wonderful lead performance by Grace Lancaster, a York-raised triple threat of singer, musician and actress.
McGrath’s book does not reveal the full tapestry – King’s flop 1970 debut album, Writer, is as absent as James Taylor – but it wholly captures the spirit, courage and resilience of her constant creativity that blossomed as a teenager, told here with warmth, wit and charm, pathos too, and bursts of frank Jewish humour in her exchanges with her wise, if cautious mother, Genie Klein (Sandy Nicholson, perfect casting), a Manhattan teacher who would prefer her daughter to follow that career path too.
Bookended by Carole’s celebrated performance at Carnegie Hall, with Lancaster at the grand piano, Beautiful’s storyline opens with ordinary schoolgirl Carole Klein writing incessantly at 16, landing her first songwriting deal with Donnie Kirshner (an urbane Bryan Bounds) as Carole King.
Utilising cast members for scenery moves, Beautiful cracks on in a whirl, much like Carole’s songwriting success. She meets lyricist and putative playwright Gerry Goffin (Frankie Bounds), her fellow teen, and is pregnant and married at 17. What a productive partnership!
The hits keep piling up from their Kirshner-administered songwriting factory for the likes of The Drifters (Faisal Khodabukus, Christopher Knight, Munya Mswaka and Baz Zakeri) and The Shirelles( Cyanne Unamba Oparah, Maria Ghurbal, Nicole Kilama and Lauren Charlton-Matthews, who also plays Janelle Woods). Delightful performances all round.
Even their babysitter (Kilama’s Little Eva) hits the chart peak with The Loco-Motion – and everyone’s doing The Loco-Motion in black and white in the show’s best ensemble choreography by Danielle Mullan-Hill.
Unlike too many jukebox musicals, McGrath’s script does more than link the songs, telling the story behind them with breezy dialogue, yet giving due space to life-changing events, as the story moves between recording studio, record company offices, the home and the concert hall.
If Beautiful underplays the ugly side of the story, the restless, unfaithful Goffin’s straying from the happy-at-home Carole, Frankie Bounds (in his Marlon Brando white vest) seeks to invest the role with more darkness of the soul. He is no pantomime villain, even though one stage entry is greeted with a boo from one voice in the dress circle at Saturday’s matinee.
For contrast with the brooding Bounds’s increasingly troubled Goffin and the downward spiral of the Goffin-King marriage, the friendly rivalry at Kirshner’s 1650 Broadway building with fellow songwriting partners Barry Mann (Alex Hogg) and Cynthia Weil (Harriet Yorke) is depicted with lightness and plenty of laughter, as they progress, step by slower-than-Gerry and-Carole step to a number one hit (You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling) and wedding bells. Hogg’s somewhat hangdog, anxious Mann is ever humorous; Yorke’s Weil more spiky.
Throughout, Lancaster conquers York. What a talent! Leeds Conservatoire tutor by day, New York Brass Band saxophonist and clarinet player by night, she has polished up her piano playing too to complement her delightful singing voice, as uplifting and moving as King’s, especially on Tapestry’s songs from the broken heart.
From precociously gifted yet demure teenager, to diligent young mother, to solo singer-songwriter, embracing the spotlight at last after such hurt, Lancaster evokes all facets of the King character. Her renditions of It’s Too Late and (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman are the crowning glory for King and Lancaster alike.
You will feel the earth move, thanks not only to Lancaster, but also to Briggs’s potent direction, full of drama, emotion and humour, to go with his snappy, snazzy costumes and Phoebe Kilvington’s hair and make-up, propelled by the fabulous playing of Stephen Hackshaw’s band, always in view at the back.
Tickets for Tuesday to Saturday’s 7.30pm evening performances and Saturday’s 2.30pm matinee are on sale at atgtickets.com/york.
FEEL the earth move as Beautiful: The Carole King arrives in York for the first time tomorrow in York Stage’s production at the Grand Opera House.
“This Tony and Grammy Award-winning musical phenomenon is filled with the songs you remember – and a story you’ll never forget,” says director-producer Nik Briggs, introducing the Broadway and West End hit with a book by Douglas McGrath and those songs. Oh, those songs.
“She created the sound of a generation, so iconic,” says Nik.” “Those songs have then passed through the generations because they’re so relatable, especially on Tapestry, after her break-up with Gerry Goffin.”
Will You Love Me Tomorrow?. Take Good Care Of My Baby. It Might As Well Rain Until September. Up On The Roof. One Fine Day. So Far Away. You’ve Got A Friend. (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman. It’s Too Late. I Feel The Earth Move. All by the writer or co-writer of 118 hits on the American Billboard Hot 100. The most successful female songwriter of the latter half of the 20th century in the United States.
Beautiful tells the story of an ordinary girl, born Carole Klein in Manhattan, New York, with an extraordinary talent that took her from being part of a songwriting team with fellow teenager and later husband Gerry Goffin, through her creative relationship with fellow writers and best friends Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, to solo success with Tapestry and beyond.
Taking the role of Carole King, opposite Frankie Bounds’ Gerry Goffin, will be York-born actress and singer, New York Brass Band saxophonist and Leeds Conservatoire teacher Grace Lancaster.
“With her voice, her stage presence and her musicality, Grace was the perfect choice to lead our cast of 30,” says Nik. “Grace is 28 now but she’s always had that Carole King girlish charm, so it’s great to watch her charting that same path in Carole’s story.
“We’ll have an 11-piece band on stage, plus Grace on piano, with Stephen Hackshaw returning as our musical director.”
Grace is “really looking forward to the show this week…if a little nervous about the magnitude of the role”. “I’ve grown up with the songs of Carole without even knowing that she was the mastermind behind the music,” she says.
“Everyone knows Natural Woman and The Loco-Motion, right, but I didn’t quite realise that she had written them until I saw Beautiful in the West End back in 2015.
“I was at drama school at the time, and Katie Brayben (who was then Carole King) had just won the Olivier award for her portrayal and I was acutely aware that she’d trained on the very same course as me at Rose Bruford!
“Watching that performance blew me away so much and I felt such a connection that I knew one day I would just have to play Carole King!”
Assessing what makes Carole King’s songs and life story so apt for a musical that is much more than a jukebox musical, Grace says: “Carole was in a golden era for songwriting. She was a young teenager when the one and only Elvis Presley came on the scene and was inevitably drawn to the rock’n’roll style. That type of music connects to a lot of people!
“The way Carole writes melodies is so organic and she often describes the music as just coming through her without her having to think. When music comes from a place of truth then there is something very Beautiful about it (no pun intended).
“The story weaves through Carole’s life and gives us an insight into how these songs were written in a ‘music factory’, the events that inspired them and how they reflect Carole’s life at that time.
“The fact that you’re watching a story that is about real people gives the musical a more personal feel and hopefully the audience will connect with this more than a regular jukebox musical.”
Picking a favourite Carole King song is almost like picking a favourite child, reckons Grace. “From what I’ve read, she’s written over 400 songs! You’ve Got A Friend and Will You Love Me Tomorrow? have popped up in other shows I’ve performed in, so I feel a deep connection to those,” she says.
“But Natural Woman is another strong contender: the gospel chords and the superb imagery make the song an utter delight to perform. These songs are multi-generational, passed on, still relevant today, and that’s another reason why Carole is such a wonder.”
Preparing for Beautiful has been the biggest challenge of Grace’s performing career. “I don’t think there’s a single point in the show where I have time to go back to my dressing room and sit down,” she says.
“A lot of work has gone into memorising the script, but even more time has gone into memorising the piano parts. As a musician, I would describe myself as a saxophone/clarinet player first; piano doesn’t come as naturally to me. So practising the piano to the point where my hands know what they’re doing without my brain getting involved – my brain needs to focus on acting/singing – has been the challenge of the last three months.”
Grace spent time aplenty researching Carole King’s story. “I read her memoir and watched interviews and have been delighted to find so many similarities in our beliefs and musical habits. She truly is an incredible woman,” she says.
Rehearsals have been an “amazing way” for Grace to reconnect with her York roots. “I first performed with York Stage back in 2007 in We Will Rock You, so I’m so delighted to see that the theatre scene is as strong here as it is!” she says. “The cast are all very talented and play such an important role in this show, so I’m very proud to have them supporting me.”
Out of rehearsals, Grace fills her time with an eclectic mix of work. “I play the saxophone and assist with managing the New York Brass Band, which has taken me as far away as China and Kuwait and this summer to Glastonbury festival for the fifth time!” she says.
“Last year I started teaching on the Actor Musicianship course at Leeds Conservatoire and I’m thrilled to be able to see the talent and drive that these students have – but also to be a part of the theatre industry in the north who are nurturing talent outside of London.”
Looking ahead, over the next few months Grace will be developing her own business as a solo singer/saxophone player at weddings and events. “I’m also looking after my four-month-old Labrador puppy Winnie. So I’ve definitely got my hands full!” she says. “Winnie has been subjected to my constant piano practice since moving in with us and now the music of Carole King sends her to sleep.”
York Stage in York premiere of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, September 15 to 23, 7.30pm except Sunday and Monday; 2.30pm Saturday matinees; 4pm, Sunday. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
One last question
DO you have Tapestry in your record collection, if such a thing as a record collection still exists in the house of Lancaster?!
“Tapestry is regularly played on my Spotify account,” says Grace.
MADE in Yorkshire, “the hit musical for today” began life at Sheffield Crucible Theatre in 2017. Now comes its York premiere in the Teen Version with a cast of 13 to 19-year-olds led by Ryan Addyman, 17, from Knaresborough, in his York Stage debut.
Inspired by the Firecracker documentary Jamie: Drag Queen At 16, composer Dan Gillespie Sells (from Horsham’s finest pop practitioners The Feeling) and writer/lyricist Tom MacRae worked their magic from an original idea by director and co-writer Jonathan Butterell.
What emerged was the completion of a populist trilogy of Sheffield comedy dramas: the defiant spirit and sheer balls of The Full Monty, the classroom politics and fledgling frustrations of Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, and now Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, the unapologetic story of the boy who sometimes to be wants to be a girl, wear a dress to the school prom and be a drag queen.
Since Jamie’s blossoming, two on-topic television shows have had a stellar impact: the couture and coiffeur catwalk and cat-talk contests of RuPaul’s Drag Race on the Beeb and the sass, too-cool-for-school dress sense and multi-cultural diversity of Sex Education, the Netflix binge-watch through lockdowns.
Sex Education shares Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’s bold humour, jagged wit and spot-on social awareness as a barometer of our changing times and attitudes towards gender, bigotry, bullying, homophobia, absentee fathers and the right to self-expression.
Meet the Year 11 pupils of Mayfield School, a typical comprehensive classroom of 16-year-olds full of hopes and aspirations, filtered through the realities of life in a northern town.
Among them is Addyman’s Jamie New, from a Sheffield council estate, but feeling out of place, so restless at sweet 16 to be “something and someone fabulous”. After Billy Liar’s Billy Fisher and Kes’s Billy Casper, here is another young Yorkshire dreamer in need of escape from the grey grime, this time in a classic teen rebel story, told from the teen perspective, but rooted in kitchen-sink northern drama rather than the white-toothed gleam of an American high-school musical.
It does nevertheless share one characteristic with the all-American Hairspray, for example, by giving the adult viewpoint in spades. Step forward Jamie’s world-weary, self-sacrificial, ever supportive mum Margaret (Maggie Wakeling, in terrific voice in her heartfelt ballads, If I Met Myself Again and especially He’s My Boy, the show’s most powerful vocal performance).
Always on the lookout for a bargain and ready with a comforting word or a putdown for authority is Margaret’s no-nonsense, cheery best friend Ray (an amusing Eve Clark), and further support comes from dress-shop boss Hugo/veteran drag act Loco Chanelle (resolute Sam Roberts).
Giving Jamie grief are his stay-away, mullet-haired Dad (Tyler Costello) and narrow-minded teacher Miss Hedge (Jaia Rowland).
The Teen Edition necessitates giving these adult roles to young actors but all respond with performances that convey the age gap, not least in their singing performances.
As for the teens playing teens, not only Addyman’s Jamie scores high marks among the classroom performers, so too do Jack Hambleton, outstanding yet again on a York stage as the everybody-hating, self-loathing bully Dean Paxton, the big fish soon to lose his small pond, and Erin Childs’ quietly impressive, self-assured doctor-in-waiting Pritti Pasha, whose solo number It Means Beautiful is an Act II highlight.
Above all else, everyone will be talking about Addyman’s Jamie. A new face to York audiences, he is Jamie to the manner born: high of voice and heels, a shaker and a heartbreaker, a lippy kid in lip gloss, confident on the swan surface but naïve and vulnerable, wanting to strut before he can walk. Ugly In This Ugly World is his best number, almost matched by his kitchen duet with Wakeling’s Margaret, My Man, Your Boy.
Serious points are made in MacRae’s book, where the multiple confrontations carry both poignancy and punch, and you will love the Yorkshireness of it all: the blunt, knowing humour and the rough-rouge glamour of drag queens Sandra Bollock (George Hopwood), Tray Sophistacay (George Connell) and Laika Virgin (Harvey Jardine), Sheffield’s answer to the travelling trio in The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert.
Gillespie Sells’ tunes and MacRae’s lyrics are a delight too, led off by the immediately infectious And You Don’t Even Know It, through the irresistible title number to the show-closing defining statement of Out Of The Darkness (A Place Where We Belong).
Musical director Jessica Viner works with a recorded score, but never sits back, always in view of the hugely energetic cast from the mezzanine level. Emily Taylor’s choreography is as vigorous and fun as ever, relished by leads, supports and ensemble alike.
Jo Street’s wardrobe and Phoebe Kilvington’s make-up and hair add to the spectacle, while the design combines glamour with grit: the John Cooper Studio is bedecked in shiny tinfoil and gold leaf with room for Margaret’s kitchen, the classroom and Hugo’s shop to glide on and off.
Nik Briggs’s direction goes to the top of the class, capturing the spirit of a show that “celebrates being yourself and finding a place where you belong”. Individuality and teamwork in tandem, the place where everyone here belongs is on stage, once more emphasising why the arts should never be undervalued in young lives, why there should always be a place for the Jamies of this world to express themselves.
How apt that this thrilling, uplifting production’s weekend climax should coincide with York Pride.
York Stage in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Teen Edition, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, tonight and tomorrow, 7.30pm, sold out; Saturday, 2.30pm (last few tickets) and 7.30pm, sold out. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, York Stage, Grand Opera House, York, 7.30pm nightly to Saturday; 2.30pm matinees, Wednesday and Saturday. Box office: atgtickets.com/york
THIS is James Bond author Ian Flemings’s eyebrow-raising 1964 children’s story, via Ken Hughes’s 1968 family musical fantasy film, adapted for the stage by Jeremy Sams.
It would be easy to put the emphasis on the spectacle, the car that floats and flies, with as many special features as a Q-customised Aston Martin for Bond. Certainly director-producer Nik Briggs pulls out all the stops on that score, but his Chitty show has more wings to it than merely its fine four-fendered friend’s airborne adventures.
The “fantasmagorical” spectacle here extends beyond the repurposed scrap-heap Grand Prix car to Damien Poole’s fabulous, fun and funny choreography; the hair and make-up by Phoebe Kilvington’s team; Charades Theatrical Costume’s flamboyant costume designs and the uncredited hi-tech set design, windmill sails et al.
Out of sight, aside from diligent yet playful musical director Adam Tomlinson, is his lush 12-piece orchestra, properly filling the pit with gorgeous musicality for the Sherman brothers’ score.
Above all, Briggs has improved further on the balance between grand theatricality and human personality in West Yorkshire Playhouse’s 2015 Christmas production. Perhaps it would be truer to say “caricature personality”, but the result is a greater connection with the audience.
In particular, this applies to the baddie double act of Alex Papachristou’s arch, spoilt, teddy bear-carrying Baron Bomburst and his brassy Baroness (Jackie Cox), a hammier, kinkier couple than past interpretations, and far funnier than their outrageous banishment of children from their Vulgarian principality should be.
Bomburst’s spies, Boris and Goran, are always comedy gold, in pursuit of purloining the car for the baron, but they are better still in the hands of Jack Hooper and James Robert Ball, Vulgarian vultures trying to pass themselves off as Englishmen (and even women too).
Papachristou, Cox, Hooper and Ball stretch their Vulgarian accents across Germanic vowels with delight and differing, equally amusing results in a send-up where ’Allo ’Allo! meets Mel Brooks’s The Producers.
Such is their broad playing, their comic interplay, their relish for downright silliness, that all four carry appeal for adults and children alike, evil but never vile. Unlike Richard Barker’s Childcatcher, that towering, spindly, grotesque rotter, whose villainy is more threat than presence, given how few scenes he has.
Meanwhile, several saucy jokes fly above innocent young heads, relished especially by Ball and Papachristou, who also rescues a prop malfunction (a telephone wire becoming detached) with an off-the-cuff one liner.
Ploughing a straighter furrow are Ned Sproston’s thoroughly decent inventor and single dad Caractacus Potts, plucky children Jeremy (Logan Willstrop, sharing the role with Esther de la Pena) and Jemima Potts (Hope Day/Eady Mensah), and Carly Morton’s utterly pucker Truly Scrumptious (whose beautiful singing with the purity of a Julie Andrews peaks with her Doll On A Music Box routine, clockwork dancing so exquisitely).
Briggs uses adult and children’s ensembles to the full, testament to the show’s mantra that teamwork makes the dream work, never more so than when Poole’s choreography is in full flow in Toots Sweets and especially The Bombi Samba.
Boris and Goran’s Act English and Potts and the Morris Men’s Me Ol’ Bamboo, Grandpa and The Inventors’ The Roses Of Success and the Baron and Baroness’s Chu-Chi Face are all bursting with character as much as musical flair.
For all the considerable technical demands of a show with a flying car, Briggs and his company take everything in their stride with panache in a dazzling, dapper and delightful family treat for the Easter break. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, bang on.
THE Sherman brothers’ fantasmagorical musical, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, takes to the air at the Grand Opera House, York, from tonight.
Produced and directed by Nik Briggs, with musical direction by Adam Tomlison and choreography by Damien Poole, York Stage’s production of Ian Fleming’s story of madness, mayhem and magic features not only a big cast but a quartet of cars too.
“One of them is parked in the en-suite! That’s Baron Bomburst’s car, more of a vintage, turn-of-the-century car than Chitty, slightly more primitive, that we’ve brought here from Brighton,” says Nik. “The Baron wants inventor Caractacus Potts to fit it with a ‘float and fly’ features.
“There’s the battered old Chitty that the children find in a junkyard, and the Chitty with the title role, the 16ft long, 6ft wide, four-fendered Chitty, weighing 1,000kg, that magically flies over the Grand Opera House stage. We’ve hired that car from a company down south that built it specially for stage productions.
“We also have a smaller version of Chitty that was created for a production in Malton five or six years ago.”
Adapted from James Bond novelist Fleming’s story Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car, written for his son in 1962 and published as three books in 1964, the musical tells the tale of whacky inventor Caractacus Potts (played by Ned Sproston), his two children and the gorgeous Truly Scrumptious (Carly Morton).
Can they outwit bombastic Baron Bomburst (Alex Papachristou), who has decreed that all children be banished from his kingdom? Watch out, here comes the evil Childcatcher (Richard Barker), who will be “popping up, here, there and everywhere, you never know where next”, Nik promises.
“Yes, we have the flying car, but at its heart, it’s a really lovely story of Caractacus and his children, who are so imaginative. Even though Chitty is burnt out when they find her, they see designs of the car and that leads them off into a fantasy world, where the Baron is desperate to have the car.
“His wife, the Baroness (Jackie Cox), will do anything to please him and so she sends spies Boris and Goran (Jack Hooper and James Robert Ball) – obviously not the most intelligent of spies – from Vulgaria to retrieve the car from England.
“We have a broad style of playing these characters, with various Germanic and Vulgarian accents rather than a uniform one,” says Nik. “We’ve deliberately allowed everyone to find the fun in their character, so they all have their different styles. It’s almost comedy in the ’Allo ’Allo! style.
“Traditionally you have a fall guy to set up the gag, but with the Baron and Baroness and the spies too, it’s more like being on a see-saw; they’re the fall guy for each other, so anything goes.”
Barlby-raised Alex Papachristou is returning to the York stage, where he first caught the eye, to take over the role of Baron Bomburst at short notice, heading up from London over the past fortnight for weekend rehearsals, to be followed by tech week.
“They’re ridiculous characters, like a parody of themselves, but it’s also good to see the consequences of the Baron and Baroness’s greed. He’s like a 1910 version of Donald Trump, saying he’s going to make Vulgaria great again!” he says.
“The villains do have a Bond villain quality about them. The Baron doesn’t have a cat but he does have a teddy bear.”
Nik adds: “The Jeremy Sams version of the musical that we’re using does feature the Baron and the Baroness and the two spies a lot more than the 1968 film, so you get the story of Caractacus Potts, his children and Truly Scrumptious, but more of the baddies too.
“It’s also interesting to have a story about a single father. Caractacus is this loving character who will do anything for his children, giving them their creative outlets and liberating them to do whatever they want. When the romance with Truly Scrumptious comes along, they are from two different worlds, but they find love.”
Alex’s Baron will differ from the screen version. “I don’t play him like in the film. I play him as a 33-year-old spoilt young Baron, not a baron in his sixties. Of the roles I’ve played before, he’s quite similar in that way to Herod [performed as a white-faced, cross-dressing vaudeville act in York Stage Musicals’ Jesus Christ Superstar in 2011, when Briggs was Pontius Pilate], but not similar to anyone else,” he says.
“I’ve had to work really hard at this role as he wasn’t a natural fit. I even had Brian Blessed in my head for a while! The humour is more dry, more subtle, than in the film, and these characters are so well written that there’s a lot of elasticity to play around with them: you could really do it 100 ways, but as long as the children in the audience hate you and the adults love you, that’s all that matters!
“On the surface, the Baron and Baroness love each other, but underneath, they can’t stand each other, and it’s good to play someone who has more than one level to their character. These are the parts that are a joy to do and it’s always fun to be the villain.”
York Stage in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Grand Opera House, York, today to April 15, 7.30pm nightly except April 9, plus 2.30pm matinees, tomorrow, Saturday, April 12 and 15. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
ON Broadway, Sweet Charity would come with a 30-piece orchestra and all that jazz. In York, you can see it up close and personal, so close that Katie Melia’s fully flexed leg comes within an inch of connecting with your reviewer’s face, plonked by invitation at the centre of the front row. Well, that’s one way to secure a thumbs-up review!
Sweet Charity might equally have suited the Grand Opera House or Theatre Royal stage, but director-producer Nik Briggs foresaw the benefits of making Neil Simon, Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields’ witty, waspish 1966 New York musical comedy a studio-sized production, just as he found a new way to present pantomime at Theatre@41, with West End choreographer Gary Lloyd’s song-and-dance numbers to the fore alongside the slapstick in the Covid winter of 2020 in Jack And The Beanstalk.
Briggs calls it a “dance-heavy musical but one where you can really get into the story, and seeing those scenes so intimately will be really rewarding”. Consequently, he delivers both glitz and grit, romanticism and realism, with the aid of two finger-clickin’ good lieutenants, musical director Jessica Viner, leading her four-piece on keys and violin on the mezzanine level, and choreographer Danielle Mullan-Hill.
On top of that, if Briggs could have chosen the perfect week to stage a musical with a lead character called Charity Hope Valentine, then a week front-loaded with St Valentine’s Day would be the one. The John Cooper Studio is suitably fitted out with heart shapes galore, balloons et al, while the end-on stage is fringed with glittering tinsel drapes and audience members are seated around tables.
Briggs’s designs, topped off by the checkboard flooring for the Fandango Ballroom, give off an Austin Powers Sixties’ vibe, matched by the fabulous costumery, and vital to that look is the fantastic hair and make-up work of Phoebe Kilvington. All the better for being experienced within touching distance.
There is a sting in the tale to Sweet Charity, but the vibe is largely fun, breezy and very Sixties, and Briggs is in playful mood, replacing the lake of the film version with a bath filled with plastic balls for two scenes where Katie Melia’s ballroom taxi dancer – or dancehall hostess, to be more colloquial – ends up in both the opening and closing scenes.
Briggs refers to Melia as a “triple threat”, equally adept at singing, acting and dancing (including solo tap dancing here), and she has a goofy girl-next-door appeal to her too. Her heart-of-gold Charity is a dreamer, quirky and spirited, but too trusting, too generous, forever looking for love, but alas in the wrong places. Or, as fellow taxi dancer Nickie (sassy Emily Ramsden) puts it: “Your big problem is you run your heart like a hotel – you got guys checkin’ in and out all the time.”
Living in (dashed) hope, seeking escape, Melia’s plucky Charity goes from man to man, from Sam Roberts’s taciturn Charlie Dark Glasses, to Jack Hooper’s moustachioed movie idol Vittorio Vidal to Stuart Piper’s shy, neurotic tax accountant Oscar Lindquist.
Roberts’’s part is wham, bam, Sam, gone, but Hooper and Piper are both terrific. Hooper’s Italian accent and Latin romantic lead schtick are a joy, as his gorgeous singing, his debonair air served up with a dash of the tongue in cheek in Simon’s script.
Melia finds the comedy gold in both relationships, the first involving her hiding in the closet, chomping on olives and a sandwich as Vittorio’s high-maintenance lover, Ursula (York Stage debutant Mary Clare), arrives suddenly.
The second, spanning either side of the interval, begins in a malfunctioning lift, where Melia’s laissez-faire Charity contrasts with Piper’s hyperventilating Oscar, his performance combining physical comedy with aerated verbal expression.
Ramsden’s Nickie and Carly Morton’s Helene excel too, especially in their duet, while James Robert Ball shines as brightly as his silver suit in the stand-out Rhythm Of Life, everyone in green all around him.
Big Spender is an early come-hither taxi-dancer knockout, but better still in Mullan-Hill’s sensuous, sinuous and darn hot choreography is the Frug sequence of three ensemble dances, in black and white, each as groovy, baby, as Austin Powers could wish.
At short notice, Nik Briggs has stepped in to take over the role of matchstick-chewing ballroom manager/pimp Herman, reminding us of his now rarely seen singing and acting prowess.
Melia’s finest hour, knockout dancing, superb band, a frenzy of fishnets, snazzy gear and snappy dialogue, Sweet Charity demands to be your Valentine, whichever night or day, this week.
Performances: 7.30pm, tonight tonight and Friday; 2.30pm and 7.30pm, Saturday; 2.30pm, Sunday. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.
WHAT better character name could there be for a show opening on St Valentine’s Day than Charity Hope Valentine?!
Company regular Katie Melia will take that sweet, optimistic, indomitable, hopeful, romantic, trusting, naïve, quirky, charming, caring, irresistible role in York Stage’s production of Sweet Charity, the musical with the subtitle The Adventures Of A Girl Who Wanted To Be Loved.
From tomorrow to Sunday, the John Cooper Studio will be transformed into a seedily seductive Fandango Ballroom for the 1966 Broadway musical with a book by Neil Simon, music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Dorothy Fields, decorated by such songs as Big Spender, If My Friends Could See Me Now and Rhythm Of Life.
“I’ve wanted to do Sweet Charity for over a decade in York,” says director-producer Nik Briggs. “When I started York Stage, we had an Independent Woman season, with Hairspray, Sister Act and Legally Blonde, and Sweet Charity was in on the wish list.
“I’ve always loved Neil Simon’s work, and considering it’s a dance-heavy musical, you can still really get into the story. What made him so special at that time is the realism in his work, where everyone recognises those situations, and to see those scenes so intimately at Theate@41 will be really rewarding.”
In the American musical comedy, Melia’s heart-of-gold New York City taxi dancer Charity Hope Valentine fantasises about three things in life: romance, luxury and escaping the questionable ballroom clientele. Lovable, gullible and spirited, she longs to find a lover to sweep her off her feet but Charity keeps handing over her heart and earnings to the wrong man, whether Charlie, his name tattooed on her arm, movie star Vittorio Vidal or Oscar.
“Charity is billed as ‘the girl who wanted to be loved’. All she wants is true love,” says Nik. “But as [fellow dancer] Nickie tells her, ‘your big problem is you run your heart like a hotel – you got guys checkin’ in and out all the time’. She’s the kind of girl who falls in love too easily and just goes from guy to guy.
“Sweet Charity follows hostess Charity through the various men in her life, as she lives in hope through all of them, but deep down, we all know that we’ve seen it all before and heard it all before, and one of the reasons I love the piece is that it doesn’t give audiences the ending they expect.”
Briggs has picked a cast of 15, led by Melia’s Charity, who is joined by Emily Ramsden and Carly Morton as dancers Nickie and Helene; Stuart Piper as Oscar; Jack Hooper as Vittorio Vidal; James Robert Ball as Daddy; Briggs himself as Fandango ballroom owner/pimp Herman and York Stage newcomer Mary Clare as Ursula and Rosie.
Amy Barrett, who played the female lead, assembly line worker Lauren, in York Stage’s Kinky Boots last September, will be Carmen, while supporting roles go to Verity Carr, Ilana Weets, Kelly Stocker, Sam Roberts, Stuart Hutchinson and debut-making Katherine Farr.
Rather than an orchestra of 30 for big Broadway productions of Sweet Charity, Briggs and musical director Jess Viner have “totally rearranged” the songs for a small band, stationed above the stage on the mezzanine level. “It’s almost like a jazz quartet,” says Nik. “We’ve created a production for the Theatre@41 space [a black box design] and that space is very much a 16th member of the cast.”
A further key factor is the choreography for a musical first choreographed by Bob Fosse for both the stage premiere and the 1969 film, his screen directorial debut. “You can’t move away from the Sixties, that very stylised choreography that is sensual and sexual,” says Nik.
“Danielle Mullan-Hill has created really dynamic routines for us that’ll be very exciting to see in that space – and she knows that space and how to work it from doing our pandemic pantomime, [Jack And The Beanstalk, in December 2020]. It will feel really immersive.”
To mark St Valentine’s Day, York Stage are advertising the first night as “Galentine’s Night”. “Traditionally, it’s a night for all the gals without a Valentine date, when they get all the girls round,” says Nik. “There’s a glass of fizz included in the ticket for Valentine’s night for gals…and guys.”
Coming next from York Stage will be Ian Fleming’s fantasmagorical musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, flying car et al, at the Grand Opera House, York, from April 6 to 15. Principal roles will go to Carly Morton as Truly Scrumptious; Ned Sprouston as inventor Caractacus Potts; Finn East as Baron Bomburst; Richard Barker as the evil Childcatcher and Mick Liversidge as Grandpa Potts. Adam Tomlinson will be the musical director.
York Stage in Sweet Charity, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, tomorrow (14/2/2023) until Sunday, 7.30pm, except Sunday; , 2.30pm Saturday and Sunday matinees. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.
York Stage in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Grand Opera House, York, April 6 to 15, 7.30pm; 2.30pm, April 7, 8, 12 and 15; no shows on April 9. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
THE best things in life are not always free, but plenty are this weekend for York residents. Charles Hutchinson also highlights the best value in theatre, music, art and comedy.
Event of the week: York Residents’ Festival 2023, today and tomorrow
ORGANISED by Make It York, York Residents’ Festival 2023 combines more than 100 attractions, events and offers this weekend. Historical attractions such as York Minster, Jorvik Viking Centre, Fairfax House, York Castle Museum, Barley Hall and The Guildhall will be opening their doors for free to residents.
Further highlights include wizard golf at The Hole In Wand; free river cruises with City Cruises; chocolate tours at York’s Chocolate Story; behind-the-scenes tours of York Theatre Royal and a virtual reality experience with Pilot Theatre’s Monoliths, featuring poetic monologues on city, country and coastal northern landscapes by Hannah Davies, Carmen Marcus and Asma Elbadawi at York Explore Library. Restaurants, cafés and shops are taking part too. For full details, go to: visityork.org/resfest.
Comedy gig of the week: Sofie Hagen: Fat Jokes, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, Tuesday, 8pm
EDINBURGH Fringe comedy award winner Sofie Hagen presents Fat Jokes, a storytelling show bursting with big jokes, fat punchlines and unforgettable moments. “Come as you are and enjoy an actual fat person at the top of her game,” says the Danish-born, London-based comedian’s publicity blurb. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.
Travelogue of the week: Around The World In 80 Days, York Theatre Royal, Thursday, 2pm and 7.30pm; Friday, 7.30pm; Saturday, 2.30pm and 7.30pm
PRODUCERS Tilted Wig are teaming up with York Theatre Royal for a nationwide tour of Around The World In 80 Days in creative director Juliet Forster’s circus-themed version of Jules Verne’s story, first staged on York playing fields in 2021.
Original cast member Eddie Mann will be joined by Alex Phelps, Katriona Brown, Wilson Benedito and Genevieve Sabherwal, who each multi-role as the rag-tag band of travelling big-top performers embarks on a daring mission to recreate Phileas Fogg’s fictitious journey, interwoven with the true story of Nellie Bly’s globe-travelling deeds. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
Innovators of the week: Please Please You presents Rozi Plain and Mayshe-Mayshe, The Crescent, York, Tuesday, 7.30pm; Anna Meredith and Elsa Hewitt, The Crescent, York, Friday, 7.30pm
WINCHESTER singer-songwriter Rozi Plain showcases her fifth album, Prize, released on Memphis Industries on January 13. Highlights among its ten tracks include the blissful single Agreeing For Two, the synth explorations of Painted The Room and the woozy jazz inflections of Spot Thirteen.
Later in the week, in a special show for Independent Venue Week, The Crescent welcomes Anna Meredith MBE, the genre-crossing composer and producer whose work straddles contemporary classical, art pop, electronica and experimental rock. Guitar, drums, cello and tuba feature in her band. Box office: thecrescentyork.com.
Political thriller returns: An Inspector Calls, Grand Opera House, York, February 7 to 11, 7.30pm nightly plus 2.30pm Wednesday and Thursday matinees
PREMIERED at the Theatre Royal in 1989, Stephen Daldry’s radical take on Yorkshireman J B Priestley’s thriller An Inspector Calls returns to York next month with tour regular Liam Brennan once more in the role of Inspector Goole.
Written at the end of the Second World War and set before the First, Priestley’s time play opens with the Birling family’s peaceful dinner party being shattered by the inspector’s call and subsequent investigations into the death of a young woman as the dangers of casual capitalism’s cruelty, complacency and hypocrisy are highlighted. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
Country gig of the week: Hellbound Glory & The Black Skies, The Crescent, York, February 7, 7.30pm
RENO resident and Hellbound Glory main man Leroy Virgil has single-handedly invented an outlaw country music sub-genre he affectionately calls “Scumbag Country”.
His stories from the seedy underbelly of the place he calls home in sunny Nevada are full of character observations and introspection, set to a soundtrack of folk and blues-laced Americana. His York gig will be one of only three on his debut British tour to promote latest long player The Immortal Hellbound Glory: Nobody Knows You.
Young York alt/rock band The Black Skies will be his backing band as well as playing their own set at this double bill of whisky-drenched, low-slung country and rock’n’roll from the American mid-west and Yorkshire. Box office: thecrescentyork.com.
Going potty for pottery: York Ceramics Fair, York Racecourse, March 4, 10am to 5pm, and March 5, 10am to 4pm
AFTER a short break to find a new venue, York Ceramics Fair makes a March return indoors at York Racecourse for a fourth instalment with an “impressive line-up of ceramicists”, complemented by activities, events, talks and more besides.
A free shuttle bus will be running between York Racecourse, on Kavesmire Road, and the Memorial Gardens Coach Park, in Station Road, York. Tickets: via Eventbrite at yorkceramicsfair.com/ticket-info.
Looking ahead: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Teen Edition, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, May 29 to June 3
YORK Stage will be holding the first round of auditions for the Teen Edition of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie today, seeking black, Asian and mixed-race performers aged 13-19 to fulfil Nik Briggs’s company’s commitment to represent the diverse community of Sheffield, the show’s setting, through his casting. A second audition day follows on February 4.
Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom MacRae’s coming-of-age musical follows the true-life story of 16-year-old Sheffield schoolboy Jamie Campbell as he overcomes prejudice and bullying to step out of the darkness to become a drag queen. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.