THE Hollywood Sisters will be joined by friends for a night of musical cabaret in aid of York Mind at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, on Friday at 7.30pm.
The luscious close harmonies of the Hollywood Sisters will be complemented by guest appearances from “the finest talent York has to offer”: The Rusty Pegs, Jennie Wogan-Wells, Richard Bayton, Nicola Holliday, Matthew Clare, Connie Howcroft, John Haigh and Mark Lovell.
“Expect an evening of music, song and sprinkle of festive cheer to kick off December,” says Hollywood Sister Helen ‘Bells’ Spencer. “All profits from the evening will go to mental health charity York Mind.”
The Hollywood Sisters, Cat Foster, Henrietta Linnemann, Rachel Higgs and Bells, met in 2020 when they were cast together in York Musical Theatre Company’s Hooray For Hollywood, Paul Laidlaw’s nostalgic, whirlwind journey through the sounds of a bygone era from the MGM, Warner Bros, RKO and Universal studios, staged that November at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre.
“We instantly forged a special bond and after the show finished, we kept in close contact,” says Bells. “Many meet-ups over tea and cake later, the Hollywood Sisters were devised.
“In honour of the show we met on, and because we all have a shared love of vintage glamour, we kept the Hollywood part of our name and style as a group. Now we’re delighted to be welcoming back John Haigh and Richard Bayton, who were also in Hooray For Hollywood. We can’t wait to all be singing together again!
“Added to these crooners, we couldn’t be more thrilled to have guest appearances from three phenomenal female vocalists, Jennie, Connie and Nicola, and we’ll all be accompanied by the brilliant Rusty Pegs, Matthew Clare on piano and Mark Lovell on double bass.”
Friday promises a relaxed cabaret-style event with the bar open throughout. “There’ll be music from across genres but always featuring gorgeous harmonies and a few festive numbers to get December started with some cheer!” says Bells.
“We also have a raffle with some amazing prizes to be won: £100 meal voucher, Tea for Two in Malton, art prints, Prosecco and much more. If you can’t make the gig but would like to buy a raffle ticket to support York Mind, please head to our just giving page and leave your email address.”
LOVELY show to finish off York Light’s 70th anniversary. Something a little different. All about love. That adds up to three reasons espoused by director Neil Wood to see the American musical comedy with the tripartite title.
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change has its place in musical history as the second longest-running off-Broadway musical revue, premiered by the American Stage Company in 1996.
Now it swaps New York for York while retaining its American accents for 20 vignettes of universal resonance, each delving into a different aspect of love and relationships, their joys and their challenges.
Those vignettes, humorous, honest, heartfelt, heartwarming and heartbreaking, are full of life, lust and love’s labours lost and found, charting the path from dating to marriage, parenthood to ageing.
Writer and lyricist Joe DiPietro and composer Jimmy Roberts bring momentum, mischief, romance, frankness, sauce, familiarity, delight, jaw-dropping awkwardness, pathos and passion, surprise and shock, to savvy, soulful, sweet, sour, salacious scenes ranging in length from five to eight minutes, diverse in style, tone and content.
Updated in 2018 to reflect changing times and fads, some take the form of dialogue or a monologue; some are songs; others combine the two. Like a taster menu, there is always another juicy morsel coming along to savour in each 55-minute half.
On an end-on stage with tables and chairs on one side, a sofa bed on the other, those vignettes are in the hands of a cast of seven – spreading the roles wider than the original production’s quartet of actors – and each of York Light’s magnificent seven takes on at least six parts, some as many as eight.
Neil Wood, directing York Light for the first time, put his company through Laban technique rehearsals to settle on characterisation and movement, giving each scene due weight with an emphasis on exposing the vulnerability in so many of the lovers’ tales.
He is rewarded with performances that are truthful and comedic, moving and candid, playing to both individual and collective strengths in a whirl of costume and character changes relished by Richard Bayton, Emma Dickinson, Mark Simmonds and especially the chameleon Sanna Jeppsson and James Horsman.
Look out for Jeppsson’s arthritic hands when playing an old woman discussing love in a funeral parlour opposite Horsman in arguably the most affecting vignette, Funerals Are For Dating.
Emily Hardy and Monica Frost graduate from the York Light ranks to principal roles for the first time, Frost being particularly impressive, whether in the country pastiche Always A Bridesmaid or her confessional online dating monologue, The Very First Dating Video of Rose Ritz.
Not since Lloyd Webber and Rice’s Joseph And The Technicolor Dreamcoat in their fledgling days has a musical pulled off so many pastiches, from country weepie to Luther Vandross soul, Ratpack smoothie to boastful rap, power balladry to Lloyd Webber and Rice themselves, demanding much of keyboardist Martin Lay’s resourceful band (with Rosie Morris on bass, Katie Maloney on reeds and Jez Smith on drums).
Billed as “riotous, rude and relevant”, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change is indeed those three Rs, but it is also real, relatable and richly rewarding. We’ve all been there, done that, now watch love’s highs and woes from the safety of a ringside seat. You will laugh, you will cringe, you may well cry too.
Performances: Tonight (Thursday) and Friday, 7.30pm; Saturday, 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.
RIOTOUS, rude and oh-so relevant, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change promises shocks and surprises plus character and costume changes galore in York Light Opera Company’s hands from tonight.
Writer Joe DiPietro and composer Jimmy Roberts’ off-Broadway musical comedy is directed by Neil Wood at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, in its 2018 updated revamp in a witty look at how we love, date and handle relationships.
Guiding love’s path through a series of comedic and poignant vignettes will be Richard Bayton, Emma Dickinson, James Horsman, Sanna Jeppsson, Mark Simmonds and Monica Frost and Emily Hardy in their first principal roles for York Light, as love lives are reflected in art, up close and personal.
“It holds the record as the second longest-running revue staged off-Broadway,” says Neil. “Originally it was done with a cast of four, but we decided to double it to eight to be able to swap things around, and when one cast member dropped out, we stuck to seven.
“We did the first read-through and sing-through in April, so it’s a quick turnaround for a show, but we’ve still had the time to explore a lot of multi-role playing. Some of the cast are playing as many as eight characters, so we did some Laban technique workshops, looking at how characters are created, getting inside them and how the actors move.”
His first step as the director was to find the world depicted in the show’s 20 vignettes. “Then you must find the key thing within each scene; those moments that are poignant; those moments that are the turning point for a character.
“To do that, we had a really rigid rehearsal timescale with only two scenes per night, to really explore each scene, one running to eight minutes, the others to five or six minutes. It’s not a sung-through musical; some scenes are purely dialogue; some scenes are just a song; others are a mix of dialogue and song.
“Those songs vary in style from a Luther Vandross-style soul number to a country music song and a Rat Pack-style number.”
In her York Light debut after performing for Pick Me Up Theatre and York Stage, Swedish-born Sanna Jeppsson will be playing eight roles. “They vary from young and bold to old and experienced; shy and timid to a downtrodden housewife; a happy single woman to a sporty type – a tennis player, though the only thing I do for that is carry a tennis racket!” she says.
“It’s a fantastic array of characters in a show that has such a variety of scenes that can be real or twist reality in others, where you can go more crazy with a character.”
Neil chips in: “That’s when you have to decide whether a scene is naturalistic or you can break the fourth wall and be very Brechtian, grabbing the audience by the hand or talking directly to them.
“I’ve been really impressed with what the cast has done in making 3D characters. Once you’ve created a scene, you can develop those characters and they have to be true. As well as their physicality, you need to find their vulnerability.
“That’s a key thing we’ve worked on: the intimacy of the scenes where you’re almost a voyeur into people’s most vulnerable moments.”
Last seen on stage leading York Light’s cast in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street, Neil is enjoying pulling the strings from the director’s chair. “When we get into Theatre@41, half the fun will be the quick changes, with some full costume changes in only 30 seconds to the accompaniment of scene-change music,” he says.
“The show is split into two 55-minute halves with a 20-minute interval, and the joy for the audience is that everyone will see relationships on stage that they recognise or have been in themselves.
“It’s laugh-out-loud funny, a show where you will come out beaming from ear to ear – and you don’t have to think too hard either!”
For Sanna, the rehearsal process has contrasted with her past productions in York. “That’s because this show is so episodic, so it’s almost felt like a different play at each rehearsal, which has been fun as an actor,” she says. “Now it’ll be fascinating to see what kind of reaction we’ll get from the audience, as we bring all those scenes together.
“I’ve been there most nights, where we’ve rehearsed two scenes a night, and it hasn’t felt frantic at all, just enjoying developing new scenes at each rehearsal.”
Neil adds: “We’ve been lucky that we’ve been able to do it episodically, with the majority of the rehearsals being done chronologically, which has helped the cast.”
He savours the accumulative impact of the 20 vignettes. “It’s not just 20 one-act plays, but real people, real amotions, real life, and it’s our job to make each scene as realistic as possible; to find the truth of these people,” he says.
“What I love about Joe DiPietro’s writing is that you definitely get every character’s viewpoint in each scene. He’s very clever at doing that.
“In the updated version, there’s been a gender swap in the Two Franks scene, and if there’s one scene that’s a caricature, it’s that scene, but then the reality comes through.”
Neil believes he has come up trumps in finding a cast able to play multiple roles. Sanna, in turn, is thrilled to be taking on that challenge. “I’ve had my eyes on this show for many years, waiting for this opportunity after first hearing about it when I was training in London in 2013/2014,” she says.
“I thought, ‘I’d love to do a show with all these characters parts’, and now the chance has come. It’s everything I imagined it would be – and more. It’s been a joy to work on because the script is really good, the songs are really good…and the director is really good, obviously!”
Sanna will be playing characters ranging in age from 25 to 75, and as she added each new one in rehearsal, she found she could not decide on a favourite. She does, however, then highlight her scene with James Horsman, where they play two old people discussing love in a funeral parlour.
“It’s such a beautifully written scene that says so much with such carefully chosen words,” she says.
Neil picks out Monica’s closing second-half monologue. “It’s set around online dating and that thing of what we want people to see, rather than who we are, and yet then she realises her true story is far more fascinating,” he says.
Twenty vignettes with so many characters call for a diversity of American accents. “I don’t think it would work if you were to transfer it to Yorkshire or France, but you can place it anywhere in America. Some of the scenes are very American,” says Neil.
“The rhythms of the language scream American,” says Sanna. “Though I did read that it has been translated into a number of languages and it’s been done with Australian accents, but not with British ones.”
“The country song, Always A Bridesmaid, needs to be sung in a Tammy Wynette style,” reemphasises Neil.
As opening night arrives, he concludes: “This is a lovely show to finish off York Light’s 70th anniversary, something a little different, all about love.”
York Light Opera Company in I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, tonight (27/6/2023) until Saturday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee.Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.
LIGHT meets dark when York Light Opera Company return to York Theatre Royal from Wednesday in “one of the darkest musicals ever written”, Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street.
Steered by the familiar hands on the tiller of director Martyn Knight and musical director Paul Laidlaw, the show is set in the Georgian era, rather than the usual Victorian London murk.
In York Light’s 70th anniversary production, Neil Wood takes the title role of the misanthropic barber who returns home to the Big Smoke after 15 years in exile, seeking vengeance on the corrupt judge (Craig Kirby) who ruined his life.
The road to revenge leads to him to open new tonsorial premises above the failing pie shop run by Mrs Lovett (Julie-Anne Smith). Cue a very tasty meaty new ingredient to boost sales in this now cutthroat business.
“Yes, it’s dark and gruesome, but it’s so funny too,” says Neil. “One moment the audience are bent double with laughter; the next they’re in tears. A lot of it comes down to the patter style that’s reminiscent of Gilbert and Sullivan.”
Richard Bayton, by day in charge of ticket sales for Sweeney Todd as York Theatre Royal’s box office manager, will be playing Beadle Bamford. “Two months into rehearsals, I’m thinking, ‘who is this man? There has to be more to him than how than how he ends up’, so I’ve built up the character, when he’s often seen as comic relief but I’ve looked to make him darker,” he says.
“I’ve really enjoyed it because it’s always fun to play a bit of a baddie, though the real baddie is definitely Judge Turpin.”
Julie-Anne Smith’s Mrs Lovett occupies the dark side too with her surprisingly delicious but morally dodgy pie contents. “Everyone is damaged in this piece, all except Anthony Hope [played by Maximus Mawle],” she says. “Even Johanna [Madeleine Hicks] is extremely damaged – and living with the Judge, she would be! Everyone else represents the underbelly of London.”
Neil rejoins: “Whether you’re playing Shakespeare’s Richard III or Sweeney Todd, you have to find something you understand in the character. It’s not until he meets the damaged Mrs Lovett, who has her own agenda, that he changes course after being wrongly exiled for a crime he didn’t commit.
“Through fate, he has found his way back home to London to find his wife dead and discover what the judge has done, with his daughter now in the judge’s hands. In that moment, Mrs Lovett manipulates him, and it’s like a puppet being played with, on a knife edge.”
Julie-Anne says: “You have to push that notion that they’re only human; you have to make that connection with the character you’re playing. At the end of the day, she’s human, she’s damaged. She just wants a cottage by the sea and will do anything to get it.
“That’s why she’s interesting to play because people can never believe the horrific deeds that humans can do, but particularly if it’s a woman perpetrating such horrific crimes, but her humour endears her to the audience – and they’re laughing with her rather than at her. That’s why I like playing the anti-hero, because they’re more complex.”
From the maniacal Sweeney Todd to Titus Andronicus, such characters “have always been more interesting, with the best lines”, notes Neil. “We’re just really lucky to have the chance to be doing such roles,” he says.
“It’s also the right time to be staging Sweeney Todd, especially with Stephen Sondheim passing away last year. There’s lots of interest in him again, with Sweeney Todd running on Broadway and the Sondheim concert, Old Friends, with Bernadette Peters in the company, that’ll be on in London at the Prince Edward Theatre for 16 weeks.”
Richard is savouring the meatiness of Sondheim’s lyrics in a show where 80 per cent of Sweeney Todd is set to music, either sung or underscoring dialogue. “They’re so rich in meaning,” he says. “I’ve been able to find new interpretations and new meanings in every rehearsal because you can read so much into them.”
Neil adds: “It’s such a complete show; the orchestrations are wonderful, and Martyn Knight and Paul Laidlaw have been a joy to work with as they really appreciate what a challenge Sondheim is. That’s why we started in early October on the music, and then Martin came up for a first block of rehearsals from November and has back since January after a Christmas break. You can’t start working on the detail until the words are embedded in you.”
Julie-Anne is thrilled to be putting flesh on Sondheim bones in Sweeney Todd. “I was in a professional group, Lucky 4 You, that performed Sondheim songs all around Yorkshire, and I’d always wanted to do the big duet from Sweeney within the context of the show. Now I can do that with Neil.”
York Light Opera Company in Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street, York Theatre Royal, Wednesday (22/2/2023) to March 4, 7.30pm, except February 26; 2.30pm, February 25 and March 4. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.
YORK Musical Theatre Company will offer escapism to Hollywood’s golden era after release from the pandemic lockdowns at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York.
The classic American cinema of the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s will be explored in song in the slick and sophisticated six-hander Hooray For Hollywood! from November 8 to 10.
Devised and directed by Paul Laidlaw, the piece was first staged at York Theatre Royal Studio in 2007, and now Laidlaw reignites his show with a cast of six – Richard Bayton, Cat Foster, John Haigh, Rachel Higgs, Henrietta Linnemann and Helen Spencer in a nostalgic, whirlwind journey through the sounds of a bygone era from the MGM, Warner Bros, RKO and Universal studios.
“Packed with a classic collection of love songs, torch songs and comic numbers, Hooray For Hollywood! covers iconic artists such as Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra to name just a few,” says Laidlaw, who recalls the premiere 14 years ago.
“We’ve actually performed the show at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre before, as well as at the York Theatre Royal Studio. As we head into our 120th year next year, it felt right to be a bit nostalgic and look back at some of our original pieces that audiences loved and revive them for new audiences.
“We loved performing The World Goes ’Round a few years ago and this show has a similar feel in that it’s a small cast and is fast paced and slick but will take the audience on a magical musical journey.”
In the lead up to next month’s performances, Laidlaw’s cast members have been Puttin’ on the Ritz in a photo-shoot at the Nola jazz restaurant and bar in Lendal, designed to evoke the glitz and glamour of vintage Hollywood.
“Housed in the old congregational chapel on Lendal, the gold, mirrored decor of Nola was the perfect setting as the cast of six brushed up their white tie, tails and top hats – so to speak! – and posed with martini glasses in the 1920s’ Art Deco atmosphere,” says publicity officer Anna Mitchelson.
“Richard, Cat, John, Rachel, Henrietta and Helen are now deep into rehearsals for the show, learning intricate harmonies and weaving famous Hollywood melodies together in a unique and clever way.”
Tickets for the 7.30pm performances cost £15, £12 for age 18 and under, on 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.
YORKSHIRE’S Got Talent – Live! is NOT a contest, more a celebration of the best of the White Rose’s young dance, comedy and music performers, at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, on Sunday.
“This weekend’s show isn’t actually a competition,” explains Nathan Lodge. “The competition happened in 2020 throughout lockdown and concluded last September last year with Edward (Ed) Atkin as the overall winner.
“During the online contest, the group on Facebook reached more than 4,000 followers and the final public vote for the winner had 1,378 votes.”
The competition was brought to life by York theatre student Hannah Wakelam, who wanted to raise money for the JoRo, where she first cut her performing teeth.
“There were three judges throughout the process,” says Nathan, a West End regular and cruise-ship vocal captain, from York. “Alongside me were Amelia Urukako, owner of Upstage Academy in Ripon, and Laura Pick, from Wakefield, who’s playing Elphaba in Wicked in the West End, all of us hailing from Yorkshire.”
The overall winner was decided by a combination of the judges, a public vote and a panel of theatre industry experts: Rachel Tucker, Kerry Ellis, Natalie Paris, Matthew Croke, Nicolas McClean and Paul Taylor-Mills.
“We promised the contestants who made the top 13 – the top ten plus three judges’ wildcards – that they could do a live show, so a year later, with a couple of date changes thanks to Covid!, we’re fulfilling our promise!”
Yorkshire’s Got Talent – Live features eight of the top ten acts from the competition: winner Ed Atkin, fellow finalists Fladam (Florence Poskitt and Adam Sowter) and Jordan Wright, plus contestants Sam Rippon, Daisy Winbolt-Robertson, Harvey Stevens, Florence Taylor and Richard Bayton.
“The evening will feature an eclectic mix of musical theatre, opera, comedy and dance, and we promise a thoroughly entertaining show, bursting with joie de vivre, from these stars of the future,” says Nathan.
The event will be hosted by Jordan Langford, from Scarborough, who will sing too. He had a career in musical theatre before becoming a theatre creative and is soon to study for an MA in contemporary directing practice at Rose Bruford College, London.
“Sadly, Laura Pick has a Sunday matinee schedule now in Wicked, post-Covid reopening, so she’s unable to perform with us but wishes she could,” says Nathan. “We’ll miss her!
“I’ll be performing in the evening, including singing a duet with winner Ed Atkin, who was my wildcard act to join the top ten of the competition. Just before the pandemic, I was the vocal captain performing on board M/S Color Fantasy.”
The band will be led by musical director Matthew Peter Clare on an evening when everyone will be giving their services for free. “Nobody is getting paid,” says Nathan. “Instead, all the profits from Sunday’s fundraiser will go to the Joseph Rowntree Theatre to add to the total raised by the competition last year.”
Tickets for the 7pm show are on sale on 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.
YORK Musical Theatre Company will head off to Hollywood in November with a desire for escapism from months of pandemic lockdowns.
Devised by director Paul Laidlaw, Hooray For Hollywood’s celebration of songs from Tinseltown’s golden age was first performed by YMTC at the York Theatre Royal Studio in 2007.
From November 8 to 10 at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, Laidlaw’s revival of his slick and sophisticated six-hander show will explore the musical masters of the classic Hollywood of the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s.
Laidlaw’s cast is made up of four women and two men: Cat Foster, Rachel Higgs, Henrietta Linnemann and Helen Spencer, joined by Richard Bayton and John Haigh.
This nostalgic, whirlwind journey through the sounds of Hollywood is packed with love songs, torch songs, and comic numbers from the bygone days of Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.
Director Laidlaw says: “We’ve actually performed the show at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre before, as well as at the Theatre Royal Studio. As we head into our 120th year next year, it felt right to be a bit nostalgic and look back at some of our original pieces that audiences loved and revive them for new audiences.
“We loved performing The World Goes ’Round [a revue of Kander and Ebb’s songbook] a few years ago, and this show has a similar feel in that it’s a small cast and is fast paced and slick but will take the audience on a magical musical journey.”
Tickets for the three 7.30pm performances cost £15, £12 for age 18 and under, at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk or on 01904 501935.