Sunday, March 29, 2009


Chet Baker and Mike Maran at the Civic Theatre


It seemed much darker on the page,” Mike Maran told me after this gripping and revealing portrait of a fallen angel.

Indeed. Blood-spattered bathrooms, an Italian gaol, back streets of Amsterdam, an abusive father. All part of the story of trumpeter/vocalist Chet Baker. The only stage dressing: photos and outfits strung out on a washing line like notes on a stave.

But Maran's engaging lightness of touch, together with the magical music-making of Robert Pettigrew on piano and the excellent Colin Steele on trumpet, made this much less grim than it might have been. A key moment, for instance, is the picnic passegiata, with the citizens of Lucca listening as Chet plays Someone to Watch Over Me in his prison cell. Never the same way twice.

Quirky little details help keep the darkness and depression at bay: Chet the cat burglar, the Carnegie Hall, Chet the garage attendant, the awful novelty numbers, the dentures, the biscotti from Waitrose ...

Maran's narrator, crumpled white suit, red socks and shoes, is a key player, too. Always there for Chet, in the hotel rooms, in the gaol. A constant companion, guardian angel, buddy. Helping him to get in touch with the beautiful inner world of his own creativity. And of course bringing the supporting cast to life. Charlie Parker, Chet's father in jazz, Gerry Mulligan, cool jazz saxophonist in that first quartet, and pianist Dick Twardzick, who also died from drug abuse in a European hotel.

Music to die for. And music too, was a constant presence, underscoring the story, and giving its own, often ironic, gloss on the scene: A Small Hotel, Long Ago and Far Away, My Funny Valentine ...

Saturday, March 28, 2009

photograph Sawood Pearce
King Edward VI School Chelmsford

Jim Hutchon [Chelmsford Weekly News] was at the first night:

Cole Porter’s evergreen Anything Goes was given a new lease of life by producer/ choreographer Maria French leading an energetic and disciplined cast for KEGS Spring production. Within minutes it was easy to forget this was a school production because of the professionalism and commitment of the cast and band.
Key star in the production was the lead girl, Reno (Hannah Phillips), who belted out all the traditional standards – I get a kick out of you, You’re the top and Friendship etc. - with a great voice and personality like the professional chanteuse she was playing. Helping her was her hapless boyfriend, Billy (Matthew Lecznar) who has impeccable timing and also a fine voice which he used to good effect in a series of complicated plot turnabouts.
Excellent character playing came from Tom Childs and Katie Gormley as stowaway gangster and moll on the good ship SS American, backed by Alice Macfarlane and Hayley Camis as the mother and daughter hoping to marry into the aristocracy via Bart Lambert, who played the slightly unhinged English aristocrat with great aplomb.
The massive cast created spectacular chorus numbers – especially for the closing of the first act when the more than 50 cast were on the impressive set. In the midst of this they staged a truly awesome tap dance routine which brought the house down.
And from the smallest to the tallest, they all played their part in making this challenging production something special. Especial plaudits go to Tom Crowe, as a ‘camper than camp’ purser with some outrageous pouting and flouting, and magnetic stage presence, and to the lively and musically secure band led by Musical Director Tim Worrall.

JR was at the last night ...

A most enjoyable evening. Good cast with Reno and Billy particularly
outstanding .. Evangeline took my eye too. The band was EXCELLENT !

I was impressed with the lad's [Jamie Dent's] tap dancing, and in fact it would have been good to see him included in the middle of the girls' line-up at the end of Act One .. he was equally impressive in his later solo, if a little serious.
The purser [Tom Crowe] played with enthusiasm .. his face when he looked through the porthole was perfect .. and the moment where he pecked the Captain on the cheek priceless from both !
With his cut glass accent (eksent ?) Bart Lambert was the epitome of the silly twit and could have escaped from one of the Ben Travers farces - an impeccable portrayal.

The KEGS Newsletter review
by 'Richard Broadway'

How to follow “Oliver!” ? How do you top “Joseph” ?

Maria French and her team went back to musical comedy roots for “Anything Goes”, Cole Porter's feelgood show born in the recession, and still one of the most popular school productions in the US.

The result was a colourful, tuneful extravaganza, featuring some of the best performances you could hope to see on a school stage. James Russell, the Stage Director, was very much thrown in at the deep end, but proved an inspirational force for these enthusiastic actors.

Hannah Phillips was a diminutive, dynamite Reno Sweeney, selling all her numbers and lighting up the stage, ably partnered by Matthew Lecznar as Billy Crocker, relaxed, with an easy presence and real star quality. His last show with KEGS, alas; other swan songs from Robin Carroll, Maxwell Spence as the myopic buffoon Eli Whitney, Sam Booth as a strong Captain, Alex Duval as the real man of the cloth, and Tom Childs a great comedic discovery as Public Enemy #13. Alice McFarlane made a sweet Hope Harcourt, her Goodbye Little Dream moving in its simplicity, while Hayley Camis made a great character of her frantic mother. Bonnie Letour was another smouldering performance from the inimitable Katie Gormley. Chris Malton, an indefatigable techie, also signs off with this show.

We hope to see more of Bart Lambert, an upper-crust Lord Evelyn, and Thomas Crowe, the effete Purser. Not to mention the accomplished Sailor Quartet, and some very promising younger cameos.

Tim Worrall, MD, and the 16-piece band made the most of the familiar show-stoppers. But this was really all about the hoofers. Not just the polished principals, or the augmented Angels [Dance Captain Sian Cripps], but every one of the forty students, from year 7 to year 13, who pounded the decks of the SS American, tapping and stomping through the title number at the close of each act.

Congratulations to everyone involved on a five-star production. As Wodehouse wrote for the 1935 West End première: You're the grace of a Brontosaurus, you're the pace of a Cochran chorus, you're the green and gold and the mauve of the old school tie, you're the top !

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Colchester Mercury

The lady in front of us was baffled by the pay terminal in the multi-storey. Not surprising, really, since she’d clearly been teleported from the 40’s – sensible brogues, tweed skirt, hair net …
She was on her way, via the Balkerne Gate, to the Mercury to watch the Blonde Bombshells of 1943.
The original Bombshells film had Judi Dench struggling to arrange a reunion for the wartime girl band she’d joined as a girl of 15.
The stage spin-off, almost a tribute show, has the band recruiting three new girls, replacing members lost to the depredations of GIs. Alan Plater, who penned both scripts, was inspired in turn by the all-female orchestras epitomised by Ivy Benson. The live version has been on the road since 2006, including a tour of duty in the Far East.
The format is simple. Betty [Charlotte Armer] sits in a grim rehearsal room. Vaguely feminist/filthy chit-chat is exchanged with other members of the band as they drift in. The three novices – Miranda the upper-class tart [a brilliantly dim Rosie Jenkins] Liz the innocent schoolgirl [a gawky Laura Staveley] and least likely but most amusing, Lily the nun. From a liberal order which embraces the Melody Maker and the cheeky innuendo of George Formby.
They do their audition pieces, and are magically melded in a moment into the Valentino Sisters [Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree]. Then, in a tune-filled climax, the BBC wireless show broadcast live from somewhere in England [ alright, Hull ]. As in the tv film, the other plot line is Some Like It Hot draft-dodging drummer [Matthew Ganley] who is shamed into joining the colours [Wish Me Luck as You Wave Me Goodbye].
The show’s secret, and what made this such an enjoyable evening, is the comedy skills and consummate musicianship of the eight actors, and of course the powerfully nostalgic tunes. Number Fifteen on your News Chronicle song sheet ...

Sunday, March 22, 2009


The Essex Symphony Orchestra at Christ Church


Starting with a tiny trickle, the source of the Vltava, and ending with the mighty struggle of the wind and the waves, Justin Doyle and the Essex Symphony Orchestra took us on a water-borne journey, navigated by five composers.

Besides Bohemia, we sailed the grim grey North Sea, the Med at Capri, the Loing near Fontainebleau and the Channel off Eastbourne.

Smetana's great poem was superbly played, with noble strings and brass, and nimble dances on the riverside.
The Delius, Summer Night on the River, despite some evocative woodwind playing, never quite achieved the gossamer texture this music needs. The bracing Britten, though, was very successfully caught, especially in the glacial dawn opening, and the brass-rich storm at the end, with its tantalising moments of calm.

The ESO's guest leader for this concert was Philippa Barton, and the soloist was mezzo Clare McCaldin, who gave us a powerful set of Sea Pictures, with the orchestra making the most of the great surges of Elgarian melody. And the evening ended with Debussy's familiar evocation of the sea in all its moods, especially impressive in the closing elemental dialogue.

This was Justin's last concert with the ESO before he leaves for Opera North, and in lieu of an encore, he joined Clare in a Grossmith ditty, referencing many of the motifs from the programme, and aptly titled Baby on the Shore.

Were this Radio 3, we should be begging you to text or email your suggestions for an actual encore for this themed concert. So why not add a comment - costs nothing, can be anonymous . Maybe "Calm Seas and a Prosperous Voyage" for Justin, or, my favourite, Arnold's Padstow Lifeboat ...

Friday, March 20, 2009


Billericay Operatic Society at the Brentwood Theatre


Eighty years ago, this very society staged their first ever show, the Mikado. Only ten years later an all-black Hot Mikado hit Broadway, and this was the inspiration for Rob Bowman's ingenious, and hugely enjoyable, re-working.

If Gilbert and Sullivan could see me now …” mused the J Edgar Hoover of Japan [Ian Rainsby’s not very menacing Mikado], as he tapped his troubles away in Act Two. Well, they’d certainly recognize the plot, though it was trimmer and slimmer in this low-fat, full-flavoured version. 

And the tunes, too, though it was here that the really clever changes were made.

So Katisha [a barn-storming performance from Gail Carpenter] had a big Gospel number, and a very witty arrangement of her first entrance, and the Three Little Maids,fronted by Gill McGarry's knowing Yum Yum, owed a lot to the Andrews Sisters.

The coolest cat in Titipu, Poo Bah, no less, was played with sleek charm by Brian Plumb, but the stand-out male performers were director and choreographer Wayne Carpenter as Nanki-Poo, a clean-cut college boy with enormous specs and an ego to match, and Philip Cousins' perfect Koko, neatly capturing a vocal style somewhere between lyric and lounge. His little list included revivalists and ragtime.

The show looked great in this relatively intimate space, with technicolor zoot suits and print frocks; the invisible band, under MD Derrick Thompson, was a constant delight.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


CTW at the Old Court


Did you do something funny for Red Nose Day ?

Some of Chelmsford's finest actors were on stage at the Old Court, in the travesty of Tudor England that is Blackadder Live.

Like 'Allo 'Allo, at the Civic next month, the show comes with high audience expectations – the original performances [and many of the classic gags] being burned into the collective consciousness.

Edmund Blackadder was David Chilvers, a confident, stylish reincarnation which managed to bring something of himself to the character,as did Mark Preston as the hapless Baldrick, the butt of much of the physical humour, forever sacrificing his dignity and his bodily fluids to the greater good.

Among the many other larger than life characters were Kenton Church's Percy, Robin Winder's legless Rum, Ben Fraser's debonair Raleigh, Sara Nower's knitting Nursie, and of course Lionel Bishop making the most of the flamboyant Flashheart. Last word to Christine Davidson, who contributes two contrasting caricatures, the wisewoman and the puritan. Ruth Cramphorn's Kate ["Bob"] looked good in both guises, and Rebecca Errington was a splendidly petulant Queenie. Great character opportunities were gleefully seized by Vince Webb as Leech, Sarah Bell as the Young Crone and Simon Thomas as Kate's Dad, who has the key role of kicking off the plot. Kevin Stemp brought some gravitas to "the creep" Melchett.

Dean Hempstead's pacy production got lots of belly laughs from the capacity audience, despite the endless scene changes, which gave us the chance to enjoy various ancient airs, but added considerably to the running time, and made it nigh on impossible to build the hilarity as Curtis and Elton intended. The setting was simple, but the costumes, by Tony Brett, added authenticity to these three comic tales.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Waltham Singers at Chelmsford Cathedral


When Charles Darwin was born, 200 years ago last month, Joseph Haydn had but months to live. His Creation, of course, is a strictly scriptural affair, with God's six days' work presented in a series of pictorial choruses, arias and recitatives.

In the Cathedral last week we heard the first part, taking us up to the lights in the firmament of the heavens.

Andrew Fardell's expressive reading gave us all the images of Genesis: the eddying face of the waters, for instance, and the glorious blaze of light from the choir, who were responsive to the big moments, but also the drama and rhythm of the closing passages, including the familiar Heavens Are Telling.

The three soloists had a sizeable share of the story, too, with Helen Meyerhoff's Gabriel making light work of In Verdure Clad, Christopher Foster's Raphael evoking the limpid brook, and late replacement American tenor Paul Austin Kelly especially effective in the calm beauty of the moonlight.

In this programmatic music you can often get the gist without understanding the words. But in Rossini's shamelessly operatic Stabat Mater I'd defy anyone to tell from the music that this is a deeply religious work, with the Mother of God weeping for the death of her son. Nonetheless, this was a powerful performance, with Susanna Spicer joining the soloists – a wonderful duet with Helen Meyerhoff – and a high standard of choral singing, particularly perhaps in the unaccompanied plea for the soul to enter heaven at death, which preceded the upbeat final Amen.

The accompaniment was provided by the Chameleon Orchestra. Although there was some splendid playing by brass and by strings, there were times, in the Rossini especially, where their forces overwhelmed the efforts of the soloists.

Colchester Mercury

“The wretch of today may be happy tomorrow.”

Gay's Beggars' Opera [a bit of a change from The Student Prince] is tellingly referenced in Ayckbourn's unblinking look at the Am Dram world, A Chorus of Disapproval.

In Peter Rowe's production for the New Wolsey and the Mercury, Guy Jones was played by leading light of Eastern Angles Julian Harries, in a reading which got all the laughs without sacrificing the sadness.

The 'director', whose distant apprenticeship on the professional stage - “a lot of it in Minehead” - is both a fond memory and a nightmare albatross, was a larger than life Sion Tudor Owen, with Katy Secombe [daughter of the legendary Harry] in good voice, and often touching, as his “Swiss Army wife”.

Many familiar Mercury faces made up the motley company of PALODS – Roger Delves Broughton and Jill Cardo as the talentless stalwarts [“unless you say 'well done' all the time they won't turn up,” moans director Dafydd]. And Christine Absalom was the redoubtable Rebecca, wife to self-made man Paul Leonard.

I liked Charles Davies's nudge-nudge swinger, though I feel that the wife-swap sequence, though hilarious, really belongs in a different play.

Come on, you've seen this world from both sides of the footlights ! Is this how it really is ? Well, no, not really. Sure, I've waited in “ghastly, smelly little kitchens”, and seen the back row of the chorus desperately trying to recall the words, or the steps, or the show. But as I said to the Rotarians, in my considerable experience almost any other group – bell-ringers, say, or bee-keepers – would afford more opportunities for hanky-panky than the would-be luvvies of the arts scene.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


KEGS Arts Society recital


Twin pillars of English music, Purcell and Britten, framed this enjoyably varied recital featuring soprano Jane Leslie MacKenzie.

The Purcell included a dramatic Love's Sickness and a moving Dido's Lament, with the accompaniment successfully exported to the modern piano by Tim Carey.

A posy of Folk Songs from Britten concluded the evening: a lovely Waly, Waly and a cheeky Oliver Cromwell to end [If you want any more you can sing it yourself …]. Rarer delights included some of the few song settings of Mozart, and Poulenc's Whimsical Betrothal.

The centrepiece of the recital was Schumann's great Frauenliebe und Leben, describing the course of a woman's love for her man, from her own point of view, from their first meeting through marriage to his death. Jane's powerful, though often intimate, performance was well matched by the piano, especially in the final bars, where the silence of heartbreak and loss is accentuated by the recapitulation of the music's motifs.

Tim Carey gave us two solo reflections on the evening's themes: a stormy Petrarch Sonnet by Liszt, and two of Schumann's Fantasy Pieces, including a wonderful performance of Des Abends, with the cantabile melody made more songlike by the finely judged rubato.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Chelmsford Ballet Company at the Civic


To mark their sixtieth anniversary, our very own ballet company chose this favourite show; it's one that shows their strengths to perfection.

Good, clear story telling, strong characters, big numbers and a familiar score.

On opening night, Princess Aurora was danced by Bethany Pike. It was a radiant performance, with real flair in the dancing of the Grand Pas d'Action in Act I, and later in tandem with her Prince, an energetic and expressive Mandev Sokhi. She also gave us some nicely ethereal movement in Act II, with convincing fainting in coils after the spindle incident.

Tanya Davenport-Stanyon made an elegant Lilac Fairy, and Jessica Smart was Princess Florine to Matthew Powell's stylish Bluebird. Telling cameos from Luke Bradshaw as the Wolf and Jessica Gosling as Red Riding Hood.

The various fairies were superb, with lots of nuance of character, and the green nymphs shone in the Vision Scene. The corps de ballet – resplendent in dress uniforms for the finale – showed strength in depth, and painted some excellent stage pictures.

The character roles were filled by doyens of the company; room only to mention Elizabeth Baker's extravagantly evil Carabosse, arriving on a chariot with attendant bats and fluffy little demons.

The ballet, always gorgeous to look at, beautifully costumed, was directed by Gillian Toogood, with assistance from Annette Potter.

Sunday, March 08, 2009


Writtle Singers


A bold fanfare, a feisty Bransle, brought the Writtle Singers up to the transept in a concert opening typical of the sense of the dramatic which informs their programming.

Christine Gwynn had devised a sequence of music to illustrate the life of the Virgin Queen, “a fruitful and rich period” artistically. Each work was introduced by a brief reading; no dry history lesson, but an exploration of byways peopled by the likes of Will Kempe and “Nosy” Parker. And, wittily, rumour and speculation about Edward de Vere were followed by Morley's Fyer, Fyer !

Contemporary works included a lovely piece by Weelkes, who also contributed the Kempe song, and Latin settings by Byrd, the great survivor of the old faith.

Britten's Gloriana was central to the concert – the mesmeric Concord, and the rhythmic men's voices in Rustics and Fishermen – and other later English voices included Purcell [The Faerie Queen] and Holst's glorious Partsongs: the beautifully sustained Dream Tryst and Come to Me, bracketing the livelier birds and glow-worms.

Christine joined accompanist Caroline Finlay for two helpings of Warlock's Capriol Suite, in its original piano duet version.

In addition to their concerts, Writtle Singers are offering a free open workshop [Byrd and Vaughan Williams] in the Church on March 30.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


at the Civic Theatre


Making light of arthritis and memory loss, folk legends Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson brought their years of experience to the Civic last week.

With Chris Parkinson on accordion, they kicked off with a song from the West Indies, which exists in many versions all over the world. And “Sailor Cut Down in His Prime”, delivered in Waterson's uniquely expressive voice, was typical of the breadth of their repertoire.

Mr Isaac's Maggot, a dance tune from the 18th century, an Australian ballad, Six Jovial Welshman [a carol, a confection or a nonsense song ?], tunes from the Morris Men, and the haunting lament Bay of Biscay, all showed this combo's deep love of authentic folk music.

I particularly enjoyed My Flower, My Companion and Me, and the Ohio number Since My Bird Has Flied Away.

There was original music too – Tom Waites' Strange Weather and Black Muddy River by the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia.

They ended their set with Midnight on the Water, a potently nostalgic waltz from Texas, which almost managed to generate some of the folk club/festival atmosphere which was sadly lacking in the dark, respectful theatre.

Fans will already know that Carthy and Waterson's daughter Eliza is playing the Civic on the 9th of May.