Tag Archives: Khiley Williams

Oklahoma!

reviewed at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage on 30 August

Few musicals of the 1940s have stood the test of time with repeated revivals. Oklahoma! by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II passes with flying colours. Catherine Lomax directs this new Gordon Craig Theatre production which treats it as the musical play – rather than operetta or musical comedy – intended.

Her musical director Rob Scott takes his 15-piece orchestra through the score with panache, from the brisk overture through the mock-solemnity of “Poor Jud is dead” to the lyricism of “People will say we’re in love” and “Oh, what a beautiful morning!”.  The large cast act, sing and dance (choreography is by Khiley Williams and Philip Joel) with skill and energy.

Carrie Sutton makes an attractive Laurey, the girl who finds herself with one suitor too many. Lisa Bridge’s Ado Annie is engaging and has a memorable laugh which is part irritated cockerel and part aggravated hyena. Jeremy Batt leads the male dancers as Will Parker, sort-of-rivaled by Joe Leather’s pedler Ali Hakim.

There are also good portraits from Alice Redmond as Aunt Eller and Ian McLarnon as Ado Annie’s father. Joshua Gannon has a strong if not subtle voice and his Curly is very credible. Villain of the piece is Jud Fry and Connor Ewing makes the most of both his brutality and the sense of isolation which fuels it.

No designer is credited for the costumes or the set which transforms between four locations in the course of the action. it works very well, as does Peter Kramer’s lighting. For my taste, sound designer Luke Hyde has overdone the use of mics diminishing the graduation of sound as the story unfolds.

Four star rating.

Oklahomo! runs at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage until 8 September with matinées on 1, 6 and 8 September.

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Filed under Music Music theatre & opera, Reviews 2018

Sleeping Beauty

reviewed at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage on 29 March

Reminding young people, and their elders, that there’s more to a traditional tale than its Disney version is an excellent idea. The sequence of spring musicals devised by Catherine Lomax shows just what can be done if you strip away any pantomime and animation elements.

This Sleeping Beauty is the joint creation of Lomax (direction), Phil Dennis (musical direction) and Khiley Williams (choreography). Connor Norris’ permanent set is medieval with soaring gothic arches and flambeau-bearing towers.

Lisa Hickey’s costumes contrast period realism for the court and townspeople with flower fantasy for the immortals. The good fairies represent spring flowers – Natalie Harman’s Tulip has a jolly-hockey-sticks personality, Francesca French’s Primrose is more sedate while Rebecca Gilhooley’s Bluebell (akin to the Lilac Fairy familiar from the ballet) is quietly authoritative.

In opposition stands Ellen Vereneiks’ withering Narcissus, the Carabosse of this musical. All four have strong voices, easily coping with Dennis’ mixture of bravura singing and close harmony. Abigayle Honeywill’s Beauty, Oliver Stanley as King Favian and Glenn Anderson as Prince Rowan make the most of their individual and concerted numbers.

This production is due to be seen in Chesterfield, Middlesbrough and Skegness when the short Stevenage run closes. This is the sort of small-scale but stylish staging of new work which deserves a wider audience; that in turn means that more attention (which includes money) can be alloted to casting and overall production values.

Four and a half-star rating.

Sleeping Beauty plays matinée and late afternoon/early evening performances until 2 April at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage.

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Filed under Family & children's shows, Music Music theatre & opera, Reviews 2018

The Producers

reviewed at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage on 31 August

Catherine Lomax’s summer musical at the Gordon Craig Theatre stands comparison with many a more expensively lavish touring production – in fact, it deserves a tour of its own. The Producers, that in-joke about how to stay out of the bankruptcy courts as a Broadway impressario, is a bold choice for a small regional theatre.

The settings and drop-curtain scenes follow each other slickly, aided by Pete Cramer and Al Rivers’ lighting and enhanced by Lisa Hickey’s clever costuming. from the opening number – bridging the gap between the first and closing nights of Max Bialystock’s latest production – a musical skit on Hamlet called Funny Boy – Khiley Williams and Philip Joel’s choreography sparkles.

Pail Easom as Max dominates the show throughout; we may wince at his exploitation of elderly female “angels” and shameless manipulation of everyone with whom he comes into contact, but we can’t help rooting for him. Even when he and the  hapless accountant Leo Bloom (Ryan Owen) he has recruited launch that farrago called Springtime for Hitler to lose rather than to make money.

Owen makes an excellent foil to Easom, as does Oliver Stanley as the unrepentant Nazi with his cages of storm-trooper-drilled pigeons (a set designer is not credited in the programme) but s/he and the stage crew deserve plaudits of their own. Ali Bastian as sultry Swedish bombshell Ulla looks and sounds charming but rather pales into the background of the character studies around her.

These include Daniel Page as the campest of cross-dressing directors, Joel as his other-half and their coterie of flamboyant thespian homosexuals (Joseph Connor, James Donovan and Adam Shorey) and one butch lesbian (Catherine Millsom) (remember that this all takes place in 1959).

Sound balance (Luke Hyde) is excellent with Phil Dennis’ orchestra allowed to make its musical points whle never swamping the actors’ words. The ensemble comprises ten young performers just launching their professional careers who display impressive talents in song, acting and dance.

Four and a half-star rating.

The Producers runs at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage until 9 September with matinées on 2, 7 and 9 September.

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Filed under Music Music theatre & Opera, Reviews 2017

Rapunzel: The Musical
reviewed in Stevenage on 14 April

The Gordon Craig Theatre’s artistic director Catherine Lomax has found a winning streak with both revivals of favourite musicals and the premiering of new ones. Rapunzel has a book and lyrics by Lomax, score by the show’s musical director Phil Dennis and choreography by Khiley Williams; all are listed for book, music and lyrics. The imaginative lighting is by Pete Kramer.

Flexible and effective settings – including the tower where our heroine is imprisoned – are uncredited but costume designer Lisa Hickey has produced a colourful medieval-style array for the principals, the ensemble and the children’s chorus. Karl (Mike Holoway) in “The precious gift of you” and his wife Sophia (Auriol Hatcher) in “Life’s sweetest thing” both have strong voices and act convincingly, though the level of miking overwhelmed the articulation for their main numbers.

Musically it’s a strong score, with the characters clearly identified in their solos and ful-throated ensemble numbers (shades of the man-hunt in Peter Grimes are there in “Find her!” which closes the first act). The book is a literate one, perhaps a little too much so for the youngest audience members, so that we are easily caught up in the plight of the childless couple.

Cameron Leigh’s Gothel, the witch-like woman who strikes her bargain for 16-year old Rapunzel with Karl, is not a straightforward villainess; she longs for a child just as deeply as Sophia and makes this clear in “The love I’m owed”. The puppet woodpecker Viktor, handled and voiced by James Donovan, acts as a commentator on her machinations as well as imprisoned Rapunzel’s only real friend.

That is, until Prince Freddie (Glenn Adamson) chances upon the tower. Both his father King Constanine) and grandmother Queen Ida (Sharon Eckman) want to him to marry royally. As befits a folk-tale hero, Freddie (egged on by his servant and frind Benedict (Ryan Owen) want real love with a real girl and not any of the eligible brides paraded for his selection.

The difficulty with this particular story is that we don’t meet its heroine as a young woman until the day comes for Gothel to claim her fee. Samantha Noel looks pretty and sings “Gilded cage” very well, but her plight fades into insignificance when the fully three-dimensional Gothel, Sophia and Karl take centre-stage.

Four-star rating.

Rapunzel coninues at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Steveange until 17 April with matinée and early evening performances on 15, 16 and 17 April. It returns for a short run between 27 and 30 July.

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Filed under Music Music theatre & Opera, Reviews 2017

Singin’ in the Rain

(reviewed at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage on 18 August)

Theatrical cliché number one – the show must go on!. And go on it did for Catherine Lomax’s summer in-house production, even though Simon Anthony suffered a foot injury during a particularly energetic dance routine as Cosmo Brown, necessitating an extended interval, roughly where one would have occured in a (now old-fashioned) two-interval production.

Craig Armstrong, who had been playing the two smaller roles of Sid Philips and the diction cach, had played the part previously and took over script-in-hand for the rest of the performance. Overall it’s a lavish production, complete with rainfall for the title number and finale, which moves slickly from scene to scene (there are 21 of them).

The script follows the Betty Comden and Adolph Green screen-play with Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed’s songs, most familiar to most of us from the Gene Kelly film. Khiley Williams’ choreography has th right 1920s influences – this is a story which centres on the Hollywood change from silent to sound films – and she has deised some good production numbers as well as the iconic “singin’ in the rain”.

Central to the story is stage actress Kathy, who is invested by Katie Warsop with just the right mix of steel-backbone determination and disarming femininity. She also dances extremely well and has the voice to match. As script-writer Don Mike Denman is perhaps a better dancer and actor than he is a singer, but his engaging ersonality makes up for this.

Screech-voiced Lina, the glittering Hollywood star with a temperment to match and completely non-existent vocal charm, is brought to full theatrical life by Cameron Leigh. Lomax’s production has a clever use of film which both sets the period and reminds us of the double artificiality of the whole set-up. Chris Keen is in charge of the (unseen) orchestra and the lighting design by Pete Kramer adds to the illusion.

Singin’ in the Rain runs at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage until 27 August. There are matinée peformances on 20, 25 and 27 August.

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Filed under Music & music theatre, Reviews 2016

Sister Act

(reviewed at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage on 20 August)

Twice-yearly musicals with a broad appeal have become something of a trademark for Stevenage’s Gordon Craig Theatre’s artistic manager Catherine Lomax. This August she has chosen Sister Act, the fast-paced stage musical based on the film of the same name.

it’s star is indubitably Michelle Chantelle Hopewell who plays Deloris, so badly entangled with the gangland club owner Curtis (Trevor A Toussaint) that her former classmate, would-be suitor and police officer Eddie (Darren Charles) needs to tuck her away in a convent to save her life.

Curtis may have pooh-poohed her musical talents, but the Mother Superior (Pippa Winslow) finds herself letting them take hold on her less than perfect choir of nuns. To say that Deloris spices up the plainchant is an understatement – and she sets quite a number of cats loose amid the habited pigeons while she’s about it.

Jade Davies plays the postulant Mary Robert, a young woman suddenly unsure of her true vocation. That Mgr O’Hara (Arthur Bostrom) is all set to sell the nuns’ church for secular development simply adds to Mother Superior’s woes. Both Winslow and Roberts have strong voices and personalities which make their individual dilemmas credible in secular terms.

The costumes – no designer is credited – look good, especially the show-girl feathers and sequins and the white and silver glitter of the nuns as they perform for the Pope in the final scene. The settings, whether in the club, the police station, the church or within the convent, are clever and hold up the action as little as possible.

In the pit, musical director Chris Keen has a 12-piece ensemble. The slick choreography is by Khiley Williams. But, above all, it’s Hopewell’s evening, dominating from her first appearance – an untidy blend of naïveté and stroppiness – through her attempts to accommodate herself to being where and what she doesn’t want to be through to her final recognition not just of her own but of other people’s self-worth.

Sister Act runs at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage until 29 August.

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Filed under Musicals, Reviews 2015

Charlotte’s Web
(reviewed at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage on 15 April)

The Stevenage theatre’s artistic director Catherine Lomax has been building up an impressive portfolio of in-house productions over the pa few years. The latest is a new staging of the Joseph Robinette and Charles Strouse’s musical version of the well-loved children’s story Charlotte’s Web by EB White, first published in 1952.

Set in White’s Maine, this is the story of a piglet who escapes slaughter, thanks to the feisty Fern, and is sent to be reared at the nearby Zukerman farm. There he makes the acquaintance of an assortment of farm animals, including an exceptionally greedy and know-all rat called Templeton (well, when did you last see a rat on stage cast as other than a devious specimen?) and the generous and intelligent spider called Charlotte (who lives in the same barn).

It is Charlotte, spinning ever more intricate webs, who saves Wilbur from the knife, much to Fern’s delight – though less so in the case of her stroppy brother Avery, their parents the Arables and the Zukerman household. White deals subtly but firmly with the sacrifice which Charlotte’s labours and her need to provide the next generation of spiders will exact.

The staging is very good with a succession of farm sets and some eye-catching costumes for the animals (Lisa Hickey), notably the geese (with goslings), the sheep (fleecy lambs by their side), great-coated Templeton and Charlotte’s bustled black with pendulous legs and extra eyes perched on her head like an aviatrix’s goggles. The country ‘n’ western-derived score is tuneful, if not memorable, and Khiley Williams has provided some energetic choreography for it.

Cameron Leigh’s Charlotte is a clever portrayal and well-sung as well as acted. Will Breckin’s Wilbur is as perky as such a prize porker ought to be with the forceful Harriet Payne as his human advocate and Matthew Collyer as a Templeton who has a distinct whiff of Animal Farm in his deviousness. Ed Court is quite funny as the Zuckermans’ clumsy farmhard Lurvy and Alistair Higgins stomps around as the archetypical teenage grump.

The five-piece band is led by Phil Dennis, and sounded at time a little under-powered. At the opening performance, Luke Hyde’s sound team hadn’t quite got the balance right, so that the opening numbers and verbal exchanges were over-miked while Leigh’s final scene and song seem to fade rather more than the spider’s own fragility at that point really warrented.

Charlotte’s Web runs at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage until 19 April.

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Filed under Musicals, Reviews 2015