The Pendleton School of Performance And production Arts in Salford is a 6th form college catering for that interim between O levels and university, and catering especially for those who are wishing to take their theatre or media studies further and make a career from them. There are various 'majors' within the school, and this evening we were entertained by the Musical Theatre students.
I couldn't count them all, but there were over 80 of them seated on the stage this evening, all dressed smartly in black with either white or grey additions. It made for a nice formal visual, and sat in front of the Elf backdrop made it a little Christmassy too. What a pity then that the entrance on to the stage was not ordered, and that those who were performing solos could not have been on the front row, and that the taller ones could not have been behind the smaller ones. This sadly all brought it back to being a School production and you had lost that air of professionalism that as a school they strive for.
The entire cast sung 5 songs throughout the evening as a whole. They made a splendid chorus, with their voices blending nicely together, and some really lovely harmonies shining through. I especially liked the arrangements of I Got Rhythm and Send In The Clowns. The song to work the least well, and have the least impact was, sadly the final song of the show, For Good. It was too slow to be a finale song for a start, but then there were I think 5 or 6 girls who started this song and were too quiet, and then when the rest of the choir sang a different melody on top of theirs it was drowned completely. Also, a 'pet hate’ of mine, but the word 'better' has two Ts in the middle of it. I cannot stand hearing 'be'er' or 'bedder'.
There was a lovely rendition by a sub-group of these students, The Contemporary Choir, of Christmas Lullaby. This was nicely sung with secure harmonies. Also, another sub-group, The Chamber Choir, sang the only song which hadn't been written for Musical Theatre or in the last 100 years or so (Gilbert And Sullivan number notwithstanding), Mozart's Ave Verum.
This meant that there were still 18 songs to get through this evening, and that meant 18 soloists. I cannot comment on them all individually; but what I can say is that every one of them put a huge amount of themselves behind their solo, not just singing but acting and giving a total performance. That was lovely to see. Naturally some were stronger performers than others, but all 18 gave their all and entertained us with their individual styles, voices and approaches to the songs.
However this is a review and so I would like to mention a few who, for me, had that little 'extra' something making me notice them and enjoy their performance just a little more than the others...
The first of these came in the form of a duet, and the first piece of music after the choral introduction. We heard and more importantly saw Tom Plant and Jake Hankey fight it out as to who was the more hopelessly in love with 'Agony' from Into the Woods. It wasn't the singing here that impressed, it was the acting and the rapport created between the two performers and their ability at creating humour from this song.
The next song / singer to impress was the one which for me was my absolute highlight of the whole concert. A song I didn't know, from a Musical I didn't know sung by a highly proficient and charismatic young lady with a great voice and great comedy acting skills and had me smiling and laughing with her all the way through her superbly measured rendition of Screw Loose. Well done Harriet Dean.
Then came three songs, again none of which I knew, but all were interesting and well performed. Joe Foster impressed only on his final few notes, which were sublime, singing 'Sailing' from A New Brain’, followed by two songs which simply had to be sung together; Ellen Eckersley gave a wonderfully girlie and twee rendition of Taylor The Latte Boy, which was answered in down-to-earth style by Haroun Al Jeddal with, Taylor A Response.
The singer to gain the largest applause this evening, and for very good reason, was Lucy Mullin singing her interpretation of Poor Wanderin' One from the comic operetta by Gilbert And Sullivan, The Pirates Of Penzance. Here is a soprano with operatic training, giving a virtuoso performance and hitting every nail squarely on the head every time. Simply breathtakingly brilliant.
However, the most human and heart-warming comment came immediately after Mullin had sat down. The next soloist stood and said simply, 'How do I follow that?'. Well, Sam Kearney-Edwardes, you did, and you sang well and gave a lovely interpretation of 'Pretty Funny' from Dogfight. Very enjoyable and pretty funny!
Considering these students' ages and experience, and also the fact that this concert comes straight off the back of a full scale Musical production of Elf, then all I can say is that it was utterly marvellous and fantastic. With a little more rehearsal, better amplification (one stick mic centre was not ideal), and a conductor for the choral numbers who can stand in front and bring you all in and off at the right times, then the concert would be of a very high professional standard indeed.
Have a good rest, and I look forward to seeing what offerings you have in store for us in 2017., and thank you for such a proficient and entertaining unchristmassy Christmastime concert.
Reviewer: Mark Dee
Reviewed: 19th December 2016