The increasingly impressive UMMTS [University Of Manchester Musical Theatre Society] have done it again, and produced yet another hit show to add to their growing collection.
When a society has such a small 'pool' from which to cast their shows - their one stipulation being that in order to perform and be a member of the society, you must be a current student of the university - I am always impressed at the wealth of talent they amass and how appropriate their castings are. The one thing that I find unfortunate about this is that, although they have a very large and loyal fan-base amongst their fellow students; this society and the shows it produces are relatively unknown outside of their sphere. And when they are as good as they undeniably are, I feel saddened that so few 'outsiders' ever get to appreciate these talents.
It has been a long time (too long) since I last saw Marvin Hamlisch's excellent concept Musical about a group of dancers auditioning for a Broadway Show, and his evening was a great re-introduction to the stage show for me. Greeted with a bare wooden-floored stage, the band behind a curtain at the rear, and the 'auditionees' entering with the audience, putting their bags down on the side, chatting and warming-up just as if they really were coming into this space for an audition was a nice touch.
The Musical ran approx 2 hours without interval, and during the course of this we learn about some of the 15 dancers who make it passed the initial group audition. With stories based on actual 'testimonies' of struggling chorus dancers on Broadway in the early 1970s, through song, dance, humour and whole lot of pathos, one by one these 15 open their hearts and their souls to their hard-nosed, demanding and seemingly heartless director, Zach (Patrick Shepherd). I did feel that perhaps Shepherd could have been just a little harder and stronger at the beginning in order to make more of a contrast when he reveals his feelings for the first time with Cassie, and his very human and beautifully timed empathy with and consideration for Paul at the end.
However, let me take you through a couple of what were for me, the highlights of a show where every number was a highlight...
I have already mentioned Paul, played here with genuine sincerity by Tom Carswell. If you don't have a lump in your throat and tears in your eyes after his soliloquy then you are simply not human! It was perfectly times and measured; and his characterisation - not to mention his singing and dancing - prior to this were all excellent too.
Another highlight for me was Mike's (Charlie White) fun-filled but heart-felt 'I Can Do That'. Staying with fun, then 'Sing' was also well performed (Annie Davies and Jordan Jones); whilst at the other end of the scale 'At The Ballet' sung by trio Sheila (Hannah Greenwood), Bebe (Catriona Darroch), and Maggie (Morgan Maredith) was heart-wrenching. And for a touch of sass, then you couldn't do better than Fenella Wheatley strutting her stuff for 'Dance Ten, Looks Three'.
I think perhaps the strongest performance this evening though came from an ex-student of Chetham's School Of Music, proving that she is a truly multi-talented, Georgia Brown's hard-nosed interpretation of Diana Morales. She had two solos in this show, both quite different in style, and Brown nailed them both with aplomb; 'Nothing', and 'What I Did For Love'.
With a 15-piece band playing superbly under the direction of Andy Davies; some great directing (Lucy Scott) and good choreography (Eleanor Lang), this was a slightly up-dated, but true to the authors' intent and very 'real' production, and I can't wait now to see how the same society tackles their next offering, something completely different, Sondheim's A Little Night Music, in May.
Reviewer: Mark Dee
Reviewed: 26th April 2017