Published by The Stage.
There is certainly a party atmosphere at the Midlands Academy of Dance and Drama (MADD) showcase, with disco music at full volume to welcome the guests and flashy lighting to complement some of the chorus numbers in the show. Director Emma Clayton has put together a production that is punchy, colourful and offers a decent example of the graduates’ talent and training.
Diverse, upbeat numbers from South Pacific, Young Frankenstein and Thoroughly Modern Millie demonstrate the energy and commitment of the graduating year. These are accompanied by some exciting moments of modern dance and soaring ballads, but unfortunately also some rather uninspiring dramatic pieces.
Holly Wathall slips out of the opening chorus to deliver a startlingly strong rendition of Gimme Gimme from Thoroughly Modern Millie. Wathall allows the number to build slowly but surely, adding drama and context to the lyrics, but the real drama comes from a stunning belt out that raises the roof at the Criterion. It’s a surprise tactic, but it rapidly becomes a pattern with the female vocalists through this year. Summer Rozenbroek may pitch it lower for the sultry Only In New York, but the bluesy ballad demonstrates a strong, controlled technique and as the number gathers momentum, so Rozenbroek proves she can deliver the goods.
Rebecca Telling chooses the ultimate Broadway anthem to showcase her vocal talents. Sondheim’s Broadway Baby has tongue-in-cheek humour in the lyrics, which Telling captures with relish, but the final few bars accentuate the clarity and range of her singing voice. Witty lyrics are a selling point for Amanda Blockley too, as she demands Please Don’t Touch Me from Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein. Blockley’s light delivery, clarity and comic timing with Matthew Brock as her stooge prove perfect qualifications for a musical comedy leading lady.
Brock himself is quite a versatile performer, delivering one of the more satisfying dramatic scenes in a showcase that relied too often on broad comedy. Brock’s turn as the tortured pigeon fancier in Hit and Run is indeed funny, but thanks to a strong on-stage relationship with fellow performer Benjamin Hart, threads of truth pierce the humour of the confrontation. Vocally, Brock might not get cast professionally as Max Bialystock just yet, but he brings character and passion to We Can Do It from The Producers, accompanied by Daniel Fuins as a hesitant Leopold Bloom.
Jessica Gilbert’s choice of Secret Love adds a softer, lyrical note to the proceedings and Gilbert balances the emotional power of the number with a secure vocal range, particularly in the upper register. Savanna Darnell makes a flashy, funny entrance early in the showcase as one of two girls up for an audition in Dalton and Schnackel’s You Laughing At Me. When it comes to her big number however, centre stage and oozing self confidence, Darnell is wholly in control, putting genuine soul into the power ballad I Know Where I’ve Been from Marc Shaiman’s Hairspray.
Talent aside, Kennedy Faith is one of the few performers to show any real versatility in their choices. A scene from Jim Cartwright’s Two sees Faith finally standing up to Joshua-Kyle Cantrill’s mentally and physically abusive boyfriend – the only seriously dramatic duologue of the showcase. For her musical number, Faith successfully negotiates the tricky humour of Jason Robert Brown’s A Summer In Ohio, which stands out among the sea of ballads offered today. It’s worth noting too that Cantrill makes his presence felt with an immaculate piece of expressive dance performed as a duet with Faith called Breathe Me.
Fly, Fly Away from Catch Me If You Can requires a maturity that Sadie Marie Ebbon is able to supply, along with steady pacing while instilling a strong sense of character into this touching musical number. Ebbon is supported by among others, Sadie Renee Malo who herself later takes centre stage for Nobody from Betty Blue Eyes. There is an unbridled sense of confidence to Malo’s delivery, which really helps the Stiles and Drewe number and allows the actor to keep the repeated refrain fresh each time.
This showcase has energy, power and plenty of moves but it plays everything at full tilt, with little room for subtlety or a chance to witness the graduates emotional range on stage. It’s great for the chorus work and adds urgency to the power ballads but the duologues – also played at speed or occasionally simply shrill – do little to complement the graduates undoubted stage skills.
Neal Wright of Jewell Wright Ltd chooses Savanna Darnell and Joshua-Kyle Cantrill
Venue: Criterion, London
Date: May 11, 2015
Director: Emma Clayton
Students: Matthew Brock, Holly Wathall, Sarah Stockton, Rebecca Telling, Leanne Storey, Emily May-Shaw, Joshua-Kyle Cantrill, Daniel Fuins, Lauren Hart, Sadie Renee Malo, Lorna-Jay, Benjamin Hart, Frances Alicia, Boyd Cunningham, Kelly Faulkner, Christopher Moakes, Harriet Guard, Emma Baxter, Adam Thomas Monk, Jessica Gilbert, Kennedy Faith, Sadie-Marie Ebbon, Summer Rozenbroek, Savanna Darnell, Amanda Blockley