Wayne Ings should be so pleased with this show: his young cast fully embrace every comedic notion, nuance and musical lilt in a buzzing score and bonkers story and script that just works fantastically well on this stage at Eastleigh. He has clearly worked hard on all aspects of this show to bring an entertaining and new look to this classic while retaining all the elements that make it one.
The band under the wonderful direction of Nigel Finch are so good that the notoriously arch Mr Porter would have found little to complain of, if anything: the sound beautifully balances the singers with the rich tones of this orchestra, to do more than justice to the score of pure melodic arrangements.
Mr Ings has found a way of freshening what can be a laboured script in other hands and peppered it with comic timing and visual gags. Some adult productions have lacked the pace and ‘lightness’ this youth production clearly brings. Luke Devlin as Moonface Martin is particularly adept with the one-liners, while his expressive singing voice comes into its own in ‘Be like the bluebird’.
Sashaying her way through is Freya Burnside, who from the off is pure class in poise, vocal range and dexterity, with total stage presence, as Reno Sweeney: a magnetic performance in stunning costumes that she shows off so well with stance and elegance. Indeed, the costume count is incredibly high, as is the standard you would expect from the expertise of Heather Cousins and Sue Tatnall. The ladies and gents are quite resplendent throughout, Reno managing very swift changes with ease. She seems so at ease on stage, with tap dancing wonderfully performed for the finale of act 1, too.
Kelan Pannell as Billy vocalises wonderfully throughout, his solo work on ‘Easy to love’ being particularly good as it is such a difficult song to do justice to: again, diction and focus are to the fore, as in all his performances, plus comedy talent too with a rather good ear for accent and impression throughout.
Nancy Longland as Hope, the object of Billy’s love, is delightful, her vocal of ‘Goodbye, little dream’ being emotive and beautifully sung. I liked her acting relationship with Alana Marris, who plays her mother with ever-increasing frenetic energy, and with Peter Lavery, a whirlwind of talent as Lord Evelyn. His ‘Gypsy’ song is very impressive, as he manages to untangle an unruly dressing gown at exactly the right moment.
Henry Cox is a cool, calm Elisha Whitney, adding gravitas to each scene he is involved with, the loss of the spectacles being well executed. Annabel Clark is on excellent form throughout, especially during her ‘Buddy beware’ number. Vocals and comic timing from her are quite superb.
Indeed, superlatives come easy when it is as good as this, with everyone working nearly as hard as the ice machine in the corner, which is really the only negative distraction. Choreography by Kelly Fuller is full on, coming to the fore especially in the big act 1 finale tap number, which was thoroughly enjoyable as it built to the rousing ending. The ensemble are well disciplined and drilled in these big numbers, Jake Babey and Oliver Ingoe providing able support as Captain and Purser alongside Reno’s six beautifully attired and bewigged angels. Lighting, worked by Martin Whittaker, is well thought out, adding a very professional feel.
I had an excellent evening watching this show, which comes highly recommended to anyone who has a chance to set sail with this highly talented group. There are performances on 22 and 23 March at 7.30 and 24 March at 2.30 and 7.30.