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Musical Heaven

It all started so well. Most of the company were forming a lovely tableau on stage as the lights came up during the intro to the first number, ‘Follow the band’ from Barnum. Then through the auditorium and up onto the stage marched the band, made up of the rest of the company. A terrific opening. Then they started to sing. At least, I think they did. Certainly their mouths were opening and shutting. But could we in the auditorium hear anything? Not a single word, for we were being blasted by the backing tape being played at high volume through the theatre’s speakers.

Unlike the chorus, the soloists were miked up, so they stood a chance, but if they were to be heard over the backing tapes, their mikes had to be set so high that their voices were distorted and lost any subtlety. After three numbers I could bear it no longer. I left my seat and went in search of a member of the production team to ask if they were aware of what a disaster the sound was proving to be. With remarkable alacrity, she went up to the sound gallery and suddenly, things were much better. But how extraordinary that it needed a member of the opening night audience to point it out.

But credit where it’s due. Having been put into a thoroughly jaundiced frame of mind ten minutes into the show, I found to my surprise that by the end of it I had actually enjoyed myself. The encouraging start to the staging was a taste of things to come, and director Janet Barrow and choreographer Sally Ager created some very attractive shapes and movement. Once we could hear them – although even then, they were in danger of being drowned out in one or two numbers – the chorus were first-class. They gave us a lovely, gentle rendition of ‘Can you feel the love tonight’ from The Lion King, and perhaps the highlight of the show was their enthusiastic ‘Rhythm of life’ from Sweet Charity. The dancers among them performed with style and talent.

A spring concert is a chance to let everyone have a go at singing solo, which must be a good thing, although it can make for patchy quality. One or two of the soloists in this show have reasonable voices and are no doubt an asset to the chorus, but the chorus rather than the spotlight is their natural home. A greater number have excellent voices. Chelsea (the programme gave us first names only) has a good range and real musicality, as she showed particularly in ‘In my dreams’ from Anastasia. As well as having a pleasant voice, Rachel is an accomplished actress and was very amusing as grown-up Fiona in ‘I know it’s today’ from Shrek. Charlotte can belt out a number but also has a good dramatic sense of when to tone it down, as seen in ‘I’ll give you my life’ from Miss Saigon. Among the men, Lee is a creamy-smooth crooner and his duet with Sally A in ‘Music box’ from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Sally A’s only non-ensemble singing contribution, alas) was another highlight. There are four or five delightful children, and Olivia in particular has a natural feeling for the stage– the start of a stellar career, perhaps. She joined Sally B in a memorably sweet and touching ‘Slipping through my fingers’ from Mamma Mia.

There are further performances at 2.30pm and 7.30pm on 2 March.