Sometimes requests for reviews are like buses… none for a while and then three in a week. Last night was a trio of comedy playlets; tonight, a whistle-stop musical bus ride to Broadway – and, with a short wait for the journey to start (appropriately enough for buses), what a magical ride it proved to be!
Each act was divided into four musical segments, only one of which was completely new to me, so my musical expectations were apprehensively high beforehand; I need not have had any concerns. From the moment that Alan Colclough sashayed his way through the cabaret-style tables to ‘Willkommen’ the audience to the show, any doubts about the forthcoming quality dissipated. Each number showcased Encore!’s strengths; the predominantly youthful cast have excellence in depth, which meant that the ensemble numbers were of as high a standard as any of the first-rate featured numbers performed.
(Just a small caveat for future productions using recorded sound tracks would be to ensure that the balance of mics to music is adjusted in order to ensure fine tuning remains consistent throughout; there were a few times when this did seem to have an adverse effect, but otherwise this was an outstanding evening of contemporary musical theatre entertainment and the rest of this review should reflect that!)
Director/Producer Jo Mansfield has brought together a wonderful musical compilation, with the expert assistance of Alastair Hume (Musical Director) and Evie Shiner (Choreographer), and there was so many little touches (like the theatre tickets being in the style of bus tickets) that made for a terrific evening of magical entertainment. It was arguably a risky decision to have no linking dialogue or MC, but it actually turned out to be a great decision as the evening flowed at an ideal pace and the focus was exactly where it should be – on the wonderful musical theatre performances. These were enhanced by perfectly selected and designed atmospheric lighting effects, screen projections each side of the stage (changing the scene for each song), an aesthetically brilliant array of costumes, and choreography styles all impeccably chosen for each particular Broadway musical.
It seems churlish to mention individuals when there was so much to enjoy from the entire company and indeed all had their moments shining in the spotlight as well as creating a cohesive ensemble production; in fact, it was during ‘Façade’ from Jekyll & Hyde that I thought how much I would love to see Encore! perform a full musical! However, individual stand out performances for me included Laura Ward’s emotive performance in ‘Someone Like You’ (Jekyll & Hyde), Colclough’s ‘American Dream’, Emma Hardy’s poignant portrayal of ‘The Movie In My Mind’ and the very moving ‘I Still Believe’ from Rachel Boucher and Shiner (all from Miss Saigon), while the ensemble highlights included the ‘Façade’ of Jekyll & Hyde, ‘Willkommen’ (Caberet), ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ and the troupe of Dancers throughout, who were all absolutely outstanding, vividly bringing to the stage Shiner’s scintillating choreography.
Amongst am-dram companies, there is often a cry of “we need more men!”, especially when it comes to musicals, and indeed the ratio of males to females tonight was once again predominantly in favour of the girls. Well, Encore! are blessed with the extraordinary talents of two young men in particular, both of whom have very bright futures ahead of them: Michael Boucher and Matthew Trach. Both have all round abilities, but my attention was drawn to Trach’s dancing skills in particular, even before he took centre stage with such precision during Fame’s ‘Dancing On The Sidewalk’; (with energy, lines, attack and isolations like that he would look indistinguishable from any Strictly professional. Boucher’s vocal quality sent shivers down my neck during Cabaret’s ‘Tomorrow Belongs To Me’ and ‘What Do I Need With Love?’ from Thoroughly Modern Millie, while his overall performances captivated me during ‘Suddenly Seymour’ and made me laugh aloud during ‘Mushnik & Son’ (both from Little Shop Of Horrors), evidencing his acting ability without him even saying a word.
The evening was concluded in terrific style with numbers from one of my all-time favourite musicals, Something Rotten, a brilliantly witty musical comedy following the story of two brothers struggling to find success against their contemporary, one William Shakespeare; you would be hard pressed to find a better tribute to the glory of ‘A Musical’, here magnificently led by Martin Mansfield with Alan Colclough’s interjections enhancing each comic moment during this really clever, and brilliantly performed, song.
There was so much energy and vitality, impassioned and dynamic performances throughout that the cast must have been as appreciative of the extended interval as the audience were of the cheese and wine supper provided as part of their Broadway tour, but I really hope that this is not The Last Bus To Broadway – to quote a musical icon from a different era, “Please, Sir, I want some more”!