It’s a brave move from a musical society to produce a concert evening in a church hall, with no lavish scenery, costumes or lighting effects to hide behind. Waterside Musical Society promise an evening of ‘fun and wonderful music’ based on the entertainment from the late 1960s and early 1970s, when ‘musical theatre and film were riding high’ and ‘the charts were full of songs, great vocals and melodies’. In short, they promise an evening of nostalgic entertainment – and they deliver, showcasing the musical talent of WMS before a sell-out audience and providing a taster of what the society has to offer.
The choice of pre-show music establishes the setting for the era (walking into a modern church to the theme tune of Crossroads and Benny Hill is a little unexpected!), along with the rotating projected artistic image. The performers are dressed in a variety of black and white outfits, with a splash of red, that maintains their individual identities while emphasising their cohesive ensemble presentation.
Director Steve Moulster has devised a nostalgic trip down memory lane with a combination of familiar and rarely performed songs, poetry, historical notes providing context and comical sketches (including skits reminiscent of the catchphrase-packed DJ links from Top of the Pops). The ‘commercial break’ is somewhat surreal, but was warmly received, the audience clearly appreciating the tribute to the original versions! The production team seem to gauge their audience well, anticipating a more mature and senior audience who will have stronger memories of the era and its pop culture references than a younger audience.
With a tour through the roughly five-year period, including songs from musical theatre, films and stand-out artists of the day, including the Carpenters, Crosby, Still & Nash, the Beatles, Mary Hopkins, Leonard Cohn and Simon & Garfunkel, there is something for everyone to enjoy. There is even a nod to Southampton-born Benny Hill, as Jen Edwards provides a very slick and articulate rendition of ‘Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West)’!
There are a wide range of voices in any society; the skill is bringing them all together as an engaging musical company and this is achieved here. This is a strong ensemble concert, where no one individual dominates the solos in songs or dialogue, which is a good move, but there are also individuals who deserve special mention for their particular songs: June Goss (‘Yesterday once more’), Hannah Worlock (‘White horses’), Claire Crayton (‘Handbags and gladrags’) and Christopher Wartley’s charming interpretation of ‘We will’.
It is difficult to maintain characterisation or musical theatre performances when holding black folders, but the vocal ensemble tone during these choral numbers is very good and solid. Some songs are performed as poems and monologues and here there is more opportunity to glimpse the performance talents that lie behind ‘just’ the singing voices. I can’t say who has performed these monologues, as they are not credited in the programme (nor are the artists during the sketches), but they bring added dynamics, characterisations and either sensitive or comic interpretations to the material, illustrating the strength of storytelling in some of the songs ‘back in the day’ and the depth of talent behind the singers.
Overall, the diction is consistently excellent, with all the lyrics being clearly heard, and arrangements are thoughtfully compiled and re-arranged to encompass close and at times intricate harmonies, enhanced by delightful accompanists.
This is a fun, entertainingly groovy evening where WMS demonstrate the benefits of a community coming together for the love of what they do, appreciated by their audience, and providing an encouraging taster of what they have to offer for all.