North East Essex Theatre Guild Adjudicator's Report
Clacton Amateur Operatic Society
Princes Theatre, Clacton
Saturday 21st May 1994
Choice of Play
Everyone knows the song whose title lends its name to the show, but who remembers the characters, plot or setting of this piece of musical froth? The show has the attraction of shipboard romance, gangsters and showgirls, and the spectacle of some terrific company numbers but the main attraction must remain those superb Cole Porter songs, with their classically witty words and memorable tunes. The show is worth revival for their sakes alone, and gives the opportunity for some exciting choreography and lively, energetic playing, which was certainly seized by this group.
General Production Notes
The whole show had bags of pace, verve and energy - the main essentials for such a piece. There was some hesitance with numbers at the beginning of the show, and the cast as a whole did not completely settle into the show until the end of Act One, with the spectacular number "Anything Goes", when my notes say "Wow, this is more like it!" I was very pleased to have had sight of the libretto beforehand, as there are some very witty lines which may have been lost to the uninitiated. Attention to pace at the sacrifice of clarity, and the adoption of some extreme forms of American accent, coupled with the slightly distorted quality which the (radio?) microphones gave to speech all meant that words were hard to catch.
This was a very skilful cast, but I wonder whether too much was occasionally asked of some of them - for instance Billy and Hope's first number together, "Delovely" found them wrapping their tongues around some challenging lyrics, while executing some tricky steps. What was lost was the feel of the moment - the simple delight in each other's company which the song expresses. Perhaps less challenge and more relaxation might have brought the confidence and the smiles. By contrast the difficult but beautiful "All through the Night" with its minor key and its insistent little beat was movingly and skilfully sung by both performers later in the show, when they were in their element.
The bogus religious gathering was a delight, with all the passengers getting into the swing, and carried away with the fervour of the moment. I would like to have heard some vocal reaction to Billy's "confession". Chorus reactions were well rehearsed physically, but, perhaps because of this, they were sometimes not listening and reacting as if for the first time to what went on around them.
The energy of the performers, continuity of set and costume design and beautiful stage pictures created by the choreographer and magnificently aided by a superbly designed set, made this a delightful show to watch.
The orchestra cheerfully acknowledged their lofty position onstage on the upper deck, and accompanied the numbers and added musical interludes with aplomb throughout. One advantage of their position was that they did not drown out the singers which can happen when the orchestra are in their traditional position in the pit. The music had a satisfyingly 30's big band feel, with lots of brass in evidence and a good pace kept up throughout. The performers were vocally a little hesitant at first, with some of the words getting lost in "You're the Top". There is a difference between dissonance and being off key, and in "Friendship" the voices crossed the line between the two. However, as the show progressed, and the cast grew in confidence, numbers were punched out with much more zip and everything buzzed. The bright, upbeat overture to the second half picked up the mood and pace again ready for more spectacle.
The choreography was spectacular and provided top class entertainment. Most of your principals were excellent dancers and singers as well as actors, and they were stretched to the limits throughout. Vicky Tearle surprised by launching into the lively steps of "Heaven Hop" while singing lustily throughout. Numbers used those wonderful sweeping staircases to full effect, especially in "Anything Goes". With the exception of "You're the Top", which found some performers a little unprepared, the chorus, aided by some beautiful costuming, had the happy talent of appearing to act as one, moving smoothly and with total co-ordination through the demanding numbers and giving an impression of effortlessness and enjoyment. Each number had individuality; the hopping and swimming in "Heaven Hop"; the inventive moves in "Friendship" with its mopping sequence and the foot-in-the-bucket routine; the hornpipe in "Anything Goes"; the crispness of "Let's Step Out" with the nimble Bonnie and her fleet of foot sailor partner; the humorous "Let's Misbehave" where Reno took the dancing lead; the devilish fervour of "Blow, Gabriel, Blow". The finale of "Anything Goes" topped everything, and created the most satisfying of stage pictures. The company had mastered the crispness of a positive ending, with a picture held for several seconds, and then broken in one movement.
From the first glimpse of the ship's rail at the front of the stage, with its lifebelts ranged jauntily along it, the excitement of a sea voyage (luxury class, of course) was well evoked. The rails disappeared smoothly and unobtrusively as the gangplank was removed and the action moved on deck. The staircases sweeping down on either side of the stage gave a completeness to the ship's deck scenes while lending the opportunity for inventive movement. The pale green and silver colour scheme gave a watery feel. At first I was surprised to see the orchestra perched up on high above the main deck of the ship, but as the show progressed, it turned out to be an excellent location for them, and not at all intrusive into the action. The scene showing the two cabins and a portion of the corridor between them was also excellent, with a common style between the two, but Moonface's cabin yellow and Whitney's pink. The cutaway portion of corridor just allowed us to see Moonface's reactions as he approached the other cabin, and served its purpose well. The prison scene in the unfashionable depths of the ship was a good contrast to the glittering settings above, and was gloomy and unpleasant enough for us to feel sorry for our prisoners.
With a full and responsive rig at your disposal, you made full use of the possibilities, and there was beautiful use of colour to give a feeling of spectacle and luxury. The flame effect in "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" was hot and jazzy. There was a marked difference in the brilliance of the follow spots but there was good, subtle and smooth operation throughout. The cabins were cosily lit in their separate areas, and those areas tightly defined - perhaps too tightly, as Bonnie used more of the area downstage of Moonface' s cabin than was lit.
The prison (brig) scene was starkly and poignantly lit. The lighting always added to the atmosphere of each scene, and enhanced costumes, sets and actors at all times.
The sound was very well balanced, with the orchestra complimenting the voices of the singers. However, the sound system left something to be desired, with a slightly fuzzy distortion most of the time.
The costumes were stunning throughout. Number after number revealed a fresh set of colourful and apt costumes for the whole assembled company, leaving us dazzled and gasping! The Angels provided a whole fashion show in themselves, beginning with their colourful blouses and skirts and going through their own versions of the themes of each big number; the red and white of "Heaven Hop"; blue and white sailor suits of "Anything Goes"; and emerging as bridesmaids in the lovely wedding scene. Some of the gentlemen in this scene had picked up the wrong top hats and had trouble balancing them!
The principals, too had a wealth of different colourful costumes. Hope Harcourt appeared in a different frock at each entrance, which is as it should be! Her first blue dress made her look sweet and innocent, the drop-waist dress with tiered handkerchief skirt was perfect for the moonlit deck scene. Her status made the lavishness of her wardrobe credible, and each piece was chosen to emphasise youth and innocence.
Mrs. Harcourt appeared in a luxurious range of purple or silver garments, and Reno's wardrobe did not disappoint in flamboyance and provocation even after the big build up her entrance was given! The gentlemen all had the wide trousered and lapelled look of the period, and "specials" - Chinese costumes, Bishop's cloth, steward's uniforms etc. all looked authentic.
Evelyn's red socks enhanced the humour of his physical jerks!
These were in keeping with both the design of the ship and the period except for those plastic buckets. This anachronism was understandable in view of the business required in the dance, but was glaring none-the-less.
Elisha J. Whitney
We learned more about Mr. Whitney's character from Billy's comments about his old boss that from the man himself. Sadly for him, the plot required him to be sightless because of the loss of his glasses for a major part of the show, so he never did get a chance to establish. the imposing nature of Whitney in his own right. However, he appeared as a dapper and distinguished figure at first entrance, with a brisk, businesslike manner. He was an impressive straight man to Moonface' s clown in the spectacle-stealing scene, and his blundering attempts to find his way about were very funny.
Sir Evelyn Oakley
This was a lovely caricature of the American view of an Englishman. Tony Blackshaw had a rich, pleasant singing voice which was sadly only displayed in one number - "Let's Misbehave", and made me wish he could have more opportunities to sing! Given that he was the buffoon-like chap the heroine was to marry against her inclination, Sir Evelyn was charmingly endearing - but of course if this were not the case, then Reno would not find herself improbably drawn to him. His persistent innocence and insensitivity in the moonlit deck scene were very funny, and the scene set in his state room light in touch and almost credible!
Edna Mountstephen has a rich speaking voice which was used to good effect to keep her errant daughter in her place, and made me wish she had a number to herself!
June Wenn gave a powerful performance as Reno, a blonde and bubbly lady with lots of pizzazz and a raunchy style of singing. Her voice had a hard edge which lent itself well to the character. She lived up to the reputation which Reno had obviously developed in the local nightclubs, and looked both sexy and brash. I found her approach to Evelyn in his cabin a shade too specific to be seductive, but of course this was only part of a ruse to catch him in a compromising situation. "You're the Top", seemed to go a bit awry in terms of words, and the trio "Friendship" although powerfully danced and delivered, was not quite in key. However, I loved her solo "I get a Kick out of You", and the powerful title number displayed her powers to the full. "Let's Misbehave" was witty and enjoyable, and marked the turning point in the startled Reno's story - she finds herself falling for the guy she is meant to set up.
"Blow, Gabriel, Blow" was a beautifully punchy and spectacular number, and at last we had the pleasure of Reno singing with her Angels in the delightful "Take Me Back to Manhattan".
We were pleased that she got her man in the end!
Jon Pettman was a lively, personable Juvenile lead with a variety of talents and a lot of pleasing presence. At first his rather variable English-American accent bothered me, but this settled down. He showed a talent for character acting and handled the numerous personae which Billy adopted with competence and clear enjoyment. His old lady in a deck chair was a particular joy! "You're the Top" was hesitant, and his voice seemed a little thin when balanced against June's, while as I have said above, "Delovely" sacrificed feeling to accuracy. However, Jon sang beautifully in the moving and charming "All through the Night", which definitely had the "tingle factor". What came across most strongly was the optimism and persistence of the character, and his basic goodwill and straightforwardness with those with whom he comes into contact. This is why Hope is attracted to him, and why the whole audience are with her in her disappointment when he shows signs of betraying his true self and accepting the adulation of the populace because they think he is a notorious criminal. His relationship with Moonface was very attractive, and both characters gained from this unlikely alliance. Far from the traditional romantic hero, Jon played Billy with a twinkle in his eye and a spring in his step, and with superb timing.
Played as the soul mate of the Friendly Lion in Oz, Chris Opperman played Moonface Martin as a loveable villain - more loveable than villain! Suffering from time to time from the distortion of the sound system, in conjunction with the extremity of his accent, his words became inaudible, but their meaning was conveyed by vivid expression of face and voice. I found his playing of the pseudo bishop scenes rather heavy handed, but I enjoyed the scene where he steals Elijah's glasses, and his poignant song "Be Like The Bluebird" was a joy. Somehow he managed to use his size to indicate vulnerability as well as strength, and we knew that he would never make Public Enemy No.1, as his chief attribute seemed to be loyalty to his friends. A colourful and endearing performance.
Vicky Tearle was vivacious and worked hard, but her spoken voice was often pitched too high and her accent too slurred for us to hear her words clearly. A gangster's moll with a heart of gold that she doesn't mind sharing around, Bonnie is a good friend to Moonface and to Billy - at first from expedience, and then from real affection. Vicky's singing and dancing in "Heaven Hop" were joyous and bouncy and "Let's Step Out" was a delightful display of dancing, though with a few flat notes. Bonnie's lively character was always welcome on stage.
Melanie Lodge was a sweet faced, sweet voiced heroine with rather more to her than the usual heroine. When the moral crunch came, she stood by her conscience rather than her man, which was admirable. This scene was played with a simple sincerity which rang true. Melanie made us feel both Hope's anger and disappointment at Billy and her regret that she must reject him. She was quite willing to dupe poor old Evelyn into leaving her on deck with Billy, and quite up to defying mother when the time came - a chip off the old block, we suspect.
Of "Delovely" I have written above - the simple delight was lost, though singing and dancing were well executed. "All through the Night" was a surprising number which caught us off guard, and was charmingly and movingly sung. Well done! I have to say that Melanie gave us a very satisfying, rounded portrayal of the girl Billy loved, and must be one of the most attractive, level-headed heroines around!
They made quite an impact in their vivid coloured suits and blouses, and added charm and humour to the piece. They made a lovely knowing backing group to Reno's hard-bitten star, each projecting her own personality, but at the same time not competing with Reno. Their singing and dancing were entertaining, their quips barbed and amusing, and their cabin trunks must have been enormous, with all those fabulous changes of clothes to accommodate!
Looking very dapper in his uniform, Ernie played the understated humour in this character with charm.
Busy and nosey at the beginning as a reporter should be, Simon Yaxley added much to the bustle and excitement at the start. I suspect that his superb drunk was supposed to be another, anonymous passenger, but I liked to think that the reporter had inadvertently got left on board, given their reputation for an intimate acquaintance with bars! Simon played this aspect of the character to the hilt, enjoying himself up and down those stairs almost as much as the delighted audience were.
A competent performance, also adding confidently to the general hubbub at the start.
A dignified, benign portrayal. The scene where he was bundled off the ship having been mistaken for a criminal was momentary but very funny.
He was, as were the rest of the crew, smart and good humoured.
Jim Sissens played the Captain with correct dignity, but with a varying accent.
Ling & Ching
This duo were suitably humble and mysterious, and very funny in the prison scene.
Chorus & Dancers
The ensemble playing in the whole show was its making. You looked terrific en masse, and gave a general feel of bustle, energy and enjoyment which lifted the whole show to great heights. There was some very skilful dancing in the company numbers, and you moved confidently and smoothly about the stage creating one exciting picture after another.
The plot is improbable and tenuous, the sound system was working, if not against, then not always for the cast, there was some tentativeness in early numbers; BUT the whole show had such buoyance, musicality and pace, with some beautifully drawn characters and an overall feeling of harmony that it was an undoubted hit, and the audience came away cheered and uplifted. And that's the point, isn't it?