High Society 2010
North East Essex Theatre Guild Adjudicator's Report
High Society by Cole Porter
Clacton Musical Theatre Society
West Cliff Theatre, Clacton
25th June 2010
Directed by Val Massey
It was a pleasure to come to the West Cliff with its teeming, welcoming volunteer staff. The venue always has a sense of occasion about it. There was a quite large and excited audience on the Friday night.
HIGH SOCIETY is a demanding show. It contains standard after standard which is a pleasure for the audience. But this can also be a double-edged sword as the audience can have the performances of well-known singers in their mind. Also, it is a musical with quite long and wordy scenes where the plot is extrapolated, helping to give the musical a little narrative weight, but unless these are acted to a good standard they can make the musical sag.
The lighting was on the whole rich and varied and operated with precision. I liked the fact that it mostly followed the plot through the night and on to dawn and the daytime wedding setting. Only at the swimming pool, where the backcloth implied a dusk/night-time scene, did the rather sunny orange lighting on the performers positioned front left seem slightly incongruous. I liked the pool shimmer. There was a rather murky area towards the back of the stage that performers sometimes found themselves lost in.
There was frequent use of the classic device of severely fading main cover and bringing up an overly-bright follow spot for solo/duet numbers. I confess that I am not a fan of this and find it a rather old-fashioned device that breaks the flow of things. Perhaps better is a slight dip in general cover and a subtle warm followspot or spots just to enhance focus on the singer(s). As I say this is very much a personal preference comment.
The size of the band belied the full sound that they made. Tempi were on the whole well-chosen and kept the songs moving along nicely. The music had a fresh gloss to it and keyboard padded out the orchestration well. Once in a while the band was a little loud when under dialogue (though depending on miking this may not have been in their control). Other than this the balance of sound was good and the amplification, whilst on the loud side of natural, acceptable.
Visually there was some very ugly radio microphone placement – especially for Ben Adams who had short hair, so that the wire very obviously stretched around the ear and across the cheek and with a whole loop sticking out at the back at one point. A subtler design in hairlines etc for most characters might have been visually better.
The choreography was fairly simple and well-achievable by the chorus of servants as well as the dancing maids. It did have a slightly ‘Hollywood’ showy quality and it might have been nice if it had explored a slightly more dramatically integrated style at times.
The costumes almost always did their job well; representing clearly both the era of the show and the status of the characters. Mother Lord’s dresses could have perhaps been a little more ostentatiously wealthy: We are talking stylishly stinking rich here. Getting a period quality to men’s suits is always a problem and Seth Lord’s outfit did not really have any period detail to it. Dexter’s blazer was a little dull and could have exuded more nautical wealth. The wedding with its large number of guests to dress was a particular achievement.
Little stuck out as inappropriate which is always a good sign – but we did notice tumblers being used as sherry glasses.
The hired set mostly consisted of numerous backcloths with simple furniture and minimal dressing in front. It all worked very effectively as most of the backcloths were well painted. Most impressive was the speed of the scene changes; often overlapping with the previous scene: A good way of keeping things on the move. All the stage management team and chorus of maids/servants involved in shifting things around played their part with precision.
Laura Thompson (Tracey Lord) - Laura is an imposing presence on stage and she used this well. She has a gutsy voice that filled the stage. It would have been beneficial if she had found a little more variety in her singing tone (adding a lighter more throwaway manner) and characterisation. I felt the numbers were sometimes being delivered as concert numbers rather than as part of a dramatic narrative. But this should not detract from the fact that she was a worthy lynchpin of the production.
June Wenn (Mother Lord) - June’s voice and movements were both stylish, capturing delightfully the status of her character. She always acted the Matriarch and commanded the stage whenever she appeared.
Gabrielle Tyler (Dinah Lord) - Gabrielle brought vim and zest to her playing of this slightly annoying know-it-all brat. If there is one area Gabrielle needs to concentrate on it is that she has a tendency to gabble her lines at times. But this was a spirited performance.
Ben Long (Dexter Haven) - Ben was ideal for the part of Dexter – slightly cocky, slightly brash but warm-hearted. The man prepared to wait for the girl. He gave a lovely rendition of ‘Just one of those things’. Well done!
Bill Davies (Uncle Willie) - The role of Uncle Willy required Bill to be drunk quite a lot of the time. This he just about kept in check – but it did get a little OTT at times. Less is more as far as acting inebriation. Bill’s Uncle Willy had a warm and sincere quality. ‘She’s Got That Thing’ allowed Bill to show off his actor/singing talents.
Ben Adams (Mike Connor)/Lucy Mellow (Liz Imbrie) - Ben and Lucy formed a really good partnership here. From their opening spunky delivery of ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’, they captured the slightly cookie style that a show like ‘High Society’ calls for. Both had full-boded voices and their singing was character-driven. Ben also made a good job of the charming “You’re Sensational” which required him to almost play romantic lead. Their performances were a continual delight.
Douglas Garner (George Kittredge) - The plot is rather cruel on George as he is a character rather used for the purposes of the plot. Douglas took this role full on the cheek – as the boring buffoon ridiculously magnanimous in letting Tracey go within seconds of having married to her. Douglas dressed the role well so that we could feel for him.
Keith Woodward (Seth Lord) - The show is not that enamoured of this character requiring it to make up the numbers, but Keith played the guilt of the caught man well.
Mark Farley (Stanley)/Colin Davies (Chester) - Looking down their noses at their ‘betters’, Mark and Colin found some nice touches of comedy.
Servants/Guests - As a show it gives a chorus of wide ages and talents the chance to be involved – which is no bad thing. A few nervous faces at the start: Put on a bright face and we will believe you! The chorus sang with confidence, although they perhaps needed to do a little more to maintain the ‘punch’ of their repeated entrances as they began to look a little tired. There was lots of variety in their characterisations which added to the believability of the show: I really felt this was a profusely-staffed house.
The dancers had fairly simple moves to perform befitting their ‘maid’ roles – but these were accurately completed on the whole. They emerged out the servant chorus well with their bright and enthusiastic faces.
This was a production that was both elegant on the eye and on the ear. There was lots of spirited singing delivering the many well-known numbers in a convincing and enjoyable manner. A sumptuous look to the production was achieved with quite simple sets and dressing. The dramatic scenes and plot development could have done with a little more oomph at times.
I felt the blocking involved far too much singing and acting out front to the audience – ignoring the dramatic logic that the person you are supposed to be singing to is next to you or even worse behind you. The radio mike means that actors no longer have to face front for sound projection reasons – they are free to act more naturally.
The production could have benefited from the injection of a little more comedy (such as in ‘I Love Paris’ where there was far more fun to be had) and also a little more attention to representing the character changes more clearly in blocking and acting style: A large number of characters are pretending to be something they are not for quite a chunk of the show, something that was not always clear.
Director and cast and crew are all to be congratulated for achieving a good ensemble feel and an enjoyable entertainment: What a “swellegant” production this was!
The Standard, Friday 16 July 2010
High Society show with a difference
High Society is a show that is not performed very often by amateur societies and was a new departure for the newly-named Clacton Musical Theatre Society, but the cast proved they were up to the challenge.
Cole Porter's legendary score featured such well-known songs as "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" and "Well, Did You Ever" and the band, ably led by musical director Scott Morgan, did justice to them.
The principals, led by Laura Thompson as Tracy Lord, in her first major part with the society, worked well as a team and produced some excellent individual performances, showing their acting skills and some excellent singing.
Ben Long as Dexter Haven, Douglas Garner as George, and Bill Davies as Uncle Willie also all gave strong performances and were well supported by June Wenn as Mother Lord, Gabrielle Tyler as Dinah and Keith Woodward as Seth Lord.
Clear favourites were Lucy Mellow as Liz and Ben Adams as Mike - two good comic characters, who worked well together and added an extra dimension to the story.
The chorus and dancers supported the action well and helped to tell the story.
This was a different show in its staging and showed how the backstage and props team all contribute to the overall success of a musical.
I now look forward to the pantomime, Cinderella, their next production, in the new year.
National Operatic and Dramatic Association - NODA
Clacton Musical Theatre Society
West Cliff Theatre, Clacton
26 June 2010
Directed by Val Massey & David Thompson (Assistant Director)
Choreographer - Nikki Mundell-Poole
Musical Director - Scott Morgan
High Society based on The Philadelphia Story was one of the highest box office shows of 1956 with a cast of Frank Sinatra,Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly topping a star studded cast.
This was the last acting role for Grace Kelly before she became Princess of Monaco.The Broadway production followed forty two years later and ran for 144 performances.
A show not performed too often with amateur societies but one which has so many classic songs which never date making it a very welcome addition to Clacton’s repertoire.
The casting I felt was spot on and each and every principal gave excellent performances as did the entire company ,with well balanced chorus numbers,lively dance routines and sparkling costumes.It was so good to see the entire cast looking as if they were really having a good time which I am sure they were.
Laura Thompson as Tracy Lord was excellent and well matched by all the men in her life with very amusing situations and really good strong duet singing.
Ben Long as Dexter Haven, Ben Adams as Mike Connor and Bill Davies as Uncle Willie all gave strong performances, all with a very relaxed manner and all singing and retaining the ending of their songs to the full which just added so much to the production.
I really liked the partnership of Ben Adams as Mike and Lucy Mellow as Liz which just kept growing through the performance,
Douglas Garner as the rather correct George Kitteridge did well and June Wenn looked very elegant as Mother Lord, a rather odd description I thought, I quite expected to see a Mother Superior appear.
The chorus were very supportive and also the dancers with really beautiful costumes.
The show was musically well balanced and the sound system quite the best I have heard recently.Well done to Scott and the small band who gave a great lift to some super music.
This was such a pleasant change to see a group go for a show which an audience can just sit back and let the melodies entertain, and the story line work out so well in the end with the “oohs and aahs” as appropriate coming from the audience.
Well done to you all and of course special mention to Val, David, Nikki and Scott on a great show in every way.