I wasn’t sure what to expect when this show was advertised under the well-known musical title ‘My Fair Lady’ but described as ‘a staged concert’. However what I did know was that it was going to be the work of Birkenhead Operatic Society Trust’s (BOST) and having reviewed this talented musical theatre company before, I knew it was going to be worth watching.
‘My Fair Lady’ described on the programme as ‘a staged concert, celebrating 60 years of this glorious show’ was showcased in the magnificent St George’s Hall, Liverpool. I was shown to my seat by a cast member who was completely in character and set the tone for the evening. Just sitting in this stunning venue is a luxury alone, with its royal architecture, grand high ceilings and exceptional chandelier centrepiece, St George’s Hall is the perfect setting for an evening of celebration.
The concert was an unusual set up with a narrator sitting in front of the stage, retelling the history of ‘My Fair Lady’ and turn taking with the members of BOST Musicals who graced the stage with all the classic songs and iconic scenes from the musical. At first, I queried the benefits of the narration, why not just put on the show? However I soon saw the flexibility that this concert gave BOST to showcase their magnitude of talent by having five leading ladies take on role of Eliza Doolittle. The company could also veer away from the constraints of sets and theatre stages and let St George’s hall speak for itself whilst allowing the audience focus on the much loved songs and best scenes from this musical. Moreover it was very insightful, as the show carries a lot of history that is generally unknown but this concert shared that information which in turn, helped the audience to celebrate the journey of this musical. This concert is something quite different and different is good.
The history of this show dates back to the 1930’s we were told by Liz Robertson who took on the Narrator role. Liz has very close links with the musical being the widow of Alan Jay Lerner, My Fair Lady’s playwright and lyricist. Liz firstly helped conceive this concert in 2016 and was the original narrator when it debuted at St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden; a fitting location as that is where Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins’ first met. Her narration was informative and the concert is well structured with a variety of gentle underscores from the live four piece band aiding seamless transitions between the narration and live stage action. The show also included some ‘forgotten songs’ and recordings which were taken out of the musical after it was first written which added more variety and kept things interesting.
BOST themselves left no stone unturned when it came to transporting the audience to Edwardian England and recreating the magic of “My Fair Lady”. This company knows how to do musical theatre in style. The five leading ladies were wonderful to watch with their undeniable voices, each sharing their own individual stance on the character of Eliza Doolittle. This allowed the audience to view Eliza in different lights and understand the debt of her character even more. It was ‘loverly’ to be reminded of the comedy this show encompasses and the audience was left smiling particularly during funny numbers such as ‘Ascot Gavotte’ and ‘Get Me To The Church On Time’. What is really noteworthy about this company is the strength of their impressive male cast which is often a rarity in amateur musical theatre companies. The harmonies were rich, the accents were apt, the choreography was slick- I could not fault the whole performance and the superb energy which came from each and every individual on stage.
This concert is a delightful tribute to a timeless musical with its magnificent costumes, glorious singing and skilled acting making for a polished and professional night of entertainment. Congratulations to BOST Musicals who are achieving their goal as written on the programme ‘providing a professional standard of theatre in amateur productions’.
North West End Rating: ★★★★★
‘My Fair Lady’ A Staged Concert (2018)
When sitting in the beautiful Royal Court Theatre Liverpool watching Birkenhead Operatic Society Trust’s (BOST) latest production of ‘Oliver’, it was easy to lose sight of the fact that this is an amateur production.
From the set to the costumes, the casting to the talent, this production is vast and grand in every sense. The songs and essence of this classic musical are simply infectious and the audience were treated to no less tonight from ‘BOST Musicals’.
The musical shares the story of an outspoken young boy Oliver Twist, who famously asks for ‘more’ after being starved in an orphanage. Oliver faces the consequences of this when he is sold into slavery and although he manages to escape, his worries are far from over as he finds himself caught up in a whole new world of mischief with the homeless.
The show opened with the first musical number ‘Food Glorious Food’ by a superb cast of boys who were a personal highlight of the whole production. They brought endless waves of youthful energy and captivated the audience with their presence. The gang was led by Oliver (Cole Boon) whose voice was undeniable and gave me goose bumps particularly during ‘Where is Love?’ The Artful Doger (Brian Comer) led the brilliant ‘Consider Yourself’ number and the stage was graced by a fuller cast which was a much needed lift to the lengthy first half. Nancy (Jennifer Swanepoel) and Fagin (Tony Prince) gave stand out performances which wouldn’t have looked out of place on a west end stage and a special mention must go to Bet (Emilia Lodge) who certainly has a talent to watch out for in the future!
As this musical is particularly long, the pace and energy varied massively which gave important contrasts from scene to scene. Personally I felt that the tone of the last scene did not reflect the serious elements of Nancy’s fate and it was perhaps rushed. However there is no denying that BOST’s production of this moment was perfect if aimed at children and a younger audience in fitting with their delightfully young cast.
It is evident from the stage and from one glance at the programme that a show of this quality does not come together without a huge production team who must be praised for their success. Lighting and sound created some wonderful moments including an impressive snowfall during ‘Boy for Sale’. Choreography by Sarah Walker was another highlight for me, with a strong group of skilled dancers showcasing their expertly slick and complex moves at every opportunity. My only reservation was that I wanted to see more of it! Individual vocals were impeccable and the musical direction from Tricia Gaskell could not be faulted. The above were complimented by clever direction from Elsie Kelly who managed to preserve all the pleasing, traditional and much loved characteristics of Oliver. Congratulations to ‘BOST Musicals’ on creating a production that people will want to return to again and again.
When watching the Birkenhead Operatic Society Trust’s (BOST Musicals) production of the Dickens classic Oliver, you would be forgiven for not knowing that this is an amateur production. The combination of professionally executed choreography and the raw musical talent of the cast makes this a performance that wouldn’t look out of place on the West End.
BOST Musicals pulled out all the stops for this production; a versatile set coupled with true-to-life costumes, give the cast everything that they need to tell the story of the boy who asked for more. The plot follows the orphan protagonist as he is sold to the local undertaker, only to escape and find himself with a mischievous group of child-pickpockets, lead by the enigmatic Fagin (Tony Prince).
The songs that feature in Oliver are designed to take you on an emotional journey through the highs and lows of the Victorian period: the vocal ability of the cast, paired with the live band lead by Tricia Gaskell, really bring the turbulent events of the story to life.
The show opened with an uplifting rendition of Food, Glorious Food, performed by a talented cast of boys. They brought an energy throughout the performance, entertaining the audience with what was clearly a well-polished piece of choreography. Oliver (Cole Boon) broke into a heartfelt solo performance of the song Where is Love; bringing the focus onto the harsh reality of orphan life – ushering in one of the largest rounds of applause of the evening.
Brian Comer easily steps into the role of The Artful Dodger, portraying the character’s mischievous cockney charm well. He then bursts into the performance of Consider Yourself, at which point the stage comes to life with an almost-full cast filling the space for a sensory explosion of song and dance.
BOST Musicals made the right casting decision with Jennifer Swanepoel as Nancy and Tony Prince as Fagin, both giving exceptional performances that captured the essence of their characters. Swanepoel maintains her accent and hits all the right notes as she performs As Long as He Needs Me, showing the acting ability of a seasoned musical performer.
Prince switches from his harsh, dry cockney accent to a deeply operatic tone with ease as he sings You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two, making it clear why he was nominated for a NODA North West award for the same role 4 years earlier.
This is a lengthy musical that features contrasting elements, and the pace of the performance varies dramatically from scene to scene. This makes for interesting viewing, as the tone of the play shifts from melancholic to joyous and back to melancholic fairly quickly, highlighting the whirlwind nature of Oliver’s journey. One point to consider is that Nancy’s final scene could’ve been more suspenseful, and was in fact dealt with in a rather perfunctory manner when compared with the high energy of previous scenes.
It is impressive to see an amateur theatre company put together such a professional performance. The hard work of the cast is complemented by the impressive set design, which featured a dramatic downfall of snow, helping to set the tone throughout the song Boy For Sale.
Another highlight is the choreography by Sarah Walker that kept a stage full of actors coordinated throughout the duration of the performance. It is safe to say that when you see the combination of talent and hard work that has gone into this production, it will leave you asking for more.
Having seen quite a number of productions of Oliver over the years – with casts of a literal thousand stars, sometimes – few have been as comparably well executed to this wonderful box of delights that BOST have on offer at The Liverpool Royal Court Theatre right now.
Are there any other musicals that can offer so many showstoppers as Oliver? Food, Glorious Food, Consider Yourself, You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two, Who Will Buy?, Oom-Pah-Pah … the list goes on, thanks to Lionel Bart’s genius.
Yet without a company capable enough to do these golden musical nuggets justice, then they would simply be ‘tunes’. No fear on that score here though.
What direction by Elsie Kelly!
What a set by Phil Colebourne!
What choreography by Sarah Walker!
What dazzlingly delightful costumes delivered by Sandra Preston and her team!
What magnificent live orchestration arranged by Tricia Gaskell!
In all, what a show to honour these wonderful, magical numbers and all of which are performed magnificently by this superlative cast.
In the title role, young Cole Boon is an absolute gem. His vocal range is shown beautifully with the solo Where Is Love, whereas his sheer dynamism throughout is awe inspiring. His is a performance so riddled with a confidence that belies his age, surely only big things await.
The same, too, can be said of Brian Comer. If ever there was a young man born to play The Artful Dodger – with a cheerful mischievousness up front and centre and a singing voice to match – then this up-and-comer is he. Jack Wilde may have made the role famous in the movie version but, boy, does this lad run him close.
Of course there is no Oliver without a Fagin. A kindly benefactor on the outside, a malevolent, selfish heart beating within, this is no easy role to execute, particularly for the amount of stage time it demands. BOST, however, could not have found a better exponent of this much maligned character than they have in Tony Prince.
With all the presence of Andrew Schofield at his very, very best and, during Reviewing the Situation, showing he owns a quite sensational singing voice into the bargain, Prince makes the stage – the theatre – his own, whilst and at the same time proves capable of embodying the spirit of the character fully and never letting it slip for a moment.
Yet despite these fine performances, and those of the chorus complete, it is that of Jennifer Swanepoel as the poor, misguided and ultimately doomed Nancy that steals the show. Her rendition of As Long As He Needs Me soars to the very highest of rafters without once losing its power or subtle but distinctive Cockney twang. This gives the song a delightful credence and thereby adds immeasurably to its heartfelt sincerity.
It’s not only Jennifer’s singing voice which stands out either. Here is a lady that can act and do so with such obvious joy in every thing she delivers, it quite warms the cockles of the chilliest of hearts.
With Wesley Wharton’s nastiness A’s Bill Sykes being counteracted by the blathering busyness of Jonathan Francis’ Mr Bumble and Rebecca Nielsen’s preposterously enamoured Widow Corny, the performances are about as perfect as any full time, professional ensemble could manage, and with just that little bit more zip to their zest than many could hope to wish for.
As a result BOST should be rightly proud of what they have produced, the cast should take their bows and their plaudits and deservedly embrace them, and their audience should feel honoured to have witnessed something very special indeed.
Bravo, BOST! Bravo!
Birkenhead Operatic Society Trust have been at their exuberant best with a three-night run at the Floral Pavilion.
BOST Musicals are consistently good value-for-money with their striking stage sets, costumes and spectacular song and dance routines.
Anything Goes by Cole Porter was tailor-made for such a company.
He wrote the music and lyrics while PG Woodhouse and Guy Bolton wrote the original book.
It was later revised by Lindsay and Crouse.
And that is what so many audiences see and hear to this day from amateur to professional groups.
The SS America is sailing from New York to London and on board there are a variety of characters who are all at sea in more ways than one.
There’s love-sick Billy Crocker and sea-sick Lord Eveyln Oakleigh. They are both love interests of the sweet Hope Harcourt.
Also on board is Reno Sweeney a born again nightclub singer and America’s nearly ‘most wanted’ criminal Moonface Martin.
He is number 13 on the FBI’s list.
A lot happens in the two and half-hour plus show directed by Karen Partington and with musical director Tricia Gaskell and choreographer Charlotte Elverstone from the solo numbers to uptempo songs and the comic interludes.
Cole Porter’s greatest hits (there are many) take up much of act one.
There’s I Get A Kick Out of You; You’re The Top; It’s De-lovely and the title track sailing us into the interval.
Act 2 has the feel good Blow Gabriel Blow and a bull-fighting themed The Gypsy in Me.
Linzi Stefanov as Reeney and Tony Prince as Moonface deserve a place at the captain’s table for their fine performances.
Andrew Heath makes his debut with BOST as a camp purser clearly influenced by the great Kenny Everett.
And there’s Squiggle who plays Cheeky the cute canine. A true pro – take a bow (wow wow).
The sheer energy and dedication of BOST Musicals from principals to chorus and dancers always shines through and I always look forward to their productions where everyone gives 100 per cent from behind-the-scenes to front of stage.
**** FOUR Stars
Anything Goes (2016)
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