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)
Family Go Live visited the theatre to watch Bost’s Anything Goes production – what a spectacle!
BOST’s production at New Brighton’s, Floral Pavillion has everything you could want in a big Broadway-style musical: a talented cast, witty dialogue, imaginative direction and fantastic choreography. The cast is simply phenomenal, a collection of 1930s characters lead by Linzi Stefanov, playing the protagonist, Reno, who’s performance is particularly show-stopping.
Old-time slapstick essence infused with tap-dancing sailors & high-energy chorus girls is extremely entertaining – topped with superb singing & artistic excellence, makes way for an outstanding performance – Anything Goes simply, has it all!
A fantastic evening out with the family, this is an absolute must-see – you won’t be disappointed!
Family Go Live
Anything Goes (2016)
After the show, my 8-year-old daughter, Bobbi, read the programme from back to front and back again, commenting on all the characters. And she woke up the day after the show dancing around the bedroom, singing ‘Hard knock life’, and pre-acting the Annie parts.
At the show, of her own accord, she gave a standing ovation, wolf whistles and all. So I suppose if she loved it other kids would have also.
‘Miss Hannigan was much nastier in this musical than in the film,’ said Bobbi.
Annie (played by Annabel Welsh and Isabelle Cross) is the story of a ginger -haired orphan, living with dozens of other girl orphans, under the control of alcoholic tyrant Miss Hannigan (Pat Davies). Set during the Great Depression, Annie is desperate to find her parents, so hides in a laundry basket in order to get out of the orphanage and look for them.
That’s were the story begins. She encounters, the homeless, living in Hoovervilles, and adopts a dog on the way, before she is returned to the clammy hands of Miss Hangman. The rest I will let you discover.
Annie was performed by Birkenhead Operatic Society Trust (NODA), which is a combination of amateur operatic and dramatic societies. But considering the musical was described, in its own publicity, as an amateur performance, they could have fooled me (and my daughter). I could not fault any of the major performers
The entire performance was great, the songs had the kids singing along, and the sets and the music were spot on.
My daughter’s one criticism was the fact that we were given seats near the top of the circle, where my daughter “couldn’t see the faces of the performers.”
Nerve Reviews (Catalyst Media)
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Alexander Hall, 24A Clifton Road, Birkenhead, Wirral, CH41 2SG
Charity No/259 306.