“We did it!”, announces a triumphant and dapper Robert Page to the cheering audience at A Fabulous Musical Afternoon, held to raise funding to produce a new recording of the Jacques Brel song ‘If We Only Have Love’, a number conspicuously absent from the afternoon’s proceedings. The recording itself, to feature West End musical stars, will be in aid of ChildLine, the free 24-hour counselling service for people below 19 years of age, which will reach its 30th anniversary on 30 October 2016.
Now, I couldn’t exactly expect Mr Page not to permit young children to attend an event ultimately held in aid of an organisation set up to support that very age bracket, though a quick glance at the line-up for the programme did make me feel slightly uneasy at the lack of child-aimed items. No matter, in the end, as the child performers did very well. Chay (just Chay, y’know, like Cher or Madonna) brought the house down with a powerful and pitch-perfect rendering of ‘On My Own’ from Les Miserables, showing a maturity far surpassing her years both in terms of narrative and vocal quality. Later, Cassius Hackforth gave a riveting performance of ‘Different’, from Honk!, a Stiles and Drewe musical loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Ugly Duckling’. Sylvia Young herself was clearly impressed: I am told that after the show she offered Hackforth a place on her school’s summer programme, free of charge.
I wasn’t aware there was such a thing as ‘Autism’s Got Talent’. I thought of those who appear on ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ and how they are treated, even mocked at times, and on that basis, thought even the idea of ‘Autism’s Got Talent’ rather grotesque. I am reliably assured that it is an altogether different affair to BGT, and here, a supportive audience gave Outofsync, ‘Autism’s Got Talent’ 2016 participants, suitable applause. This sibling group needs to find an alternative name as the current one does their sterling performance a disservice.
The ticket prices, for what is effectively a charity gala, are extraordinarily reasonably priced – just £10 (£5 concessions), though the trade-off came in the form of the majority of songs being sung to backing tracks, a point not lost on host Les Ames, who comically invited the audience to show their appreciation for a non-existent band. The Sylvia Young Theatre School came to the rescue when the sound company contracted by Robert Page had ‘problems’, and a young lady called Amy was repeatedly congratulated on a job well done, apparently with less than 48 hours’ notice. The sound quality may not have been the best throughout (it did, frankly, sound as though some of the tunes were being piped into the auditorium through a Tannoy system), but in this case it was better than nothing at all.
I had only discovered in the last few years that Noel Coward was a composer of a great many witty numbers, and Ashley Knight, amongst other songs, lovingly presented Coward’s ‘Don’t Put Your Daughter On The Stage, Mrs Worthington’, in which a multitude of reasons are given as to why a theatrical career is not best suited for anyone not ‘crème de la crème’: “For her to hope and appear, Mrs Worthington / Is on the face of it absurd / Her personality is not in reality quite big enough, inviting enough / For this particular sphere”.
It’s a shame that audiences these days talk over a decent overture, although this particular audience was, overall, more hushed than I would have expected. And what an overture to begin with, the one that opens Stephen Sondheim’s Gypsy. I noted Mr Page subscribes to the Andrew Lloyd Webber school of thought on the ent’racte: it began to play as the audience was still filing in back from interval drinks, something Lloyd Webber would have loved to have seen. (He has apparently even argued this point with the management of certain theatres he himself owns.)
For the most part, the selected songs are familiar to many who enjoy the musical theatre genre, including Gillian Ford’s execution of ‘Think of Me’ from The Phantom of the Opera, and both numbers from Charlotte Anne Steen, ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ from Funny Girl and ‘Memory’ from Cats. Richard Bonser, one of the winners of an online competition (the prize being to perform at this event), did a hair-raising and passionate version of ‘Stars’ from Les Miserables. The show keeps its best for last though, in the form of Marti Webb, providing the quintessential and incomparable rendering of ‘Tell Me On A Sunday’ from the musical of the same name. The show’s finale, an all-company version of ‘What I Did For Love’ from the late Marvin Hamlisch’s A Chorus Line, plus the encore, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, had Robert Page rolling back the years with his conductor’s baton – it was a very touching few moments.
Over all too soon, this was a stellar programme that I would happily sit through all over again. The up- and-coming acts mixed with established names made for a more than satisfying and enjoyable afternoon. The charity element of the proceedings makes it all the more worthwhile.
Review by Chris Omaweng
‘A Fabulous Musical Afternoon’, produced and directed by Robert Page
Celebrating 30 Years of ChildLine
Arts Theatre, Sunday 12 June 2016
This performance is dedicated to the memory of Nina Caie (1944-2015), who dedicated over 50 years of her life to Musical Theatre.
Sponsored by Winterflood Securities
Musical Director: Amanda West
Stage Manager: Raefn Webber
Assistant Stage Manager: Jade Shanade-Lam
Stage Crew: Tallulah Griffith, Cameron McBain, Keziah Leary
Production Assistants: Gail Young, Sarah Lambrechts, Chantal Du Thoit, Louise Bishop
Runner: Sarah Brandman
Hosted by Les Ames
Starring Marti Webb (Blood Brothers, Tell Me On A Sunday, Evita, Cats) and guests Ashley Knight (Ghost, I Can’t Sing!, The Glenn Miller Story), Gillian Ford (The Sound of Music, Annie) and Charlotte Anne Steen (We Will Rock You, Kiss Me Kate, Legally Blonde)
Featuring members of the Sylvia Young Theatre School and the Radlett Musical Theatre Company
Introducing Richard Bonsor, Outofsync, Chay, and Cassius Hackforth