Come Back Home

Date 26th June 2021
Society Darlington Operatic Society
Venue Darlington Hippodrome
Type of Performance Concert
Director Joanne Hand
Musical Director Steven Hood
Choreographer Joanne Hand


Author: John Holliday

When you think of a show by Darlington Operatic Society, in addition to amazing performances and slick routines you are also blown away by the dazzling costumes and intricate scenery and stage work.

Hearing DOS would be doing a stripped back and more simplified concert immediately your mind starts racing as to how this would come across. Well, there was no need for concern as 'Come Back Home' was simply breath taking. An emotional, beautifully presented, and splendid performance with live performers combining with technical genius for a wonderful return to Live Musical Theatre at the Darlington Hippodrome.

After a safe journey to my seat, the lights went down and the whole audience went quiet and appreciated the opening number. A simply breath taking performance of From Now On from the dancing talent of Darrien Wright, Claire Monaghan, Annika Tang, Jessica Harrison, Natalie Robinson, Kate Williams, Claire Willmer and the Company.

Anyone who followed DOS during the lockdowns would appreciate how emotional it was witnessing each dancer perform a live routine that mirrored their original recorded routine from 2020. Each performer matched their digital self with ease and grace and set the scene for this amazing show.

The next number saw Chris McCann, Hannah Gawthorpe perform Suddenly Seymour and I loved how they both captured the humour and sensitivity of the characters without compromising their wonderful vocals.

Now came the 1st example of how this show would work as the outstanding Tom Kentfield-Wells took to the stage to perform Bui-Doi. Loving this song, I wondered how it would feel without a large chorus behind it. Well step up the technical genius of Richard Trubridge and Scott Akoz and a digitally projected chorus to back up the sensitive vocals of Tom. Everything was timed to perfection with a great balance of volume and if you had closed your eyes (which I did) you would have thought the whole company were on stage together.

DOS always wow us with their medleys and the Bodyguard Medley certainly didn’t disappoint. Jessica Harrison, Rhiannon Walker, Kate Williams, Claire Willmer all took on huge numbers and power ballads and performed these with ease. Each of the ladies demonstrating their amazing ranges and power, but also showing off their ability to give a song warmth and meaning. A brilliant job by all 4 that culminated with a rousing performance of 1 Moment in Time that simply lifted the roof of the Hippodrome.

After a series of Ballads, we were gifted with some great comedy as the Male artists treated us to a wonderful version of Two by Two from the Book of Mormon. As somebody who seen this show numerous times, you could have taken any of these performers and put them into the West End show and they would have fitted in with ease.

Claire Willmer, Sam Morrison and Hannah Gawthorpe next performed I Wish I May, stunning vocals by all 3 with a simply breath-taking Accapella section.

What needs to be remembered for all these numbers is that most of the rehearsal work has been done remotely with just a couple of weeks of physical rehearsals. Not only were the vocals wonderful but the dance routines were of absolute professional quality.

The 5 main dancers of Darrien Wright, Andrew Hamilton, Claire Monaghan, Zoe Bellamy, Annika Tang, Natalie Robinson wowed us on each performance with grace, elegance, sassiness, and amazing timing.

I have to be honest, I awaited the number, Six from the musical Six with trepidation. If any song had an element of overkill for me over the last year it was this one. Huge congratulations to the performances of Rhiannon Walker, Jessica Harrison, Kate Williams, Eve Murray, Claire Willmer, Natalie Robinson who have renewed my love in the track. Each one brought their character to life with great visual representation, wonderful timing and fantastic vocals.

Either side of this we were treated to some stunning duets and solos from Chris McCann, Peter Robson, Beth Hopper, Luke Oldfield and Rhiannon Walker. Each of them taking their number, adding their personality, and wowing the audience of Darlington.

These numbers led us towards the conclusion of Act One with a rousing performance of Stand Up from Made in Dagenham. What an inspiring choice by Jo and Steven and led by the spell binding story telling ability of Sam Morrison, along with wonderful soloists and a stunning projected chorus line. The audience certainly stood up in appreciation and eager awaiting Act 2.

Les Miserables was the 1st show to return to the stage in 2020 after the lockdowns and a wonderful medley by DOS of this show kicked off Act 2 with a bang. It was wonderful to see some less used numbers brought to life in this version. Every soloist, chorus member (live and pre-recorded) were wonderful leading us to a powerful finish of One Day More, a song again covered by the Society digitally during 2020.

Darlington continue to show their versatility as we were taken from Oz through to Saigon in this next selection of songs. Wonderful guitar and vocal work from Michael Hirst, Andrew Hamilton and a very powerful version of Maybe This Time from Jessica Harrison. Jessica shortly afterwards teamed up with Claire Willmer to give us a stunning duet of Movie in My Mind, an amazing ending to this number and in my eyes the Duet of the night.

You Will Be Found is possibly the Musical Theatre Anthem of the recent pandemic and DOS carried off this tricky yet powerful number with the compassion and feeling of hope that the song should convey. Wonderful solo and chorus work throughout.

DOS always manage to introduce new songs in their concerts and Le Jazz Hot from Victor Victoria was certainly a new one for me. Amazing collaboration which showed off the Society’s strength in their dancers and vocalists wowed us all.

A Heart Full of Love was the next number to use the technical expertise to perfection. Rhiannon Walker and Tom Kentfield-Wells created chemistry immediately on stage, whilst the introduction on the large screen of Hannah Winship as Eponine was a wonderful concept and worked so well creating the vulnerable and distanced side to the character.

Sam Morrison and Julian Cound continued their DOS partnership with a brilliantly timed and comical routine of The Tennis Song from City of Angels. Both demonstrating their great ability to create a character, something which in a concert setting is a very hard skill to master in such a short time.

A wonderful comical routine which then led us into the Solo performance of the night for me as Rhiannon Walker took us on an emotional journey with She Used to be Mine from Waitress. With her beautiful vocals and wonderful use of light and shade, she captured the character to perfection.

So how do you finish an evening of pure emotion and excitement from both the cast and audience. The choice of I Wanna Be (500 miles) from Sunshine on Leith was the perfect choice and you could instantly feel the energy from everyone involved as the whole theatre became one; From the soloists on stage, the digital chorus, a beaming production team in the musical pit and a blown away audience on their feet to appreciate the efforts of all involved. This number carried all the way through the bows, to a great encore and left everyone of us wanting more.

A huge congratulations to everyone involved, especially Joanne, Steven and all the technical team for having the foresight and commitment to bring this idea to the wonderful Hippodrome Stage.

I apologise for the length of the review however this is a shortened version of how much I imagine people will have been gushing about it in person.

A fantastic evening and I look forward, chomping at the bit, for your next production.