|Date||1st September 2019|
|Society||Portadown Phoenix Players|
|Venue||Portadown Town Hall|
|Type of Production||Musical|
|Director||David O’Toole - assisted by Megan Henry|
|Musical Director||Dennis McKeever|
Author: Sheelagh Hobart
Written and composed by Lionel Bart, this very British musical was premiered in the West End in 1960 and then on Broadway in 1963, enjoying long runs in both countries. With many professional revivals – the most recent being 2008 after a BBC series with Andrew Lloyd Webber to choose a Nancy and an Oliver – and numerous amateur productions, it always brings in capacity audiences.
Phoenix’s set by Rodney Henry was fairly standard with steps on either side of a ‘bridge’, which was all well used – and minimal props were carried on and off stage. Costumes, sourced from the Lyric Theatre, St Agnes Choral Society and Banbridge Musical Society, were a bit of a hotch-potch – some good, some not so good. Nancy was dressed in blue for a change, but unfortunately one ensemble member was in red which often drew the eye. Sound and sound effects were good and lighting mostly effective.
Such is the talent amongst the young members of Phoenix that many principal roles were shared. I will comment on the cast I saw on Sunday evening and name the alternative actor in brackets. Oliver was played by Shea Fox (Kiyan Telford) with great confidence – sometimes I would have liked him to show more timidity and leave the confidence to Tom Gyle (Shane Curran) as the Artful Dodger. However, both boys worked well together and must be commended for their professionalism and good vocals. Ellen Mockford (Dion Di Maio) took the role of Nancy with charm and just enough abrasiveness when needed. The contrast between the bawdy “Oom Pah Pah” and the emotional “As Long as He needs Me” was marked and Ellen did equal justice to both. Michael Morrow played Mr Bumble with gusto and was joined by Lily McClatchey as Widow Corney. She showed delightful comic touches with subtlety and was a pleasure to observe.
Jonathan Reid had two parts to cope with – appearing in the first act as Mr Sowerberry and in the second as Mr Brownlow. Supported in the first role by Alana Cahoon (Grace Glasgow) as Mrs Sowerberry, he was suitably “Uriah Heepish” but all I could do was look at his appalling bald wig! Alana was a lively and OTT character and their rendition of “That’s your Funeral” was great fun. Terri Willsher (Holly Coulter) and Morgan Shuttleworth fulfilled their roles as the rather unpleasant undertaker’s assistants Charlotte and Noah Claypole in suitable character. Other minor roles such as Bet, Dr Grimwig, Mr Brownlow, Mrs Bedwin, Old Sally, Charlie Bates & Nipper were all well covered by Ria Haddock (Meadhbh McGrail), Morgan Shuttleworth, Jonathan Reid, Alice Parker, Grace Glasgow, Charlie McCourt (Myles Coulter) and Paige McKee, although I could not see the point of Dr Grimwig’s membership of the ‘Dept. of Silly Walks’. The
Rose seller (Sophie Morrow), Strawberry seller Lily McClatchey , Milkmaid (Alana Cahoon) and Knife Grinder (Michael Morrow) all sang beautifully but I would have liked to see them carrying appropriate props. I liked the way the Governers of the Workhouse were introduced in the opening scene. The Ensemble of townspeople were well focused and sang well and the children of the workhouse and Fagin’s gang obviously enjoyed themselves and were well rehearsed – there was a lot of stamping of feet in their musical numbers (maybe it helped them to remember the moves!)
The menacing character of Bill Sykes was taken by Forrest Campbell. He looked frightening and made a lot of noise but his singing of “My Name” was not quite up to the mark. Fagin was a fascinating character as played by Donal McAuley. I was a little taken aback at the start by his short hair and cleanshaven face – not like any Fagin I’ve seen before – but I gradually came to understand the concept of portraying a man of many disguises. Donal had good rapport with his young gang of thieves and his musical numbers were well performed.
Experienced MD Dennis McKeever led his 9 piece orchestra with plenty of pace and kept a good balance with the stage. As Choreographer, Lynda Wright kept movement quite simple to suit all ages and levels of ability but gave a number of dancers and gymnasts the chance to shine in the pickpocket Fair scene just before the interval. Recent updating of parts of the musical score has created a marathon “Consider Yourself” number which was very nicely choreographed. Director David O’Toole did some of his own successful updating of this well loved classic musical! It was lovely to see it again and witness a packed house of happy parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts etc.etc.! My thanks to everyone involved in any aspect of this production for a great evening’s entertainment.
Noda Regional Representative for Ireland