Theatre in Wales

Plays and dance productions in Wales since 1982...

 
Amazing Grace by Mal Pope
First presented in 2005 by Wales Theatre Company
cast size:?
synopsis:
Evan Roberts believes he has been personally commissioned by God to change the world.
 

   There are 10 reviews of Wales Theatre Company's Amazing Grace in our database:
Amazing Grace by Mal Pope (Music) and Frank Vickery (Book)
[print]Print this review  now
venue
Swansea Grand Theatre
March-29-05
This review was first published in the South Wales Evening Post

Hot on the heels of a Grand Slam victory and a home-grown revival of Doctor Who comes this all-new stage musical from the Wales Theatre Company chronicling the Welsh Revival of 1904, spearheaded by a young miner from Loughor called Evan Roberts.

Rarely has a new production at the Grand been so eagerly anticipated by such a wide cross-section of theatregoers, and it is fair to say that the wait has been worthwhile.

For composer/lyricist Mal Pope this is clearly a labour of love and his passion for the subject shines through every minute of what, in lesser hands, could so easily have been yet another glum and introspective piece of Welsh navel-gazing.

To his credit, however, Pope - together with writer Frank Vickery and the company's visionary Artistic Director Michael Bogdanov - has well and truly come up with the goods and has placed the story within a framework which is engaging, persuasive and hugely entertaining.

Roberts is portrayed by Robert Barton, a Ioan Gruffydd-lookalike with a suitably charismatic stage presence, while Shân Cothi shines as his sister Mary. There are also splendid contributions from Phillip Arran, Rhian Morgan, Lee Gilbert, Ieuan Rhys and Jon Cecil as W.T. Stead, the journalist who serves as narrator.

Mirain Haf, Beth Robert, Felicity Rhys and Llinos Daniel also fare well as Roberts' "Singers of the Dawn".

The biggest performance, however - in every sense of the word - comes from musical theatre stalwart Peter Karrie, whose portrayal of the fire-and-brimstone preacher Peter Price is sensational. Given the chance to perform a showstopper with real emotional depth, he seizes it with both hands and emerges triumphant.

While many of the songs are determinedly contemporary – with the odd sly wink to other stage musicals here and there, such as the sequence in which Roberts is manipulated like a puppet (shades of Roxie Hart in Chicago) - they are juxtaposed with hymn tunes which lend a timeless air to the production.

Not only does the piece have much to say about the events of 1904 but it also touches upon the ongoing obsession with celebrity, fame and the power of the media - and there is also a cheeky reference to the Evening Post, in spite of the fact that the title did not exist until 1932.

My only minor niggle surrounds the cameo appearance by Huw Edwards, who appears on video to tell us what became of the characters at the end of the story. This smacks of gimmickry and is perhaps a little incongruous, but it could have been worse: it could have been Anne Robinson.
reviewer:
Graham Williams
Amazing Grace by Mal Pope
[print]Print this review  now
venue
Swansea Grand Theatre
March-29-05
This review was first published in the South Wales Evening Post

Hot on the heels of a Grand Slam victory and a home-grown revival of Doctor Who comes this all-new stage musical from the Wales Theatre Company chronicling the Welsh Revival of 1904, spearheaded by a young miner from Loughor called Evan Roberts.

Rarely has a new production at the Grand been so eagerly anticipated by such a wide cross-section of theatregoers, and it is fair to say that the wait has been worthwhile.

For composer/lyricist Mal Pope this is clearly a labour of love and his passion for the subject shines through every minute of what, in lesser hands, could so easily have been yet another glum and introspective piece of Welsh navel-gazing.

To his credit, however, Pope - together with writer Frank Vickery and the company's visionary Artistic Director Michael Bogdanov - has well and truly come up with the goods and has placed the story within a framework which is engaging, persuasive and hugely entertaining.

Roberts is portrayed by Robert Barton, a Ioan Gruffydd-lookalike with a suitably charismatic stage presence, while Shân Cothi shines as his sister Mary. There are also splendid contributions from Phillip Arran, Rhian Morgan, Lee Gilbert, Ieuan Rhys and Jon Cecil as W.T. Stead, the journalist who serves as narrator.

Mirain Haf, Beth Robert, Felicity Rhys and Llinos Daniel also fare well as Roberts' "Singers of the Dawn".

The biggest performance, however - in every sense of the word - comes from musical theatre stalwart Peter Karrie, whose portrayal of the fire-and-brimstone preacher Peter Price is sensational. Given the chance to perform a showstopper with real emotional depth, he seizes it with both hands and emerges triumphant.

While many of the songs are determinedly contemporary – with the odd sly wink to other stage musicals here and there, such as the sequence in which Roberts is manipulated like a puppet (shades of Roxie Hart in Chicago) - they are juxtaposed with hymn tunes which lend a timeless air to the production.

Not only does the piece have much to say about the events of 1904 but it also touches upon the ongoing obsession with celebrity, fame and the power of the media - and there is also a cheeky reference to the Evening Post, in spite of the fact that the title did not exist until 1932.

My only minor niggle surrounds the cameo appearance by Huw Edwards, who appears on video to tell us what became of the characters at the end of the story. This smacks of gimmickry and is perhaps a little incongruous, but it could have been worse: it could have been Anne Robinson.
reviewer:
Graham Williams
Amazing Grace by Mal Pope (Music) and Frank Vickery (Book)
[print]Print this review  now
venue
Grand Theatre Swansea
April-01-05
This review first appeared in the Western Mail


It is, you'd think, hardly hit musical potential: a very brief moment in Welsh history when, for a few months, the country was obsessed by a charismatic ex-miner from Loughor who was to disappear into obscurity as rapidly as he shot to fame.

Add the names of Shan Cothi, Peter Karrie, Frank Vickery, Mal Pope, Michael Bogdanov, David Emanuel, Huw Edwards and Ed Thomas, however, and all you'd need would be Charlotte Church and the Welsh rugby team. Even if this Ed Thomas is the celebrated set designer (direct from Dr Who) rather than the playwright, it's a starry company.

But a popular musical about the 1904 Welsh Revival ?

The plot isn't much, to be sure, and it fizzles out noticeably once evangelist Evan Roberts loses his vision, but Bogdanov and the Wales Theatre Company may well have at last successfully produced the first Welsh stage musical.

It's an ambitious project, not least because it tries to avoid offending anyone too much - and if the performance I caught is anything to go by, the audience is just about the most variegated you can imagine – chapel coachloads from the valleys, curious holidaymakers, amateur historians, Eisteddfod audiences, theatregoers of all ages.

Was Roberts simply a naïve neurotic, a fraudster or the voice of God ? That depends on whether you are a believer anyway but Mal Pope's version has him at the very least sincere.

Indeed, Amazing Grace portrays him as a messianic saviour caught up with existing oppositions - the fire-and-brimstone preachers and the militant trade-unionists - whose ministry fails when he discovers sex and he is betrayed by a kiss and crucified by enemies. A familiar story.

I guess Godspell, Joseph and Jesus Christ Superstar have already broken the taboo against making religious stories fun, but there are still a couple of numbers here that knock you back, and the orgasmic implications of religious ecstasy are exploited to the full.

Indeed, repressed erotic desire is part and parcel of the Evan Roberts story - the notorious tour in the company of four teenage girls is skated over here but the sexual appeal of this mesmeric young man created female screams and groans not entirely spiritual.

In some ways, the most honest opposition to the Revival came from the miners' union, whose leader Will Hay felt that the Hell of underground working was a more desperate issue than the Heaven-to-come of the bible-bashers, although here the obligatory respect shown here to the miners' struggle is not totally convincing, red-flag waving more of a choreographic device than a political statement.

So it's sex, drugs (if religion is the opium of the people) and rock'n'roll, a sure-fire formula. Acknowledge recent French musical-theatre successes, add a touch of Lionel Bart, the odd Welsh hymn and a host of other inspirations, and you have Amazing Grace. At present the first act still needs working on – the important first routine lacks zing and it takes a while to engage us fully – but the second half is a cracker, from the irreverent opening number to the gospel-style ending where the audience becomes the congregation.

It has not only ambition but confidence, this show. A huge cast – I counted around 30 on stage at times – is expertly directed by Bogdanov and the principals, like Bridgend’s own Peter Karrie, a towering figure in musical theatre, Shan Cothi, Wales’s leading singer-performer and Robert Barton, an experienced actor who takes the lead role with enthusiasm, are never allowed to overwhelm the rest of this very talented company. And how good to hear such singing, whether it is choral, showbiz-style or classically-trained voices.

Mal Pope’s lyrics can be naff at times and the show-stopper for Peter Karrie, You Never Threw a Party for Me, was such a late addition it isn’t even in the programme, the show abounds in clichés, but Bogdanov knows how to push the right buttons and there will, I suspect, be standing ovations every night.
reviewer:
David Adams
Amazing Grace by Mal Pope
[print]Print this review  now
venue
Grand Theatre Swansea
April-01-05
This review first appeared in the Western Mail


It is, you'd think, hardly hit musical potential: a very brief moment in Welsh history when, for a few months, the country was obsessed by a charismatic ex-miner from Loughor who was to disappear into obscurity as rapidly as he shot to fame.

Add the names of Shan Cothi, Peter Karrie, Frank Vickery, Mal Pope, Michael Bogdanov, David Emanuel, Huw Edwards and Ed Thomas, however, and all you'd need would be Charlotte Church and the Welsh rugby team. Even if this Ed Thomas is the celebrated set designer (direct from Dr Who) rather than the playwright, it's a starry company.

But a popular musical about the 1904 Welsh Revival ?

The plot isn't much, to be sure, and it fizzles out noticeably once evangelist Evan Roberts loses his vision, but Bogdanov and the Wales Theatre Company may well have at last successfully produced the first Welsh stage musical.

It's an ambitious project, not least because it tries to avoid offending anyone too much - and if the performance I caught is anything to go by, the audience is just about the most variegated you can imagine – chapel coachloads from the valleys, curious holidaymakers, amateur historians, Eisteddfod audiences, theatregoers of all ages.

Was Roberts simply a naïve neurotic, a fraudster or the voice of God ? That depends on whether you are a believer anyway but Mal Pope's version has him at the very least sincere.

Indeed, Amazing Grace portrays him as a messianic saviour caught up with existing oppositions - the fire-and-brimstone preachers and the militant trade-unionists - whose ministry fails when he discovers sex and he is betrayed by a kiss and crucified by enemies. A familiar story.

I guess Godspell, Joseph and Jesus Christ Superstar have already broken the taboo against making religious stories fun, but there are still a couple of numbers here that knock you back, and the orgasmic implications of religious ecstasy are exploited to the full.

Indeed, repressed erotic desire is part and parcel of the Evan Roberts story - the notorious tour in the company of four teenage girls is skated over here but the sexual appeal of this mesmeric young man created female screams and groans not entirely spiritual.

In some ways, the most honest opposition to the Revival came from the miners' union, whose leader Will Hay felt that the Hell of underground working was a more desperate issue than the Heaven-to-come of the bible-bashers, although here the obligatory respect shown here to the miners' struggle is not totally convincing, red-flag waving more of a choreographic device than a political statement.

So it's sex, drugs (if religion is the opium of the people) and rock'n'roll, a sure-fire formula. Acknowledge recent French musical-theatre successes, add a touch of Lionel Bart, the odd Welsh hymn and a host of other inspirations, and you have Amazing Grace. At present the first act still needs working on – the important first routine lacks zing and it takes a while to engage us fully – but the second half is a cracker, from the irreverent opening number to the gospel-style ending where the audience becomes the congregation.

It has not only ambition but confidence, this show. A huge cast – I counted around 30 on stage at times – is expertly directed by Bogdanov and the principals, like Bridgend’s own Peter Karrie, a towering figure in musical theatre, Shan Cothi, Wales’s leading singer-performer and Robert Barton, an experienced actor who takes the lead role with enthusiasm, are never allowed to overwhelm the rest of this very talented company. And how good to hear such singing, whether it is choral, showbiz-style or classically-trained voices.

Mal Pope’s lyrics can be naff at times and the show-stopper for Peter Karrie, You Never Threw a Party for Me, was such a late addition it isn’t even in the programme, the show abounds in clichés, but Bogdanov knows how to push the right buttons and there will, I suspect, be standing ovations every night.
reviewer:
David Adams
Amazing Grace by Mal Pope (Music) and Frank Vickery (Book)
[print]Print this review  now
venue
Sherman Theatre Carrddiff
April-06-05
If passion, enthusiasm, commitment and a flair for melody are the components for a successful piece of musical theatre, then Mal Pope, composer and lyricist of Amazing Grace has them exuding from every pore. And he brings it off, here in partnership with writer Frank Vickery and the company’s artistic director Michael Bogdanov the building blocks of the first great Welsh Musical are set down.

He combines the music of traditional Welsh hymn singing, through Cole Porter via Sondheim with a touch of Andrew Lloyd Webber and a tea-spoon from his mate Elton John to produce what may become the new Welsh Sound. In the hands of seasoned performers like Peter Karrie, voted the greatest Phantom ever, it becomes electric. His performance as fire and brimstone preacher Rev Peter Price has in it a fine touch of humour and his song You Never Threw a Party For Me is a breathtaking show stopper. This is the quality and excitement we need to bring to the stage in Wales.

Robert Barton looks superb as Evan Roberts as he twists in his bed, becomes possessed by the Holy Spirit and calls out plaintively in his opening prayer Why Me and then goes on to establish the ‘The Great Welsh Religious Revival’. There is resistance from his family with firm no-nonsense Welsh performances from Phillip Arran and Rhian Morgan as his father and mother but loving support from his sister, Mary, sensitively and beautifully sung and acted by Shân Cothi.

The atmosphere of early twentieth century Wales is well drawn with scenes of home, chapel and working life flashing before us. Some of his fellow miners, who in 1904 were working their way to the great confrontation with the coal owners, feel his devotion to prayer is undermining their rebellion. Lee Gilbert gives a good strong performance as Miner’s Leader Will Hay with great singing support from his fellow miners played by Rhys Ap William, Evan’s brother, Adam Kelly and Ieuan Rhys who also turn up in various other roles as the story progresses.

We see Evan at work passionately savings souls in Moriah Chapel. The London Press has sent their representative to find his way to Lougher and report back. This allows Jon Cecil as newsman W T Stead to act as narrator and he does a fine job, moving things along and updating us on events as they happen.

The revival builds and Evan Roberts is wanted in chapels all over Wales and beyond. Wherever he goes he is supported by a close band of young women, ‘The Singers of Dawn’, prettily voiced, Beth Robert, Felicity Rhys and Llinos Daniel, led by Mirain Haf, a sincere and delicate performance as Annie, who falls seriously in love with Roberts. Roberts’ close association with these young women is also used to threaten him. At one point they do show an erotic leg, buts that’s just a bit of satire. By the time he goes to preach in Liverpool something has undermined him and he fails to produce his usual souls saving routine. A vulnerable Roberts withdraws from the scene and we are left wondering was this man really sincere in his commitment to God or was he suffering from a deluded misunderstanding of his own ‘unimportance’.

One outstanding unique aspect of this serious exploration of man’s passion and beliefs was that it never took itself too seriously and it contains many moments of tongue-in-cheek humour. There were also moments when things slipped a little but Bogdanov is a fine seaman and quickly brings the ship back on course and steers what may well be, with a few bits of fine tuning, the first Great New Welsh Musical triumphantly into port. Indicating that it’s now time for The Wales Theatre Company ship to ‘sail full steam ahead’.
reviewer:
Michael Kelligan
Amazing Grace by Mal Pope
[print]Print this review  now
venue
Sherman Theatre Carrddiff
April-06-05
If passion, enthusiasm, commitment and a flair for melody are the components for a successful piece of musical theatre, then Mal Pope, composer and lyricist of Amazing Grace has them exuding from every pore. And he brings it off, here in partnership with writer Frank Vickery and the company’s artistic director Michael Bogdanov the building blocks of the first great Welsh Musical are set down.

He combines the music of traditional Welsh hymn singing, through Cole Porter via Sondheim with a touch of Andrew Lloyd Webber and a tea-spoon from his mate Elton John to produce what may become the new Welsh Sound. In the hands of seasoned performers like Peter Karrie, voted the greatest Phantom ever, it becomes electric. His performance as fire and brimstone preacher Rev Peter Price has in it a fine touch of humour and his song You Never Threw a Party For Me is a breathtaking show stopper. This is the quality and excitement we need to bring to the stage in Wales.

Robert Barton looks superb as Evan Roberts as he twists in his bed, becomes possessed by the Holy Spirit and calls out plaintively in his opening prayer Why Me and then goes on to establish the ‘The Great Welsh Religious Revival’. There is resistance from his family with firm no-nonsense Welsh performances from Phillip Arran and Rhian Morgan as his father and mother but loving support from his sister, Mary, sensitively and beautifully sung and acted by Shân Cothi.

The atmosphere of early twentieth century Wales is well drawn with scenes of home, chapel and working life flashing before us. Some of his fellow miners, who in 1904 were working their way to the great confrontation with the coal owners, feel his devotion to prayer is undermining their rebellion. Lee Gilbert gives a good strong performance as Miner’s Leader Will Hay with great singing support from his fellow miners played by Rhys Ap William, Evan’s brother, Adam Kelly and Ieuan Rhys who also turn up in various other roles as the story progresses.

We see Evan at work passionately savings souls in Moriah Chapel. The London Press has sent their representative to find his way to Lougher and report back. This allows Jon Cecil as newsman W T Stead to act as narrator and he does a fine job, moving things along and updating us on events as they happen.

The revival builds and Evan Roberts is wanted in chapels all over Wales and beyond. Wherever he goes he is supported by a close band of young women, ‘The Singers of Dawn’, prettily voiced, Beth Robert, Felicity Rhys and Llinos Daniel, led by Mirain Haf, a sincere and delicate performance as Annie, who falls seriously in love with Roberts. Roberts’ close association with these young women is also used to threaten him. At one point they do show an erotic leg, buts that’s just a bit of satire. By the time he goes to preach in Liverpool something has undermined him and he fails to produce his usual souls saving routine. A vulnerable Roberts withdraws from the scene and we are left wondering was this man really sincere in his commitment to God or was he suffering from a deluded misunderstanding of his own ‘unimportance’.

One outstanding unique aspect of this serious exploration of man’s passion and beliefs was that it never took itself too seriously and it contains many moments of tongue-in-cheek humour. There were also moments when things slipped a little but Bogdanov is a fine seaman and quickly brings the ship back on course and steers what may well be, with a few bits of fine tuning, the first Great New Welsh Musical triumphantly into port. Indicating that it’s now time for The Wales Theatre Company ship to ‘sail full steam ahead’.
reviewer:
Michael Kelligan
A sure-fire hit for Welsh audiences
Amazing Grace by Mal Pope (Music) and Frank Vickery (Book)
[print]Print this review  now
venue
Aberystwyth Arts Centre
November-01-06
After a riproaring run in the Aberystwyth Arts Centre in July and August with his production of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, Michael Bogdanov returns in triumph, this time with his Wales Theatre Company as part of the touring run of “Amazing Grace” - Christian singer-songwriter Mal Pope’s ‘First Great Welsh Musical’, bringing with them spectacle, religious fervour, personal introspection and, above all, fantastic, crowd-pleasing entertainment.

Telling the story of former miner Evan Roberts’ role in the great Christian Revival of 1904 in Wales, and his eventual ruin at the hands of overwork and gutter-press insinuations, this production found itself telling a tale of high morals, higher ambitions and great personal faith in an increasingly secular age, but doing so through adrenaline-pumping songs and high-energy performances, even in those scenes with little movement.

Mal Pope’s lyrics and score, the execution of which he oversaw onstage with his multi-talented band of musicians, drew on his own past work as well as some of the more soaring and beautiful Welsh hymn-tunes to complement original work which stood perfectly in the setting he had established. The opening number – ‘O Iesu Mawr’ rose sweepingly over the stage from a well-hidden company who were slowly lit to support Roberts’ initial calls to God from his bed, and from there built to a roaring end to the first act in the form of ‘Bryn Calfaria’ – an old and intensely beautiful, moving and affecting Welsh hymn tune, expertly arranged by Pope for inclusion. The sound was well-mixed and generally well-managed, the live band melding with the voices of the company to startling effect, though on occasion even those members of the cast with radio microphones were lost to the energy of the musicians.

The play took place on a magnificent multi-purpose set designed by Sean Crowley and Edward Thomas. Through backdrops, gauzes, balconies, double-doorways, a slate-effect flooring and a layout conducive to the very slick set-changes which were skilfully effected, the set became a coal-mine, a bedroom, a street, any number of chapels and even a circus. The only problem one could see is that this is perhaps a set designed for a much bigger stage than that afforded by the sizeable, but not cavernous and always intimate Theatr y Werin in Aberystwyth Arts Centre, and one could anticipate there perhaps being quite a cosy amount of wing and rear-stage space available.

This reservation aside, the set was visible through extremely effective lighting which was by turns highly realistic at moments of very visceral humanity and occasionally strikingly daring and bold for some of the big production numbers.

In this environment, complemented by appropriate, and sometimes appropriately garish costumes designed by renowned couturier David Emanuel, some radiant performances were allowed to come into their own. Richard Munday, playing Evan Roberts was, while not the strongest singer ever to take a musical lead, a galvanising, believable and eminently well-suited casting choice. One believed his journey through celestial heights and crushingly human lows. His voice rang clearly through the auditorium and brought with it that heart-swelling spirit of Revival.

Similarly Elin Wyn Jones, as his Nightingale, Annie. Jones embodied her role admirably, switching between lovestruck innocent, gospel poster-child and fearsome guardian with grace and ease.

Set against these was, primarily, the character of embittered, though qualified, pastor the Reverend Peter Price, played by a ferociously top-form Peter Karrie. This role allowed him to exercise his stupefyingly immense vocal range – both spoken and sung – and gave him the opportunity to portray a character who is both a fiery condemner of Roberts’ success and also a decidedly broken character within. Those who see the show will not readily forget his breathtakingly powerful number ‘You Never Threw a Party for Me’. His one error – that of heading for a non-existent exit and having to retrace his steps, was something that could be easily forgiven in light of his staggering performance.

Also giving a generally competent and engaging performance was Jon Cecil, who played W.T. Stead, the London journalist who tracked Roberts’ progress and reported on every stage of his journey. Providing a link that was generally impartial, despite, on occasion, his reportage, he proved to be a warm, watchable anchor to the show from his appearance part-way through Act One.

The company as a whole gelled beautifully – the family atmosphere present in the Roberts family extending outwards into the village and beyond, so that even in times of crisis, despair and doubt, such as seen at the end of the first half and later on in the tale of Roberts’ journey to England, there were ties that bound one character to the other, regardless of circumstance, and one felt that every member of the cast looked after the interests of everyone else. The dance numbers, which were beautifully choreographed to maximum effect, particularly in ‘I Like Sundays’ and ‘It’s Happening Here’ did not seem rigid in their discipline, but rather an extension of the collegiality felt throughout the show.

Though it could be argued that the Christian message underpinning the bare facts of the story was, at times, verging on being shoe-horned in to reinforce its strength, and though certainly some language used was a touch clunky and the finale an unabashed crowd-stirrer, right up to the point where the house-lights rose to include the audience in the side-stepping, hand-clapping number ‘Warm Wind’, the standing ovation which greeted the close of the show was testament to how effective Michael Bogdanov and Mal Pope are at, respectively, directing and writing/scoring a show which appeals to the best sentiments and emotions of all comers, and is a sure-fire hit for Welsh audiences.

The tour continues to the Swansea Grand and the Wales Millennium Centre, as well as other venues across Wales. Details unavailable to the authors at the time of writing but available through the Wales Theatre Company and principality-wide press.

reviewer:
Paddy Cooper and James Ellington
A sure-fire hit for Welsh audiences
Amazing Grace by Mal Pope
[print]Print this review  now
venue
Aberystwyth Arts Centre
November-01-06
After a riproaring run in the Aberystwyth Arts Centre in July and August with his production of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, Michael Bogdanov returns in triumph, this time with his Wales Theatre Company as part of the touring run of “Amazing Grace” - Christian singer-songwriter Mal Pope’s ‘First Great Welsh Musical’, bringing with them spectacle, religious fervour, personal introspection and, above all, fantastic, crowd-pleasing entertainment.

Telling the story of former miner Evan Roberts’ role in the great Christian Revival of 1904 in Wales, and his eventual ruin at the hands of overwork and gutter-press insinuations, this production found itself telling a tale of high morals, higher ambitions and great personal faith in an increasingly secular age, but doing so through adrenaline-pumping songs and high-energy performances, even in those scenes with little movement.

Mal Pope’s lyrics and score, the execution of which he oversaw onstage with his multi-talented band of musicians, drew on his own past work as well as some of the more soaring and beautiful Welsh hymn-tunes to complement original work which stood perfectly in the setting he had established. The opening number – ‘O Iesu Mawr’ rose sweepingly over the stage from a well-hidden company who were slowly lit to support Roberts’ initial calls to God from his bed, and from there built to a roaring end to the first act in the form of ‘Bryn Calfaria’ – an old and intensely beautiful, moving and affecting Welsh hymn tune, expertly arranged by Pope for inclusion. The sound was well-mixed and generally well-managed, the live band melding with the voices of the company to startling effect, though on occasion even those members of the cast with radio microphones were lost to the energy of the musicians.

The play took place on a magnificent multi-purpose set designed by Sean Crowley and Edward Thomas. Through backdrops, gauzes, balconies, double-doorways, a slate-effect flooring and a layout conducive to the very slick set-changes which were skilfully effected, the set became a coal-mine, a bedroom, a street, any number of chapels and even a circus. The only problem one could see is that this is perhaps a set designed for a much bigger stage than that afforded by the sizeable, but not cavernous and always intimate Theatr y Werin in Aberystwyth Arts Centre, and one could anticipate there perhaps being quite a cosy amount of wing and rear-stage space available.

This reservation aside, the set was visible through extremely effective lighting which was by turns highly realistic at moments of very visceral humanity and occasionally strikingly daring and bold for some of the big production numbers.

In this environment, complemented by appropriate, and sometimes appropriately garish costumes designed by renowned couturier David Emanuel, some radiant performances were allowed to come into their own. Richard Munday, playing Evan Roberts was, while not the strongest singer ever to take a musical lead, a galvanising, believable and eminently well-suited casting choice. One believed his journey through celestial heights and crushingly human lows. His voice rang clearly through the auditorium and brought with it that heart-swelling spirit of Revival.

Similarly Elin Wyn Jones, as his Nightingale, Annie. Jones embodied her role admirably, switching between lovestruck innocent, gospel poster-child and fearsome guardian with grace and ease.

Set against these was, primarily, the character of embittered, though qualified, pastor the Reverend Peter Price, played by a ferociously top-form Peter Karrie. This role allowed him to exercise his stupefyingly immense vocal range – both spoken and sung – and gave him the opportunity to portray a character who is both a fiery condemner of Roberts’ success and also a decidedly broken character within. Those who see the show will not readily forget his breathtakingly powerful number ‘You Never Threw a Party for Me’. His one error – that of heading for a non-existent exit and having to retrace his steps, was something that could be easily forgiven in light of his staggering performance.

Also giving a generally competent and engaging performance was Jon Cecil, who played W.T. Stead, the London journalist who tracked Roberts’ progress and reported on every stage of his journey. Providing a link that was generally impartial, despite, on occasion, his reportage, he proved to be a warm, watchable anchor to the show from his appearance part-way through Act One.

The company as a whole gelled beautifully – the family atmosphere present in the Roberts family extending outwards into the village and beyond, so that even in times of crisis, despair and doubt, such as seen at the end of the first half and later on in the tale of Roberts’ journey to England, there were ties that bound one character to the other, regardless of circumstance, and one felt that every member of the cast looked after the interests of everyone else. The dance numbers, which were beautifully choreographed to maximum effect, particularly in ‘I Like Sundays’ and ‘It’s Happening Here’ did not seem rigid in their discipline, but rather an extension of the collegiality felt throughout the show.

Though it could be argued that the Christian message underpinning the bare facts of the story was, at times, verging on being shoe-horned in to reinforce its strength, and though certainly some language used was a touch clunky and the finale an unabashed crowd-stirrer, right up to the point where the house-lights rose to include the audience in the side-stepping, hand-clapping number ‘Warm Wind’, the standing ovation which greeted the close of the show was testament to how effective Michael Bogdanov and Mal Pope are at, respectively, directing and writing/scoring a show which appeals to the best sentiments and emotions of all comers, and is a sure-fire hit for Welsh audiences.

The tour continues to the Swansea Grand and the Wales Millennium Centre, as well as other venues across Wales. Details unavailable to the authors at the time of writing but available through the Wales Theatre Company and principality-wide press.

reviewer:
Paddy Cooper and James Ellington
A dynamic and vital show
Amazing Grace by Mal Pope (Music) and Frank Vickery (Book)
[print]Print this review  now
venue
Wales Millennium Centre
November-17-06
It’s big it’s bold with great music, great song and great dance; all the qualities of first class music theatre and it’s made right here in Wales with a magnificent company of mainly Wales-based actors, and didn’t they do well. Peter Karrie, as the Rev. Peter Price who took great delight in his part in the downfall of the leading character, Evan Roberts, along with his very moving and powerful voice brings all the charisma and stage presence to the role that confirms his position as the ‘The World’s most popular Phantom’ in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom Of The Opera. Alone on the stage he tugs at our heart-strings and almost steals the show with his powerful and emotional rendering of ‘You Never Threw A Party For me’

But his is by no means the only outstanding performance. Richard Munday as Evan Roberts, bemused by the powers he feels that God has put into him, sings with both strength and sensitivity. Rising from his bed where he has received his divine visitation he opens the show singing ‘Why Me?’ and quickly captivates the whole audience. Shân Cothi as his sister Mary is able to show us a very deep concern and genuine love for her brother and uses her dramatic soprano voice to engage us in her ‘Jealousy’ when she feels that one of Evan’s young female followers, Annie, an appealing and delicate performance from Elin Wyn Lewis, is getting too close to him.

The crystal clear singing is further enhanced by yet another fine Welsh voice of the ever-popular soprano Margaret Williams giving a neat and subtly understated performance as Evan’s Mother. Evan’s miner father is also someone who is not at all too sure about this ‘God’ business, well played by Gary Davis whose operatic voice expands the warm resonating singing that is a key feature of this production. The other singing miners are led by Kevin Johns, happily moonlighting from his day-job, presenting the Breakfast Show for Swansea Sound, he gives an authoritative performance as Will Hay, another who, at the beginning, is doubtful about the force of Evans conviction.

The London newspapers quickly became interested in the Great Welsh Revival and sent their correspondent W T Stead down to Evan’s home village of Lougher to cover the developing story. Jon Cecil stands alone under a gas street lamp, and with just the right touch of cynicism, we hear his reports through song as he acts as a narrator, appearing from time to time, summing up the events as they move forward to the dramatic and unexpected ending to this story. The final song ‘Warm Wind’ swept over the audience and on this Cardiff opening night they rose to their feet and gave this dedicated and committed cast a well deserved, resounding standing ovation.

One of artistic director, Michael Bogdanov’s greatest assets is his sense of theatricality. This is a dynamic and vital show and most certainly does have the makings of the first great Welsh Musical. Mal Pope’s music is perfectly suited to the atmospheric plot and drives the show along at just the right pace. However Bogdanov has us looking through a window on to the happenings and can’t get us quite as involved with the story, as much as we need to be. It may be that Evan Robert is an impossible character to play. We don’t get to really see that intense sense of religious fever. We need to feel from the drama of the action, an overwhelming presence of something very special happening spreading from the inside of the man and permeating all who stand before him. In the scene set inside the chapel at Moriah Roberts calls for an ‘Amen’ but his appeal is not generated by real godly passion, the resulting conversions fail to convince and the real truth at the centre of the story is weakened. It is undoubtedly a very entertaining piece of music theatre but without this its potential greatness is undermined.
reviewer:
Michael Kelligan
A dynamic and vital show
Amazing Grace by Mal Pope
[print]Print this review  now
venue
Wales Millennium Centre
November-17-06
It’s big it’s bold with great music, great song and great dance; all the qualities of first class music theatre and it’s made right here in Wales with a magnificent company of mainly Wales-based actors, and didn’t they do well. Peter Karrie, as the Rev. Peter Price who took great delight in his part in the downfall of the leading character, Evan Roberts, along with his very moving and powerful voice brings all the charisma and stage presence to the role that confirms his position as the ‘The World’s most popular Phantom’ in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom Of The Opera. Alone on the stage he tugs at our heart-strings and almost steals the show with his powerful and emotional rendering of ‘You Never Threw A Party For me’

But his is by no means the only outstanding performance. Richard Munday as Evan Roberts, bemused by the powers he feels that God has put into him, sings with both strength and sensitivity. Rising from his bed where he has received his divine visitation he opens the show singing ‘Why Me?’ and quickly captivates the whole audience. Shân Cothi as his sister Mary is able to show us a very deep concern and genuine love for her brother and uses her dramatic soprano voice to engage us in her ‘Jealousy’ when she feels that one of Evan’s young female followers, Annie, an appealing and delicate performance from Elin Wyn Lewis, is getting too close to him.

The crystal clear singing is further enhanced by yet another fine Welsh voice of the ever-popular soprano Margaret Williams giving a neat and subtly understated performance as Evan’s Mother. Evan’s miner father is also someone who is not at all too sure about this ‘God’ business, well played by Gary Davis whose operatic voice expands the warm resonating singing that is a key feature of this production. The other singing miners are led by Kevin Johns, happily moonlighting from his day-job, presenting the Breakfast Show for Swansea Sound, he gives an authoritative performance as Will Hay, another who, at the beginning, is doubtful about the force of Evans conviction.

The London newspapers quickly became interested in the Great Welsh Revival and sent their correspondent W T Stead down to Evan’s home village of Lougher to cover the developing story. Jon Cecil stands alone under a gas street lamp, and with just the right touch of cynicism, we hear his reports through song as he acts as a narrator, appearing from time to time, summing up the events as they move forward to the dramatic and unexpected ending to this story. The final song ‘Warm Wind’ swept over the audience and on this Cardiff opening night they rose to their feet and gave this dedicated and committed cast a well deserved, resounding standing ovation.

One of artistic director, Michael Bogdanov’s greatest assets is his sense of theatricality. This is a dynamic and vital show and most certainly does have the makings of the first great Welsh Musical. Mal Pope’s music is perfectly suited to the atmospheric plot and drives the show along at just the right pace. However Bogdanov has us looking through a window on to the happenings and can’t get us quite as involved with the story, as much as we need to be. It may be that Evan Robert is an impossible character to play. We don’t get to really see that intense sense of religious fever. We need to feel from the drama of the action, an overwhelming presence of something very special happening spreading from the inside of the man and permeating all who stand before him. In the scene set inside the chapel at Moriah Roberts calls for an ‘Amen’ but his appeal is not generated by real godly passion, the resulting conversions fail to convince and the real truth at the centre of the story is weakened. It is undoubtedly a very entertaining piece of music theatre but without this its potential greatness is undermined.
reviewer:
Michael Kelligan

If you know of any other existing review, or if you have any more information on Amazing Grace, (perhaps you were in the production or were the author or director) then please use the form below to send us the details
Add your comments or amendments to our information on Amazing Grace
your name
e-mail address
What colour is this block?

orange


this helps us fight spam messages . You have to fill in the box for your message to be sent!
 

Privacy Policy | Contact Us | ©2006 keith morris / red snapper web designs / keith@artx.co.uk