Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Being Alive

Aberystwyth Summer Musical

“Hairspray” Cast and Guests- Magic of the Musicals 2012 , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , August-20-12
Aberystwyth Summer Musical by  “Hairspray” Cast and Guests- Magic of the Musicals 2012 “If you rest, you rust”. It was a motto that worked well for a giant of the New York stage. She won not just her Emmy and Tony but a Grammy and Oscar too. The “Hairspray” company has taken her motto on board. For their-last-but-one weekend in Aberystwyth they have put together a bonus show. It starts and ends with five full-company numbers. In between are twenty-seven numbers; solos, duets, trios, dance, comedy, Welsh choral from local group Sgarmes. The show lasts nearly three hours; at its close the packed Aberystwyth house is once more on its feet.

“Hairspray” is about young people busting open the restrictive codes of their elders. A part of its exhilaration is the boldness of the casting and the opportunities given to new performers. It is hardly believable that Jenny O’Leary was sitting in a drama school classroom ten weeks ago. Her solo number here displays an animated versatility that extends beyond the role of Tracy Turnblad. Michael Naylor performs an electric ballet solo that encapsulates the dreams of “Billy Eliot.” Aber regulars know that Mari Fflur can do charm. Charm in itself is a great stage quality but with “I’m Being Pulled in a New Direction” she throws a whole load of pizazz into the mix as well. “I think I like it, I like it” run the lyrics. She does; and it shows,

There are a lot of big voices in “Magic of the Musicals.” Rachel Crane is not in the cast of “Hairspray” for the good reason that she is performing in London. She sings an octave-shifting “I Will Always Love You” which has the ooze of the Mississippi Delta in it. The song is given a great sax break from Rhodri Taylor. Natalie Toyne sings big and solo. Danielle Steers and Sharon Wattis share a monumental duet from “the Colour Purple.” Even the company manager, Judith Riley, can sing with passion.

“Magic of the Musicals” is not a history lesson. It has too much overwhelming joie de vivre for that. But it does display musical theatre’s sheer breadth. Oliver Ormson’s Office Temp sings with a seething innuendo that takes in floppy drives and “I could fax you all night.” Samantha Giffard does high-energy comedy with “My New Philosophy.” Bob Fosse’s choreographic genius is brought to life by Beth Angharad and Bobby Windebank with a routine from “Damn Yankees.” Lori Haley Fox, with the help of a lot of frontal reinforcement, does a number from “Nine to Five”. From this performance she could easily have a second career as a stand-up comic.

But it is not just breadth. Aled Jones chooses “Younger than Springtime” and it is a reminder of how a song ought to be written. Richard Rodgers’ composition has not just a lovely lead melody but an equally good variation with the verse “And when your youth…” In a surprising variation three male voices in harmony, those of Hugo Harold-Harrison, Andrew Agnew and Morgan Crowley, draw haunting new meaning out of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.”

Andrew Agnew also chooses “Being Alive” from “Company”. Sondheim’s lyrics of love end: “Make me confused/ Mock me with praise/ Let me be used/ Vary my days/ But alone is alone, not alive.” That is truth.

The devisers of the programme have cannily kept their best in reserve. When the standing audience calls for an encore Marion Campbell has “I’ve Know Where I’ve Been” ready. It is a number that speaks in a way that is greater by degree than the song itself. The only downside to its greatness of delivery and spirit is that “One Day More” from “Les Miserables” thins in comparison.

Anthony Williams is MC. Occasionally he trades a little banter with Marion Campbell. He cracks a one-liner at his own expense. He has had to stand in once for the part of Wilbur. That too he did “without any notes.” But in the main he sticks to what matters, the performer, the song, where it comes from. Sitting to the side of the stage he is on occasion lit up by the light from the giant aerosols that house the band. When it occurs he looks the happiest man on earth.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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