This weekend, QQ’s taken a break from London life to head up north to see my youngest brother performing in his first musical. John has taken pretty much all of the dramatic genes in our family. A fair smattering also passed to my middle brother, who is a rather excellent jazz musician (check out https://soundcloud.com/mulhollandjive to see what I mean. I’m not biased – he’s really good!). But the dramatic, performance genes seem to have missed me completely. The idea of acting, singing or – most terrifyingly of all – dancing – on stage in front of an audience is the stuff of nightmares for me. But even though I’ve no desire to be on-stage myself, I do love going to the theatre. This makes London the perfect place to be. I have my pick of theatre, from high-energy musicals to Shakespeare, from interactive comedies featuring up-and-coming talent to theatrical classics starring some of the acting world’s brightest lights, and everything in between. However, I don’t see much from the world of am-dram. The word conjures up quite negative images of small-town wannabees in homemade costumes, singing off-key and sporting accents that wander wildly across the four corners of the globe in the space of a single scene. But my brother is trying to get started in the musical theatre industry and when he invited us to come and see his turn as Jeter in Footloose, the boy and I booked our tickets and were on our way to Salford’s Robert Powell Theatre.
The production was a collaboration between Dance4Life Theatre Company (www.d4ltheatrecompany.co.uk) and Almost Famous, the University of Salford’s drama society (www.almostfamoustheatre.com). From the moment the curtain opened and the band launched into the familiar opening notes of the theme song, it was clear that these performers were anything but amateur.
As city-boy Ren, Bradley Cross gave a performance that was pitch-perfect throughout. He perfectly conveyed Ren’s youthful idealism and naivety and also displayed real sensitivity in the show’s quieter moments and particularly during his final confrontation with Jack Pybus’ Reverend Moore. Cross was well matched by leading lady Amy Jane Ollies, who was a spirited Ariel. In a cast full of strong female vocalists, Ollies stood out as a particularly bright light, as did Enola Dyer as Ariel’s friend, Rusty. Dyer’s version of Let’s Hear it for the Boy was a real highlight – a powerhouse performance that saw her showcase some very impressive vocal acrobatics. Strong support also came from Natalie Graham as Ethel, and Alison Donohue as Vi.
Anthony Bartlett gave a great comedy turn as the bumbling but kind-hearted Willard, and his performance of Mama Says (along with Cross, Ben Gray, Adam Manning, and yes, I have to declare bias here, John Mulholland) was another highlight, blending tight harmonies with slick choreography to great effect. The choreography throughout was excellent and credit here goes to Emma France (who also directed the production), Lauren Sanderson and Anna Hickling. With a talented orchestra under the capable direction of Simon Oliver, a simple but effective set designed by Alex Adamson, and director France getting the best out of every cast member, this was a thoroughly entertaining, and hugely professional show.
Sadly, the current run has now finished, however the Footloose cast will hopefully be reuniting later in the year to play 10 additional dates in Manchester (details TBC). The show is a must-see and the perfect opportunity to catch some musical theatre stars of the future in action.
Quirk-o-metre rating: *****
(As this is my first review, I guess I should explain my quirky rating system!)
***** = Quintessentially Quirky
****= Really rather wonderfully quirky
*** = Quite quirky
** = Brief moments of quirkiness
* = Not very quirky at all