National Operatic & Dramatic Association London Region Society 

Marlow Amateur Operatic Society Production : BACK TO THE 80s

Date : Saturday 15th March 2014

Venue : Shelley Theatre, Court Garden, Marlow

Report by : Gordon Bird, NODA Representative, Area 14

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Report:

I was pleased to be invited to see MAOS performance of the jukebox musical, BACK TO THE 80s. The musical, script written by Neil Gooding with revised orchestration arrangements by Brett Foster, has not, to my knowledge, been performed professionally in the UK, but remains very popular for the amateur stage. It has many well known 80s tunes that immediately transport the audience back to a previous decade. The story is narrated by Corey Palmer Senior in 2001 who acts as our narrator through his time at the 1989 graduating class of William Ocean High School.

 

 

Having grown up during the 1980s, I have an issue with accuracy with a lot of the items that are featured in the show and this did irritate me. Looking back from a safe distant of 2014, the ten years of the 80s have been merged into a single year which often happens with a decade. For example, CDs were widely available prior to 1989, rubic cubes, space invaders, star wars were a distant memory come the end of that decade. Even the songs stretch the beyond the decade (Video Killed the Radio Star being a number one hit in 1979). But, I appreciate that it is more of a “spirit” of the decade rather than any actual factual relevance, and put my own qualms about the script to one side.

 

Just because I have reservations about the script, it did not prevent me from enjoying another excellent MAOS production which had plenty of energy and enthusiasm. It has some excellent individual performances, promising debuts, and dance sequence that looked more energetic than those exercise videos! However, I felt this production lacked the usual vibrant energy that I have witnessed on my previous visits. I would like to stress that this is more to do with the script than then performers; the dancing was once again physically exhausting to watch (let alone to participate) and looked visually interesting. A bare set was interestingly enhanced with use of lighting and clever use of blocks that goes to show with imagination how a simple set can work. The principal parts on the whole performed their songs well, with an understanding of their parts.

 

JONATHAN HEARD (COREY PALMER SENIOR) Jonathan performed the part of the 2001 Corey, acting as narrator who pops up now and again to explain the background to the scene. This device is used quite a lot in musical theatre (one can immediately think of the narrator in Blood Brothers as an example). It is commonly used to move the plot along or help explain something to the audience. But I felt the character slowed the pace down and given that he was speaking from 2001, now some 13 years in our past, it seemed out of place. This is clearly not Jonathan’s fault – as he performed his role admirably. His singing was particularly impressive, especially in You Give Love a Bad Name and Final Countdown. His accent was maintained throughout the show. Given that his character only interacts with audience and never with those on stage is quite difficult, but his performance was quite exceptional – so well done. 

 

LAWRENCE GILLMAN (COREY PALMER JUNIOR) This was a very different role to his last appearance for MAOS, this time playing the rather geeky Corey Junior, a nervous and awkward 17 year old. I think it is always difficult to play parts outside one’s own age range, but Lawrence produced a creditable teenager. He picked out the characteristics perfectly. Considering the lack of rehearsal time, Lawrence did very well indeed. In fact, until I read that note in the programme I did not know - which is a huge compliment to your performance, as all lines seemed to be accurately delivered and cues picked up. I did note that you were blocked after the Footloose number as all the action was up stage but there were something going up down stage. This is probably more for the director, but I would have swapped the two groups over so that we could see you in the full.

 

ANDREW BUSTIN (ALF BUELLER)

PAUL HARRIS (KIRK KEATON)

These two worked well as Corey’s friends. ANDY continued his impressive performance from Our House with a good character in this show. He looked comfortable and sung well in Don’t Worry Be Happy/Come on Eileen. PAUL has excellent comic timing and used this to very good effect. He looked relaxed into his character and produced some wonderful comic moments. Along with Lawrence, Andrew and Paul performed Don’t Worry Be Happy/Come on Eileen very well indeed. 

 

SUZANNA CORNISH (TIFFANY HOUSTON)

SARAH-JANE GILLMAN (CYNDI GIBSON)

KATIE NEWELL (MEL EASTON)

SAM CLEAVER (KIM EASTON) The popular school girls were clearly defined by these four actresses. Their characters are a little clichéd, but nonetheless, they were understandable and obvious. I felt the opening number was a little off key, and I wondered if there was any sound feedback to those on stage? The reason I raise this because (I think it was Katie who started Kids in America) had a difficult start, being set at the back of the stage and if you could not hear the orchestra, then it would have clearly affect her performance. As it is, I thought all of the singing thereafter was fine (no issues in Mickey, for example).

SUZANNA produced a good performance as the popular girl in school and the object of Corey junior’s love interest. I was impressed with her singing, and loved the blend of voices in Lost In Your Eyes with HEATHER. KATIE and SAM acted well as the twins and on the whole sung well (with the one exception at the beginning of the show, which I feel is more to do with sound not being fed back).  SARAH-JANE played the part of Cyndi well, portraying her materialistic views very well, particularly in the song Material Girl. One point to be careful about is to make sure that you deliver your lines to those on stage with you rather than deliver out front to the audience. You did this a couple of times early in Act one. Otherwise, this was a promising performance by SARAH-JANE. 

 

MARK NEWELL (MICHAEL FIELDMAN)

PHILL ROWLANDS (BILLY ARNOLD)

CURTIS DOWNEY (HUEY JACKSON)

The “cool guys” were performed by Mark, Phill and Curtis. Normally there are four guys (and notice that character of Lionel Astley was not cast). This was not a problem but did mean that some of the numbers lacked a strong male sound. Considering that these three were performing their first ever show on stage, they did superbly well, especially in the male only song, Footloose! I did find PHILL a little to hear at times, especially with dialogue. Remember to deliver all your lines to the back of the hall so it has a chance of being heard beyond the first few rows. Well done to MARK for the election rap – which you delivered very well indeed. A note for future performances, which I hope you will have the confidence now to perform many times in future - make sure that you look out to the audience when signing and not keep your eyes on the conductor! I know it is comfort blanket, but you should only really glance down when needed. It seemed to me that your body was saying one thing, whilst your eyes something else. The audience want to see all your face and see your feelings/reactions etc. This was particularly noticeable in Get Outta My Dreams (Get Into My Car) when I so desperately wanted to understand what you feeling. This is a small point in what I thought, for a debut, was an encouraging performance, and look forward to seeing you in future shows.

 

RHYS WYN EVANS (FEARGAL MCFERRIN III)

HEATHER MORGAN (EILEEN REAGAN)

LAUREN CUBITT (LAURA WILD)

RACHEL DIXON (DEBBIE FOX) The quartet of “nerds” performed their characters well. RHYS looked particularly geeky in his glasses and had some lovely mannerisms. There were times, specifically early on, when he spoke too quickly which made it difficult to understand all that was being said. Be aware of this and slow down the delivery, even in character parts, so that every word is heard. Other than this, Rhys performed an impressive performance and I did so enjoy Video Killed the Radio Star. The LAUREN, RACHEL and HEATHER all did well with their characterisation and their songs were very well performed (I particularly enjoyed Let’s Hear It For The Boy). I have seen HEATHER a couple of times now and have always been impressed how she captures her character, and this was no exception. Her singing once again was a pleasure to hear. LAUREN and RACHEL both produced believable characters as two of the “outcasts”. Well done.

 

LUCY NEWELL (MISS SHEENA BRANNIGAN)

NICK BLANKS (MR STEVIE COCKER)

Personally, I would like to have seen the relationship develop a little between the two teachers, but that is the fault with script and not the performers. These two were well cast, looking like a couple, and both sung superbly. I thoroughly enjoyed Lucy’s performance of Total Eclipse of the Heart (with Corey Junior). You need to be careful with the end of some of your lines as they tend to trail off (mainly in act one and this did improve in the second act). Nick’s Mr Cocker did very well with You Give Love a Bad Name. This was full of character and personality, and I would have liked to have seen that a little more in the overall performance. This was a good pairing.

 

CHORUS A small but effective chorus added to the chorus numbers and danced enthusiastically to their numbers. The movement was in keeping to the production. Exits and entrances were well observed. Each had a character, which I am pleased to see, as so many chorus members just blend into the background. Adding the school cleaner (SHIRLEY JENKINS-PANDYA) and dinner ladies (DEBBIE PALMER and KATY MITCHELL) proved to be a good comic outlet and also added some reality to the scenes.

 

DIRECTOR (PHIL COUCH) The show was very well cast (although, many of the teenagers did look just a little beyond their teenage years – but it worked). Amateur theatres throughout this area struggle with young men, so you are congratulated to find so many – and given that many were making their debuts (or, only their second show), you manage to install some confidence in their performances. Some do need a little more assurance which opportunities like this will only help. Entrances and exits were clearly rehearsed and I liked the idea of using more or less a bare stage with a few props to determine the location, or setting a certain (DSR teachers common room, USC the school hall, DSL school corridor etc). I did feel that this did cause some restrictions, with quite a lot of the action up stage. This meant it was difficult to hear some of the softer speaking members of the cast and some of the action was masked (4) by actors down stage. Overall, the energy levels were mainly high, the characters well defined and clearly, the actors knew what was expected of them.

 

CHOREOGRAPHY (SAMANTHA CLEAVER) I am always impressed with Samantha’s choreography and this show brought to mind all those dance exercise videos that became vogue during the latter part of the 80s. If this was the intention, then it certainly hit home, as I felt exhausted watching you all. I am sure I lost a few pounds! I thought you captured the spirit of the decade perfectly – and set the dances within the capabilities of your cast. MUSICAL DIRECTOR (ANDREW SMITH) I thought Andrew did an excellent job with this cast, considering there was a mixture of highly competent experienced performers and a number of debutants. The balance between the orchestra and singers was by far the best I have witnessed at this theatre – so my huge compliments to the both the musical director for being sensitive to the overall sound and to the technicians who delivered a perfect balance. I did feel for the soloist in the opening number and did wonder if she could not hear any play back from the orchestra (I did not see any speakers) and this may have caused a tuning issue and perhaps this could be investigated for the future.

 

ORCHESTRA It is such a pleasure to hear live orchestrated sound rather than a recorded sound track. I think the sound is richer, and with the skills of the MD, can be sensitive to the singers. I felt the overall sound produced by this orchestra fitted the production impeccably.

 

TECHNICAL DIRECTOR/STAGE MANAGER (RAYMOND MEDHURST) The stage was well managed on the evening I watched this show, with quick scene changes.

 

SET CONSTRUCTION The set was a very simply but effectively decorated. The use of different size blocks offered the opportunity for different levels and also used as a bed and school platform. I liked the theme of the 80s carried through with the boxes painted as rubic cubes. The minimalist set also had several school lockers down stage left that immediately set the location of the show. The backdrop was bare, but different lighting coloured effects were lit to produce an interesting view.

 

LIGHTING DESIGN & OPERATOR (STEWART MASON), LIGHTING PROGRAMMER (TOM SIMS)

Overall, there were some imaginative lighting plots – and I did so enjoy the use of the two gantries, up stage left and right. This gave an impression of a gig – probably intentional, definitely effective. The range of colours was imaginative and captured the moods of the songs very well. There did seem to be some missed cues as there were some actors in darkness (Corey senior was in darkness in act one, for example).

 

SOUND DESIGN AND OPERATION (STEPHAN MEDHURST) Congratulations to the sound team who blended the live orchestra with the mic’d singers perfectly. The auditorium is more of a sports hall and therefore causes some acoustic challenges, but this was by far and away the best sound I have witnessed at this venue. I am sure it must have taken a lot of time and effort, but it was certainly appreciated, as I thoroughly enjoyed the quality of sound.  

 

COSTUMES (PHIL COUCH) Phil did a marvellous job at producing a range of 80s costumes that looked clean, well pressed and appropriate to the period and location. They all seem to fit the actors and perfectly matched their characters. The choice of costumes and characters for the opening of act two (We Are The World) were very well defined. The colourful dresses and matching waistcoats during Time of Your Life was impressive.

 

PROPERTIES (MADELEINE BLAKE) All the properties seemed to be appropriate to the period and location.

 

MAKEUP All the makeup seemed appropriately applied to the characters and I could easily see their expressions under the lights.

 

PROGRAMME The 28 page programme came with a raffle ticket, two glo-sticks and some sweets. I thought this was quite an imaginative idea (and enjoyed my sweets). The programme itself had all the relevant articles – cast list, a list of musical numbers, interesting cast biographies and an advert to their next production. I found the photographs of the cast as they were in the 1980s a lovely idea (and I am so pleased that I did not have to submit one!)

 

FRONT OF HOUSE The busy yet helpful front of house team extended their normal warm greeting to me and my friend. I liked the themed approach – of sweet bags, glo-sticks etc.

 

Although I do not like the show, MAOS once again provided an entertaining and energetic production and I look forward to their next production later in the year.

 

 

Gordon Bird NODA Regional representative London Region, District 14 

Back To The 80's NODA Review

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