Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Review of Graduate Showcase (MADD) at The Criterion Theatre London

Graduate Showcase for MADD college Nottingham students at The Criterion Theatre. May 11th 2015.

The Criterion Theatre in London's West End is one of the most beautiful and characterful theatres I have ever seen. Echoing with the energy of its current production of The 39 Steps the empty stage is set for the twenty-five young graduates of Nottingham's MADD (Midlands Academy of Dance and Drama) to showcase their triple threat talents. Industry agents sit in the circle eager to see what special talents await them. Music pulses. The house lights go down and an hour long extravaganza begins.

Directed by Emma Clayton, the showcase is a musically bright mix of ensemble numbers, solos and duets interspersed with short explosive hits of comedy and drama all knitted together with cleverly thought through transitions. The transitions give the showcase a fluid and unified feel and keep the pace going throughout.

The main ensemble numbers Thoroughly Modern Millie, and the finale number 'Transylvania Mania' – Young Frankenstein (Mel Brooks) demonstrate the students highly trained professional musical focus and unselfish performances. The energy is strong in both pieces, the vocal clarity pin sharp and the two sections are choreographically tight. With only an hour to prove themselves both ends of the showcase start and finish with colourful fun and pizazz.

Then, during the show, we witness the shorter single sex ensembles both from South Pacific by Rogers and Hammerstein. The seven guys singing 'There is Nothin' Like A Dame' all deliver spot on performances vital in a piece where just one performer with poorer diction can ruin the feel of it. Not so with these guys and they really look like they are having tremendous fun with the song and delivering it professionally.

Also from South Pacific we have the other end of the sexual argument with the eleven female performers oozing sweet femininity offset by gutsy determination with their strong rendition of 'I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair' . Already we have performances from two musical theatre shows from the past. In an age of theatrical entertainment, there are demands for a varied style mix of shows in the West End and throughout the UK. Where nostalgic classics can prove a real box office draw and become critical hits it is crucial that today's students are versatile enough to be able to audition and perform to suit the period nature of the piece. These Midlands based students have no fear here and can hold their best alongside the London based schools. The standard is extremely high.

Built into the programme there are short scenes from drama based works. Mostly, these are of a comedic nature and actor Benjamin Hart proves that comedy is often best done as a serious business to gain the laughs. He demonstrates his straight faced comedy best alongside the versatile Matthew Brock in Hit and Run created by David Dalton and Chad Schnackel. Holly Wathall and Jessica Gilbert are both hilarious in Sloppy Mouth and totally all out brave in the execution of the physical comedy.

Benjamin Hart
Certain comedy needs to be shown as an heightened form of reality, non-more-so than in the audition based piece 'You Laughing At Me'. In the showcase this is pulled off well by actors Savanna Darnell, Sadie Renée Malo and Frances Alicia. In a theatrical environment with an audience of theatre folk this particular piece goes down a treat especially because it is so well done, including the deliberately bad Laarndan accent.

Out of all the comedy pieces 'Over The Edge', (written by David Dalton and Chad Schnackel) performed with wit and alacrity by Leanne Storey, Harriet Guard and Francis Alicia is beautifully done. The focus on the invisible car about to be 'helped' over the edge of a cliff is so well judged one believes in the car and the comedy responses by the women when they realise the man inside isn't dead are - to die for.

Kennedy Faith
With the one serious piece of drama namely Two by Jim Cartwright actors Joshua -Kyle Cantrill and Kennedy Faith put a dangerous edge to this scary piece about chauvinistic manipulation. At times it is so unbearably cruel that one wants to leap up in protection of the woman. Of course Cartwright's writing is darkly affecting but the bravery and treatment of it by the actors and their director make it really live. Kyle Cantrill and Faith perform this piece with extremely mature and courageous performances.

Joshua Kyle-Cantrill
The modern dance performance Joie De Vie (Natalia Kills/Rihanna) fully demonstrates the commitment and talent to dance by the MADD students that brought such admiration and applause from the audience at the Move It dance expo recently. Dance done as good as this is never easy but these dedicated students make the finished result look effortless. This is due to the natural talents nurtured to a fine point by the professional training they receive at MADD college.

The showcase is littered with quality solo songs all sung to a very professional standard. Amongst these are Sondheim's 'Broadway Baby' sung by Rebecca Telling plus two numbers from Thoroughly Modern Millie –  'Gimmie Gimmie' sung by Holly Wathall and the jazzy 'Only In New York' given a great smoky vocal treatment by Summer Rozenbroek. The Calamity Jane classic 'Secret Love' is a hit for student Jessica Gilbert and Lauren Hart finds the camp humour in 'It's Hard To Tell' – Soho Cinders. She is helped by the funny interpretations of the men completing the feel of the piece.

The duets don't go by unnoticed either particularly when done with such style. Kennedy Faith with Thomas Adam Monk express well the musically challenging style of Jason Robert Brown through his wry comic song 'A Summer In Ohio'. Daniel Fuins and Matthew Brock find the total silliness in 'We Can Do It' from Mel Brooks' The Producers.

Real charisma on stage is that undefinable thing borne of natural talents encouraged and honed, coupled with an innate gift for heartfelt interpretation. In a cast of twenty-five clearly talented students destined to do the MADD college proud in the theatrical arts sector two students for this reviewer stood out. Sadie Marie – Ebbon and Savanna Darnell.

Both of them are excellent in their comedy roles but more especially in their solo songs. Sadie Marie-Ebbon pulls the heart-strings with her touching and polished rendition of Marc Shaiman's 'Fly, Fly Away – Catch Me If You Can'. In her interpretation she brings out much of the song's tender feeling. At times, during her mesmerising presentation I am reminded of a younger Frances Ruffelle. A very confident piece.

Sadie Marie Ebbon
With another song by Marc Shaiman – this time from the popular musical Hairspray - Savanna Darnell brings all of her character's smoky soul filled glamour to the stage with 'I Know Where I've Been'. Darnell is most certainly one to watch and judging from the audience's whooping and cheering reaction today they could have watched her and listened to her sing all night.

Savanna Darnell
In this sparkling and packed showcase of twenty-nine pieces featuring twenty-five young talents this reviewer can only applaud the work that has gone into its presentation at one of London's most historic theatres. It is impossible to mention everyone for everything in a short review but given the excellent professional standards experienced today many of the students could graduate and achieve lengthy careers in the arts.

Praise should also be given to Principal Frances Clayton and all the supremely dedicated staff/tutors at MADD for showing that there is great young talent to be nurtured in the Midlands.

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