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Orpheus in the Underworld


Creaky libretto allows talents to shine.

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), March 3, 2004.

Set in a hyper-idealised Venice and the fictitious Mediterranean island-kingdom of Barataria, this fantasy is a typical Gilbert and Sullivan by the Showtime Singers.  It's replete with improbable coincidences, a predictable revelation, multiple fortuitously averted misalliances and a rousing finale.

The Gondoliers is a difficult piece to cast, as, like many G&S operettas, it has no clear 'lead' role and many substantial principal ones.  The titular gondoliers, played by Gwilym Edwards and Daniel Price, were talented, confident singers.
Edwards's robust baritone and broad comic acting nicely complemented Price's clearer tenor voice and quietly melancholic pose.  The sadistic Grand Inquisitor of Spain (Huw Evans) and his foil, the cowardly, cash-strapped Duke of Plaza-toro (John Edwards) could have been played with more Ricardian malice and pomposity, respectively, but sang well. Evans and Edwards's delivery of Gilbert's tongue-twister lyrics was impressively enunciated.  As the Duchess of Plaza-toro, Cecily Morgan was appropriately haughty and passive-aggressive by turns.  As her daughter, Casilda, Sarah Taylor was passionately self-willed rather than merely 'cute', a trap into which the two other ingenues, helped by Gilbert's cloying lyrics, often fell.

The set was primarily a two-dimensional backdrop affair, evidently nostalgic for the play's original production context.
First presented in 1889, with hits such as The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado in hindsight, The Gondoliers was well received in London and New York.  In its time, it was the most financially successful of the duo's 'Savoy Operas'. Now, however, the script seems formulaic, plodding, and deficient in logic and urgency. Gilbert dabbles in what must have been risk-free political drama. The Venetian pretenders to the Baratarian throne wax nostalgic for their fallen Republic, and so try to institute Republican values in Barataria.  They are easily bamboozled into doing all the household chores for their ungrateful, idle subjects.  However, the creaky libretto allowed the Showtime Singers to show off Arthur Sullivan's score and the talents of over 60 Aberystwyth-area singers, musicians and other artists. In that aim, the production largely succeeded.

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet


Nice Acting, shame about the Band

Hello Dolly, Aberystwyth Arts Centre, March 20, 2007

The Showtime Singers are, of course, a regular annual fixture on the Arts Centre stage, and this year was no different as this fearless band of performers brought us their interpretation of the classic musical extravaganza “Hello Dolly”.

The story of loves found and gained through the machinations of widowed matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi, all within the environs of the day of New York’s 14th Street Parade in 1900, was set on a stage which was fairly sparse of set for the most part – a few flats here and there were decorated according to the setting required, with a bare, curtained off forestage being put to great effect as a generic ‘street’ environment. Lighting was basic, but more than adequate, while costuming was at all times fitting, even one memorable day-glo cocktail dress!

Joanne Julier had directed her cast quite well, and choreographer Rachl West had done simple wonders with the dance routines. All of the above were executed with varying, but always watchable and entertaining, levels of skill by the extremely enthusiastic cast – principals and chorus – and came together in an interesting and entertaining series of portrayals.

Huw Evans was a satisfyingly curmudgeonly Horace Vandergelder, the wealthy hay and feed merchant that Dolly has her own eye on. In fairly consistently fine voice, Evans acquitted himself well throughout and provided a solidity and focus for all his scenes.

Likewise Julie McNicholls who, as lovelorn widow, milliner Irene Molloy, conducted herself with flirty good humour and an excellent singing voice. She was ably assisted by Heather Cheeseman as Minnie, who was also highly watchable throughout.

Irene and Minnie’s two beaus – Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker were also quite entertaining. Andrew Hutchings as Cornelius was obviously enthusiastic and in reasonable voice, though his diction let him down at moments, especially in spoken dialogue. Daniel Sweeney as Barnaby is possessed of an exceptional singing voice, but his spoken dialogue and acting out of songs was a little patchy, though, again, his enthusiasm was evident.

Mention should also be made of young Llew Evans who gave his all throughout, and in the most energetic fashion, both in the chorus, and as the young waiter Stanley. Also, local dramatic trouper John Corfield in a memorable cameo as the local judge, and Sue Jenkins as Ernestina Money, a wealthy heiress, both of whom were never less than deeply entertaining.

But it was Judy Jenkins who rightly stole the show with her portrayal of Dolly. With a playful, impish spirit and a goosebump-inducingly pure, fine voice, she carried the audience with her from start to finish.

Unfortunately, all these fantastic performances were tarnished by an orchestra which left a lot to be desired. Though there was evidence of pockets of great talent, thir cohesion and attention wandered and Musical Director Wynford Jones seemed unable to haul it back into place. This lack of cohesion led to a number of appallingly bad sections – out of tune, out of time and out of place. Indeed, in one sorry sequence, they tailed off altogether. When they hit proper harmony, they sounded well, but even then their pace was less than was required. The bright and breezy “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” was rendered into a slow to mid-pace dirge which took a lot away from the atmosphere in the performance. Even the title number was at an unforgivably slow pace, even with build-ups taken into account.

However, the disappointment I felt with the show because of the orchestra should be tempered by my delight at many of the performances I saw. This was an entertaining show, put on with a lot of enthusiasm, but ultimately let down by its accompanists. Congratulations, however, to Ms. Julier and her team.

Reviewed by Paddy Cooper


The Mikado

Aberystwyth Showtime Singers, Aberystwyth Arts Centre, February 8, 2008.

On arriving at Aberystwyth Arts Centre I must admit that I had a fear of foreboding entering the Theatre. I had been convinced to see the Showtime Singers rendition of Gilbert and Sullivan's operatic delight 'The Mikado'. After seeing last years feeble attempt at 'Hello Dolly' I was not prepared to enjoy myself or be the least bit impressed. However, my upturned nose was severely knocked out of joint! It was a amusingly put together, gem filled, side busting extravaganza which I dare anyone not to enjoy.

With a vibrant and colourful set and stunning costumes the production was like an elegant box of chocolates which were ready to be devoured in excess.

Although it had the traditional first night jitters and the odd unsure chorus member, on the whole I thought the production was a triumph. The overture was rather long winded and I thought only prolonged the curtain but the Orchestra played wonderfully. The odd dropped note which was only to be expected were easily forgiven and forgotten. The chorus of a lot more women than men, were a choir of powerful and tuneful voices. One or two members (or 7 or 8) obviously did not let themselves react as others did, which became more noticeable throughout. A few members of the ladies chorus especially were obviously enjoying their 2 hours of fame and my eye kept drawing to them. Both young and old stood well side by side holding the thread of the play together beautifully.

My only problem with the piece was the some times odd staging and very uncomfortable choreography which on very few occasions would gain a reprieve from my angst as the company made these conformed, and dull gestures become exciting. The direction lacked motive and pizzazz but this was of little consequence when the actors hit the stage.

Jamie Harris played the 'wondering minstrel' 'Nanki-poo'. This boy has stacks of potential and his singing voice was glorious. His comedic timing and delivery of his lines were adequate but his generalized actions and bad attempts at scene stealing were more annoying than enjoyable. That said, I think in time he will be a great addition to the acting community. He was no match however, for the angelic and delightful Heather Cheeseman. With the voice and face of an angel she brought every quality that you would expect 'Yum Yum' to have to the stage. She was magnificently supported by Yvonne Gulley as 'Peep Bo' and Lowri Mair as 'Pitti-sing'. Their scenes as a threesome were charming and their trio singing 'Three Little Maids' was one of the highlights of the show.

John Gilbey playing 'Pooh-Bah' was pure genius. His character had an apprehension and gentleness which provided a multitude of titters and giggles. Paul Keyworth's portrayal of 'KoKo' was devine. His comedic timing and melodic voice were perfect for the Lord High Executioner. The audience went on a journey with him and we often felt his dismay at losing Pitti-sing, (even if it was intending to marry his young ward) and his disgust at being convinced to woo Katisha.

This brings me wonderfully on to the epic performance of Rachel Crane who played the evil, hateful and supposedly aged 'Katisha'. From the second she stepped on to the stage to the moment the curtain fell she was a powerful force to be reckoned with. Her characterisation was flawless; although hints of Hyacinth Bouquet were heard in her faux English accent they were perfectly placed and timed to perfection. Without a doubt Miss Crane had the most melodic and powerful voice which almost drew me to tears during her Act 2 solo. Along with Keyworth's 'KoKo' together they stole the show. Miss Crane would rival the leading ladies of the West End, I would be more than happy to travel to London and pay an extortionate price to watch her performance again. The Showtime Singers have found a diamond. I predict that many directors will be fighting for her to be in their shows both for her acting and singing abilities. She is an asset to the Aberystwyth stage and we can only hope that she is here for a long time yet.

The Mikado provided one of the most enjoyable nights I have had in the theatre for a very long time. I urge audiences to flock to the Aberystwyth Arts Centre and watch the delightful comedic romp of an Opera.

Reviewed by Paul Hodges


Showtime Singers' latest production: the Mikado

Friday, 8 February 2008

Alex Gilbey is a regular performer at the Arts Centre and English student at Aberystwyth University. He went along to see the opening performance of The Mikado last night. Here's what he thought...

As shows go, this one is long on details. Complex score, intricate plot and fiendish libretto combine to give an incredible spectacle when done right. Pitching up on the first night I was prepared for the occasional slip in character or fluffed line. Ten minutes in I gave up looking and settled back to enjoy the performance. After a brief and accomplished overture from Wynford Jones' orchestra the curtain rolled up to reveal a Japanese courtyard while the chorus launched into the first song.

Scenery was basic and remained unchanged throughout. A set of stairs leading to an upper level gave the setting some depth and the stage was framed by the backdrop of a Japanese arch. This along with an oriental statue and a fibreglass rock gave some tone without distracting attention away from the performances. Performances there were in plenty. Subtlety had been dispensed with in favour of large characters and larger songs and I can't say I missed it. With a horde of kimono bedecked chorus members looking on and setting the mood wonderfully, the leads began to make their appearances. Ranging in age from student to non-student they pulled together to produce a spectacle that held the audience rapt.

Taking in doomed love, resurrected lovers, hugely corrupt characters, ineffective executioners and God knows what else, with tunes you can hum all the way home, the play took the audience along with it whether they wanted to go or not. If you don't know the basic shape of the thing, then it would take far too long to describe it here. Think of it as musical comedy with a cast of characters scrambling to avoid being married, discovered or beheaded and voicing their irritation in incredibly funny songs. Props were few and far between, usually consisting of letters, lists and an executioners axe that the executioner feels unqualified to use. Costume however was eye catching, with kimonos in every colour of the rainbow and false beards with lives of their own. With the full chorus on stage this gave an exceptionally vibrant look to the thing, but one that reflected back onto the characters.

Criticisms are few and minor. As was to be expected on the first night of a play this complex there were occasional slips in lines which were quickly glossed over. Perhaps for the same reason the occasional line faded slightly. These however were largely irrelevant and when the orchestra received a terse word of command as the curtain rose on act two, it bought a smile not a frown. Musically the show was triumphant. Gilbert and Sullivan were (are) universally renowned and occasionally reviled for complexity in words and music, and orchestra and singers coped magnificently, with hardly a word lost or (so far as I could tell) a note out of place. There were a few moments when eyes seemed to have glazed over as people recalled their next line while others said theirs, but this disappeared as the show gathered pace.

As per usual I am torn over whether to mention specific names. This being an ensemble piece if one person is named then so must the other be and if them why not everyone? I will however applaud the ladies and gentlemen of the chorus, the Director Joanne Julier and the Musical Director Wynford Jones. And these shall be the only names mentioned, unless, to paraphrase, I am insulted with a substantial bribe. This seems unlikely. On that note then, go and watch it for yourself. You'll certainly enjoy it more than reading a review of it. Far more musical.

Reviewed by Alex J Gilbey, Aberystwyth


The Courier is behind the scenes at... The Mikado

The Courier, Issue 59.4, March 2008.

The Mikado, ever since it was first staged has been the most popular of Gilbert and Sullivan's operattas, and so it follows that it is the one most staged by community groups.  Am Dram productions are usually viewed with a pinch of proverbial salt: audience preconceptions are that amateur groups don't have access to the kinds of resources and range of performers which professional companies do.  These are attitudes which the Showtime Singers' production team set out to challenge with our production of The Mikado.

Rehearsals started in October, and the show dates seemed a long time away. Problem was, as soon as we’d got the basics of the show together, with only one or two rehearsals a week, we’d stopped for Christmas.  However, returning after the break and realising the show was only a few weeks away, efforts were doubled and it all fell into place by the dress rehearsal. 

Production week was pretty hectic: Sunday was a dress rehearsal in costume and we saw how the wardrobe mistress, Margaret, managed to transform curtains into kimonos. Monday was the band rehearsal in the chapel, which is important because, as Wynford our conductor said, if you’re singing along with a piano, the pianist can follow the singer, whereas with an orchestra, the singer has to keep in time with them. Tuesday we had the tech rehearsal, to make sure the kimonos weren’t transparent under the lights. It was also the first rehearsal in the actual performance space, so we could work out exactly how we should move around, up and down stairs, around the lion and the rest of it. Wednesday was the dress rehearsal and then Thursday was the big first night. It went well and got better with every performance (Friday evening, Saturday afternoon and evening). By the end we were all buzzing.

We had the most amazing production team.   Wynford, the musical director, demanded precision in tune, timing and volume, whilst playfully abusing the exceptionally talented répétitrice, Elenid.  Dawn, the production manager, showed the patience of a saint working through blocking and providing fans, then replacing them when they got broken.  Our director, Jo, laid the groundwork, was there for almost every rehearsal, bringing it all together and was still smiling by the end of it.

The Chorus had such a wonderful dynamic and the atmosphere in the dressing room throughout was cheerful, with everyone helping each other with wigs and pinning kimonos. Unfortunately, as is always the way, the woman outnumbered the men about three to one. Any guys out there: you are desperately needed in musical theatre! All credit to the guys though they worked extra hard to make up for lack of numbers. The women all looked lovely in geisha-gear, and the town women had pretty parasols, much coveted by the school girls.

We had a great deal of fun and put on a very entertaining show.  There's nothing quite like the fun of satging a musical and it was worth the hard work.  The production team in particular deserve a huge amount of credit for the time they put in.  Being involved in a production really makes you understand just how hard the people behind the scenes work.


Reviewed by Madeleine Johnson


Alex reviews Orpheus in the Underworld

Friday 27th March 2009

A quasi-mythical semi-epic extravaganza, played out on a set like a Technicolor acid flashback. Jacques Offenbach's take on the legend of Orpheus delivers the unexpected, the extroverted and the just plain strange.

The legend of Orpheus is one of the classic Greek myths: the superbly talented musician who tragically looses the love of his life, descends to hell to rescue her and looses her again though the small print of his deal with Pluto. This version is a little different.

Things open on a hillside, where Calliope, muse of epic poetry, is patrolling the fields to ensure that everything happens as the legends say they must. Orpheus (violin teacher) and his wife Eurydice cannot stand the sight of each other and are each merrily carrying on their own affairs.
Orpheus discovers his wife dalliances with the shepherd Aristaeus and responds by populating the fields with snakes. She is promptly bitten and her lover reveals himself to be Pluto, Lord Of The Underworld. She, of course, is overjoyed and the two of them set off down to hell.

Orpheus discovers that his wife is dead and is overjoyed. However, before he can start celebrating, Calliope informs him that the legend says he must rescue his beloved. With great reluctance he is dragged of to heaven, to beg the gods to intercede on his behalf.

On Mount Olympus, we meet the Gods. The majority of them are asleep, the exceptions being Cupid (off making mischief), Mercury (off looking for Cupid), Venus (watching over mortal lovers) and Diana (looking for her mortal lover and finding him nowhere). Things awake as Diana returns. She has been off looking for her admirer Actaeon and is not best pleased to discover that Jupiter, the king of the Gods, has turned him into a stag to save her reputation. This leads to some discussion of Jupiter's propensity toward seducing mortals while disguised as animals and eventually leads to a strike. However, with Orpheus' arrival things settle down as everyone looks forward to a trip down to hell.

Act Two and we find Eurydice locked up and bored to tears with only Pluto's valet John Styx for company. The Gods arrive and Jupiter, true to form, promptly seduces Eurydice while in the form of a fly. There is then a short party (including the famous gallop infernale, better known as the can can) before Calliope eventually gets the gods to honour the legend.
Jupiter responds by restoring Orpheus' wife to him. While this isn't a popular decision, when you're a god there are few things that cannot be fixed with a quick thunderbolt.

There the show. I'll get to the acting later, but first the production. Lavish. The initial set (Countryside) was like something out of a Walt Disney fever dream. Mount Olympus was…white. Very white. And hell could not easily have been mistaken for anywhere else. To add to this, the costumes. There was a huge variation between the gods, ranging from the traditional toga and laurel leaves to Jupiter's southern gentleman outfit.
Likwise in hell, anything you like as long as it’s black and red. And it was great. Every time you looked there was a new detail you'd missed the last time. And there were some spectacular transformations. Several of the chorus members were in three costumes during the show. And Jupiter's transformation into an 'uncommonly handsome fly' is one for B-movie history.

And the orchestra also deserve a lot of praise. Much of the production is sung-through. A lot of the dialogue is underscored. There is a lot of incidental music. None of it could be described as easy. Congratulations all round, particularly to Jules Riley, Orpheus ' stunt violinist.

There were some problems. I caught the odd fluffed line, but more than this, there were several chorus numbers which were indistinct bordering on undecipherable. Things picked up as the play moved on, but there were times when you knew that something was getting lost.

On the other hand, there were some truly great set-pieces which involved everyone on stage. The scene where the God's go out on strike is particularly memorable. And of course there’s the final dance, where Gods and Demons dance the Can-Can. Now that's mythology.

Acting wise? There wasn't any call for much acting. Broad strokes and big gestures. It all worked just fine and who needs subtlety in a comedy?
Everyone could assume the bored/singing/scheming/lecherous expressions and that's all that was needed. The prize goes to Heather Cheeseman who pulled of some spectacular vocal coups as Eurydice. Also honourable mentions to Jamie Harris as Orpheus and John Gilbey as Jupiter. I also must mention Llew Evans and Gwawr Keyworth as Mercury and Cupid respectively.

Conclusion? A completely off the wall play which was also exceedingly watchable. I'd go and see it again. If you haven't yet please do.

Reviewed by Alex Gilby