I sometimes think there are no depths to which I will not sink in a blatant attempt to boost my blog reading stats. It’s a well known fact, or ought to be, that I am not a big musical fan. And on my very short personal list of the best of them, you will search hard to find any by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Too comfy for my tastes. So two hours of their wall to wall lyrical songs, without even a hint of narrative, hardly suggests a ticket that I was going to get too excited about. But Harpenden Light Operatic Society has never had my interfering snout pushed into their musical trough and I thought it was about time. My blogging is local theatre and you don’t get more local than this. And besides I am long enough in the teeth to know that how you serve things up is all. I was once reluctantly dragged, kicking and screaming, to a St Alban’s production of Oliver and came out so gobsmacked by its inventiveness that I immediately booked to see it again. Critics are like that. Ever so fickle.
I can’t say I saw much of that directorial wizardry in A Grand Night for Singing. Sally Davis, director and choreographer, played it all with a pretty straight bat. The simple black and bare nightclub set heavily relied on lots of white lights and colourful ladies dresses to add the required zing. Any show needs a bit more than that to float my theatrical boat. This steady stream of pleasant songs, unimaginatively linked, contained no theatrical surprises.. Not engaged by a complete and all consuming experience, I sat back and cherry picked the pieces. Dick and Oscar would have done the same.
Thankfully there was enough good singing, both collectively and individually, to make my twelve quid money well spent. Twenty four if you include an impecunious companion. I may be a sniffy theatre buff, got pictures of Rattigan and Ibsen on one of my walls, but I know a good tune, well sung, when I fall over it. When the thirty odd performers combined in stirring renditions of A Grand Night for Singing, I Have Dreamed, and Some Enchanted Evening even this old cynic tingled. Those colourfully dressed gals and the black costumed waiter boys can certainly belt out a song when they get together. And stand-in Musical Director Graham Thomson belted it all out with them. I like this man. He enjoys what he does and my untrained musical ear pleasingly flaps at his baton waving.
Individually it gets a bit more tricky. This is where you find out, if you didn’t already know, where my critical faculties lie. I loved Mary Watkinson’s The Gentleman Is A Dope. Beautifully sung with an evocative and earthy tone which ticked all my boxes and I give similar brownie points to Liz Firmin’s intelligent and amusing rendition of It’s Me. Excellent singers both and with an inner depth of controlled acting, one sad, one comic, that my Ibsen portrait would appreciate. I also had a lot of time for Chris Eagles and Pete Town, flashy cummerbunds both, for all of what they did. Mr Eagles sang beautifully, especially We Kiss in a Shadow, and Mr Town both sang and danced his Honeybun with consummate style. A bit off a show off, but hey he has the talent so why not, and both these chaps showed they were not one offs with a superbly combined All At Once You Love Her.
It is interesting, to me at any rate, that most of the singled out songs are from shows I do not know. Ignorant beast. It may partly explain why I was not totally enamoured of If I Loved You (Claire Millens) or Maria (Adam Briffett). The former is one of the few R and H songs that I adore and the latter belongs to those bloody nuns. Both performers were up against my expectations. Not easy to compete with that. But elsewhere I got immense pleasure from Nova Horley and Brian Woods in Parent Medley, and each proved it was no fluke with their respective renditions of Something Wonderful and This Nearly Was Mine. Magnificent voices and stage presence from both of them. I can’t sing, and listening to these two, I wished I could and was glad I can’t. Good singing gets you like that.
So it was a funny sort of evening for me. No, I did not get that theatrical buzz that I constantly seek and desire. Sally Davis needed to pull up those choreographical socks of imagination much firmer for that. The occasional try for comedy didn’t really work and only Ms Watkinson and Kay Ward (It Might As Well Be Spring) came anywhere near it. But Mr Thomson led his band with verve and the lighting boys, forgiving the odd missed spot, lit with sparkly style. And the gal’s costumes, colourful as a spring garden, were never less than satisfying. My impecunious companion (extra twelve quid) thought so. And she is harder to please than me. She don’t blog but, if she did, it would be a much more incisive read than this. Me? I only know Ibsen. Roy Hall