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End of Year Musicals at three London Colleges, June 2012
+ the latest ENO opera

Chaplin at Guildhall School of Music & Drama

This was a lavish production, of fully professional quality. Voices were not all fully developed, but the necessary amplification usual with musicals was managed skilfully.

The show itself (Broadway, 1980s) has its longuers and is not really likely to be viable commercially now.

The musical score (Roger Anderson) is routine, the tunes unmemorable, but it was all well put over by the cast and GSMD Orchestra under Steven Edis.

Simon Blackhall [pictured below] had an impossible task representing the early development of the Charlie we all love.

Most impressive was the design, exploiting the full width of the large stage, with videos and clever props (e.g. a liner funnel to represent the journey to USA and Mack Sennet...).

Best were the group numbers with confident movement and lusty singing:

Photo Clive Barda


Two musicals from the Royal Academy of Music Theatre Company

These were both superb entertainments, and a great credit to RAM's Musical Theatre Department.

I found the theme of Promises, Promises (based on the film The Apartment) obnoxious and possibly not ideal for the young women, who however seemed to be enjoying being taken advantage of as exploited pick-ups.

The Pajama Game was by contrast altogether more sophisticated and so well put across that I searched YouTube and found substantial excerpts, with songs from the famous old 1957 film with Doris Day, including There once was a man [R].







McNeff The Secret Garden - UK premiere

Trinity Laban College of Music & Dance's Summer Opera


Composer Stephen McNeff
Director Kelly Robinson Designer Bretta Gerecke
Trinity Laban Symphony Orchestra/Dominic Wheeler

Blackeath Great Hall 4 July 2012

photo – Tas Kyriacou

The Secret Garden (previously a highly successful Broadway musical) was shown "sort-of in the round" for its UK premiere in the body of Blackheath's Great Hall, which made for audibility problems.

Full marks to Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance for staying clear of standard repertoire and introducing us to an unfamiliar work for its annual Summer Opera production.

It has a story line about Mary Lennox (Louise Fuller), an English orphan girl transplanted from the loving care of her Indian ayah to a bleak family house in Yorkshire, where she behaves obnoxiously and quickly makes herself unpopular with the servants.

Unsocialised and distressed, she befriends the gardener (Matthew Straw), who impressed with his well focussed voice.

The orchestra was exemplary under Dominic Wheeler, newly appointed Head of Opera at the prestigious Guildhall School of Music & Drama.

It was to our disadvantage to have The Secret Garden presented without sur-titles * [q.v. Dr Dee, below !] and, moreover (apparently by deliberate choice) without even any synopsis. Bizarre !

Only a very few words from the several sopranos could be understood; a common difficulty with vocal lines at high tessitura...

So, to set the scene, see below the beginning of the synopsis of the original musical "which everyone knows" (?) :-

Act I Mary Lennox, a 10-year-old English girl who has lived in India since birth, dreams of English nursery rhymes and Hindi chants ("Opening").[n 2] She awakes to learn that her parents and nearly everyone she knew in India, including her Ayah have died of cholera. Found by survivors of the epidemic (officers who worked alongside her father), Mary is sent back to England to live with her only remaining relations ("There's a Girl"). (Note: Throughout the show, these and other songs are sung by a chorus of ghosts, referred to in the libretto as "dreamers," who serve as narrators and Greek chorus for the action.) Her mother's sister, Lily, died many years ago. Lily's widower is Archibald Craven, a hunchback who is still overcome by grief. The management of his manor house, Misselthwaite, is largely left to his brother, Dr. Neville Craven. The house is persistently haunted by ghosts (i.e. Lily, Ayah, Fakir, Rose and Albert Lennox, officers from India, etc.) and spirits of Archibald's and Mary's pasts, due to their holding on to what used to be. The housekeeper, Mrs. Medlock, coldly welcomes Mary to Yorkshire on her arrival ("The House Upon the Hill"). Mary has difficulty sleeping her first night there ("I Heard Someone Crying") as she and Archibald both mourn their losses - - -

Alexa & Peter Woolf

PS A short video of The Secret Garden has been put on line at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJD3CzUPBOE

See also MusicalPointers review of Debussy/McNeff Pelleas et Mélisande


Albarn & Norris Dr Dee

Opera in two acts

English National Opera/Stephen Higgins

John Dee – Paul Hilton Katherine – Anna Dennis Kelley / Bishop – Christopher Robson Walsingham – Steven Page Elizabeth I / Spirit – Melanie Pappenheim Young Dee – Rebecca Sutherland Young Katherine – Victoria Cooper Jane – Clemmie Sveaas Ensemble: Damon Albarn (vocals / guitar / harmonium), Anne Allen (reeds / recorders). Tony Allen (drums), Liam Byrne (viol), Mamadou Diabate (kora), David Hatcher (reeds / recorders / viols), Arngeir Hauksson (lute / hurdy-gurdy / William Lyons (reeds / recorders) & Mike Smith (keyboards) Orchestra of Damon Albarn – Co-creator & composer Rufus Norris – Co-creator & director Paul Atkinson – Set designer Katrina Lindsay – Costume designer Paule Constable – Lighting designer The Coliseum, London

- - it’s all about the spectacle, on the stage and above it Standard

Firmly characterised by ENO as an opera, this is perhaps better placed on the recent Musical Pointers page with a batch of varied musicals.

More interesting for its visual extravagances than the music, it made for a rather exciting experience in the opera house, though my interest waned with the repetition of special effects in the second act. Those included stunning lighting (Paule Constable) and illusionistic videos on two full sized gauze curtains across the stage.

Norris marshals an ensemble of dancing, singing actors through multimedia tableaux that reinvent books as coiling, cascading spirals of pages that encircle and oppress Dee, produce a tender shadow-dance for the lovemaking of Dee and his wife, and offer a fantastical image of Elizabeth I suspended in mid-air, trailing golden skirts hanging like curtains to the floor [Alexandra Coghlan].

The live raven earned some of the loudest applause !

Despite all that, the rise & fall of Dr Dee in the Elizabethan Court was fatally undermined by the decision to deny us ENO's hard won acceptance of the essential need of surtitles for Opera in English [* c.f. above, Trinity Opera's bizarre decision to deny us even a synopsis, let alone surtitles for The Secret Garden !].

With 95% of the words indecipherable, the interesting story line went for nothing, and we were left with spectacle and intermittently interesting music.

Amplification was decently done in general, but took out the character of the early and ethnic instruments assembled in the ensemble above the stage; the small chorus up there was more effective than the singing to his guitar of Mr Albarn, who seemed well known to most of the young audience at the Coliseum (the songs were familiar, apparently, from a Parlophone album).

Peter Grahame Woolf


"Dr. Dee" is a bit weird to see in an opera house, though it would do very well as a money-saving substitute for Danny Boyle's £90 million Olympics display [Wall Street Journal].