Britain really does have talent

42nd Street

Stage Experience

The New Alexandra Theatre

****

STAGE Experience is an annual theatrical treat in the West Midlands when the New Alex stage is taken over by a bunch of youngsters who fill it to the flies with bags of enthusiasm and no small amount of talent.

What is remarkable is the fact they sat down for the first time and read the script just two weeks earlier and 12 days later42nd street director and choreographer Polyann Tanner has turned 110 wannabes into a professional standard show.

And it is not just on stage, there are also 10 Stage Experience youngsters stage managing, and running the sound and light desks.

This is Pollyann’s 12th Stage Experience show and is perhaps her biggest to date – a full cast all dancing on stage at one time points to the scale while the fact the sets have come from a Broadway production via a UK professional tour give you an idea of the quality of the production.

Broadway musical glitz of the 1930s brought to glorious life

Throw in an excellent 15 piece orchestra under Musical Director Chris Newton, many who played on the UK tour of the show, and the youngsters had a lot to live up to – but they managed that and more, from the first opening number with the entire cast in a tap routine to the final curtain calls down a stage filling, art deco staircase.

The story, set in the Depression era 1930s is a simple backstage musical: Peggy Sawyer, arrives in New York from Allentown, Pennsylvania, with no experience but a head full of dreams of Broadway.

She is too late for the auditions for Broadway’s latest show, Pretty Lady, but by a fortunate sequence of events ends up not only in the show but as the star – helped in part by colliding with the original star on stage and breaking her ankle. It might not be the most common route to promotion but is certainly effective.

Peggy is played with a great deal of confidence by Caprice Lane who has just completed her A levels at William Brookes School in Much Wenlock. She has a lovely voice, tap dances like a dream, she can act and to top it all she is pretty – so what’s not to like.

Matching her in the tap dancing stakes is Matt Pidgeon as Billy Lawler, Pretty Lady’s romantic lead. He is currently four times World Tap Dance Champion and it is easy to see why, but it is not just tap, he has an easy, natural manner on stage.

Katie Gladwin, from Solihull, impresses as Maggie Jones, the co-writer and producer of Pretty Lady while Mollie-Anna Riley gives a lovely performance as Dorothy Brock, the aging star who has done nothing to speak of for the past 10 years, but still has enough of a name to put bums on seats. She is famous for her less than modest dancing ability and Riley, who has a fine voice, gives her a nice air of bitchiness to go with it.

Keeping those feet a tapping – or hidden in the case of Dorothy – is choreographer and dance director Andy Lee, with a very42 street professional looking display by Nicholas Jones.

Pulling the show together is the legendary, hard-nosed director Julian Marsh played by Northfield actor Mark Shaun Walsh who excelled at the Rev Shaw Moore in last year’s production of Footloose – and just to prove it was no fluke, he has done it again.

The part demands a commanding presence and an air of maturity befitting a hard-bitten, well established Broadway director – not easy for a 21-year-old but he pulls it off in some style, displaying  a fine, well trained baritone voice.

Peggy, played by Caprice Lane with Mark Shaun Walsh as Jilian Marsh

The musical started life as a Busby Berkeley dance extravaganza from 1933 and there is a lovely tribute to the unrivalled Berkeley and his elaborate geometric pattern dance numbers using an angled mirror above the stage.

The leads are supported by a fine cast and ensemble and although the stage is often crowded it never looks a mess and no one becomes scenery or props, everyone has a part to play even if it is in the background.

Carving a successful career on stage, particularly in musical theatre, makes the labours of Hercules seem a doddle, particularly with so many talented youngsters on so many university and college theatre courses. There just aren’t enough jobs for even a small percentage of successful graduates. So these youngsters face a challenge. This show proves they are good enough and deserve to succeed, now they just need the theatre gods to smile on them.

The show has some well-known songs such as Lullaby of Broadway, We’re in the Money and the eponymous number, Forty Second Street and sports a cast with boundless contagious enthusiasm with an audience leaving with a smile on their face, happily humming tunes from the show. You can see why to Saturday, 15 August.

Roger Clarke

13-08-15

 

And down the street a little . . .

****

THIS is just about the ideal show for Stage Experience to parade their talents, and the ambitious youngsters grasp the opportunity in great style.

More than 100 are in the cast, some of whom have never appeared on stage before, but in a matter of weeks outstanding professional director and choreographer, Pollyann Tanner, has drilled them into a superb team.

They revel in the story, set during the great American depression in 1933, which follows newcomer chorus girl Peggy Sawyer who takes over from the injured leading lady at short notice and saves the new musical, Pretty Lady, from closing down.

Caprice Lane, an 18 year-old whose ambitions for a stage career should be realised, is excellent as Peggy, impressive singing the big numbers and supremely confident in the tap dancing sequences.

She has some great moments with Matt Pidgeon and Mark Shaun Walsh, both giving powerful performances as leading man Billy Lawlor and show director Julian Marsh.

Fine performances, too, from Katie Gladwin (Maggie Jones) and Mollie-Anna Riley (Dorothy Brock, the injured veteran star who is replaced by Peggy).

The musical has timeless songs like We’re In the Money, Lullaby of Broadway, Shuffle Off to Buffalo and, of course, Forty Second Street, all played stylishly by the orchestra under musical director Chris Newton.

Since 2003 nearly 1,500 young people have taken to the New Alexandra Theatre stage under the guidance of the Stage Experience staff, enjoying the challenge of appearing in professional scale productions, and some have gone on to enjoy acting careers. Several of the current group are already heading the same way.

In addition, others have worked with the theatre’s team on various aspects of showbiz….including sound and lighting.

Paul Marston

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