Reviews 2001 – 2005

2001 – Annie, Adventures of Mr Toad & Ragged Child

The sun certainly came out last night over the NYMT’s latest production – the evergreen musical tale of little orphan Annie.
The cast of nine to 19-year-olds- augmented by lone adult Colin Payne as Daddy Warbucks – set about the show with gusto. Ten-year-old Rachael Oakley attacked the title role with relish and a self-assurance beyond her years, as did little Nyisha Bill- Eteson as her principal orphan friend Molly.
Jenny Woodward played Miss Hannigan as a sad gin-soaked lush rather than the hard-nosed harridan we are used to seeing, but was no less effective for that. Josh Lincoln and Sarah Wilkinson were suitably seedy as the money- grabbing Rooster and his moll Lily, while Sarah Bailey was a fine foil to Warbucks as his secretary Grace – and possessed the quality singing voice of the night. The stage was always on the move thanks to excellent choreography by Lisa Campling and Adrian Connell.
First-night scene changes could have been slicker, but the simple sets were beautifully augmented by authentic slides of the period. Charlie Caine made a solid debut as musical director at the front of an eight-strong band. But if you want to find where tomorrow’s theatrical talent is coming from look no further than the NYMT.
John Lawson


THIS winning ensemble production is delivered with such vivacity and high spirits that it almost makes cholera and life on the streets of London look like fun. Almost.
Convincing acting from this large and rather healthy-looking cast of paupers ensures that the waifs don’t stray too far out of character, and the music strikes a good balance between chirpy cockney ditties and doleful ballads.
The play opens mournfully with heaps of grey prison blankets dotted about the stage, before the ragged crew burst on to the grim, fog-laden scene and clamber into them shivering and hacking. The entire cast appears on stage for most of the show and the crowd scenes reveal clever and visually imaginative choreography, especially when used to emphasise the gulf between rich and poor.
And there is a wonderful scene with dozens of little begging hands pulling at the coat tails of a line of parading tofts, as the rich try to sing away the existence of the poor and the poor strain to make their voices heard.
It seems unfair to single out anyone actor but real-life brother and sister Bart and Tegan Edwards, who play siblings in the leading roles, make genuinely plucky angels with dirty faces and seem to possess talent beyond their years.

2002 – The Card, Oliver! and Cabaret

REVIEWS THE CARD – Norwich Playhouse
The credits sound like a pedigree: from the book by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall, adapted from Arnold Bennett’s novel, music by Tony Hatch, reworked lyrics by Anthony Drew after the original by Jackie Trent, and professional directors Wendy Cook and Jill Farrow.
So is it worth the build-up? Indeed so and director Adrian Connell has built an enviable reputation for NYMT but even so it is often difficult to keep in mind that the show is performed by youngsters, for their stage presence is quite remarkable.
The excellent seven-piece orchestra gives a real swing to proceedings, but should beware of too much overlay on the young voices while an enthusiastic chorus gives lively backing to the tale of a 1900s “chancer” in the Potteries for whom “crockery is not his cup of tea.
Josh Lincoln, handsome rake and (club) Card Denry Machin, handles the taxing lead with aplomb and his true love Nellie is demurely portrayed by Alice Milton – her song If Only poignantly sums up the whole tale. Sarah Bailey is the man-eating dance teacher Ruth and Lucy Ter- Berg (Countess of Chell) and Helen Batch (Mrs Machin) ooze confidence. Diction is generally good but a little slowing down for the relatively immature voices would bean improvement and give more consistently good projection.
Michael Drake EDP

Too young for this Cabaret – NORMA NELSON’S PRUDISH PRE-REVIEW
Call me a prude, but I always thought Cabaret had been something of an adult show and fIlm – certainly not the stuff for impressionable 15-year-olds.
But the raunchy musical is being staged shortly by Norfolk Youth Music Theatre at the Maddermarket in Norwich with a 15-year-old in the lead role of Sally Bowles, made famous by Liza Minelli.
The music theatre group has deserved the widest possible support for its highly capable productions, but I’m not so sure about this one. I know some older members of the team are featured in the Cabaret line-up, but I would say 15 is too young – even today – for youngsters to be parading around on stage in stockings and suspenders. As most adults who have seen the Oscar-winning film will know, they will be acting out a storyline based on a sleazy Berlin nightclub featuring such difficult issues as bisexuality. Great songs and music, I know, and I don’t want to appear like some dinosaur, but is a show that was so controversial among the adults of its time now suitable for our young daughters to perform live in Norwich? I’ve seen the “stripped down” publicity pictures and I certainly won’t be publishing any.

Adrian Connell replies.
The theme of bisexuality does not appear in the stage play and the only other difficult issues are prostitution and abortion, which are standard PSE topics in schools and were major themes in The Ragged Child. The stage play is, as anyone who has watched it knows, significantly different to the film. As for the stockings – the girls chose their own costumes with their mothers and wore a good deal more than most girls wear on Cromer beach on a sunny day! Read the script first before you criticise us!.

CABARET was never the easiest of musicals, despite Liza Minelli making it look so.
The Norfolk Youth Music Theatre has once again risen to the challenge and produced a thought- provoking show, with plenty of opportunity for rising county stars to shine.
Were I not already aware of the sinister undertones to this work, I would have immediately picked up on the dark vibes of the gathering storm. Some fine performances here, though others need just a little more encouragement to let go.
It is the musical score from hell as far as I’m concerned, but Danny Howard and his musicians kept the action going admirably. In here, said the banner in the famous Berlin Kit Kat Club, life is beautiful, and I believed it.
The Norfolk Youth Music Theatre now has a string of commendable productions to look back on and they continue to attract some of the best young talent in the county.
Director Adrian Connell has chosen wisely for his Master Of Ceremonies. Will Beal has a totally relaxed stage presence, capturing the spirit of Berlin with his hothouse white face and red lips, and his effortless flounce.
Josh Lincoln is also a natural, playing the American Cliff Bradshaw caught up in the rise of Nazism, aware of the dangers, yet unable to tear himself away.
Stephanie Moore as wild child Sally leaves her best for the title number. Dressed in red she is compelling to both listen and watch.
There is also very nearly a wonderful witty and deeply moving relationship going on between Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz. More volume and pace from both would bring it so much nearer. The music weaves in and out of the action and some of the ensemble singing needs to be more incisive so we hear the lyrics right from the start.
The set pieces are choreographed in a very lively way, with Two Ladies taking the prize for fun. There is some lovely harmonising, particularly during the emotive Tomorrow Belongs To Me.
Costumes for the Kit Kat girls echo Bradshaw’s comment on Berlin – I love this city, it’s so tacky and terrible.
I think most of all it was the group’s understanding and interpretation of the show that really astonished me.
Anyone who knows the story of Cabaret will recall it touches on prostitution, abortion, and other subjects some people might consider to be too adult for a youngsters’ theatre group.
The NYMT shows a very mature approach, which is down in part I’m sure to Director Adrian Connell. To him and the company I say well done, and happy 21st production.
Lynne McKinney BBC Radio

2003 – Sweeney Todd, Bendigo Boswell and Bugsy Malone

Sweeney Todd : Norfolk Youth Music Theatre : Norwich Playhouse
There are moments in every reviewer’s life when you run out of superlatives. Epic. spine-chilling, deeply dramatic, darkly comedic, Ithis show is peopled by a cast of young talent which is surely beyond compare anywhere in the country.
Stephen Sondheim has achieved something truly fiendish in bringing the “Demon Barber of Fleet Street ” to the stage. In keeping with the heinous activities being perpetrated by the homicidal hairdresser and his pie-making moll, he has written the cast a score that is almost unsingable.
Having worked alongside Leonard Bernstein on West Side Story, he clearly took note of the master’s interwoven harmonies and discordant interplay to produce music operatic in its richness, throat-numbing ill its range, and ear-bafflingly complex in its construction. It would tax the most experienced of voices – yet here was a cast predominantly of teenagers tackling it with confidence and no little style.
The confidence was epitomised by the stunning diction and projection of every character who stepped forth and hit the back of the theatre with a power and conviction borne out of director Adrian Connell’s direction.
And at the forefront were David Thaxton and Charlie MtClean as the barber and pie\maker. Thaxton’s voice and stage presence are nothing short”of sensational – he commands the stage in the style of a young Colm Wilkinson, while McClean displays the sort of comic timing and believability to rival Mme Thenardier in Les Miserables.
It is suggested in the programme that McClean is set to put stagework on the back-burner to concentrate on being a singer/songwriter but I would argue that there is no way her remarkable talent should be lost to the world of musical theatre. Like Thaxton, she is a true star in the making.
Among the supporting cast, Alice Milton brings an unusual but haunting voice to the role of Sweeney’s long-lost daughtel- Johanna, Tom Clarke is a suitably seedy Judge Turpin and young Matt Williamson goes from strength to strength as the unwitting accomplice, Toby.
Andrew Grand’s orchestra, also all teenagers, brings amazing quality and support to their efforts.


BUGSY MALONE – Ageing Custard Pie Guns Seize Up
It may have been fireworks all the way outside, but sadly the bonfIre never really caught light inside the Maddermarket.
But the “guys” that the hard-working young cast should be burning are writers Alan Parker and Paul Williams rather than show director Adrian Connell.
Bugsy – the story of kids playing gangsters with custard pies and silly string as weapons instead of guns – may have worked well on screen, but its endless short scenes are a nightmare for any director trying to inject some pace into proceedings on stage and even the usually excellent NYMT are up against it.
Connell goes for the pantomime approach, even introducing a tap- dancing chicken as a splurge gun- wielding cameo, but he is fighting rather a losing battle with a show that is seriously showing its age. The only scenes that really ignite are the two renditions of its big production number, ‘Fat Sam’s Grand Slam.’
That said, there are a few sparklers among individual performances, notably Grace Birchall as the aptly- named Fizzy, Jaimie Wallace as failing gangster Fat Sam and Jessica Staufenberg, who certainly knows how to belt out a tune.
Stella Merz, another of the predominantly very young principals, has her moments, as Blousey, particularly in the beautifully sung Ordinary Fool.
But the real Roman candle in the box is Eloise Secker”, as Tallulah, who has the lot – stage presence, poise, natural acting ability and a strong singing voice. Hopefully we’ll get to enjoy her – and the others – in a far better vehicle than this. JOHN LAWSON

2004 – Fiddler on the Roof, Sweeney Todd at King’s Lynn and Once Upon A War

I was surprised initially at the choice of show with a youth group, they have not had the experience of life to cope with some of the situations, but NYMT showed thoughtfulness and maturity in the approach to the subject.
The singing, as expected from NYMT, was excellent in harmony; groupings interesting, discipline and movement to high standard.
Clever cuts to reduce dance material. Liked the lighting and the simple static set (no hold-ups with difficult changes) and the efficiency and speed of creating scene and mood with props. Good sequences for the Company, moving singing for Sabbath Prayer, and particularly liked the Dream scene which was really exciting and memorable.
Some talents shown in the difficult characterisations for this age-group: Joe Ringer had stability and stature as Tevye, a good voice. Well balanced by a calm Golde from Hannah Davidson. The daughters worked well as a family team, must commend acting skills of Chava (Eloise Secker) and Hodel (Harriet Birchall, also solo very well executed). James Poole gave one of the best singing and interpretation in this region as Motel, very well done. And Yente (Rebecca Humphries) a real cameo character.
This show has the power to make one think whatever the age of the cast.

SWEENEY TODD at the Corn Exchange in King’s Lynn.
Our West Norfolk producer Jill Bennett went to see the opening night last night and she joins us from our King’s Lynn studio
1 MANY PEOPLE WILL HAVE HEARD OF SWEENEY TODD, BUT WON’T KNOW THE STORY – SO CAN YOU REMIND US OF THE PLOT This is a savage tale set in 1848, when a barber called Benjamin Barker has been imprisoned and exiled and then sentenced (unjustly) to transportation by Judge Turpin. But the judge does it because to clear the way to seduce Barker’s wife Lucy; she poisons herself with arsenic and the judge is left with her one year old daughter Johanna to raise as his ward.
So we see Barker 15 years later when he returns as Sweeney Todd to take revenge on the judge and his accomplice Beadle Bamford. And once he falls in with Mrs Lovett, who sells the worst meat pies in London, the scene is set for a story which gets more macabre by the minute. And of course, like all 19th century tales, there’s a moral in the story too.
2 IS THIS AN EASY SHOW FOR THE NORFOLK YOUTH MUSIC THEATRE TO TACKLE? Sondheim isn’t easy, that’s for sure! Lots of angular rhythms and harmonies (or disharmonies), demanding on the singers and the orchestra. But this group came through it with flying colours, and in some cases with real star quality. David Thaxton, who plays the title role, has come back from his course at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff to take part in this production and he is really impressive – terrific stage presence, a great voice and a good actor to boot. If we don’t see his name in lights I’ll eat my hat, and I for one will be out there queuing for a ticket! Sweeney Todd is a really big role and he shines in it.
Playing opposite him as Mrs Lovett, whose meat pies undergo quite a transformation thanks to their relationship, is Charlie McLean, who’s 18 and studying at Norwich City College for a BTEC ND in popular music. She’s also brimming with talent and has the assurance of 13 years on the stage already! The way she shapes Sweeney Todd’s murderous career with a comic amorality is brilliantly done.
3 HOW ABOUT THE REST OF THE COMPANY? None of the parts are easy, but they all take them in their stride: Eighteen year old Alice Milton is Johanna, Todd’s daughter, while her suitor is played by 16 year old James Poole – his third role with the company. The one person who is clearly a few years over 21 is John McInnes, who plays the judge – but his rich tones were a perfect foil to the younger voices, especially Joe Ringer, who showed a great vocal range as Beadle Bamford, his accomplice.
But what I loved was the energy and inventiveness of the whole company – Adrian Connell’s direction is full of movement and ideas and these young actors and singers follow through every idea with such vitality. Great to watch as well as to listen to.
4 DID YOU HAVE ANY RESERVATIONS? The only problem was making out some of the dialogue – rather too fast in places so that it almost blurs in the amplification – and sometimes the orchestra did overwhelm the singers a little. Not enough, though, to take away what was a really enjoyable production.
And one worth seeing, if only to hear the talent of David Thaxton and the other really good young singers and players who make up this company.
The director, Adrian Connell, calls them ‘our wonderful youngsters’ and I certainly go along with that!

Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the Norfolk Youth Music Theatre revisits its fIrst triumphant production, under the direction of Norfolk teacher Adrian Connell and with Benjamin Lee conducting from the keyboard.
If you have never come across the show before, it’s a youth theatre gem: a big show with a West End feel, given a powerful score by Richard Taylor and a touching and funny book by Denise Coffey. The story follows the fate of a Jersey family during the second world war.
The mother, played very movingly by 17. year-old Stephanie Moore, decides to keep everyone at home despite impending German occupation, so that the dog, Chippy (a real, but slightly nervous, yellow labrador) does not have to be put down.
A feature of the show was its big chorus numbers which sometimes had a slightly schmalzy feel, with tinkling triangles and slow rolled cymbals, but any sense of sentimentality was given the elbow both by the commitment of the cast, and the humour of the script.
Eve Stebblng

TEN years ago the Norfolk Youth Music Theatre staged its first production. This week, 27 productions later, Adrian Connell, director throughout that period, returns to the Maddermarket with the same musical drama that began it all.
Once Upon A War tells, through the eyes of children, the little-known story of the German occupation of Jersey in the Second World War. And what a story it is – touching, poignant, a tale of stolen childhood, sadness and deprivation highlighting the stresses and tensions of family separations, death, reunions and the harsh life under enemy control.
This would be a hugely demanding drama for an experienced adult cast. For the 30-plus youngsters whose ages range from early years to late teens it can only be a colossal success. In seven weeks they have gone from read-through performance. They are confident, assured, move effortlessly and aptly and grow in stature as the drama progresses.
And this was the opening night. By Saturday they will all be stars, but none more so than Stephanie Moore who plays Ellen. Praise, too, for the nine-piece orchestra of young musicians. They also shine with their competent playing.
If only half of this cast retains an interest in the theatre, Norfolk audiences can look forward to exciting times ahead.

2005 – Les Miserables & The Vackees

This is a show which brings talent out of the woodwork because every devotee of musical theatre wants to be a part of it – and Adrian Connell’s magnificent company has uncovered it in spades with a collection of principals whose maturity of sound and power of performance belies their years.
On John Buckley’s marvellous set, Joe Ringer is an imposing figure as Jean Valjean, the ex- convict who battles his way out of the gutter to take up the cause of the – downtrodden. From his very first soliloquy, Ringer wrings every ounce of emotion from the music, culminating in the heart- wrenching aria Bring Him Home.
But if there is any thought of all the company’s eggs being in one leading role basket, each performer who steps into centre stage delivers the big numbers to spine-tingling effect.
Jack Willis-Ollett was strong and determined as Valjean’s nemesis Javert, while Jenni Woodward was heartbreaking as the tragic Fantine – the only disappointment was that their finest numbers, Stars and I Dreamed a Dream, fell victim to the editor’s knife in this condensed school edition.
Eloise Secker is similarly passionate as Eponine, unrequitedly in love with Marius (James Poole), who is pursuing Cosette (Liz Futter). Her performances of On my Own and, in duet with Poole, A Little Fall of Rain, have the audience reaching for the tissue box again. Becki Humphries and Robert Heard have the difficult job of injecting comedy into the mix as the larger than life pub owners, the irredeemable Thenardiers, but they achieve it with bawdy panache.
But the revelation for me is Sam Claflin as the student leader Enjolras, a character I have rather, overlooked on the many occasions I have seen the West End production. Claflin’s performance is one of huge strength and charisma. And what a tremendous singing voice, too, brought to the fore in Red and Black and Do You Hear the People Sing, both of which also show off the breadth of quality in the chorus, who were tremendous again in One Day More. And the girls of the chorus were showcased to great effect in the Lovely Ladies number.
Expect standing ovations all week – if you can battle through the crowds to get a ticket.

Les Miserables at the Playhouse
Norwich is surely blessed with youthful musical and theatrical talent. What these youngsters need is a platform on which to perform and positive, confident, understanding and experienced direction.
Enter Adrian Connell, who this week brings his multi-talented Norfolk Youth Music Theatre to the Norwich Playhouse to stage Les Miserables (School Edition). And what a show there is to enjoy. No wonder he can suggest in his programme welcome notes how excited he feels about it.
This magical, moving story of poverty, student unrest, love and social injustice is presented with lusty forcefulness. It is lively theatre with movement, colourful costumes and of course, all those memorable tunes.
That would be sufficient to make it special. But here we have a tight, well-rehearsed production which will leave you marvelling at what can be achieved. There are good shows and excellent shows. This one is excellent. Adults would be hard pressed to better it and it’s only a slight exaggeration to suggest it can more than hold its own against the original London production.
Do you get the feeling I enjoyed it? You bet I did. And so did all those folk who gave the cast a standing ovation.

Norfolk Youth Music Theatre, Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich.
Children of the 1940s fought their own war, as shown in this fIrst-rate musical.
We see youngsters sent from London to the West Country, being forced to say goodbye to their parents and live with strangers.
While the war was fought in the skies, these young city dwellers faced their own fight for acceptance from their country counterparts. Children can be cruel, and we witness their verbal battles in the village classroom and their rowdy fights on the hills.
Nine-year-old Fraser Davidson coped wonderfully well in the demanding role of Kip, around which much of the action takes place.
His performance oozed confidence, creating a combination of wide-eyed innocence and streetwise savvy.
He achieves good rapport with London evacuee Chuck, a fme performance by Daniel Herman. Playing opposite Kip in the role of Ellen is Nyisha Bill- Eteson and they establish a warm relationship.
Other performances worth noting include Ben Weston as Duncan Constance and Tegan Edwards as Laura Maybee.
The songs are feel-good melodies almost in the sing-a- long tradition. Among the, audience favourites were Sending you to Safety, Moving On, and When this War is Over.
Youthful exuberance from a talented cast who sing their hearts out; period costumes; effective lighting; and slick, dance routines in Adrian Connell’s heart-warming production contribute to a fIrst class evening.
Richard Parr EDP 3/11/2005