I often criticise showcases for trying to be unnecessarily arty. This one is so commendably straightforward that it almost errs towards being dull. Sandwiched between a rather hesitant, strained opening ensemble number from Sister Act and a much better closing item from The Book of Mormon, 22 students each sing a solo number. There is a great deal of full belt from the women and we see a lot of tonsils. On the plus side there are some very strong men in this group and several women with real talent. And it’s graced by one of the best keyboard players I’ve heard in quite a while: Nicholas Chave. He’s a Mountview postgraduate musical direction student and he leads a band otherwise consisting of guitars, bass and drums and directs the music with terrific aplomb.
Marie Wilson opens with The Way He Makes Me Feel from Yentl. An understated actor, she has a pleasingly modulated voice on both low and high notes. Montgomery Wilson, a warm and competent singer, follows with The Old Red Hills of Home from Parade.
Buxom Alicia Krakauer is one of several women in this group to have long, auburn Pre-Raphaelite hair. She sings Bring the Future Faster from Rooms with energy but not much finesse. Niccolo Curradi, on the other hand, brings a great deal of character to Guido’s Song from Nine which he sings slickly with crisp diction and good comic timing.
Curradi, clearly an accomplished musician, also plays an attractive cello continuo in Katie Nightingale’s How Could I Ever Know from the Secret Garden which, a young Imogen Stubbs lookalike, she sings sensitively. Her number is preceded by Kim May’s pretty, but less than punchy, rendering of Adela from Bernada Alba.
Next on is Sam-Marie Rawlings with a thoughtful account of Mama Who Bore Me from Spring Awakening which is then energetically reprised by all the women in the ensemble.
Christopher Cameron has an appealing voice which he puts to good use in Kings of the World from Songs For a New World along with an engaging manner and interesting, castable face. He is followed by Sophie Mills singing I Need a Fling from Lend Me A Tenor which she delivers perhaps more forcefully than the number requires. Then comes Luke Kelly bringing plenty of sparkle to I Believe from The Book of Mormon, Jennifer Tilley singing Somebody to Love from We Will Rock You very loudly and a smooth interpretation of When You’re Good to Mama from Chicago by Lizzy Robinson.
Then comes a high spot. Outstanding among the women is Laura Kaye Thomson. Blessed with a very attractive clear voice, she sings The Miller’s Son from A Little Light Music beautifully. She is also a well paced actor who seems to be totally on top of what she is doing.
She is followed by Joshua Brant who sings What Do I Need With Love from Thoroughly Modern Millie with clarity. And Katy Nicholas has fun with the very engaging song Everything Else from Next to Normal which is about an ambitious, but wistful student practising Mozart on a piano. She performs it entertainingly and with conviction. Kimberly Bliss is another effective character actor who makes the witty number Gorgeous from The Apple Tree look effortless and comfortable - in contrast with a number of others in this group who are trying far too hard - and it shows. I’m afraid Becki Thompson’s sadly over-egged, over-sung and over-acted Don’t Rain on My Parade from Funny Girl is a good example. She can certainly sing but appears to be going for as much drama as she can.
But before we get to Thompson we hear and see another very fine performance in the shape of the very focused Paul Toulson in Different from Honk! He makes good use of his voice as an acting tool and enters fully into the delicacy of his role. Rebecca Drew Carter, with her interesting, unusually expressive face, is quite moving in Happiness from Passion.
Matthew McCabe is a very useful singer with expressive eyes who gives an enjoyable performance of Funny from City of Angels and Charlotte Cowley is convincing in the title song from The Light in the Piazza.
Watch out for Paul Erbs who has a real, probably classically trained, tenor voice which he uses very musically and lyrically in Love Can’t Happen from Grand Hotel. The last solo item is Natasha Dennison with Wait a Bit from Just So. Although she struggles with the higher notes it’s a decent enough performance and her acting is reasonable.
So, all in all, this showcase is a mixed bag. I admire the choice of material and the way it is all hooked together seamlessly even when there’s a key change or a complete shift of mood. And some of these students are highly promising. It is just a pity that so many of them have yet to learn to control their performances as fully as the industry usually requires.
Expert: Bruce Wall, London Shakespeare Workout
Choices: Paul Toulson, Laura Kaye Thomson