You’ve just missed the musical theatre production of the year

ArtsEd's production of Wonderful Town. Photo: Andrew H Williams
ArtsEd's production of Wonderful Town. Photo: Andrew H Williams
Mark Shenton
Mark is associate editor of The Stage, as well as joint lead critic. He has written regularly for The Stage since 2005, including a daily online column.
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Sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings: you've just missed one of the musical theatre productions of the year. The trouble is it only ran for seven performances that ended on November 4. And it was out in Chiswick, west London.

Still, an eager bevy of agents and other assorted theatre professionals made their way there, as it was the first public offering of some of this year's third year BA Musical Theatre students at the Arts Educational School.

The agents, knowing this school's astonishing reputation for developing some of the best musical talent in the UK, rush out to stake their claims on who to sign up to represent (though they're not actually allowed to actually start handling them until next March).

I should declare an immediate interest: I teach on the programme myself, and I lectured these third years during their first year, which was also my first year there. So am I just being a proud (surrogate) parent, doting on my one-time charges?

[pullquote]There’s a thrill to seeing these students emerge[/pullquote]

I don't deny there's a thrill to seeing these students emerge, just two years into their intensive acting, singing and dancing courses and now entering the home stretch of their training, as such outstanding young performers. But I'd like to think I'd also recognise their extraordinary abilities even if I'd never set eyes on them before.

What's even more amazing is how, out of an intake of just 43 students, they've managed to fully cast not one but two separate revivals of big Broadway shows this winter, across principals, dancers and ensemble performers.

Next week (from November 11 to 15), they'll be offering the UK premiere of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman's 2011 show Catch Me If You Can, and my advice (sight unseen here, but overheard via the rehearsal room next door to my classes) is definitely to catch it if you can. (I did see it on Broadway twice during its too-brief run there, and was knocked out by its score).

[pullquote]For all On the Town’s Broadway polish, I loved Wonderful Town more[/pullquote]

But the run that has just finished of Bernstein, Comden and Green's 1953 classic Wonderful Town just blew me away. I've just recently returned from New York where I saw (and loved) the current revival of its 1944 predecessor On the Town, written by the same team. But for all the high sheen finish of On the Town (and its wondrous ballets and dance sequences), I can honestly say I loved Wonderful Town even more.

Both shows are famously set in New York, but while On the Town travels all over the city, Wonderful Town concentrates its portrait on Greenwich Village and a bohemian Christopher Street. It's an altogether more quirky, less generic picture of a community, and the ArtsEd students rise to the challenge of providing them with great individuality, despite the cartoon poses the show sometimes adopts. It's simultaneously hilarious, bold and affectionate.

[pullquote]She can get an entire police force to do her every bidding[/pullquote]

I want to name every single one of the 23-strong company – they all deserve it – but stars-in-the-making Stephanie Rojas and Gabriella Williams inevitably stand out as the two, yin and yang sisters the show revolves around: the first comically acerbic, with her brittle, brilliant delivery of the show's comic highpoint, One Hundred Easy Ways (to Lose a Man); the other an impossibly beautiful glamour kitten, who can get an entire police force to do her every bidding.

But the joy of this school is the ensemble strength that the training provides throughout the ranks, from the smallest roles to the largest. You can't keep your eyes off the dancers (especially as so inventively choreographed by rising star Drew McOnie), but amongst them mine were particularly drawn to Mitch Smart, Glen Facey, Eamonn Cox and Nathan Elwick.

There were also tremendous character performances from Emily McCoughan, Phillip Ryan, Paul Wilkins and Francesca Williams and a spirited romantic male lead in Edd Campbell Bird.

Remember you read their names here first. You'll be reading them again, as you will those of the rest of the company: David Burnip, Lotty Somers, Ben Stacey, Sarah Day, Aled Rhys, Adam Michael-Cooper, Victoria Brown, Emily Langham, Bendikt de la Bedoyere, Lauren Anderson Oakley, Katherine Pearson and Nadine Turk.

There. I waned to name them all and now I have. Agents, form an orderly queue.

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