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Whaley Entertainments Annual Showcase 2013 review at Sandy Balls Holiday Park Fordingbridge

First impressions were of a well presented event. The lighting seemed atmospheric, the background music was appropriate and crisp, the agency’s name was liberally displayed on banners, as well as upon the tables, with running orders and complimentary pens. Also, every act had their picture and name projected behind them as they worked, which is a splendid idea. So far, so good.

However, the next five hours were gradually to morph into an endurance test of epic proportions. I must stress that this was not necessarily the fault of any particular act. It was more to do with the planning and that the whole thing was simply too long. Most of the performers were given excessively free rein, and, turns being the way they are, took advantage. Consequently, most spots went on interminably, not doing themselves, or the audience, any favours. At a showcase, brevity is the key. Can nothing be learned from the saying, “Less is more”?

The show kicked off to a bright start with compere Nicky Jones. His clarity and diction do great justice to Four Tops and Isley Brothers songs, as well as an up to date Bruno Mars “mash-up”, as he called it. Jones is highly personable and engaged the audience immediately. Throughout the first half, he kept things moving smoothly and contributed much to holding the interest of the crowd.

So, the mood was nicely warmed up as he introduced Ultim8 Productions, a fast-moving show filled with colourful costume changes. The female singer seemed much more at home singing ballads than up-tempo numbers, in fact her male counterpart is generally the better vocalist, but they cover everything from Lady Ga Ga and Olly Murs to the Bee Gees. Supported by lithe, happy-looking dancers, this is a mini-spectacle worth booking.

Next on, following a laborious recorded introduction, came comedy speciality Paul Zee. This was a difficult spot for him. The room was not very full and already tinged with apathy, but he attacked the audience with gusto, albeit his delivery was frantic, making him come across as somewhat desperate. He used the audience, filling me with relief that I had wisely moved my seat from the front table, humiliating a trio of men – including the agent! – as he whacked them on the heads with a tube in a Bohemian Rhapsody skit. Actually, this was quite inventive, but ultimately it went nowhere. His wordplay/card routine showed promise but did not really deliver, and his tasteless remarks to the audience failed to impress me. His long spot rather petered out and, glancing at my watch, I was surprised to see we were already one hour into the proceedings.

The Silhouette Show consists of a trio of girls, colourfully attired in 1950s-style frocks, harmonising their way through a medley of familiar songs from that period. They indulge in some careful choreography and the effect is pleasant and inoffensive enough, with songs such as Teenager in Love, Yakety Yak and the obligatory Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.

Phil Arron is a singer with an up-to-date look. He is capable of carrying off a wide spectrum of material, ranging from That’s Life to Great Balls of Fire, but gives the impression he is merely going through the motions. His mean, moody image translates as boredom, and I caught the vibe that he is not very comfortable with the necessity of engaging the crowd. That said, with a song such as New York, New York, he can certainly nail Sinatra’s unique phrasing.

By contrast, Jenna Hall is a vocalist whose personality fills the stage. She possesses the ability to perform a song rather than just sing it. Opening with an almost rocky take on Tainted Love, she ran the gamut through a string of popular numbers. Her energy and warmth make her a most watchable act, culminating in a soaring, rousing rendition of Queen’s Somebody to Love that shook the audience into an appreciative roar of approval.

Following such a surfeit of singing, it was a relief to see Ollie Collins Magic take the stage. This is a traditional, old-style magic act but with a modern slant. Cabinets, audience participation, clever deception and Ollie’s nicely presented comedic interplay with his female assistant, Emma, proves there is still a place for this style of entertainment.

Veteran comedian Stewart Masters took over compering duties for the second half, and it was a refreshing experience to hear his strong line of patter. It was quite tough for him at first, battling a sparse, tired room, but he soldiered on gamely and gradually won them over. You can’t help but like him, as well as admire his professionalism and obvious experience.

He took us into the remainder of a show that, apart from Masters’ welcome links, consisted almost entirely of solo singers. The first was Andy Kennett who, with his Elvis hairstyle and tattoos, presents an authentic tribute to the 1950s with classic numbers such as Mary Lou, GI Blues and Rubber Ball. He possesses a very ‘matey’ persona too, which helps a lot.

The attractive, first-name-only Bianca shared the bill with artists who were, frankly, better singers. Her voice is fine but nothing special when heard alongside some of the others. Her version of Somebody to Love, for instance, was not in the same league as the version performed earlier by Hall. That said, Bianca is a strong enough vocalist and carried off more than satisfactory versions of Tina Turner and Adele numbers.

On the other side of the fence, Anthony Jay is a big, good-looking guy with a stage presence to match. He sings a wide range of material, from Come on Over to My Place to Crazy Little Thing Called Love, and is one of those artists who exudes an air of confidence. Standard, safe, but very bookable.

John Sessions – not that one – is more or less a Michael Buble tribute act, and gets pretty close to the genuine article with a voice that resonates like liquid gold. Another engaging performer with a nice line of chat, his versions of Cry Me a River and Me and Mrs Jones really stood out.

There was no shortage of talent and ability on show, but by this time, completely ‘sung out’, I was longing to see something like a tap-dancing ukulele player. Instead we got another singer, Bex Hannigan. She certainly knows her craft, presenting a well-chosen mixture of modern and more standard favourites – a particular highlight for me being the Eva Cassidy version of Fields of Gold. She is a good singer, but the world is not short of good singers. What we need are more performers who possess that magic something called ‘star quality’.

For the final act, it was a nice boost to see that Matt Wallis was, at least, playing his own keyboards. This was an Elton John tribute, including several of the big hits such as Circle of Life and I’m Still Standing. Not bad at all, but this sounded like a slightly jaded Elton to me. The real one is somewhat more animated.

So, all in all this was a marathon session crying out for a more balanced bill. Showcases are still shows, and it is only fair to the artists concerned that the production team should ensure they are presented in the best light possible.

Production Information

Sandy Balls Holiday Park, Fordingbridge, November 3

Steve Whale
Nicky Jones, Ultim8 Productions, Paul Zee, The Silhouette Show, Phill Arron, Jenna Hall, Ollie Collins Magic, Stewart Masters, Andy Kennett, Bianca, Anthony Jay, John Sessions, Bex Hannigan, Matt Wallis

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