Last night I went to the opening night of MYCO’s latest production 42nd Street. Quite simply I was blown away by the quality, energy, enthusiasm and talent on display in their production.
42nd Street takes the well-worn stage device of a show within a show and liberally sprinkles the whole thing with music, sequins and tap numbers. Director and choreographer Guy Brigg has updated the story from 1933 to the present day and with stunning costuming, simple staging and some inspired shadow work has created a glitzy visual spectacular. Ably assisted by Kerry Hudson, Brigg creates dazzling dance numbers using his troupe of young performers – 80% of whom had never tapped before this production. You would not know. The level of confidence and polish on display across the entire ensemble throughout the dance numbers was exceptional. Particularly striking were the full ensemble opening tap number, and Dames, a number that showcased the male ensemble. Being musical theatre they’ve not neglected the audio experience either – as Musical Director Julie Todd has drilled the ensemble, principals and orchestra, producing a wonderful sound throughout both on stage, and from the pit. It’s a true testament to the energy of the performers that they can dance frantically and still make such a cracking noise when the dance gives them pause to sing!
Whilst the ensemble is fantastic, the principles are also exceptional. Brigg and Todd have a wealth of talent to choose from and the leads were fully in control of their characters and performances. Harry Pudwell as visiting director Julian Marsh was masterful, commanding the ensemble and possessing a strong voice. He was also convincingly aged by the make-up team. Jake Halsey-Jones’ Billy Lawler looked the part, danced the part and sang beautifully. Anya de Villiers as Peggy Sawyer shone with fresh-faced enthusiasm, really showcasing her beautiful voice in the title song. Particular praise has to go to Anna Morgan as Dorothy Brock, mirroring de Villiers’ passion with a jaded vision of entitled stardom. Her singing was gorgeous, her stage presence wonderful, and her wig was something to behold. These four were supported by a superb line up with Saffi Needham and Johnny Allison bringing warmth and laughs as Maggie and Bert, more laughs from James Carter’s Abner Dillon, and Tats Nyazika commanding as Andy Lee. Halsey-Jones, Nyazika and Needham were particularly strong leading large ensemble dance numbers with both their faces and their feet drawing the eye for all the right reasons.
As this was opening night not everything was perfect, some of the set changes could take a very slight tightening up and occasionally the accents wandered around the United States from the Deep South to East Coast. That’s all largely irrelevant though, when the performance on stage is as much fun as MYCO’s latest you forgive the occasional slipped drawl!
The theatre was packed, the audience made their appreciation clear and with confidence set-to grow throughout the week this already slick glitzy production will soar. Don’t miss the opportunity to see this fantastic showcase of some of Oxford’s best young musical theatre performers.
Grimmers – Daily Information 31st March, 2016
Musical Youth Company of Oxford gives us in 42nd Street a show that is at once richly entertaining and immensely impressive in displaying the talents of all involved in it.
“She’s young. Kids can do anything.” The words are spoken of wannabe actress Peggy Sawyer who is promoted from the chorus line to ‘save the day’ after the veteran musical star Dorothy Brock breaks her ankle on the eve of the big opening. The sentiment cannot fail to resonate, though, with anyone lucky enough to secure a seat for this polished production.
Do anything? Perhaps not – but all 52 young people on the stage at various times can certainly demonstrate skills that oldies such as I can only view in envious admiration.
Tap dancing is one of these – and in great demand in a show fashioned from a classic Busby Berkeley film of 1933 (the action here has sensibly been updated to the present day and shifted from a touring company to a theatre school).
Heartiest congratulations to director and choreographer Guy Brigg for drilling his teenage cast – some actually as young as 12 – into meticulous clack-clacking to iconic numbers like We’re in the Money and Lullaby of Broadway.
That all is well in this department is demonstrated in the audition scene following the overture when the part-raised curtain reveals the lower limbs of the entire chorus going about their rhythmic business.
The depth of talent is apparent in the bold, confident work of all the principals.
Anya de Villiers is marvellous as dance tyro Peggy, wide-eyed in admiration for tough-nut director Julian Marsh (Harry Pudwell). He’s a man bold enough to stand up to imperious star Dorothy (Anna Morgan, with more than a trace of Madonna), if not to the elderly businessman S. Abner Dillon (James Carter) who bankrolls her artistic endeavours. Her heart, meanwhile, belongs to impecunious Pat Denning (Nick Midworth), supplying the subsidiary love interest. The main one comes in the growing involvement of Peggy with lead male Billy Lawlor, superbly portrayed by Jake Halsey-Jones.
Chris Grey – Oxford Times, 31st March 2016
I was very pleased to accept the kind invitation from your Press Officer, Sam Henney, to review MYCO’s latest production – the ever popular, 42nd Street.
Many thanks for the warm welcome from your Chair, Julie Fisher and from all those lovely front of house staff and helpers. It is always a great pleasure to meet so many people who are so passionate about theatre. The Oxford Playhouse foyer was certainly buzzing with anticipation. And with good cause!
This was a splendid production full of vitality, excitement and vibrancy and yes, incredible professionalism too. It’s a well-known, and possibly hackneyed, storyline – timid but determined chorus girl goes on to become amazing leading lady suffering the usual trials and tribulations en route – but director Guy Brigg brought a new freshness to the story by interestingly updating it to the present day and setting it in a modern day ‘theatre school’ which is visited by a number of ‘established’ performers. It also enabled Guy to have a large cast of ‘students’ in the many beautifully choreographed and lavish, big show-stopping, numbers.
The ‘updating’ of the show worked in a variety of ways and none of the feeling and sense of the original was lost. I liked the new ticket prices for instance, $21.50, and the use of mobile or should I say ‘cell’ phones was a touch of genius removing the need to bring on a ‘telephone’ and light a certain area for the ‘telephone conversation’ scenes. There was another clever difference from the more familiar staging – Dorothy Brock was in an ankle boot (because of her broken ankle) and not in a wheel chair which made the transition to the scene with her and Peggy very slick.
The opening was particularly impressive with the familiar view of so many ‘dancing feet’ as the curtain is raised initially to knee height and when fully raised to see the stage full of young people doing a well-rehearsed and executed tap routine. In fact, as the production as a whole was impeccable it is difficult to know where to begin my review.
These young people from MYCO always put in 110% and their sheer enthusiasm and commitment was evident in every moment they were on stage.
The principal line-up was very strong and there were some outstanding performances backed up of course by some incredibly focused and mesmerising ensemble work. Minor principal roles too, were played excellently. The stand out thing for me in the entire production was the way each and every member of the company was so focused and committed to their performance. These young people give astonishingly professional performances.
Anya de Villiers gave an outstanding performance as Peggy Sawyer. There was the nervous but determined Peggy we saw at the beginning who beautifully transformed into the confident and poised, though still likeable and grounded, leading lady. This young actor used the stage well and had a beautiful singing voice. There was some wonderful interaction with other characters notably her scenes with Dorothy Brock which were very believable. Anya gave a very rich and beautifully layered performance.
Jake Halsey-Jones was very good as Billy Lawlor. This young man was born to perform on stage. Excellent movement and stage presence coupled with impeccable dialogue and vocals made this performance a joy to watch. There was an instant ‘chemistry’ between Billy and Peggy. An outstanding and very believable portrayal.
Anna Morgan gave us a memorable interpretation of the ‘diva’ Dorothy Brock. As with all the characterisations this was a slightly quirky take on the character which worked well. She was very feisty and fiery as the ‘star’ and yet showed great warmth in the scene with Peggy when she wishes her good luck. I also liked her ‘sparring’ with Julian Marsh. This was a fine performance. Anna certainly commanded the stage and looked amazing too! An excellent characterisation with outstanding vocals.
Julian Marsh was played superbly well by Harry Pudwell. This was a very strong and seemingly effortless performance from this very talented young man. Very good stage presence and flawless spoken and vocal diction made this a standout characterisation. There was very good interaction with other characters and Harry captured the abrasive no nonsense Broadway director perfectly.
Maggie Jones and Bert Barry (in this up-to-date version Pupil Welfare and Creative Writing Teacher) were very well portrayed by Saffi Needham and Johnny Allison. They worked well as a pair and provided some humorous moments as Dorothy Brock ‘auditioned’. Clear diction and some great facial expressions made these two performers stand out. Their ‘Shuffle off to Buffalo’ was very well done.
Anytime Annie was played very well by Livi Ridley who gave a sparkling portrayal of the ‘mouthy’ chorus-line girl ably assisted by Eleanor O’Connor as Amber, Abi Dent as Lydia and Maya Thomas as Diane. The latter three girls names’ had been changed from the original named line-up of characters for a reason that was not clear. Was it because they were students at the Drama School? The girls all moved and danced extremely well and each had developed their own well-defined character.
I really liked their ‘Go into your dance’ number which was transferred from the usual café setting to the school refectory and thus enabled the whole company to be involved too.
James Carter was an amusing ‘English’ S. Abner Dillon which was certainly a new way of playing it. It took me a while to realise that at times he was referred to as Sebastian. I’m not sure making this character ‘British’ entirely worked for me but it was certainly a different slant on the character.
Pat Denning, Dorothy’s love interest was captured well by Nick Midworth and there seemed genuine and believable chemistry between them. He used the stage well and delivered a believable characterisation.
Other roles were played convincingly by Tats Nyazika as Andy Lee the ‘Dance Teacher’, Sofia Deas as Mac – Stage Management, Immy Parsons as the Dinner lady (cleverly replacing the original ‘Waiter’ character) and Sam Winiarski as the clipboard assistant. Catherine Kay was the Doctor delivering the bad news about Dorothy’s broken ankle with suitable gravitas!
The ‘Ragamuffins’ and ‘Dames’ dancers performed their routines with great gusto which was matched with amazing precision in the quite complicated choreography – again devised by the multi-talented Mr. Brigg. The whole ensemble work was a joy to watch and each and every member of it remained totally in character throughout the production so well done to all of you – you are all a credit to yourselves and to MYCO.
The dance routines were particularly spectacular with good synchronisation of movement and everyone was smiling. That makes such a difference! Entrances and exits were made smoothly and unobtrusively and the whole company gave the impression of being a single entity. It is certainly a remarkable ever-changing group of young people!
Guy’s vision for the show was, I’m sure, realised. The staging was excellent and scenes flowed smoothly and seamlessly. I really liked the simple but effective set with the single centre stairs leading to a raised stage-width gallery. This came particularly into its own in the setting of the station scene where Julian persuades Peggy to came back and ‘save’ the ‘show’. This was a very spectacular number with lots of movement and energy. Guy is extremely talented and mindful that his ensemble should be included as much as possible where it is practical and feasible to do so. He achieves this very successfully. The direction was impeccable with some truly mature and extremely poised performances. No one made a movement without a reason and having worked with Guy on several occasions I could recognise his hall mark touches. A most impressive end result which I’m in no doubt he was thrilled with.
Julie Todd is a very experienced and intuitive Musical Director and this was again apparent in the wonderful sound coming from the pit. The music came across perfectly and to my ears the band never put a foot wrong. From the opening notes the music fairly rattled along and totally immersed the enthusiastic audience in the production. Julie had obviously worked the company very hard. The diction and quality of the solo and ensemble singing was excellent.
The lighting and sound were first class and certainly added to the atmosphere and feel of the show. I particularly liked the impressive sky scraper back cloth used during the 42nd Street ballet which in itself was an amazing spectacle of movement and evocative lighting.
Costumes, make-up and hair were all very much in keeping with the ‘feel’ of the piece and were appropriate for the ‘up-dated’ style which Guy had envisaged.
The programme was very informative and full of interesting articles about the company and its aims and ethos and was also, as I have come to expect from MYCO production programmes, printed and presented to the highest standards.
In my opening remarks I have alluded to the excellence and professionalism of the company and I can only reiterate it once again here. Every aspect of this production was excellent and I can only congratulate and thank everyone who contributed to it. Please forgive me if I have not mentioned you by name but your contribution has been noted and appreciated.
I wish MYCO all the very best for the future and long may it continue to flourish.
With very best wishes