Saturday, 5 December 2015

Manchester Evening News and Manchester Theatre Awards review 4 December 2015

STREET SCENE  Royal Northern College of Music


IF ever there was a show suited to the strengths of the Royal Northern College of Music’s music theatre tradition, it’s Kurt Weill’s Street Scene.

Written in 1947 and described as a ‘Broadway opera’, it’s a musical that pictures life in a New York tenement – and on the street outside – on two sweltering summer days and nights. The dramatic climax comes when a jealous husband murders his wife.

There is a whole series of overlapping, interlocking family and individual stories, with about ten major characters, and dozens of minor ones (not to mention the non-speaking ones): this cast list has 56 named roles in it, including canine Queenie, faultlessly played by Oscar the dog.

True to form, the RNCM has double-cast 38 of those parts for alternating dates, so almost 100 performers get their chance in the end. The costume department alone ought to get medals: the set (an extraordinary two-storey, four-apartment (plus cellar) construction that even invades the space normally used for the orchestra) and costume design is by Kate Ford.

Director Stefan Janski, bowing out as head of opera with his last full-length production for the college after nearly 30 years of inspiration and excellence, has made this one something to remember him by.

It’s not just in the clarity with which the complex plot lines are presented, the details of the acting or the masterly positioning of the massed scenes – not for the first time in a Janski production, the ‘police’ have to do real crowd control at times – but also in the little hints of a wider, densely populated world outside and the sense that, beyond this busy microcosm, life goes on.

And then there’s the choreography. Several numbers are song and dance ones, and RNCM choreographer Bethan Rhys Wiliam scores another triumph with the jitterbug of Moon-Faced, Starry-Eyed, the ensemble number for new graduate Jenny (Wrapped In A Ribbon, Tied In A Bow), and the children’s Catch Me If You Can.

As tragedy overtakes the affectionate nationality stereotyping (Jewish, Swedish, Italian New Yorkers, and so on) the fun of the earlier numbers gives way to something much deeper. Weill picks up a vast variety of styles and welds them into one, and the singing and orchestral playing – all under the baton of Clark Rundell – are of superb quality throughout.

The RNCM’s singers are, of course, all people with big operatic voices to demonstrate, and they sound magnificent, but if there is one thing I was puzzled by it was the fact that, while using head mics skilfully, few seemed inclined to change their tone very much for the less operatic demands of musical theatre style. It can be done, as Opera North’s recent Kiss Me Kate cast showed.
The first cast to appear included some remarkably mature singers and some excellent acting. I can’t possibly mention everyone, but I have to pick out Joanna Harries, as Emma Jones, the warm-hearted wiseacre of the wives – her vivid Noo Joisey tones were a delight. Tenor Alexander Grainger has demonstrated his golden larynx at the RNCM before, and he grew in assurance in the character of young lover Sam; with Michaela Parry as his sweetheart Rose, their singing was outstandingly good.
Aidan Edwards has the physical presence to be a really impressive jealous murderer, as Frank, and, more importantly, a rich and pliable voice; Katie Lowe, another singer who’s done great things before, was magnificent as wife-victim Anna.
Daniel Upchurch and Sarah Foubert, as Italian ice-cream and music lover, Lippo, and his wife Greta, were beautiful actor-singers and made us all smile, and Christopher Littlewood revealed a distinguished tenor as young dad Daniel.
Georgia Gardiner and David Thomas got a Strictly-style ovation for their jitterbug, and they can really sing as well as dance! And I loved Rachel Abbott and Alice Gildea’s cameo as the two snobby, pram-pushing nursemaids.
Among the other cast Alexandra Lowe was wonderful as Rose, with a lovely What Good Would The Moon Be, and Kimberley Raw had the spoken accent as well as the singing quality in her Anna. Brian McNamee (Sam) has a voice that I think will go on to great things, and Graham McCusker nearly made a Tevye out of Abraham, while Ronald McCusker was another very likeable Lippo. James Berry and Jake Horler-Newsham also sound like excellent future prospects.
And Oscar the dog has clearly got the acting bug. By the time I saw his fourth performance, he had extended his skills not only to ad-lib movement but some vocalization, too.


Robert Beale

No comments:

Post a Comment