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9 to 5 the Musical

24-28 May 2022

Based on the hit film of the same name, with Music and lyrics by Dolly Parton, book by Patricia Resnick. You know you’re on to a winner when the legend that is Dolly Parton, projected onto the 9 to 5 logo above the stage, introduces a quick show synopsis. 
Lively full cast opening number, a subtle and smooth introduction into the show. Lots of movement in the opening, impressive synchronisation of steps and great use of office props made it really zing along. This set the bar high for the rest of the show with great choreography throughout from Choreographer/Producer Ed Costello. 
Set in the 80’s patriarchal world of typewriter pools and extremes, our three heroines Violet, Doralee and Judy; skilfully embodied by Abby Evans, Kira Matthews and Leah Dowell respectively; are brought together into the world of Corporate America. Trying to make a living under the critical ever-watchful eye of the Boss’s office snitch, Roz, hilariously encapsulated by Rosemary Gresty; restrained yet played for the maximum laughter appeal. It worked well.
The man at the heart of the company, curtailing any female ambition, aspirations, or promotion, whatsoever, the odious, overbearing letch that is Franklin Hart Jr. A paragon of back slapping, old school tie misogyny, excellently portrayed by Jordan Harrison, his rendition of the lewdly salacious “Here For You” was oozingly brilliant. 
It is when Franklin oversteps the mark promoting a young guy that Violet trained, she finally blows her top, aided and abetted by Doralee and Judy, they’re forced into desperate measures to teach Franklin a lesson. This was played to perfection, building jeopardy and excitement finally climaxing Act One with a half-naked, bound and gagged Franklin suspended in mid-air in his own bedroom. 
Costumes looked very time appropriate. All the cast sang and performed well, lead’s vocals thoughtful and well-schooled. The pace and styling of the show was very good. Great Fun, suspending reality for a couple of hours. 
The almost seamless scene changes were especially slick, the cast assisting with props as and when required this worked visually very well indeed. The switching from office to Hart’s bedroom was particularly good.
Act Two. With the dastardly Hart safely tied up (literally) the three intrepid ladies run the office in his stead. Despite much interference from Roz, using Doralee’s forging skills, the girls’ management turns office morale around, productivity goes through the roof and eventually this comes to the notice of company owner Mr Tinsworthy. 
Craftily Hart manages to get the better of a distracted Judy, escaping his bonds, he returns to the office to have all three arrested for kidnapping, just as Mr. Tinsworthy arrives to praise Harts improved performance figures. Hart unaware of the improvements, lays the responsibility firmly at the girls feet, Violet gets promoted to CEO in his place, Hart and Roz are posted down South. 
An excellent big twelve-piece band rocked and funked their way through the numbers with true to era sounds under the very capable baton of Director/Musical Director Keith Ragdale. Sound was well balanced overall. 
A vibrant, lively show peppered with great songs and performances by all.

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Nativity! the Musical

16-20 November 2021

Based on the hit film, this Christmas show was a revelation, with book and lyrics by Debbie Isitt. Music by Debbie Isitt and Nicky Ager.
Three school friends, Paul, Gordon and Jennifer, love to perform, they all go off to drama school with big dreams. Two fall in love, very funny bit of comic business here; Jennifer has the chance to follow their Hollywood dreams, leaving Paul and Gordon both going into teaching, at very different ends of the Ofsted scale. 
Paul Maddens played with real heart by Thom Wilde, has become bitter with his lot, losing the love of his life, teaching unruly children at a failing school, plus getting an absolutely dismal review from sanctimonious local newspaper critic Patrick Burns, wickedly played by Nathan Adams.
Five-star review rival Jordan Harrison as obsessed sneering Gordon Shakespeare teaches at the poshest of posh schools, drilling ‘win at all costs’ mantra into his educationally privileged pupils.  
What may have started as friendly rivalry has become embittered sniping, as Gordon lords it over Paul at every opportunity.
Enter Desmond Poppy, a truly amazing performance from Andrew Turner. His off-the-wall antics as new Teaching Assistant to Paul wins over the children as quickly as it infuriates and frustrates Paul. This is a beautifully written and observed character, portrayed with a nuance and subtlety of professional standard.
The fun really begins when Mr. Poppy accidentally overhears a robust encounter between Paul and Gordon with Paul stating former girlfriend Jennifer Lore, Leah Dowell, now seconded successfully in Hollywood, is bringing ‘Hollywood’ to Coventry to sign up St Bernadette’s Nativity for the movies.
Enthused beyond reason Mr. Poppy tells everyone including his auntie, school principal Mrs. Patricia Bevans, subtlety played by Rosemary Gresty, gin bottle in hand, very concerned for the financial future of the school, she leaps on this lifeline, alerting the national media, as the lie snowballs, the excitement of all involved is palpable, oozing off the stage, the school is catapulted into the public eye with everyone wanting to be in the movies.
Paul under increasing pressure to deliver relies on Mr. Poppy’s wild ideas to create the amazing Nativity show, starting of course with auditions, I really loved Sylvia Evans Irish vicar’s one-woman recreation of ‘Ce La Vie’ by Bewitched. One of many stand out performances, particularly the children.
Incandescent with disbelief Gordon’s frantic Blue Sky session with his pupils to somehow counter St Bernadette’s Nativity, finally settling on the over the top ‘Herod The Rock Musical’. Brilliant, I’m still chuckling when I think about this scene.
Act Two opener was reminiscent of ‘Gotta Dance’ from Singing In The Rain. Hustle and bustle of Hollywood. Good movement. The Star Tour bus scene pilled the laugh out loud scale even higher.
I must congratulate everyone involved in bringing this gem of a show to the stage, despite a technical issue in Act Two quickly and ably resolved, the cast, young and old, sound, lighting, costumes were all of a high standard. The musicians under MD Keith Ragdale rose to the technical challenge and were superb throughout. I must also mention the wonderful children in the cast, they really stepped up, enthusiastically immersing themselves in the positive essence of the story.
There was such heartfelt emotion, passion, and sheer joy in this show, it was utterly infectious.  
A very funny, very entertaining quintessential feel-good Christmas story. Magical!

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Jesus Christ Superstar

12-16 November 2019

Lyrics by Tim Rice with Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Jesus Christ Superstar was their first musical produced for the professional stage over 40 years ago. A dark rock opera seen through the eyes of Judas Iscariot. Five Towns Theatre unrelentingly show after show, bring quality musical drama to the stage, the presentation, look and feel are of a professional standard. From the first notes of the incredibly tight ten piece band leaving the P.A. system I had a familiar warm feeling of expectation of the show to come. Andrew Turner as Judas was outstanding, the vocal dexterity shone from his opening number, fabulous light and shade and powerful presence. A great performance all round. The obvious tensions between himself and Jesus were physically portrayed with real passion. Nathan Adams as Jesus, should be fronting an arena touring rock band, what an amazing vocal range this young man has, hitting notes effortlessly with power and precision, yet also a tender fragility in moments that came across so well. The emotive Last Supper, the capture, torture, examination, Crucifixion scenes were so brilliantly staged, all the while he meekly and almost regally stayed calmly in character, enduring all. Excellent. Miriam Mould as Mary again really good performance, thoughtful and beautifully sung numbers, definitely need to see and hear more from her in the future. Pilate, Jordan Harrison a commanding performance, masterly, tongue in cheek, compassionate, he had fun in this role and it showed. Likewise the rest of the named characters, Caiaphas, Katie Leath; Annas, Molly Joynson; Herod, Sam Harrison; Simon, Ben Birkett; Peter, Lewis Harrison; always engaged, enjoying performing, giving their collective best efforts for the show throughout. As did the whole of the fifty odd cast members many playing multiple roles, the singing and in particular the harmonies were so well drilled and sung it belies the tender ages some of these performers actually are. Directors Keith Ragdale and Abby Evans, know their cast members so well, they get so much out of them. Having the actors integrating and working around the band, the great use of levels added a real dynamic to scenes, beautifully lit, excellent sound throughout, oozing quality. As ever Keith also had his Musical Director hat on – I must compliment each and everyone of the ten piece band, they did seem a little quiet at the start for me, that said I heard every instrument crystal clear, their collective efforts, not just in the execution or the interpretation, it was the subtle nuances and tones of each instrument which added a sparkle to the overall sound, brilliant score from 1998 I believe Keith told me, Loved it. Choreographer Ed Costello, created great flourishes of movement, be that en-mass or in small groups the visuals were well crafted throughout the production, costumes also worked well throughout, denoting different groups of performers. Five Towns has delivered a Hell of a show, powerful, passionate and visually dynamic.

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18-22 June 2019

The show was written by Tim Rice with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber it covers the last seventeen years of Eva Peron's life, starting at sixteen and her first taste of opportunity to better her standing in life, using men to reach ever higher circles in Argentinian society in the 1930's and 40's until her death from cancer in 1952 at the age of thirty three. Five Towns Theatre closed their last show Peter Pan at The Rep in Stoke on Saturday 25th of May 2019, to open with Evita some twenty four days later is truly remarkable, they keep doing this and might I add to a very high standard, no short cuts. There are many cross over players between the two groups who had roles in both. Amazing dedication. I will state for the record I'm not a fan of Lloyd Webber Musicals. That said regardless of originator it is the production, music, sound, lighting and cast performances that I'm appraising. Kia Matthews as Eva, had the unenviable task of filling the shoes of one of the Iconic Musical Female lead roles which she did admirably, the light and shade in her voice was lovely, she carried herself almost regally at times, her costumes and in particular her wigs were outstanding. Jordan Harrison as the shrewd and ruthless Peron, soon realises what a political asset he has in Eva, there was a real tenderness at times in their relationship which they both played well, nice interplay with the duets as well. Andrew Turner as Che (Guevara), the narrator of the show, interjected himself in and out of the action really well, a very well controlled wide ranged singing voice, gave us some lovely duets with Eva, setting the tone of a lot of the scenes with his facial expressions alone in some cases before a word was said. Molly Joynson as Mistress to Peron, her lovely soprano voice shone in Another Suitcase in Another Hall and showed its strength as it powered out at the end of A New Argentina. Ben Birkett as Magaldi, again brings a control and presence to his role, the eventual disdain from Eva as they meet again years later, about him still doing his same old act and his swift cutting reply as to her doing the same, was a window into the complexity of past relationships, especially with the knowledge of hindsight. The whole, very busy and quick changing ensemble, were a credit to the show, slick, enthusiastic, exuberant and vibrant when required, equally so, dour and sombre as required. Five Towns always seem to do good crowds on stage. Excellent work ethic throughout, all there for one another and the team. They danced with a passion and zeal capturing the heat of Buenos Aries in this turbulent time in its history, good lively choreography and movement throughout by Ed Costello, The Art of the Possible, worked very well visually as did the big full cast dance numbers. Lighting, costumes superb, props and scenery were very slickly presented and changed. The ten piece band under the Musical Directorship of Keith Ragdale really hit the spot for me, a total endorsement of the much improved sound at the Rep, every subtle musical nuance, every instrument came across superbly mixed at a perfect level to hear everything said or sang over the music, the band almost had as many changes of instrument as the cast had costume changes. Producers/Directors/Choreographer Keith Ragdale, Edward Costello and Abby Evans are a close team and it shows, they work well together to bring top class shows to the audience.

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Peter Pan

22-25 May 2019

Based on the games he would play with his brothers around the Pirates of Treasure Island and the Indians in The Last Of The Mohicans, James Matthew Barrie eventually began to write a script for the play Peter Pan or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up. This eventually became the book Peter and Wendy, which became an instant best seller and hasn't been out of print since. Five Towns Theatre Youth are very much a nurturing company, finding and developing new and seemingly ever younger talented performers, channelling their abilities and potential in the right direction. A case in point are the two young leads in this production, both performing at levels far in excess of their tender years. Isaac Marmont as Peter Pan, charismatic, big hearted, almost devil may care with the hint of fierceness the character emanates looking after the Lost Boys and having to escape the evil clutches of Captain Hook, his impending voice breaking was handled very well throughout. Bibi Simpson as Wendy Darling equally impressive, her trained voice was outstanding for someone of her age, fabulous. Her consummate stage awareness prior to the flying scene to uncross wires was handled easily and unceremoniously. As I said, both performing beyond their ages. I look forward to seeing their future productions Jordan Harrison wearing two hats so to speak as Mr Darling and Captain Hook, bristled with evil as the latter, a fine foil against Peter and Wendy. Corey English and Stanley Gowler as John and Michael Darling respectively performed confidently. Likewise with Cailyn Clark as Tinkerbell, her actions conveying her intentions well. Lisa Stewart brought a real caring warmth to her role as Mrs Darling. The big supporting cast as Pirates and Indians worked their collective stripey socks and feathers off, lovely singing and good movement. Producers/Directors/Choreographers Keith Ragdale and Edward Costello ably assisted by Abby Evans and Chloe Harrison brought us a really fine show with some magical moments, the flying scene over the London roof tops was pure stage magic, well done. Musical Director Keith Ragdale obviously worked on the singing, the whole cast sang well, the duets between Peter and Wendy were spine tingling. As usual the quality of the musicianship was of the highest standard. Sound had a few issues with mic levels, the band mix to my ears required less brass and slightly more drums, that said I realise this is totally subjective of course. Lighting, costumes, were really vibrant and colourful, props and scenery worked very well indeed. Being extremely picky, as you would expect Maid Liza, Eleanor Adler, should have had her hair up in a cap and a feather duster rather than a modern anti-static one, a very minor point I know. The show catered toward the younger audience with a cutesy crocodile and with elements of pantomime at times in the second half, which went down really well.

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Sweeney Todd

20-24 November 2018

Based on the book by Hugh Wheeler, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Sweeney Todd - The Demon Barber of Fleet Street has its own very particular challenges to bring it successfully to the stage. Five Towns Theatre continue their seemingly relentless desire to achieve the very best of performances from their cast. It seems no matter what the show, they push the envelope to produce some of the best results that local amateur theatre can achieve. The remorselessly driven Sweeney Todd, Oliver Bennett, had a real darkness to him, I enjoyed his portrayal very much, some of the quieter vocals didn't quite cut through the backing earlier on where we were sat in the auditorium but his full voice certainly did he was spot on. Abby Evans as Mrs Lovett, an absolute peach of a role for her, very well observed characterisations, manipulative, conniving, charming, comic, duplicitous. Excellent. From the tortured Dani Drakeley as the Beggar Woman, in some ways as equally lost as Sweeney, a fragile tortured mind, who knows what debasement she endured in her past to reach her lowly position in life, her outbursts and character lucidity switches we really very good. Keiran Picken as trusting besotted Anthony Hope, played well against antagonistic Jude Leath-Yates as the slimy Beadle, both well cast. Callum James as Tobias Ragg featured well in some of the memorable scenes, I particularly liked his crowd surf in Act1, again very watchable performance indeed. James Hart as Adolofo Pirelli had a chancer's menace to him. Likewise with Christian Stewart as Jonas Fogg, both enjoying being big fish in their respective ponds until dealings with Sweeney's revenge took there toll. I'm very glad to see Producers/Directors Keith Ragdale and Edward Costello heard my pleas from their last production the excellent Phantom of the Opera and gave us more opportunities to see Ben Birkett and Molly Joynson on stage, here as Judge Turpin and as Johanna. Consummate, passionate performances from both performers, superb strong voices, carrying the gravitas and helplessness of each role to a tee. Straight from the opening number the cast gave us a crowded London, it felt right. They were all very well rehearsed, they hit their spots, never looked out of place or cluttered in anyway. This is a big cast, around sixty on the Reps stage, a very big hand to all of them, they stayed in character, whatever it was, sang the amazing harmonies with an easy conviction and ability, borne of being well rehearsed. All involved grew stronger and stronger as the show progressed. The Fogg's Asylum scene in particular was outstanding - very, very impressive indeed. Music, as if Keith wasn't busy enough he also Musically Directed the show, the musicianship was absolutely sublime. Sound and lighting, scenery, every aspect had been squeezed to the maximum. Attention to detail was only slightly let down to me by some of the footwear, a minor point but a distraction, although I am being extremely picky, as I am sure you would wish me to be. Once again Five Towns has delivered a top notch production, showing a committed shared work ethic from everyone involved both on and off the stage.

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The Phantom of the Opera

20-23 June 2018

Five Towns Theatre don't seem to have any concept of stopping on how high to raise the bar, or indeed sitting on their laurels, show by show they keep producing performances of the highest quality and professionalism, whichever of their groups, be it their full group or Youth groups. Based on the novel 'Le Fantome de L'Opera by Gaston Leroux. The young leads, Ben Birkett as The Phantom and Molly Joynson as Christine Daae, were utterly outstanding, their vocal performances alone were truly exceptional, there conveyance of their characters in this classic Lloyd Webber show sublime. I hope we'll be seeing much more of these two in the future. All of the principal characters were excellent, the focus and intensity required on some of the seven part vocal pieces was a real credit to all of them, great characterization, some fantastic vocal and comedic performances belighing their tender ages. Produced and Directed by Keith Ragdale and Ed Costello, the pair also covering Musical Direction and Choreography, again seemingly with ease, ( by that I mean an amazing commitment from them both, the amount of time, effort and attention to detail in all aspects of their prodcution process is staggering) to bring yet another classic show to their audience, FIVE weeks. That's FIVE!! weeks since their last Full cast show The Wizard of Oz. Music, Sound and lighting, scenery, every aspect had been optimised. Little details can make such a difference, touches like the old style brass shell lighting fans for the front of the stage, the glorious grandness of the theatre arch, all drew you into this world, the corps de ballet, Masquerade, all cemented a vigerous and exciting all round performance by the youthful cast. The work ethic from everyone on the stage was both commendable and superb. Very impressive show indeed.

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The Wizard of Oz

8-12 May 2018

This is an almost impossibly HUGE show, firstly hats off to everyone involved in bringing this production to the stage at the Rep, the lighting plot alone was scary. I was reliably informed that this was worked on well into the early hours of Monday morning. It was time well spent, as the lighting was visually stunning, absolutely sublime at times. A massive credit to the Production Team Keith Ragdale and Ed Costello and all of their back stage staff all of whom are to be congratulated for taking on such a challenging production. The scene changes came thick and fast, as did the classic songs from the movie, very ably backed by the orchestra under Musical Director Keith Ragdale's direction. Dorothy played by Katy Ernest really echoed the role made famous by Judy Garland in the film of the same name, she also had a lovely co-star, Bella as Toto, it was almost a tie in the cuteness scale between Toto and the Munchkins. Her partners for the journey on the impressive yellow brick, Scarecrow, Sam Harrison; Tinman, Mike Blakemore and Lion, Oliver Bennett all gave great performances helping to reinforce very fond memories of these wonderful tunes. Katy was very well aided in her portrayal of Dorothy by the rest of the lead characters, most of which played two roles; all performed well. Mrs Gulch/Wicked Witch, the broomtastic Abby Evans was also on the top of her game. In the early scenes there were some diction issues which seemed to sort themselves out possibly this was first night nerves from the young cast. There were some great production numbers, Munchkin Land and The Emerald City for example. The Jitterbug standing out in particular in The Haunted Forest scene, which was very well presented and captured the fantasy aspect of this story. As if bringing OZ to the stage wasn't challenging enough, Ed Costello also had to fight the sound mixing desk, which developed a fault on the radio mic main volume slider, which kept turning itself off, I was very impressed how he managed to pull it off without awareness from the audience, he did this whilst simultaneously operating the lighting desk. Great sound, a really well balanced mix. Costumes were absolutely spot on. Vibrant and colourful. Great sets. This was a very challenging undertaking, despite a few technical hiccoughs they really pulled it off well.

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21-25 November 2017

We are truly blessed in this city of ours, the quality of our local theatre productions seems to be getting higher and higher. Oliver is another great example with an array of ages from five to sixty eight encompassing the group, this gave a real depth of strength to the show. The two young male leads Oliver, Alex Faulkner; and the Artful Dodger himself, Tristan Hood; bring a wonderful mix of innocence and street smarts, perfectly portrayed. Two of the best young performers I have seen for a long time, a great potential for the future of theatrical culture in our city. The production team have worked extremely hard with their cast to make the show a visual and aural treat for their audiences. Sound and Lighting were both superb, conjuring multi-layered atmospheric ambience throughout the show. Outstanding. Directed by Keith Ragdale, together with co-Director James Dawe, demonstrated great visual awareness using stage craft so effectively during the course of the show, to bring the audience an truly excellent show. Keith also handled the task of Musical Director, leading the superbly talented orchestra with great panache, Ed Costello, Producer and Choreographer was excellent, the cast movement and shaping throughout was just great to watch. Everyone was engaged in giving a good performance which was infectious. Creator Lionel Bart's musical Oliver, must surely have some of the best known show songs in the Theatrical world and all were delivered with great enthusiasm, majestic conviction and pathos. Some stand out numbers for me personally were, Food Glorious Food; Consider Yourself; Oom-pah-pah; As Long As He Needs Me; Reviewing the Situation. All of the principals were excellent, great characterization, the very essence of Bart's Dickensian world brought to life. I must highlight several for their performances which were outstanding. In order of appearance, James Dawe, Mr Bumble; Lucy Birkin opposite him as Widow Comely, this was an inspired pairing, comically played just right. Richard Masters' Fagin, I salute you sir. Abby 'Nancy' Evans, simply charismatic, beautifully portrayed and what a voice. The hard work and enjoyment from everyone on the stage was a joy to see. Feel Good Entertainment. Oliver - Glorious Food for the soul

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Little Shop of Horrors

20/24 June 2017

On the hottest night of the year, I was privileged to attend the first night of the hottest show in town. The comedy rock musical - being staged by Five Towns Theatre - features a light dose of horror in the shape of a carnivorous plant. It is adapted by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman from a 1960 sci-fi black comedy. They have added a rock 'n' roll score including great ensemble pieces and the very hummable Suddenly Seymour. Geeky Seymour, played brilliantly by James Hart, find fame, fortune and love with the help of a very strange plant. But when the plant starts to speak (and sing), he finds himself obliged to provide it with human blood to keep it alive. With a fabulous revolving set designed by Steve Reaney, and exciting choreography from producer Ed Costello, the audience was treated to a first-class performance. Danii Millward was beautifully ditzy as Audrey, and the four narrating singers, Abby Evans, Kloee Tomkinson, Katy Ernest and Hollie Burnett, had excellent voices. But Tim Cooper, in his first role with Five Towns, stole the show as the ill-tempered, rock-and-rolling plant. It was delightful to see so many young players giving their all and directors Keith Ragdale and James Dawe can be very proud. Little Shop of Horrors is on until Saturday. Call 01782 321666 for tickets. Judy Herbert

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