Another first – not just the musical but the newly opened 800 seater auditorium, so maybe a bit churlish to mention
that this is a very busy production on a stage icrammed full of scenery and props. Amazingly, despite having little room to manoevre, it does not cramp the style of the cast one little bit. They fling themselves into everything, every one of them with great gusto whether acting, singing, dancing or playing instruments; frequently all at once.
Any action taking place front of stage, the space looks so narrow, it’s astonishing nobody plumments into the audience. Then on one side, the drummer is perilously perched up a height while the other shelters the keyboards. However, in the middle is an ingenious revolve which whisks us to high school, church, Rev Moore’s living room etc, etc. Everything is precisely thought out and choreographed but the devil is in the details; for example, we’re not surprised when a car bonnet serves as a table but it would work even better with the simple addition of a table cloth.
Nitpicking is not something you could apply at all to the cast. It comes as a surprise to learn that in the film, Kevin Bacon seems to have had a double for virtually everything – with Joshua Dowen as Ren McCormack, it is all his own work. And on top of that, he has to merge hero and nerd; again, very successfully – but up against stiff competiton from bumbling country bumpkin, Willard. Dominic Gee Burch cheerfully wrings every bit of humour out of his portrayal, words as clumsily comical as actions, neatly matched by the scatty Rusty, Laura Sillett. He ends up winning the audience’s hearts as well as hers.
Another good match: Reuven Gershon as stiff necked Reverend Shaw Moor and his longsuffering wife, Vi (Maureen Nolan), if not initially made in Heaven. Driven apart by the hell of suffering after the death of their son, it is a delight to see him shake off his moral coils in the final scene, with or without a guitar. Meanwhile, Vi makes up a trio of strong women, and one of the most interesting aspects of the story is its comments on their role in a 1970s Bible belt community such as Bomont. Maureen Nolan appears to be about the only one sans instrument, something which Lindsay Goodhand makes up for in spades (4), not to mention her range of roles (3). In fact, whatever, whoever, she is playing, she is invariably eyecatching. As is our heroine, rebellious Ariel. If ever you have wondered about the difference between ‘sensuous’ and ‘sensual’, Hannah Price settles that argument with her dance moves.
And if you happen to be fancy free one evening, you know just the place to be. Was there a standing ovation? Nope – better yet, it was singing and dancing, and thoroughly well deserved.