BUSOM – Around The World (And Beyond) in 80 Minutes (Or More*) *Probably Less
Escape, Student Central
Thursday 8th December 2011
As the snow began to fall in Bradford – well, sort of sleeted – it was time to grab a drink and head to Escape for the latest BUSOM – Bradford University Society for Operettas and Musicals - production, which was good as it meant I didn’t have to leave the same building that I work in and risk getting wet as I would have done if I’d had to dash across to the theatre.
Now, I’m going to get a reputation for giving BUSOM positive reviews but, once more, the ensemble put on a cracking show that entertained on the Thursday evening, with Escape being a good, intimate venue for the performance. A delayed start to the production benefitted the atmosphere with the venue, which was quite empty at the due start time, filling up completely within the following ten minutes, with a good fifty people down to enjoy the concert.
The concert, loosely themed around places of the world, opened with ‘Portabello Road’ from ‘Bedknobs and Broomsticks’, a strong effort from all the singers who sang perfectly in time, with some great solos from Judith Mbanisi and Cartina Lodge. The segway into the next song, ‘Barcelona’ from ‘Company’ (not, sadly the Freddie Mercury version, as we’re no longer in Movember!), featured singer Dave Jennings pretending to sleep, which I assume must be something from the musical else I’m confused, so was a little unusual but was punctuated by a wild-eyed Bill Harding (or Studley McFingerman as he is credited in the programme) pointing out locations to songs as the show progressed on an inflatable globe, even if his Geography was a bit off as Spain appeared to be relocated to North Africa. His little inserts, bouncing well off Emelie Ollila, were great throughout the performance, especially as he appeared strangely demonic under a strong lilac light.
Back to the music and Dave’s duet was beautifully sung. They brought the song to life and punctuated the funny lines with some great acting.
‘Merano’ from ‘Chess’ was next and showcased some more great choral work with some great sections from Jon, Joel and Colin and a really nice soprano line from the female side. The more I hear from this musical the more I think I need to watch it. Certainly a well-performed song.
Next was ‘I Am Africa’ from the ‘Book of Mormon’ and the first big highlight from the conference even if it did suffer from a little mis-timing. Emelie and Lyndsey were great but the star was Stuart, whose voice shone and his acting made the song.
Suiting the nature of ‘The Producers’, ‘In Old Bavaria’ was introduced with a dodgy stereotypical German accent from the excellent Anna Garlick, who once more lit up the stage with her eccentric and comedic acting, and great singing of the track, aided by an enthusiastic backing.
Lyndsey’s solo of ‘What’s New Buenos Aires’ from ‘Evita’ was well done but the song itself wasn’t a particularly exciting choice, especially after the one that was before it.
The arrival of Joel and Jon on stage is always something to look forward to because of their comedic potential in the material. And though their rendition of ‘Santa Fe’ from ‘Rent’ wasn’t the strongest performance of the night their vocals complimented each other but there wasn’t so much opportunity for their personalities to come through. Stuart’s appearance in the song, though, was fantastic once more, leading well into ‘You Won’t Succeed On Broadway’ from ‘Spamalot’ which, with his plumy English accent and facial expressions, truly brought the madness of Monty Python to life, with Jon and Joel also coming alive in the performance of this really funny song.
‘America’ from ‘West Side Story’ was up next and saw a great singing battle between the male and female sides of the chorus and was a very tight performance.
It was the final two songs of the first half, though, that would be the ones that would define the performance. For the first – ‘Girlfriend in Canada’ from ‘Avenue Q’ – Bill jumped from the piano to take centre stage, channelling a version of his character from ‘Fame’ earlier in the year, tackling the hilarious and, at times, rude lyrics with relish and some great acting and delivery, with support from the ever reliable Anna Garlick. With the audience in stitches, Bill successfully captured the attitude of the puppets from the musical it is taken from.
This was followed by ‘Blame Canada’ from the ‘South Park’ movie which is possibly the only way you could follow such a song that ends on the line it did (YouTube it!) and was played with relish by the whole chorus, with Dave, Stuart and Zoe Howe all bringing their own bits to it for maximum humour, and even adapting the song to throw in a reference to Justin Bieber.
This track brought the first thirty-minute set to a close, allowing for a twenty minute interval where I could chat to some people and fail to get served at the busy, but slow, bar, meaning I had to return to my seat without refreshment ready for part two, which is where the show went further into fantasy with ‘Welcome To Duloc’ from the film ‘Shrek’ being the opener, nicely labelled on the globe with a post-it note, with another great piece of interlude from Bill and Emelie. The song was well delivered by the chorus with a marvellous key change, and good delivery of the intentionally missed out swearing, if you remember that from the film.
With some more ad-libbing from Bill (“Stop kicking my world”) it was onto a Disney double, with ‘Under The Sea’ from ‘The Little Mermaid’, performed by new-comer Catrina Lodge with backing from Emily, Zoe and Catia. Catrina suffered from a few nerves, missing out a few lines, but after a shaky start grew in confidence and performed the song well, aided by the good backing singers, capturing the feel of the song even without tackling the challenging distinctive Caribbean accent.
Speaking of challenging, the next song of ‘A Whole New World’ from ‘Aladdin’ is a song often performed and often performed badly, due to its challenging notes. Just ask Jordan and Peter Andre, though in fairness she does find even writing a book herself difficult. Mike Alborough took the male lead and was superb and with Naomi excelling on female vocals, but not quite up to Mike’s level. It was song that could easily sound horrible but was performed really well, and there was a lot of character in their voices, particularly from Naomi, and their chemistry on-stage worked during the number.
‘One Short Day’ from ‘Wicked’ continued the fantasy theme with Poppy and Sarah-Jane dressed up for the parts. It was a great, strong rendition from them both and their voices suited each other very well.
The ‘Wizard of Oz’ theme continued to the next song with ‘Merry Old Land of Oz’, with the four singers doing a very good version of the song but it was Anna Garlick again who stood out with some more great character acting.
A festive-ish feel was brought to the performance after with ‘This Is Hallowe’en’ from ‘A Nightmare Before Christmas’ and was as good as ever, with Colin and Dave adding in some fine sections and a massive evil cackle from everyone.
It was great to see the return of Colin Fine next to the stage for a performance of ‘Stranger In Paradise’ from ‘Kismet’. A member that hasn’t been in any productions for a while, it was a restrained but well done performance that nailed the feeling of the track.
It was also great to see Zoe Howe step up for the penultimate track of ‘A Million Miles Away Behind The Door’ from ‘Paint Your Wagon’. Often recently being in the background, it was great to see her tackling a solo, and one she performed magnificently, and we even got treated to a member of street dance doing an impromptu ballet piece to her work.
Finally the show came to an end with the appropriately titled ‘No Cure Like Travel / Bon Voyage’ from ‘Anything Goes’, which once more showed off the male / female sides in competition, both sides performing well, bringing the second thirty-minutes of music to an end.
Once more BUSOM proved to be good value of money once more with a score of great songs performed really well, with a good cross section of musical classics and more modern, comedic ditties. Stuart Sellens and Anna Garlick proved to be the stars of the show from an acting point of view, and many proved to be on top form with their singing, with a nice mix of returning faces and new members. Another enjoyable evening from the boys and girls of BUSOM.