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Review: The West End Comes to Cheltenham, Parabola Arts Centre

By thebuzz  |  Posted: April 05, 2013

Sweeney Todd was one of nine musicals performed at Parabola Arts Centre in Cheltenham

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JUST imagine: nine musicals in one evening!

Maria Jagusz's latest extravaganza whisked the audience to a Jewish shtetl, the back streets of New York, a Durham mining village, a secret garden and revolutionary France in the company of a large ensemble of talented singers, actors and dancers.

The choruses were particularly impressive both musically and visually starting with Tradition and Sunrise, Sunset from Fiddler on the Roof., and later the wittily choreographed Gee, Officer Krupke from West Side Story. The singing of The Stars Look Down from Billy Elliot and Do you hear the People Sing from Les Miserables expressed defiance and fervour. Clearly musical director Michael Webborn has a magical touch.
Paul Bradley cut an imposing figure as Tevie imagining what life would be like "If I were a rich man", and reappeared later in various guises.
Ben Maggs and Megan Yates were splendidly gruesome as the villainous Sweeney Todd and the pie-making Mrs Lovett, but Maggs was to reveal more sensitive qualities and a fine voice in Bring Him Home from Les Miserables.
West Side Story was well served by Owen Hopkins and Helen James as the two star-crossed lovers and some great ensemble pieces including the bubbly "I like to be in America" led by Londa Ntotila. Alice Baker and Eleanor Williams offered strong performances in The Secret Garden, as did Emily Apps and Dan Holley in Chess. I was impressed by the confidence and conviction Henry Firth and Ollie Humphries brought to the roles of Billy Elliot and his friend Michael, while an even younger Jemima Merrington scored a hit as Cosette complete with broom.

With imaginative choreography by Blanche Szynal and a remarkable array of costumes masterchef Maria Jagusz has served up another lavish feast. However, but I came away feeling I had overindulged!

Roger Jones

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