NORTH WEST ESSEX THEATRE GUILD

LITTLE WALTHAM DRAMA GROUP

SATURDAY 23 JULY 2OO5

AN EVENING OF SWING

FRONT OF HOUSE

I was given a warm welcome and shown to my seat. The first thing I noticed was that although I arrived about half an hour early, most of the audience were already present. What is your secret? Many groups would love to copy you, rather than have the bulk of the audience turning up with three minutes to go! I suspect that the presence of a bar may have something to do with it!
I had been forewarned that you were trying to create a night-club atmosphere and you succeeded. Tables were set out throughout the hail, equipped with bowls of nuts, etc. and there were waitresses to take drinks orders. The wails were decorated with images all pertaining to the theme of Swing and I particularly liked the black and white drawings of great crooners from the past. Congratulations to whoever made these.
The
stage was open and we could see that it was surrounded by black curtains with silver streamers hanging in front. A bar, tables and chairs could be dimly seen. The auditorium lighting was low and all combined to pro4uce a relaxing atmosphere.
The programme
was a good read, including a history of swing and a Pop Quiz.

SET, PROPS AND STAGE MANAGEMENT
With all
the audience in place early, there was no need for warning bells or an announcement. Without any great fuss the band started the Overture on time and we were away. As the lights came up on the stage, additional lights over the bar and around the edge of the stage, which had a forestage extension, came on adding to the very effective night-club effect. Beyond that, the setting was entirely static and I assume that the only stage management activity needed was to get the cast on at the beginning and off at the end. Props consisted mainly of bottles and glasses (kept filled!) and all seemed appropriate. Itís a pity the steel brackets holding the shelves over the bar were not painted black to hide them. *

LIGHTING AND SOUND

Lighting, An excellent effort with very limited resources. The single and duet soloists were nicely picked out against a variety of coloured washes, with some backgrounds also in darkness, producing a good variety. The lighting upstage over the bar was well controlled. It was rather a pity that the soloistsí spot could not effectively cover more that about three people. A little bit more effort could have had the quartets and upwards all lit.

Sound I thought at first that amplification would not be needed in such a small ball and, indeed, it wouldnít, had the band been quieter. As it was, apart from one or two of the men with extremely good voices the sound system was needed. This was particularly apparent on the occasions when the cast did not get near enough to the microphone and were overwhelmed by the band.

COSTUME
As the
costumes comprised dinner suits for the men and long dresses for the ladies, it is difficult (for a man) to make too many comments, except that everyone looked comfortable in their clothes and the colours worked well together. Maybe a change between halves would have added to the interest?

MUSICAL DIRECTION AND ORCHESTRA
The orchestra (or
perhaps band in this instance) were very good. Although comprising only four players, the sound was nicely balanced and appropriate to the music being played. As regards the musical direction. I felt that there was very good tuneful ensemble work.
The diction was
mostly very good, except as noted in the Cast section below, However, why oh why, when doing an evening consisting solely of music was there no harmonising in the chorus? Unison singing, even when the songs are good, is very tedious indeed. I only noticed one piece of harmony - and that was in ďThey Canít Take That Away From MeĒ. Very nice.

DIRECTION AND CHOREOGRAPHY
I have to admit that I am having some difficulty in adjudicating this production, because it really was just a series of songs by soloists and chorus ó more akin to a concert than a theatrical production, and I am certainly not a music critic!
Having said that, and as mentioned earlier, there was a great effort to create (very successfully) a certain atmosphere and the only thing lacking in these non-smoking days was the smoke! Perhaps the use of a smoke machine would have made all the difference (seriously).
Following my comments about this
being a concert, this impression was emphasised by an almost lack of movement on the stage. In the second half some people did loosen up (both soloists and chorus), but on the whole the evening of swing didnít swing, because the cast remained rigid. June may well have instructed those in the background not to draw attention away from the soloists, but they certainly drew my attention by acting like statues. I may be being hypercritical, but the rigid bodies and the lack of genuine happy faces did tend to make the evening rather monotonous
There was a little movement when some of the cast did some dancing, and the tap number was good, but there was very little of this. I donít think space was a problem there seemed to be plenty of room behind the soloists.

CAST
As I was not provided with a running order complete with the names of the cast in each item, I find it difficult to comment on individual performances. I will go through the. numbers and from that you will no doubt he able to identify the people involved.

FIRST HALFí
Introduction A nice strong and welcoming introduction from the compere

I Get A Kick Out Of You: A good strong and melodic number by the whole cast.

Come fly With Me: Another strong ensemble number, but very static. SMILE:
Needed some interaction among cast between verses

Something Stupid: What. a pity that the two soloists didnít took at each other until the last line. This song is a conversational love song and needed some interaction between the two. Nicely sung, however, This was the first instance of the soloists being overwhelmedd by the hand.

líve Got You Under My Skin: Nicely sung. In tone. A very pleasant some.

Letís Face The Music And Dance: Nicely sung by four ladies

Youíre Nobody Till Someone Loves You: A good attempt, but out of tune. The audience helped out, however and enjoyed it.

Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me: This soloist was the star of the show, This and his other items had a professional finish, Great voice, facial expressions movement and stage presence.

There appeared to be a change of programme here. I think the next item was Sway, we then went onto:

Style: A nice rendition by two soloists and chorus,

The Way You look Toniight: Great they held each other! What a difference a bit of emotion and acting makes. Improved as song went on Nice to see sone dancing in the background.

Lady Is A Tramp: Very good

Fly Me To The Moon: Nice number, but rather a weak solo.

Mack The Knife: Best number in this half The audience was involved, Great rapport with the band.

Birth Of The Blues: Nice ending to the half slightly marred by not being able to hear the words 0f the soloists during their high sections. They sounded strained and were overwhelmed by the band again

 

SECOND HALF
A good overture and introduction.
Clementine; Good build up as an opening number. Very good!

These Foolish Things; Not bad, Ensemble work could have been a little better. Donít stand there clenching your fIsts relax!

They Canít Take That Away From Me: Nice duet with harmoniesl Well balanced. They looked happy and involved each other.

Ainít That A Kick In The Head: Very good solo Needed a little morre interest upstage. Only one couple in front of proscenium could have been more

Putting On The Ritz: Great to see some movement and action at last! Good solo lots of expression Too far upstage for the microphone unfortunately.

One For My Baby: Great attempt at a classic I enjoyed this a lot. Best of the second half

Beyond The Sea: Nice ensemble and good solo

Have You Met Miss Jones No problems. Very pleasant

Save The Last Dance: This is where the solo spot could not cover all the soloists. Those on the outer edge were in dim light. ln fact the whole scene was a bit on the dark side, Nice ensemble singing and movement.

The Very Thought Of You: Probably the best female solo. Confident, Blended with female chorus.

All The Way: Very good. Perfect lighting. In fact excellent!

Sweet Chariot Good full chorus and nicely arranged on stage.

When The Saints; Got the audience clapping. Nice variation of volume, Good end to the show

Ian Crisp
.July 2005