I like to think that the ghost of David Heneker was nodding his head and smiling benignly down on the students of Chichester University’s Musical Theatre Faculty in Bognor last night as they revived what had been a hit stage show in the mid sixties and reminded us in no uncertain style why the original was such a hit (after transferring to Broadway it notched up over 500 performances). The subsequent movie was an execrable confection which could not be saved even by the presence of Tommy Steele for whom the original was written as vehicle to show off his song-and-dance man credentials.
So strongly is the musical related to the movie in people’s minds that it takes it a brave decision to revive the original stage show. Full marks then to the creative team of Faculty Head Karen Howard, Musical director and arranger Alex Parker and Choreographer Damien Delaney for putting together such a slick and entertaining show and allowing us to appreciate the forgotten delights that this show has to offer.
The part of Kipps was written to ensure that Tommy Steele was constantly to the fore. Steele was nothing if not possessed of remarkable stamina, and this tour de force involves the character in pretty well every scene and number, only allowing enough off-stage time for costume changes. Matthew Sparkes was more than equal to the task bringing just the right level of callowness and ingenuousness to the role without ever lapsing into mawkishness. Sparkes is starting to make a name for himself locally in musical theatre and deserves to thrive on a wider stage.
The ensemble work was professional and consistently good with well-tuned part singing, energetic hoofing (including a very good tap number), and some wonderful comedic cameos (Kemi Wilson is a name to look out for in future). A minimalistic but versatile set worked well, and special mention should be made of lighting designer Becky Daley and costume designer Ryan Laight for combining to produce a stylish ‘look’ to the production using off whites, creams and muted pastels.
This was a cracking evening’s entertainment and a credit to the staff and students Chichester University Musical Theatre Faculty.