Tag Archives: BMOS

Christmas Turkey


New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Wednesday 15th November, 2017


For their Christmas production this year, BMOS have chosen to mount this musical adaptation of a creaky old film, a perennial favourite – in the USA more than here perhaps.  The story of a department store Father Christmas who claims to be the real deal and is put on trial for his sanity.

Things are much worse over there than they are here – in terms of the commercialisation of Christmas, I mean.  Although… there are people here who get all excited about department stores’ Christmas TV ads and practically wet their pants to see a lorry delivering Coca-Cola… so the rot is definitely spreading!

Written by Meredith (Music Man) Willson, the show is a cracker that doesn’t bang.  The original songs are uniformly awful and unmemorable – for which I am grateful – and the book is leaden and cringeworthy.

Jo Smith (Doris, shopworker and single mom) and Matt Collins (Fred,ex-army, wannabe lawyer and child befriender) work hard to bring life to the clunky dialogue but they are acted off the stage by young Willow Heath as Susan.  Heath is spot on in terms of accent and intonation, and we are spared moments of saccharine sentimentality.  Stewart Keller’s Kris Kringle thaws as the action unfolds.  At first he’s a little pompous and you don’t know if he’s going to sell you a bucket of chicken or unleash resurrected dinosaurs.

Director Suzi Budd’s choreography gets interesting during a comic number (‘She Hadda Go Back’) performed by Fred and a bunch of marines.  Unfortunately, the song is totally extraneous in terms of plot development and should be cut – anything to shorten the show’s overly long running time.

John Spencer gives a pleasing turn as shop mogul R H Macy but there is one cast member whose performance is of a highly professional standard, in a detailed but larger-than-life characterisation and with a fully supported singing voice: the incomparable Mark Shaun Walsh as Doris’s uptight assistant Mr Shellhammer.  Walsh is an uplifting presence and a joy to behold.  BMOS are unbelievably lucky to have him in their ranks.  No offence to them, but I hope Walsh finds himself a professional engagement worthy of his talents.

The massive troupe work hard to keep things going are there are pleasing moments and amusing touches but I can’t help feeling they are flogging a dead reindeer with this turkey of a show.  The time, energy and resources of the company would be better focussed elsewhere, on material worthy of their attention.


Stewart Keller, Jo Smith and Mark Shaun Walsh (Photo: Ariane Photography Studio)

Sunshine and Show-ers


Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Friday 2nd October, 2015


This jukebox musical is based around the songs of Scottish duo, the Proclaimers – No, I couldn’t name enough of their songs to fill the back of a matchbox never mind fill out a show. In a way, this helps – there appears to be less ‘shoe-horning’ in of songs, just to get the hits in. It’s the story of Ally and Davy, back from a tour of duty and looking for a new start in their home town. Ally is with Liz, Davy’s sister, and Liz sets her brother up with her workmate, fellow nurse, Yvonne. Meanwhile, Liz and Davy’s parents hit a rocky patch when a long-ago affair comes to light… It’s soap opera stuff and hardly original but Stephen Greenhorn’s script has plenty of funny lines and it is played by a likeable cast who hold our interest.

Chris Johnson’s Ally convinces both in terms of accent and emotion, while Maria Rodriguez is a vivacious Liz. Brooklyn Barber is an appealing Yvonne, but it is Mark Walsh as Davy who is a cut above the rest, delivering a West End-quality performance, engaging, emotive and just about perfect. Rob Fusco is particularly strong as Davy’s dad Rab, while Sharon Tozer as mum Jean warms up as the show goes on – her dramatic scenes are excellent, as is her rendition of the title song.

The chorus is in good voice and work with focus to create bustling scenes and background atmosphere but Stephen Duckham’s direction is patchy: a flashback scene could be staged more clearly, for example, but there are moments of flair – a brawl freezes to become a frieze, the backdrop for a heated discussion between Rab and Jean. It’s not helped by a boxy, cumbersome set that slows down some of the transitions. Less is more in these cases – lighting and scenic projections would have done the job slickly and stylishly.

Some of the songs contain social commentary and there are several throwaway lines of dialogue about the privatisation of the NHS but there is never a sense that anyone can do anything about it. The characters are too caught up in the soap opera dramas of their lives to think of the bigger picture – which is how most people carry on, I suppose.

On the whole though it’s an enjoyable evening, a lively production of a run-of-the-mill story, enlivened by talented lead players and a hard-working, well-drilled chorus. The best song, the one about walking 500 miles, is saved for the end, for a rousing, feel-good finish. Once again BMOS delivers the goods.


A Night on the Tiles


New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 9th June, 2015


The last time I saw this show it had Paul Michael Glaser in it and the cast played musical instruments on stage. BMOS gives us a more straightforward production, relying on the strength of the material and a traditional approach.

Being opening night, there are inevitably a few technical hitches, with a few missed microphone cues and some dry ice coming on a scene early. Scene transitions can take a bit too long, forcing musical director Daivd Easto to have the band repeat the same note over and over like a stuck record. All of this, I expect, will be ironed out as the run progresses.

Those niggles aside, this is an enjoyable evening, recounting the not-quite heart-warming story of a community destroyed by ethnic cleansing. John Spencer’s Tevye is the beating heart of the village and the show itself. Spencer delivers the milkman’s warmth and humour by the cartload in a performance that dominates but never overshadows, as Tevye learns that the traditions that once were the glue that held his life together are now wedges that drive his family apart. Sally Jolliffe makes a formidable Golde, the milkman’s wife. There is some lovely character work from Jennifer Eglinton as Yente the matchmaker and old busybody, and Dave Wilkes’s Lazar the butcher comes into his own during a rousing pub song. Rob Bateman sounds authentic as the revolutionary Perchik from Kiev – and here I feel a comment about the accents coming on.

The accents are all over the shop, taking us from the Ukraine to Bangladesh via Tiger Bay, with hints of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ludwig Von Drake thrown in. My advice would be don’t bother. Focus instead on characterisation and playing the emotion of a scene, letting the cadence of the dialogue emerge for itself. Witness the star turn by Mark Walsh as timid tailor Motel. No vowel-strangling here, just an honest and convincing portrayal of a young man summoning up the confidence to win the girl he loves. His solo, Miracle of Miracles, is a definite highlight – a difficult number that Walsh pulls off via characterisation, showing Motel growing in stature as the song builds to its climax. A cut above – if I may use a tailor pun.

Tevye’s eldest daughters each have their troubles, allowing Marie Donnellan (Tzeitel), Abby Wells (Hodel) and Amy Jevons (Chava) their moments in the spotlight. Separately, they sing sweetly and emotively but together as a trio, their Matchmaker song is a delight.

There are times when the stage seems overcrowded – the chorus is in fine voice –  and the action can be a little unfocussed because there’s so many of them. The wedding ceremony is a little swamped, for example, and Tevye’s dream is overpopulated (although Karen Whittington’s Fruma-Sarah is head and shoulders above everyone else!). That said, there are some stand-out moments: the men dancing at the wedding reception (Sally Jolliffe’s choreography is suitably ethnic) is superbly done – but director Stephen Duckham needs to make the disruption caused by Russian bullies more menacing.

The main symbol that gives the show its title, a fiddler on the roof, tells us that life is precarious. People in dangerous situations are just trying to scrape a living. Ethnic cleansing and hordes of refugees are still very much with us. First produced in 1964, the show was a coded reference to Nazi Germany, a look at a difficult subject through the safety of historical distance. Nowadays, the story resonates beyond the Jewish experience. One wonders whether Tevye and his family fleeing oppression today, would end up drowning in the Med.

Perhaps I’m making the show sound more heavy-going than it is. Joseph Stein’s book is warm and funny, and Jerry Bock’s score is chockfull of strong songs, with witty and poignant lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. BMOS presents a solid, more than competent production that serves the material well, entertains and satisfies, even though it could do with a little more theatrical flair.