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Mozart & Strouse (London Colleges Opera and Drama Departments Productions)

Mozart Così fan tutte - second cast
Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music, London 27 June 2005

Michael Rosewell, conductor;
Ian Judge, director;
Alison Nalder, designer;
Mark Doubleday, lighting

To our eyes and ears this second-cast performance of Cosi was not up to RCM's top standards.

The ensembles were well coordinated and the orchestra under Michael Rosewell efficient, if inclined to sound fierce in this dry but loud acoustic; more should have been made of quieter opportunities by conductor and soloists. (Perhaps the RCM might be able to field a period-instrument orchestra to accompany 18 C opera and that might help the young singers to match better the acoustics of the Britten Theatre?)

The Alfonso was unfortunately too weak dramatically, and vocally, to drive the engine of the plot, a crucial deficiency. His two unwitting male victims, whose disguises were more convincing than is often the case, had both been prizewinners in the Tauber Competition. They were inclined to demonstrate their readiness for engagement by large opera houses by singing loud (the winner was the first cast's Fiordiligi). The three of them puffed cigarette smoke into the audience to an extent which may soon be banned!

Ian Judge's direction was generally unimaginative. The best reason for going to this performance was Pumeza Matshikiza as a winning Fiordiligi, natural on stage and with a voice to encompass the exceptional demands of the part and well attuned to this rather difficult theatre; a name to watch out for.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Pumeza Matshikiza with Andrew Staples


Bye Bye Birdie Guildhall School of Music and Drama
Guildhall Main Theatre, EC2Y 8DT 1 Jul 2005

Music by Charles Strouse
Lyrics by Lee Adams
Book by Michael Stewart
Directed by Martin Connor

Bye Bye Birdie was the earliest musical about Rock and Roll (1960). Its slender story is about a couple of shaky relationships and a publicity stunt involving Ed Sullivan’s television chat show featuring a teenager who will be the last girl to kiss pop idol Conrad Birdie before he is drafted into the army (clear parallels with Elvis Presley and his situation). Many complications and twists to the story before all comes right in the end, a little too easily perhaps.

Guildhall School's Drama Department team mounted it with flair and impressive attention to detail. Everything gelled together to make a strong case for the genre as musical entertainment which ought not to take second place to opera. (q.v also our recent review of How to Succeed in Business at Chichester.)

Mark Bailey's clever set, based upon two piles of gramophone records, was used with economy and wit, notably the arrival and departure of the train, and there were many brilliant and memorable scenes. The first half was flawless, splendid funny script, good songs and great group scenes; the young cast was easily able to persuade us that the the fans were besotted teenagers of the time, and the costuming was perfectly in period.

Director Martin Connor and choreographer Steven Harris were steeped in all the familiar routines; recognition of gestures seen in other musicals being part of the pleasure of the evening. A drop in the temperature after the interval was saved by a hilarious Shriner ballet number, which had nothing to do with the awkward tying up the plot's loose ends.

From Musical Pointers' stance, the singing and diction was fine. It was supported by an eager, and fully professional-sounding, seventeen piece orchestra of BMus Degree students, who put across the score and its ‘hit numbers’ with style and confidence. They were miked judiciously. A special note for the sound team who had it all absolutely right in the first half, volume comfortable and no distortion - in the second there was one faulty radio mike and the technician at the console succumbed to the temptation to turn up the volume towards the end, perhaps to compensate for how the plot runs out of steam?

The programme book is impressive too and duly lists every participant on stage, in the pit and in the production team of BA (Hons) students in Stage Management and Technical Theatre. I was not surprised to read how that many members of the Acting Company 2004 and technical theatre graduates had already made their mark around the country and abroad in many prestigious productions.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Definitely worth catching for one of its remaining performances until 6 July; click here for booking information and cast details, including two drag acts for the mothers. (There is a video/DVD of the film, but they may be unsuitable for playing on standard UK equiment).

Pict: Nobby Clarke

© Peter Grahame Woolf