Saturday, March 18, 2023

Thank You For The Musicals – an afternoon of songs from the shows (Peter Corry Productions in Belfast Cathedral)

Peter Corry is marking 30 years of treading the boards professionally, and to celebrate his production company have staged a show based on popular musical theatre. There’s No Business Like Show Business (Irving Berlin’s 1946 hit from Annie Get Your Gun) is a fitting opening number to warm up the audience before Grease’s Beauty School Dropout introduces the six other cast members.

They work their way through shows old and new: Six, The Phantom of the Opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, West Side Story, Hamilton and Moulin Rouge. There’s a nice throwback to On Eagle’s Wing musical. The Odyssey Arena (as it was known then) hosted two performances of the Ulster Scots musical in the spring of 2004 in front of an audience of 10,000, though Shout My Name is one of the less spinetingling songs from John Anderson’s superb score.

The first act ends with two a cappella numbers demonstrating that the cast’s vocals can more than sustain the energy and emotion of the production in the absence of backing tracks. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s You’ll Never Walk Alone is emotionally charged whether you associate it with funerals or football, and the seven performers then push the dynamic envelope further with Bui Doi from Miss Saigon.

For the final two dates of this tour, Peter Corry Productions have brought Thank You For The Musicals out of regional theatres and into Belfast Cathedral. A simple stage runs longways up the length of the nave, with three levels of risers forming the only set. The unusual configuration, coupled with the casts’ good microphone technique, suit the building’s unforgiving acoustics – the natural reverb can best be measured with a sun dial rather than a stopwatch! – and keeps most of the audience close to the action, though with a slight crick in our necks if sitting off-centre, and sore bums if you didn’t bring a cushion to soften the surface of the cathedral’s narrow wooden chairs.

After the interval there’s more Sondheim with The Ballad of Sweeney Todd and Send In the Clowns, Anthem from Chess, Part of Your World from Little Mermaid, Defying Gravity from Wicked, Mr. Cellophane from Chicago, the title song from Mamma Mia, Reviewing the Situation from Oliver, and three songs from Les MisérablesBring Him Home, I Dreamed A Dream, and Stars – before an encore of One Day More and a final ABBA psalm of thankfulness to get the audience humming all the way back to the car.

The set list runs with a minimum of fuss. There’s no contrived backstory – other than Corry’s career milestone – and Peter Corry has surrounded himself with first rate musical theatre performers who can sing, act and dance. Jay Hutchinson, Séanna Hutchinson, Sean O’Neill, Nik Parkes, Ciara Power and Anna Tennyson show off their individual vocal power during solos and duets, while Fleur Mellor’s choreography adds sophistication to the ensemble pieces. Mamma Mia’s moves, in particular, felt like the song had been extracted from a full production.

The fella who I remember nearly bringing the house down on the Ulster Operatic’s final evening in the Harberton Theatre back in 1989 is still the master of songs from the shows. Corry’s easy-going rapport with the audience and cast creates a relaxing environment. And it’s exciting to know that Belfast School of Performing Arts’ artistic director will be turning his hand to Les Misérables in the MAC this summer (tickets for the four performances already on sale).

(Production photos from the same production and cast, but taken in a different venue)

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