This was a large scale production with the best set/scenery I have seen used by an amateur group for some considerable time. The lighting, overall, was well thought out and the scene transitions were very smooth, which can't have been easy with such an impressive set. The costumes looked good on stage, especially the scenes in which many costumes matched.
However what made this production so good was the excellent orchestra - 10 strong according to the programme - led by Ian Southgate, and the strong cast - at least 30 strong if I've counted correctly - with a surprisingly strong principle line up. I say surprisingly as although there were several familiar faces from other societies, there were also some that I usually see as playing cameo parts or in the ensemble, rather than in lead/supporting roles.
I did think it was a shame not to be able to see the orchestra, who were hidden under the stage. I wonder if this is something the theatre are choosing or the group, as I have noticed this a few times in my recent visits.
Playing the lead roles of Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom were Martin Harris and Jamie Fudge respectively.
Martin played Max as very much the straight man of the piece and could've been lost in the plethora of mad-capped characters if it wasn't for his ability to perform and captivate the audience. His performance of Betrayed was nothing short of breathtaking in its sheer brilliance. Hats off to him.
Jamie was Leo, or rather everything I expect Leo to be. Nervous and nerdy at the start developing into a fuller character as the show moves on. His voice was perfect for the songs - That Face and Til Him being favourite moments of mine - and played brilliantly against Martin's strong voice when they sang together.
Ulla (I am not even going to try and put the full name) was played by Kelly Warran. To quote Shakespeare, though she be little she is fierce. I loved her squeaks and her flirtatiousness and when she belted in her songs, my word did she belt!
The casting of Jon Keeler as Franz Liebkind was risky, based on what I have seen him perform in the past, but worked fantastically. His comic timing, characterisation, accent and singing were all very good. The contrast between his angry outbursts and camp singing and dancing were a joy to watch and clearly appreciated judgung by the reaction from the audience during the bows.
Simon Bristoe was excellent as Roger De Bris, which he played with appropriate camp aplomb. The chemistry between him and Allister Smith, as the ever attentive Carmen Ghia, was believable and great fun to watch.
The chorus performed with great energy throughout the show and the dancing was very strong, compliments to Louise Byrne for her creative choreography.
Highlights of chorus moments included the Keep it Gay scene, including the conga into the audience, and the Little Old Ladies (with the simply inspired moment of having one on roller skates). It was good to see some men as dancing old ladies as well as this really added to the humour. The accountants scene was brilliant too, especially when the dancing girls appeared from inside the cupboards to the total surprise of me and everyone around me.
A little thing that bugged me throughout the show, was the way most action, particularly in the office scenes was quite far back. I am sure this had something to do with the size of the sets, but I felt it did make me, sometimes, feel a little detached from the action.
There were also times when the sound was a little quiet when the company were singing - perhaps this was a microphone issue on the afternoon?
I'd forgotten just how funny and bonkers this show is, the comedy was highlighted much more and much better by Shenfield than other societies I have seen perform this show previously.
Overall this production was of a very professional standard, great fun to watch and well deserving of the standing ovation it received. Well done to all involved, particularly the creative team of Louise Byrne and Ian Southgate.
Shenfield's next production is something a lot more traditional - Pirates of Penzance in June 2020. I look forward to see what this group do with that.