In this first performance on stage it was presented as a concert, with the songs being sung into microphones on stands and using a narrator to explain events within the story. Something which, I assume would be changed should this production be developed further.
As this was brand new musical, this review will focus on two aspects separately. The first will be the musical itself, from the plot, music, lyrics to the feel and flow of the piece. The second part will focus on the performances given by the stellar cast.
Anyone familiar with amateur dramatics in Essex will probably have heard of or seen Ashton Moore on stage or as the musical director / conductor of countless productions. Here he took on a whole new challenge which was to create a musical showcase from the initial concept to the performance seen on stage.
The story of Samson and Delilah is one that most people will know or have heard of at the very least. Ashton took the story further, including details of events prior to Samson’s fatal meeting with Delilah, we do not in fact met the character of Delilah until the very end of Act one.
When writing any new musical, it must be difficult to not unwittingly borrow musical ideas and motifs from well know and much loved musicals, and specifically when writing a Biblical rock musical to make a clear distinction between itself and Jesus Christ Superstar must be a challenge. Ashton succeeded, for the most part. There was a moment in the prologue when I heard JCS loud and clear and I have to admit my heart sank as I thought this would continue. Luckily it did not. There was a scene in the second act that almost mirrored a scene from JCS and a few moments in 2 songs when it felt a little ‘Les Mis’, this however did not detract from the powerful and hard hitting music written for this new musical.
Despite the balance of microphones for the singers and the orchestra not being fully correct – some of the lyrics were occasionally lost under the music – there were several songs that had the hairs on the back of my neck standing up and shivers running through my body.
The initial love song ‘You’ was beautiful, as was the song ‘Care’ which was a duet again between Samson and his first wife Serenet. Time Flies, a song sung by 3 characters, has great potential to be a song that audiences remember. The whole cast numbers in the 1st Act, ‘The Terror in the Streets’ and ‘Go with Grace’ in particular, are rousing numbers the second being well paced as the song to end Act one.
Stand out songs in the second act included Delilah’s solo numbers more due to the performance if I am totally honest. ‘The Great Good‘ was an interesting number which mixed comedy in its musicality and evil intent lyrically and in its delivery, which left me feeling a little unsure as to how I felt about the number. I would also class it as one of the songs an audience is most likely to remember from the show. It was also the number that reminded me of JCS the most. Samson’s song ‘Alone’, one of the last of the show, is powerfully written both musically and lyrically.
The orchestra, many of whom appeared to be quite young musicians were all on excellent form especially when playing purely orchestral pieces where tensions were built, emotions portrayed and action was described musically. I felt at times that the music itself was telling the story and the words form the narrator were only used to reiterate or confirm what the music already had said. I feel that this means, if the project was to be further developed the scenes that actors would play out to the set pieces of music, would not necessarily need further dialogue.
As mentioned the cast was amazing, a stellar group of actors and singers, made up of many of those I have seen over the years in various productions in a wide range of groups across Essex. With such a high calibre of talent, I expected an excellent performance and that is exactly what was delivered.
Despite being a concert performance, the cast as a whole put everything into what they did and clear characterisation were seen throughout, from the innocence of Serenet played by Gemma Sibthorpe, to the nastiness of Akish played by Chester Lawrence, The powerful Philistine leaders played by Peter Brown, Simon Briscoe and Scott Roche were slightly less evil than the priests in JCS but a definite comparison could easily be made. This aside, their performance of the song ‘The Greater Good’ was expertly performed, with the interweaving lines perfectly timed and when singing together their very individual voices blended superbly.
Ben Huish and Tobias Smith who played Eli and Jacob respectively both defined their own characters well, Ben especially standing tall and proud at times and spitting with anger at others. This was a pleasant surprise for me as I have seen both these young men before and although obviously talented have not been totally convinced by their performances. In Samson however, they both shone as strong actors and singers.
Of the featured performers, Jonathan Buxton, stood out due to his excellent characterisation both as the conniving Philistine and as the smiling overseer of the wedding in the first act.
As yet I have not mentioned Haydn Cox and Sharon Rose who played the key roles of Samson and Delilah, this is not for any reason other than I had not seen either of them perform before and wanted to dedicate separate time to them
Sharon’s voice was powerful, precise and flawless. Her solo numbers were audience rousing. Her characterisation of Delilah caught between feelings of love, lust and loyalty was excellent. To look at her whilst she sang, you could see the emotions in her eyes as well as hear it in her voice.
Similarly Haydn as Samson was an excellent choice. I will admit to not being totally convinced of his suitability to take on the role of Samson at the very start of the evening, but as the story developed, very quickly I saw his portrayal of the character grow stronger, and as tragedy struck within the story, I was taken through all the emotions of lose, anger and hatred by him.
As a new musical, I was greatly impressed as to the power of the story, music and lyrics. This aided by the superb performances by the cast, made Samson a strong and intense musical show, leading the audience on an extremely emotional journey.
With a little reworking and extension of the theatrical elements, I believe Samson has the potential to be the successful show it deserves to be.