Shropshire’s Essential Entertainment Guide
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Feel-good, funny and full of yuletide joy, this cracker of a musical was adapted for the stage by Debbie Isitt, the creator of the much-loved films.
Every child in every school has one Christmas wish, to star in a Nativity, and at St Bernadette’s School, they’re attempting to mount a musical version! Only trouble is teacher Mr Maddens has promised that a Hollywood producer is coming to see the show to turn it into a film. Join him, his teaching assistant the crazy Mr Poppy, hilarious children and a whole lot of sparkle and shine as they struggle to make everyone’s Christmas wish come true.
They always say in the acting profession that it’s a potential calamity working with children and animals. Clearly, the writer and director of Nativity The Musical, Debbie Isitt, paid no attention to that old adage and thank goodness she didn’t for the result of this stage production featuring both is simply stupendous.
Nativity The Musical is a play within a play about that special event which is a major feature of this time of year, the celebration of the birth of Christ, a cause for celebration which most schools attempt to recreate as a festive theatrical offering to parents. It is therefore a great subject for a musical and last night at the Regent Theatre, the audience was blown away with a production that is touring nationally and providing an evening of entertainment that is sheer genius in relation to being exciting, innovative and artistically very creative.
The narrative is all about a failing state Catholic primary school and their downtrodden kids and staff who don’t really feel they are up to much in the world of competitive nativity plays, or anything else, put in that way. The last time they put one on a nativity play a reviewer took them to the cleaners and it was a very painful experience for their class teacher Mr Maddens, played with heaps of likable angst by Scott Garnham . In contrast, the local private primary school, under the guidance of the manically enthusiastic teacher Mr Shakespeare, played with extreme gusto by Andy Brady, gained five stars for their nativity by said reviewer which merely added insult to injury to the poor kids at St Bernadette’s. The rivalry between the two teachers is a key element in this musical and like many good narratives, the twists and turns of the story involve past friendships, new rivalries and the settling of old scores with, of course, a love story in the middle.
However, the main character by far in Nativity The Musical, the lynchpin you might say, is the irreverent and madly enthusiastic Mr Poppy played with incredible vibrancy by the formidable Simon Lipkin. Lipkin is incredibly funny and totally madcap in his interactions with the child cast and the audience and he is electric on stage. In fact, this show has a stellar cast all round. Jemma Churchill is heartwarming as the beleaguered Head teacher Mrs Bevan and Lipkin’s aunt and Ashleigh Gray playing Jennifer Lore, has real stage presence with her stunning voice and dignified grace. Of course, the handsome heartthrob who is Adam Thomas, best known for his role in Emmerdale where he played Adam Barton for 9 years, is a major draw in this production and he is charismatic and engaging as the Hollywood Producer.
Nativity The Musical is a production which had me hooked from start to finish. Is has great dialogue, both laugh out loud funny in parts and emotionally moving too. It tells a story which we can all relate to, that being, rising above adversity and succeeding against all odds even when it seems an impossible case. The cast are incredible as they weave the storyline and musical renditions together with ease and confidence which is some feat considering there are about 25 youngsters on stage and a dog in the mix! The child actors and singers are so mesmerizing in their ability and enthusiasm that it is a pure joy to watch them. The staging is also very innovative and the cathedral scene is a lighting sensation with regards to a truly creative set. Likewise, the orchestra under the musical direction of Andrew Griffiths, provides the excitement of live accompaniment to compliment the vibrant chorographical expertise of Rebecca Louis who has clearly done an amazing job of coordinating such a diverse cast in so many varied routines throughout the show. But the main stars are the children!
With well-known songs from the film versions of the story including Sparkle And Shine, Nazareth, One Night One Moment and She’s The Brightest Star, the musical delivers on familiarity as well as new and relevant content which is bang up to date and in keeping with current events such as the comical reference to Teresa May’s dancing! Isitt undoubtedly understands the need to revamp and develop a project to keep it fresh and relevant.
With the festive season upon us, Nativity The Musical is the perfect event to go and watch with the family or friends as it is such a ‘feel good’ production that really does warm the heart and feed the soul. At this time of year when it’s cold outside, everyone needs a blast of great entertainment to bring some joy. Nativity The Musical really is an outstanding production and a sheer pleasure to watch.
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