Culture Editor Hannah Brierley enjoys The Guild Musical Theatre Society’s deliciously dark showcase of thrilling musical theatre numbers
We’ve had snow in Spring so why not have Halloween too? GMTG’s latest showcase brings all the spookiest musical theatre songs to the dance studio for an evening of thrills. There’s a range of insidious solos, devilish duets and gruesome group numbers to sink your teeth into, and it really is the perfect introduction to the darker side of musical theatre. Due to it being such a small cast, each member got their chance to shine amidst the darkness and really demonstrate the diverse talent amongst the group, the intimate space was utilised creatively and the character lead performances along with freakishly funky choreo meant this really was an amazing, macabre mixture of musical theatre talent.
It starts with a crowd pleaser; Thriller from the jukebox Michael Jackson musical which gives the showcase its name. Izzie Reid, Annabel Piltcher and Antonia Forrest set the mysterious mood with their opening solos as they stalked across the space before being joined by the rest of the cast who shuffled through the aisle in full on Walking Dead mode. They then executed some of the King of Pop’s infamous moves with infectious vivacity and brilliant timing, making it an ideal opening number that really energised the audience. This was one of the only cheesy choices, the majority coming from unusual, lesser known productions such as Carrie’s solo from the adaptation of Stephen King’s renowned novel sang impeccably by Katy Hampshire, as well as songs from Jekyll and Hyde and The Addams Family. Audience members were provided with programmes that had helpful summaries to detail the context of each song, although perhaps there could have been a few more recognisable numbers particularly for audience members less accustomed to niche musical theatre.
Each number obviously shared the same thrilling theme, but there was still an incredible mixture of emotion and styles on display. From the hauntingly beautiful solo ‘It’s Hard To Speak My Heart’ sang by Alex Wayman with understated delicacy, as he pleaded with the court to believe his innocence, to the Morticia Addams solo ‘Just Around The Corner’ which Lizzie Ives performed with deliciously dark humour, leading the ancestors in a fun mock kick line at the end as she revelled in the inevitability of death. Other wickedly comic numbers included ‘Jonny Don’t Go’ from Zombie Prom which received well deserved chuckles from the audience and was brilliantly performed by those involved, and ‘Spooky Mormon Hell Dream’ which was a bizarre but hilarious end to the first act, particularly thanks to the commitment of the cast to some freakishly funny facial expressions.
Commitment to character was integral to the success of this performance due to the intimate space, particularly when interacting with the audience as Blanche Brown did brilliantly as the evil Mrs Lovett in the Sweeney Todd number. The cast’s skilled characterisations ranged from Tom Noyes’s monstrous imbecile Lurch in ‘When You’re an Adams’ to the two-faced villainy of Lenny Turner’s ‘Confrontation’, which really was an outstanding portrayal of the chaotic conflict between Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. He managed to clearly distinguish between the two sides, finally falling onto his knees from the gruelling effort of fighting off his evil alter-ego and maintaining a note perfect rendition throughout. Annabel Piltcher and Meabh Quinn also gave a shiver-inducing performance with their duet ‘In His Eyes’ from the same musical, as they contemplated their love for the enigmatic Dr Jekyll, producing some delightful harmonies as they stared longingly into the audience. Even before this duet both stood out within group numbers due to their resounding energy and unwavering embodiment of character.
The choreography by Emily Banks was particularly impressive and it’s easy to see why director Ed Shock changed his mind about not including too much dancing, as he writes in his directors note. During the harrowing ‘Dark I Know Well’ from the rock musical Spring Awakening, Antonia Forrest and Tom Noyes performed an aggressive contemporary dance, reflecting the abuse the lyrics unapologetically bring to light. He throws her around in some beautiful lifts as she struggles with herself, both clinging onto him and desperately trying to escape. This was incredibly unsettling in such a close space, which is exactly how it should feel to watch this powerful number. It did feel slightly jarring moving from this into the ridiculous humour of The Book of Mormon, however Tom Noyes did a brilliant job morphing seamlessly from abusive bully into the naïve, god-fearing Elder Price.
Any full cast moments were particularly moving, such as during Joe Rees’s unnerving rendition of ‘Hellfire’ from the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the eerie church-like choral singing by the rest of the cast created some wonderful harmonies that built the chilling intensity of the scene. The band also sounded extremely professional throughout, being careful not to drown out the cast as they weren’t miked. They were integral to the thrilling ambience, flitting with ease from delicious jazzy numbers like ‘The Mad Hatter’ to brash rock inspired songs to cheesy classics.
This wonderfully varied evening of thrills finished with the ultimate Halloween party anthem; Time Warp, that had the audience itching to get off their seats and join in. Soloists Lenny Turner, Alex Brilliant and Freya Carroll were particularly strong and there was a resounding positivity coming from the performers as everyone seemed to be really enjoying themselves. It was the perfect, energised ending to a spooky and spectacular showcase that delved into the darkest realms of musical theatre.