Jennifer Leigh is delighted and impressed by Tone Deaf Theatre Company’s all-female Freshers’ Showcase, which celebrates the role of women in musical theatre.

Last night, I ventured up to Hild Bede College to listen to some of this year’s freshers singing a variety of showtunes in Tone Deaf Theatre Company’s Freshers’ Showcase: Celebrating Women in Musical Theatre. The production featured a strong all-female cast who sang solo and group numbers on themes relating to anything except the male love interest. As Director, Musical Director and Choreographer, Olivia Jones created a fabulous work that clearly demonstrated the power of the female voice, complemented well by Sol Noya as Producer.

Bede Chapel is a rather large location, however the performers filled the space well, frequently moving down the aisle to interact with each other and the venue. The atmosphere was warm and you could sense the amount of support these four young women had, which led to a relaxed environment in which to perform. There was the odd false start and unsure glance between numbers, but this was far outweighed by the confidence of the performers.

The showcase began and ended with some impressive group numbers, opening with ‘I Know It’s Today’ from the musical Shrek. The narrative choreography, heavily inspired by the original Broadway production, was well synced and featured pitch-perfect harmonies from all three singers. The closing number, ‘Drive You Outta Your Mind’ (from Bare) featured an ambitious dance number that, although not always perfectly in-sync, was enthusiastically performed by the whole cast. I enjoyed the variety of modern musicals featured in the showcase, with well-known songs from musicals such as Dear Evan Hansen and Rent featuring alongside more unfamiliar numbers, such as from The Prom, which only hit Broadway last year.

The show featured some highly impressive solo numbers featuring all four talented performers. The highlight of the show for me was Nina Hayward’s performance of ‘The Life I Never Led’ from Sister Act; Hayward’s strong range and consistent transitions between chest voice and head voice was a pleasure to see, plus her balanced acting makes her one to look out for in Durham musical theatre. Strong performances from Jasmine Teo and Megan Ratcliffe, singing ‘Everything I Know’ (from In The Heights) and ‘Watch What Happens’ (from Newsies) respectively, were only slightly let down by the occasional mistake in the difficult accompaniments, although both actresses still gave beautiful renditions. It’s a shame the showcase only lasted one night, as some of the particularly difficult song choices could have been greatly improved with a little more rehearsal time with the accompanist. Despite this, I was highly impressed by the sheer variety of music the pianist, James Horan, managed to get through in the short span of a few weeks – there were some truly tough pieces in there! Another stand-out performance was Giorgia Laird’s rendition of ‘I’d Give My Life For You’ (from Miss Saigon), which created a completely different portrayal to the classic Lea Salonga or Eva Noblezada; her gravelly tones exposed the raw emotion of Kim effortlessly, not to mention the power of that belt!

Throughout the evening, the lighting was kept simple and perfectly focused the attention of the audience on the actresses. I was particularly impressed by the use of a spotlight on the aisle, which highlighted the silhouettes of performers during duets – this was a very clever choice by Technical Director, Dylan Bunyan, and was an effective way of keeping the focus on those singing solo sections during a number. A special mention must also go to Olivia Jones, Naomi Cook and Sol Noya, who seamlessly stepped in for some duet/group numbers at short notice.

Overall, TDTC’s Freshers’ Showcase was a delightful ode to the women of musical theatre. Although the production could have done without the occasional choreography or piano accompaniment mishap, these four young actresses are ones to watch in DST.

Image credit: Tone Deaf Theatre Company