Jennifer Leigh is impressed by Cuth’s Drama Society’s first ever musical, A Grand Night for Singing.

Cuth’s Drama Society’s A Grand Night for Singing showcases some of Rogers and Hammerstein’s greatest musical achievements over their many productions. Directed by Dani Frankal with musical directing by Josh Gordon, this revue experiments with the context behind classics such as ‘How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?’ and ‘Shall We Dance?’. As the theatre company’s first ever musical, CDS produced a promising production that was enjoyed by its audience.

The musical was performed in St Cuthbert’s Society’s dining room, with a stage set up and draped in black, allowing the audience to focus on the performers throughout. The lack of microphones sometimes caused some issues, with all actors being capable of different levels of projection. With the orchestra situated in front of the stage, it was a real shame that the occasional solo was drowned out by the musicians. However, the simplistic use of lighting worked well with the dark stage, with the occasional spotlight successful in guiding the eye of the audience. It was also lovely to get such a good view of the small-but-mighty orchestra and a special mention must be given to pianist Nicole Wong, who accompanied all thirty-five songs with uncanny expertise.

Throughout the musical, the small cast of two actors and three actresses gave a convincing performance with the wide range of music on offer; it was lovely to listen to such a range of musical theatre tunes, from well-known favourites Oklahoma! and South Pacific to less popular songs from Pipe Dream and Me and Juliet. Powerful soprano Marlo Avidon captured the audience with her stage prowess; her solos ‘I Can’t Say No’ from Oklahoma! and ‘A Lovely Night’ from Cinderella were varied and equally strong, coming from the perspective of a young excitable girl looking for love, in contrast with the themes of the original musicals. Another stand-out was Amanda Botelho, who shone with solos such as ‘Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?’ (from Cinderella), yet it was a shame she was occasionally drowned out by her fellow cast members or the orchestra.

There were many strong harmony sections from all cast members, such as during ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ (from South Pacific) and the penultimate number, ‘Impossible’ (from Cinderella). One of my favourite numbers from the evening was a set of three songs back-to-back from Carousel and Allegro, which split the stage into three, representing three very different sets of emotions and feelings. This impressive directing choice worked really well and cleverly impacted the audience.

Many of the numbers in the production featured some acting and/or dancing – it was pleasing to see some real chemistry between the performers which more than aided their performances. With such different performers on stage, there was some variation in overdramatisation and animation, naturally drawing the viewer to focus on certain characters more than others. I believe having a choreographer could have really benefitted the production, in order to make the dances and coordination of choreography a tad tighter. Despite this, there were numbers, such as the finale ‘I Have Dreamed’ from The King and I, where the whole cast really came together in perfect harmony, both in singing and acting.

A Grand Night for Singing is an impressive indicator of the potential CDS has in the Durham musical theatre scene. Despite some hitches and imperfections, all audience members clearly left in good spirits, with renewed respect and enthusiasm for Rogers and Hammerstein. Now, if you excuse me, I’m off home to listen to some South Pacific…

A Grand Night for Singing will be performed in the dining hall at St Cuthbert’s Society on 30th November and 1st December.