Imogen Usherwood is captivated by the talent displayed in CCMS and Collingwood Woodplayers’ showcase.
In the impressive, intimate surroundings of its brand-new college theatre, the Collingwood Woodplayers started its season this year with a variety pack of favourite show tunes – and judging by the pitch-perfect production they gave us, it promises to be quite a year.
Unlike some productions this early in the term, it was virtually a full house (with the notable exception of the other reviewer’s seat next to me, but all I can say is that they missed out), and the packed-out seating certainly contributed to the warm atmosphere – as well as the professionalism – of the evening.
With a cast of twenty-five, they really made the most of the full-company numbers. Opening with ‘Hello’ from Book of Mormon was always going to be a great choice, not only as a favourite to get everyone excited but also to introduce the entire cast to us as a talented, cohesive unit. There was the odd hint of corpsing here and there but no one seemed to mind, and if anything the audience encouraged it. ‘Somebody to Love’ half-way through was a sheer joy to watch; they truly came across as a talented group of friends having fun performing, and so the audience in turn enjoyed it just as much. The audience really did just come to take for granted the cast’s ability to harmonise, and there really wasn’t a weak link among them. ‘One Day More’, a Les Miserables classic, didn’t quite carry the same all-consuming power as I had come to expect by the final song, but was nevertheless an excellent choice with which to finish.
The other solos and ensembles were equally brilliant. Amie Page gave us a sensitive, emotive performance of ‘The Life I Never Led’ from Sister Act; praise must also go to the wonderful musicians here, who didn’t supply accompaniment for every song, but were so well-rehearsed it was easy to forget you weren’t still listening to a backing track. Ben Osland’s rendition of ‘Being Alive’ from Company was emotional and deeply compelling in the depiction of his character’s personal torment. Katrina Corrick had a slightly slow start in ‘Journey to the Past’ from Anastasia, but soon found her feet and was truly impressive. ‘So Big, So Small’ from Dear Evan Hansen, performed by Aileen Editha Pratanu, was a deeply touching, human performance, and left me more than a little tearful; she went on to shine in the We Will Rock You group number immediately afterwards, as did Emily Hardy. Her own solo, ‘The Wizard and I’ from Wicked was a true highlight of the evening, a stellar performance with acute sensitivity and timing. Other leading ladies Isla Brendon and Anna Donkin owned the stage with ‘I’m Breaking Down’ from Falsettos and ‘Roxie’ from Chicago respectively, both immensely confident in their characters and garnering plenty of laughter from the audience. Special mention must go to Louis Mayo for his acoustic cover of ‘You’re the One that I Want’ from Chicago, which I must say I wasn’t expecting but really enjoyed; he made his version (including his own guitar as well as vocals) sound totally effortless in the midst of back-to-back Broadway.
Duets and ensembles included a passionate performance of ‘Let Me Be Your Star’ from Smash by Becky Brookes and Tara Munnelly, as well as a deeply heartfelt rendition of ‘Somewhere’ from West Side Story by Emily Bates and George Bone. Lillie Roger, Ava Cohen and Munnelly caught the audience a little off-guard with a tap routine to ‘All That Jazz’, and while it felt rather out of place among the other performances, was brilliantly executed and showcased a range of talent. Martin Shore and Harry Stanbury gave us a hilarious display of one-upmanship and melodrama in ‘Agony’ form Into the Woods, and ‘The Negative’ from Waitress was brought to life with enthusiasm and brilliant comic timing by Isla Brendon, Ashleigh Boyce and Tamzin Kerslake.
The technical team deserve a mention too; not only did the evening fly by without a hitch, but the lighting in particular, designed by Emma Franck-Gwinnell and Peter Noble, was superb throughout and added a truly professional tone to an already exceptional production.
From start to finish, this was a show worth watching – the only disappointment was that it was for One Night Only, as I can imagine this showcase would have delighted audiences for a few more evenings. Collingwood might be known as the sporty college on campus, but we need to start taking their theatrical abilities into account too because, as I heard one audience member say on the way out, “that was something else”.