Sensational ‘BRAVA’ Charity Concert Enthrals Guildford Audience

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Sunday 1st April, 2012
Review by Fiona Lister

‘BRAVA’ burst onto Guildford’s GLive stage earlier this month in order to raise money for The Shooting Star CHASE – hospice care for children and teenagers. Produced by twenty-year-old Conductor, Musical Director, Pianist and Producer Alex Parker, together with Associate Producer Anna Haigh and Production Assistant Sarah Parker, ‘BRAVA’ was undoubtedly the best, most memorable heart-warming concert I’ve seen in years. Boasting a sixty piece orchestra and a forty-six strong ensemble, the glittering line-up of musical stars included Matt Lucas, Maria Friedman, George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, Clive Rowe, Fra Fee, Ashley Robinson, Lucy Shaufer, Caroline Sheen and Laura Tebbutt

The audience was treated to an evening of high quality West End entertainment at the recently opened, one-thousand seat GLive concert hall. The slick, beautifully produced show tunes and variation in musical numbers was enthralling. Contemporary, contrasting show songs had been lovingly picked. The quirky comedic lyrics of George Stiles and Anthony Drewe’s Soho Cinders and Jason Carr’s current developing work The Return of Happiness/The Declaration sat alongside classical older numbers from Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd:The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Sunday In The Park With George; Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s Carousel, and Jule Styne and Bob Merrill’s Funny Girl. There were songs to make you smile, think, laugh and move you to tears. BRAVA was a very heady night out, full of emotions and joie de vivre. Everyone was enchanted by the talent of the stars, orchestra and the students from Guildford School of Acting. Most importantly, the cast, orchestra and ensemble gave their time and support to help Shooting Star CHASE, a hospice service supporting local families with children or teenagers who are unlikely to see their nineteenth birthdays. Shooting Star CHASE helps over six-hundred families living in western London, Surrey and West Sussex with children or teenagers suffering from life-limiting conditions. It costs £23,000 a day to keep these services going, so funding is vital. Concerts like BRAVA prove a lifeline for their work. Please click here if you would like to donate: http://www.shootingstarchase.org.uk/donate

Alex Parker, the brains behind ‘BRAVA’, already has a string of credits to his name, added to which he’s only twenty-years-old. Alex is being mentored by Stephen Metcalfe (Cameron Mackintosh’s Head of Music) and the charming, award-winning musical theatre composer George Stiles. Alex is studying for his BMUS degree in Music at the University of Birmingham. The young prodigy has already been involved in many London and local regional productions. Alex co-founded PH Productions in 2009 with Catharine Humphrys, after their successful collaboration on Come One, Come All in September 2009, at The Electric Theatre, Guildford.

Alex has staged Stephen Sondheim’s Passion; Sweeney Todd; and Marguerite (a musical with a book by Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Jonathan Kent, lyrics by Alain Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer with music by Michel Legrand, and original French lyrics by Alain Boublil) at the Mill Studio in Guildford. In the summer of 2010 he produced and was musical director on the highly acclaimed production of A Little Night Music at Guildford’s splendid Yvonne Arnaud Theatre. I first heard about Alex when I attended the London première concert of Soho Cinders, an exciting contemporary love story written by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe in collaboration with Elliot Davis and directed by Jonathan Butterell. Alex Parker was the Associate Musical Director. Soho Cinders was staged as a charity gala night showcase at the Queen’s Theatre (home to Les Misérables) in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust and starred: David Bedella, Clive Carter, Suzie Chard, Sharon D Clarke, Richard David-Caine, Amy Lennox, Beverley Rudd, Jos Slovick, Sandi Toksvig, Hannah Waddingham and Michael Xavier. David Shrubsole was Orchestrator. I’m a huge fan of Stiles and Drewe, so was over the moon to see them on stage at ‘BRAVA’ playing a set of songs from Soho Cinders including ‘Old Compton Street’, ’Wishing For the Normal’ and ’You Shall Go To the Ball’ with such a grand orchestra. In December 2011, Alex worked as Musical Director for charity Christmas concert ‘Jingle Balls’ (Delfont Room) which was a huge success. Alex has staged several symphonic musical theatre concerts, working as a musical director, conductor and accompanist and if that wasn’t busy enough he has also conducted the début album ‘Encore’, for singer Martin Dickinson at Abbey Road Studios. BRAVA re-united Alex not just with Stiles & Drewe, but with renowned director Jonathan Butterell, whose recent work includes directing ‘Second Chance’ at the Signature Theatre, New York. ‘Second Chance’ is being produced at the Public Theatre in 2013.

Alex Parker acted as MD for the evening and conducted the ‘BRAVA’ orchestra throughout the show with Jason Carr working as Musical Supervisor with Murray Richmond, Jude Obermüller and Martin Higgins (Orchestrations).

‘BRAVA’ opened with the aptly named ‘Welcome To The Night’ from the musical Sweet Smell of Success by Marvin Hamlisch and Craig Carnelia (Orchestration by Martin Higgins). Joe Vetch and Laura Sillett, both students at Guildford School of Acting, gave a fabulous opening performance. Stiles & Drewe entertained everyone with their brilliantly funny song ‘A Little Bit of Nothing’ followed by a medley of songs from Soho Cinders (Orchestration by David Shrubsole). They were joined on stage by Anna van Ruiten, Fra Fee, Laura Tebbutt and Company. The brilliantly entertaining Stiles and Drewe invited the audience to shout out ten words, which they wrote down, and cleverly crafted into a song during the interval.

Maria Friedman sang ‘The Worst Pies In London’ from Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd:The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Orchestration by Jonathan Tunick), giving the role of Mrs Lovett a wide-eyed Bette Davis style horror look. Mrs Lovett hunted in the audience for a victim, in true Sweeney Todd style, and found a random gentleman. Once in her chilling pie-making grasp, she led the stranger onto the stage and accidentally covered him in flour. Maria Friedman sang about pies, throwing herself into the spirit of grisly, doughy horrors. If this has whetted any of your appetites, Readers, Imelda Staunton is currently playing the role of Mrs Lovett alongside Michael Ball in Jonathan Kent’s gripping new production of Sweeney Todd over at the Adelphi Theatre.

Maria Friedman was equally captivating singing in the contrasting role of Dot in the classic Sondheim musical ‘Sunday In The Park With George’, which she sang with Ashley Robinson in the role of Georges.

Fra Fee (currently appearing in Les Misérables in the role of Jean Provaire and is covering the roles of Marius and Enjolras) gave a beautiful performance of ‘Not While I’m Around’ from Sweeney Todd. Fra Fee is a terrific musical theatre performer and I could imagine him playing the role of Phantom in Lord Lloyd Webber’s ‘Love Never Dies’ – a darker Phantom role than in ‘The Phantom of the Opera’. Let’s hope this musical makes a comeback to the West End stage again soon.

Following songs from Sweeney Todd came Clive Rowe singing ‘The Music and The Mirror’ from Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban’s musical A Chorus Line (Orchestration by Jason Carr). Clive Rowe is a rare sunbeam who walks straight out onto the stage with the most glorious, genuine, infectious smile. I was recently fortunate enough to meet Clive at his Spotlight Show over at the Landor Theatre, London’s off-West End theatre gem, where Clive smiled the whole way through his show singing big show tunes including from Me and My Girl and Porgy and Bess. Clive has just finished a highly successful run in Graham Linehan's celebrated Olivier nominated Ealing comedy The Ladykillers over at the Gielgud Theatre in which he played the role of ex-boxer One-Round, an affable, clumsy crook who performs some spectacular slapstick stunts. Anyone wanting to see Clive in cabaret should get over to the Delfont Room this Sunday, 22nd April, when he will perform in his cabaret 'Rosie's Front Stalls Bar' at 8:00 p.m. (doors open at 7:00 p.m.), sharing his favourite songs and charting his rise from theatre ice-cream seller in 1985 to taking centre stage. He has a great many stories. You really will be in for a treat and he will charm your socks off. CLICK HERE for bookings through Delfont Mackintosh.

GSA trained Caroline Sheen gave a lovely performance of ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ from Funny Girl by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill (Orchestration by Martin Higgins). In Act 2 Caroline Sheen and Laura Tebbutt sang ‘What You Don’t Know About Women’ from the musical City of Angels by Cy Coleman and David Zippel (Orchestration by Murray Richmond). Caroline is starring in the role of Fantine in Les Misérables. Laura Tebbutt is currently understudying the roles of Dorothy and Aunty Em’ in the West End production of The Wizard of Oz.

Matt Lucas sang ‘If I Were A Rich Man’ by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick from Fiddler On The Roof. Lucas completely threw himself into the role of Tevye, the Jewish Dairyman living in Tsarist Russia with all the expressions and subtle details of a Fagin. The day Matt Lucas won the role of Thénardier, playing the part in the 25th Anniversary of Les Misérables, at the O2 Arena and during his run at the Queen’s Theatre, he demonstrated his strength as a serious musical theatre performer. Lucas morphed straight into the role of the grubby, crooked innkeeper to the point where you could feel the grime and squalor of his surroundings beneath your fingernails.

Matt Lucas also gave a sensational performance at BRAVA with ‘Lullaby Off Broadway’ from 42nd Street by Harry Warren and Al Dubin (Orchestration by Jason Carr).

Lucy Shaufer sang ‘Fable’ from The Light In the Piazza with music and lyrics and by Adam Guettel (Orchestration by Adam Guettel and Ted Sperling). Lucy also sang together with Clive Rowe ‘When The Children Are Asleep’ from Carousel by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein (Orchestration by Robert Russell Bennett). Lucy Shaufer’s credits include the role of Margaret Johnson in the European Premiere of The Light in the Piazza.

Maria Friedman was wonderful in ‘BRAVA’, making the audience laugh one minute and cry the next – and I did the latter when she sang ‘In The Sky’, a song from the Vilna Ghetto with English Lyrics by Jeremy Sams. This song is truly haunting. Without going into too much detail, the Vilna Ghetto was a Jewish ghetto established by Nazi Germany in the city of Vilnius during the Holocaust in World War II – a place where the inhabitants were mistreated, sent to concentration camps or worse. ‘In The Sky’ was originally sung by a young boy from the Vilna Ghetto Theatre, the night he was cruelly taken away. The audience listened to his words spellbound, eyes full of tears. Here are the little boy’s words: “…streets are paved with black despair. To the rooftops climbing higher, Father let me find you there…Silent screams are deafening and moaning ghosts are everywhere. I am like a broken string, but still I sing my broken prayer. In the sky the stars still glisten, lilies in a field of white. How I pray that God will listen to my lonely song tonight. How I pray that he will listen to my song tonight.” I haven’t been that moved in a theatre since seeing James Still’s production of And Then They Came For Me, the story of Eva Schloss, her capture by the Nazis and incarceration in Auschwitz. Eva is Anne Frank’s stepsister. I watched the production with Eva and the entire audience cried. ‘In The Sky’ really brought back memories of that day at the Garrick Theatre. It’s really important we remember these people – their words and stories. The haunting song can be heard on Maria Friedman’s album ‘Now and Then’.

Maria Friedman and the Company were fantastic in songs featured from the musical The Return of Happiness with music, lyrics and orchestration by Jason Carr. ‘The Return of Happiness/The Declaration’ and ‘The Garden’ are incredibly strong, powerful works. Other mentions in this stunning charity gala night must be made to Pippa Winslow who sang ‘June is Bustin’ Out All Over’ from Carousel by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein (Orchestration by Robert Russell Bennett), and Ashley Robinson who sang ‘How Glory Goes’ from the musical Floyd Collins by Adam Guettel, with additional lyrics by Tina Landau (Orchestration by Jason Carr). Pippa Winslow is currently appearing in the much loved Dickens story ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ over at Charing Cross Theatre until 12th May http://www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk/.

BRAVA was truly spectacular. Alex Parker and his creative team, including Aidan Treays (Choreographer), possess phenomenal talent. Together, they produced a magical, unforgettable charity gala night.

If you would like to donate or learn more about the work of The Shooting Star CHASE hospice care, please click here: http://www.shootingstarchase.org.uk/donate

Further information on Alex Parker and his work can be found on: http://alexparkerproductions.com/
http://www.p-h-productions.co.uk/about-us





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