An ambitious musical revue featuring semi-staged morsels from musical theatre centred on the theme of revolution and rebellion. That is how I’d describe the first event of St Anne’s College Arts Week, Revolution – The St Anne’s Musical Revue. The choice of songs was eclectic, but attractively so, providing something for everyone.
The show boasted a brave selection of famous West End ‘staples’ from Les Miserables and Evita, to the Hollywood heights of film favourites such as ‘Breaking Free’ from High School Musical. And even in North Oxford, there was an appearance of the song from which there is no escape: ‘Let it Go’ from Frozen. But the most appealing inclusions were by far ‘When I Grow Up/Naughty’ from Matilda and ‘Cell Block Tango’ from Chicago. Together, they provided light relief from an evening that potentially could have been a series of grating ballads.
Vocally, the evening is hard to fault. Fine solo performances and generally solid ensemble work powered throughout the evening. Special mention must go to Brandon Levin. Truly the star of the evening, he provided not only an outstanding performance as Jean Valjean in ‘The Confrontation’ from Les Misérables, but also an unforgettable rendition of the not-often-heard ‘This is the Moment’ from Jekyll and Hyde, a dramatic and vocal tour-de-force. Similarly admirable was Sairah Rees’ performance of ‘I Dreamed a Dream’, which rivalled Anne Hathaway’s rendition in its emotional immediacy.
However, for me, the most impressive musical element of the whole evening was the band and their director Stephen Bradshaw. Their ensemble was consistently tight, and they were always accommodating for the liberties expectedly taken by the singers, stylistically adapting well throughout the varied programme: if only flawed by the technical glitches hindered the audibility of the finale performance of ‘One Day More’.
Of course, this was not just a musical performance but also semi-staged, complete with full costumes, props, lighting, acting and choreography. The acting was commendable throughout, particularly memorable in the spritely performance of ‘When I Grow Up’ and the excellently executed conflict between Brandon Levin and Ben Partridge in ‘The Confrontation’. Beginning dramatically with Javert’s entrance from the back of the hall, this was but one of many examples of the production’s inventive use of space. Costumes and props were a welcomed addition throughout the performance, although, to my great disappointment, Elphaba was sadly not painted green for ‘Defying Gravity’.
Perhaps the weakest aspect of the evening was the choreography. You need only look at the awkward shifts in ‘When I Grow Up’ or the distracting solo dance routine in ‘Listen’, the latter rendering the performance uncomfortable to watch. But all this was trumped by the unenthusiastic and often embarrassing dancing in ‘Breaking Free’. To put it bluntly – better moves can be seen in Parkend or Bridge after one too many jagerbombs than in that number.
Despite these flaws, the experience as a whole was nevertheless enjoyable. The team at St Anne’s, in particular the director Naomi Morris Omori and the musical director Stephen Bradshaw, must be congratulated for taking on and pulling off such an ambitious project.