Words: Paul Crofts. Photos: Mark Carline/Paul Crofts
With so many theatres and arts venues still closed to due to Covid-19, it was with much anticipation that We Are Chester’s Paul Crofts went along to Theatr Clwyd as Tip Top Productions staged their first show in seven months.
Having seen my last piece of live theatre back in February, I can’t tell you how excited I was to bag one of the hottest tickets in town as Chester-based theatre company Tip Top Productions staged their first production since before lockdown. The performance was part of Theatr Clwyd‘s series of outdoor socially distanced events sponsored by the Welsh Assembly, which will help shape guidance for the safe return of performances at venues across Wales.
Sold out shows
With an initial one-off performance quickly selling out, the company were delighted to be invited by Theatr Clwyd to also stage a matinee performance. Unsurprisingly, both shows sold out in record time. History in the making you might say.
The team at Theatr Clwyd did an amazing job in setting out a socially distanced outdoor space with lots of measures in place to make you feel as safe as possible from the moment you arrived. Nothing was too much trouble for them and I take my hat off to the hard-working staff for whom the last six months must have been particularly worrying.
Featuring a cast drawn from Tip Top’s talented members, we were taken on a magical musical journey from The West End to Broadway and songs from some of the best loved musicals past and present. Opening with Pure Imagination from Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, the show’s director Phil Cross got proceedings off to an assured start as the evening air cooled a little and the wind blew gently across the hill.
There were several highlights during this hour long much-needed escape from the present reality, not least a beautiful performance of one of my all-time favourite songs, Feed the Birds from Mary Poppins sung by Rhian Lyon and Natalie Brett, which, I must admit, brought a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye. Natalie Brett also gave an absolute tour de force performance with Don’t Rain on My Parade from Funny Girl. Natalie’s performance was seemingly effortless and would have raised the roof had there been one! Bravo Natalie.
We were also treated to some brilliant vocal sparring with several fun moments courtesy of Ashley Sollars and Josie McHugh and Spamalot’s The Song That Goes Like This with its innumerable and almost impossible key changes whilst husband and wife team Rhian and Rob Lyon team had great fun trying to outdo each other with Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better from Annie Get Your Gun.
Phil Cross and Ashley Sollars also gave MD Simon Phillips on keys and percussionist Neil Middleton a run for their money with All for the Best from Godspell complete with a Lin Manuel Miranda, Hamilton-inspired rap section and Phil Cross demonstrating some fabulous verbal dexterity. It was also lovely to hark back to the show with which Tip Top brought down the final curtain at The Chester Gateway Theatre back in 2007 as Rob Lyon and Josie McHugh invited us to Put on Your Sunday Clothes from Hello Dolly, so many memories.
Other shows featured included South Pacific, The Sound of Music, Into the Woods, Pippin and Mary Poppins returns with some great solo performances from each of the cast. One final highlight for me has to be Natalie Brett and Annie Howarth’s spine-tingling performance of For Good from Wicked, absolutely stunning and for me, another tearjerker.
A special mention must go to MD Simon Phillips for his superb musicianship and usual high standards in getting the very best out of this talented cast it was great to see Simon joined on stage by Neil Middleton on drums. They made an excellent team.
All too soon, it was time to head home and sadly with the ever present Covid restrictions understandably in place, there was no big ensemble finale to the show but that did not stop the audience clapping along to the feel good I’m A Believer from Shrek, performed with great energy by Ashley Sollars before the cast took their well-deserved socially distanced final bows to great applause and cheers from the appreciative crowd. If this has to be “the new normal” for a while longer yet, I’ll take it.
Musical Magic was an absolute tonic and a reminder, as if one were needed, of just how important live music and theatre are to so many people, be it on stage, behind the scenes or in the audience (Chancellor take note!). Bravo to all concerned, I hope it won’t be too long before all our fantastic local venues including Theatr Clwyd, The Forum Studio Theatre, Storyhouse and Chester Little Theatre can open up fully again. They will certainly need our support more than ever before.
We Are Chester gives Musical Magic a West End-worthy 5 stars!
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Paul Crofts September 2020.