By Paul Crofts
After the devastating cancellation of their previous production two years ago due to the pandemic, Chester-based youth theatre On The Mark recently staged the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Whistle Down The Wind at Christleton High School. We Are Chester writer and contributor Paul Crofts went along on opening night.
Perhaps one of the lesser known of the Lloyd Webber musicals, Whistle Down the Wind is based on the novel of the same name by Mary Hayley Bell, the wife of legendary actor Sir John Mills. Set in Louisiana, USA, it tells the story of a group of children who stumble across an escaped killer (The Man) hiding in a barn.
The children become convinced that the man is in fact Jesus Christ. Whilst the townspeople set out to hunt the fugitive down, their anger is in complete contrast to the innocence of the children who believe in and trust the escaped prisoner.
Featuring a cast and crew of no fewer than 70 (yes 70!) with several of the principal cast roles being shared by three young actors each across the 6 performance run, the show was the first On The Mark production to feature adult actors alongside members of the youth theatre and this mix worked really well.
The show opened with a solid start, the rock gospel inspired Keys to the Vaults of Heaven, planting us firmly in the American Bible belt.
The show’s director and MD Simon Phillips is to be congratulated for the beautifully tight harmonies of the big ensemble numbers that have become a hallmark of the shows he produces.
Whilst there were strong and assured performances from the adult members of the cast, I have to say that they were absolutely outshone by the younger members of the cast.
If this production is anything to go by, the future of musical theatre is in very safe and talented hands. There really wasn’t one single weak link in the entire company.
I could not write this review without giving a special and very well deserved mention to cast member Calum Craine who stepped up to take on the lead role of The Man with just a few hours notice, in place of the indisposed Rob Lyon.
Calum absolutely nailed the musical numbers and gave an extremely polished performance, the only giveaway that he had been thrust in to the role being the script he was glancing at occasionally. Bravo Calum!
The show featured an impressive set designed by Sarah Oxley and Nick Tiernan and the scene in which the barn catches fire was particularly well executed thanks to some clever stage lighting and sound effects produced by Mark Shenton and Daniel McAllister whilst Simon Phillips led a 14 strong orchestra, the members of which would have given the musicians in any West End pit a run for their money.
On The Mark is well known for its high quality, large scale productions and Whistle Down The Wind was no exception.
It was heartwarming to see the company back doing what it does best after the uncertainty of the last two years and I look forward to their next large scale show.
Main photo: The cast of Whistle Down The Wind staged by On The Mark Youth Theatre at Christleton High School (photo credit Kate De Winton)(Photo features Rob Lyon as “The Man”)