Leighton Buzzard Children’s Theatre, review:
‘Outstanding. One for the ages.’
By Tom Scudamore:
A new season for Leighton Buzzard Children’s Theatre began in spectacular fashion on Sunday 10th September, as the local drama group said its traditional goodbye to those cast members who, having turned 18 years old and graduated in some way, must move onto newer pastures. As always, LBCT’s ‘Leavers Show’ is a mix of funny, poignant and ultimately bittersweet ideas that, quite crucially, sums up the ethos and feelings eternally felt within Sally Allsopp’s charitable company. And this incarnation of LBCT’s annual farewell show was no different: as ever, the one-off performance ran on a tight schedule, leaving no room for true tears until the final number.
This year entitled ‘Please Don’t Stop the Show!’, the beauty of this particular gig in LBCT’s calendar is that at its heart the ‘Leavers Show’ is a variety show, a bonanza of musical numbers and entertainment bits which spotlight its talented youth ensemble. The secret to this nostalgic trip down memory lane, and what makes the liveness and spontaneity extra special on the night, is the immensely short rehearsal schedule behind it, and the trust given to the cast to pull off what is, quite fittingly, the show they want to put on. Hosted by LBCT alum Tom Scudamore and last year’s leavers Helen Mountford, Emily Parrott and Matt Wallis, anything could happen -- and any magic expected of this year’s farewell was certainly delivered.
It’s worth mentioning the leavers themselves, of course. Chloe Benning, Jenni Mann and Corinne Hubbold are three stars who, without a doubt, glowed across their final hour. Here are three performers who confidently and proudly sung and danced their way through a show determined to make them shine brighter than they ever had, a feat achieved given all three brought so much individuality to their particular solo moments. Chloe Benning showed real character when singing the infamous Oklahoma tune ‘I Can’t Say No’, and charmed as the tame and ‘tense’ Cogsworth in the Beauty and the Beast spots. Jenni Mann, who has grown in confidence and shown a real knack for playing sweet and quiet characters across her time at LBCT, beautifully led the cast in singing ‘Letting Go’ from Ring of Roses, perhaps the most stirring and emotionally rousing choice of the night. And Corinne Hubbold, fresh from starring as Belle in the company’s recent run of Beast, showed, yet again, the promise and natural talent which will serve her fine when studying Performing Arts in Gloucestershire -- with impressive range, Hubbold hit all the right notes in ‘Home’ from Beast, ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ from Les Miserables and ‘I Know Him So Well’ within half an hour. When the three leavers sang ‘Matchmaker’ from Fiddler on the Roof together, a bit which has story, laughs and the fitting message of wonted-independence from three sisters on the brink of adulthood, the traditional chord in any ‘Leavers Show’ was struck: the sense and realisation felt by cast and audience alike that these performers will be missed. Benning, Mann and Hubbold devoted everything they had to LBCT in their respective tenures, each very unique and gifted in their skillsets, and it will be interesting to see how the company’s youth cast move on without them.
And the Youth Section, now boasting forty very versatile and remarkable players, proved that they will be just fine. Supporting the leavers as a tight-knit chorus, they energetically kicked off the show with a choreographed routine to Hairspray’s ‘The Nicest Kids in Town’, a new number successfully batted that can be added to LBCT’s roster of hits, and which should begin a pantheon of more dance sequences in future. The colourful, starry-eyed ensemble were a sight to behold in Beast, too, while they also trotted out some fine collective pipes in the Les Miserables medley and a range of wacky-faced expressions in ‘When You’re An Adams’ from The Addams Family -- supporting the wonderful Advanced players Hayley Green and Nathan Rutherford, it was a delight to see this cast, who have formed a strong bond over the last two years, have so much faith in themselves to anchor some new material LBCT’s loyalist of audience members wouldn’t have seen before.
Alongside ‘Letting Go’, the company’s interpretation of ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’ from Blood Brothers was equally potent, a brilliant highlight of this cast’s gravity. The Matilda spot was just as touching but for different reasons: ‘When I Grow Up’ isn’t a sad song -- rather, it is an ode to the dreams and sheer optimism of young people who just want ‘to be strong enough to carry all the heavy things you have to haul’, and ‘be brave enough to fight the creatures’ faced ‘when you’re a grown up’. The choice, led perfectly by three of the Youth Section’s newer female cast members, was charming, winning and even poignant, especially when Benning, Mann and Hubbold stood behind them at the end, as if they were giving a blessing, excited for these new performers to enjoy the rollercoaster of LBCT which they, and every cast member, experiences. This number, complete with freeze frames of childhood, perfectly encapsulated the essence of this show’s philosophy: that ‘Leavers’ isn’t so much a goodbye as it is a celebration of being a young person. Outstanding. One for the ages.
And if that was the female cast’s attempt at causing some tears from the audience, the male cast most probably matched, if not surpassed, their efforts in the annual drag number, this year it being the Spice Girls’ ‘Wannabe’. Some eyebrows may have been raised, but the current batch of young men within the youth ranks, and Scudamore, threw their all into the bit with gusto and gameness, one by one showing themselves off in a catwalk sequence before, after a victory lap around the stage, shaking their tail feathers (expression intended) with an bemused and enthused female ensemble having a party behind them. It was what everyone ‘really, really wants’. Glorious stuff.
The party wouldn’t be complete without LBCT’s annual recognition of the people who work so hard to make it the special, inclusive land that it has become renowned for being within the community. Musical directing, choreography and youth helping were all commended with awards, and deservedly so, while the Peplow-Walsh family won the Charity Cup for their fundraising for Macmillan Cancer, most worthy winners for a great cause, and Richard Ayre received The Andy Collier Award for his dedication to being LBCT’s resident lighting and technical wizard.
‘Please Don’t Stop the Show!’ would go on to raise £300 for The Alzheimer’s Society, labelled ‘an important cause close to the hearts of this cast and the leavers who chose it’ on the night.
This really was a win for LBCT, who now march on to rehearse for their productions of Annie in February 2017, and Seussical in the summer. For now, this ‘Leavers Show’ will serve as a reminder of the values and talent which constitute the makeup of this amazing company, and Benning, Hubbold, Mann and musical director David Allsopp and producers Sally Allsopp and Hayley Green should be very proud.
The final picture, of everyone on stage together, the cast at different stages in their lives, singing ‘Tomorrow’, was enough to soothe anyone worried that this is the end of a particular chapter. For there’s a point to all of this: at LBCT, everyone is special, and the journey never truly ends. Even if you leave you never actually say goodbye. It will always be there for you to come back to. The hard part is just accepting that, for now, things are gonna be a little different. But why be scared of a little change? The past has been sunshine, and the future looks just as bright. As for tomorrow? Well, it’s ‘only a day away’, after all…
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