DESPITE a clash in dates between the Chelmsford and Witham Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Societies' productions there was a full house for the latter's first night of Romberg's "New Moon" at the Public Hall on Monday. Bookings throughout the week are very satisfactory but, more important every facet of the production shows an all-round improvement over last year's "Quaker Girl”
The leads, Pauline Hanford as Marianne and Derek Winslow as Robert, possess voices which fill the hall and are good actors in fact it is a long time since I have seen a more evenly-matched leading man and lady. If I slightly prefer Derek Winslow's performance, it is because he is the more comprehensively satisfactory. Pauline Hanford is excellent in moments when her part calls for hardness, not quite so good when tenderness is demanded.
My Oscar for the evening goes to Peter Groom for his faultless performance as Vicomte Ribaud. Physically right, vocally right, his splendid stage presence turns what could be an ordinary role into a first-rate character study, without upsetting the balance of the production as a whole.
There can be few more agile comedians on the Essex amateur stage than Bryan Etheridge. As Alexander he not only throws himself on the boards with ease and resilience, but also extracts a large number of laughs from a part that does not naturally abound in them.
Other stalwart favourites of Witham audiences taking part are Jack Wilsher as Phillipe, Patricia Vojak as Clotilde and Eric Knight as Captain Georges Duval, while newcomer Ken Richards doubles the roles at Monsieur Beauvoir and Admiral de Jean.
One of the few singers whose voices seems too small for the hall is Judy Ryder, but this is to a large extent compensated for in her portrayal of Julie by the natural vivacious charm of her acting.
A small part worthy of special mention because of its consistency is Tim Sheppard’s Emile. Other parts are taken by David Lawrence, John Lea, Michael Murton, Bill Goodall, Hilary Gunson and Lee Smith.
David Walker's production is certain in touch, and this year his greater familiarity with the stage has led to intelligent cast groupings.
About £200 has been spent on the hire of the gorgeous costumes, and I can only repeat what I've already said several times this season, that it's worth every penny.
The scenery also looks beautiful if at times rather insecure, and Cecil Barker's disciplined musical directing also does much to ensure success. Full marks too for an informative and interesting programme which contains much useful information about the society. From it, I learn that 20 new members are appearing in this production. Such an influx of new talent bodes well for the society's future.
At the moment. Witham is concentrating on staging and pre-war musicals May I, therefore, suggest that for 1965 they revive one of the most delightful musicals of all time. "The Arcadians."
CHORUS AND DANCERS
Chorus: Margaret Binley, Averil Bright, Betty Etheridge, Pat Goodall, Nesta Hinchcliffe, Joan Jeffery, Joan Ly n, Sheila Moore, Betty Richards, Kathleen Richards, Grace Rose, Daphne Rushen, Pamela Ryder, Anne Sheppard, Lee Smith, Dorothy Trollope, Maureen Walford, Olive Wheaton, Marjorie Winslow, Roy Bradley,
Barry Everett, Bill Goodall, Edward Holliwell, Ron Howe, David Mainhood, Geoffrey Moore, Barney Ryder, Tom Ryder, Tim Sheppard, Don Walford.
Dancers: Pat Collins, Sue Jeffery, Sally Richards, Noreen Ely, Carol Rice, Angela Shepherd. Hilary Gunson, Nina Rice.
Further performances will be given tonight and tomorrow Saturday night.
ROMANTIC MUSICALS, like little girls, are made of sugar and spice and all things nice and both affect different people in different ways. Maybe it’s my age, possibly it is the after effects of that gall bladder operation I had some years ago, but the truth is they make me sick.
Thus it was that I went to see "The New Moon" at the Public Hall in Witham on Tuesday night with a face as long as a fiddle and a bottle of magnesia tablets in my pocket, not expecting to enjoy myself at all and there is little doubt that, had it been left to Oscar Hammerstein and Sigmund Romberg, I should by now be feeling pretty bad.
However, I had not allowed for the part the Witham Musical and Amateur Dramatic Society were to take in the evening's entertainment. It is perfectly possible to enjoy even the things one doesn't like if they are performed well and 1et me say at once that Witham made a wonderful job of it.
My thanks are due to Bryan Etheridge for raising laughs out of the thinnest of thin humour, to Cecil Barker and his orchestra for the lively and spirited rendering of the most syrupy Palm Court music, to Judy Ryder and Derek Winslow for the pleasure their voices gave me, to Patricia Vojak for the vigour of the performance of her part and to the entire cast and chorus for the obvious enjoyment which they derived from performing.
There is no lack of colour and chorus in "The New Moon". The dialogue is kept to the minimum, sufficient only to tie together the many changes of scene and providing the maximum number of excuses for singing and dancing.
"THE NEW MOON" is a romantic musical play. The action takes place far from the gypsy camps and Viennese ballrooms so familiar to addicts of this sort of show. For the story begins in a mansion in New Orleans on the eve of the French Revolution, and it concerns the adventures of a young French aristocrat of liberal sympathies who has fled abroad, but is pursued by an unscrupulous detective, the Vicomte Ribaud. Already in the streets and taverns of this French colony there are murmurs of unrest, and talk of a popular movement.
The period and the setting are refreshingly original. But they show up cruelly some of the weaknesses of the Witham Musical and Amateur Operatic Society's production this week. It needs a real sense of style to present the aristocratic modes and manners of the eighteenth century. Here the scenery, hairdressing, costumes mid deportment were all sadly unconvincing.
The cast were more at ease in Act 1I, when they had shed their brocades and powdered wigs. But even then the dialogue and heroics of this venerable piece were heavy handicaps. True, the heroine (Pauline Hanford) did not flinch from crying: "Rally! Rally!" nor the villain (Peter Groom) from making an exit muttering "Sacre Bleu" Indeed, these two played with great gusto all the evening.
She contributed delicate beauty and confident singing, and he all excellent stage presence and a good speaking voice. Derek Winslow looked well and sang well as the hero and such comedy as the script allowed was provided by Bryan Etheridge and Patricia Vojak. Eric Knight gave an effective performance as Georges Duval, a ship's captain, and Jack Wilsher displayed a nice voice as Philippe.
Two or three catchy tunes were remorselessly plugged in the rather dull-score; no doubt they brought back happy memories of Evelyn Laye to the older members of the audience. An enormous amount of time, trouble and money have been put into this show, and it is to be hoped that it will prove popular with its public this week.
The production is by David Walker, and musical direction by Cecil Barker. The dancing is arranged by Iris Muirhead and the chorus trained by Jack Wilsher.