IF YOU haven't booked tickets for “Rose Marie" at the Public Hall, you'd better get a wiggle on. At the time of writing in the Eastern sunshine, the first and last nights are practically sold out for this popular show which opens a week on Monday; and seats for other evening performances are going so fast that it looks as though the “House full" notices will be up throughout the week.
Except for the Saturday matinee. This is an innovation which in theory should be a welcome attraction for children and football widows; but unfortunately it clashes with the televised cup final, and it remains to be seen which they choose to watch.
It would be a pity if the experiment doesn't come off. Hired costumes and scenery are a heavy expense, and last year, despite full houses, Witham operatic society was nearly £100 out of pocket when the accounts were balanced. They deserve our support to break even this time.
Whatever the financial outcome of this annual event, publicity manager Tim Sheppard can take a bow. It was he who designed and made all the magnificent, man-sized, papier-maché totem-poles you may have seen around town. And have you seen the little ones - in the pubs? (A catch question; the answer reveals one's drinking habits!) They have been so much admired that if the society were to auction them on the last night, they might make just the difference between profit and loss on what, is always a gala occasion and the ceremonial laying-up of winter. .
THERE ARE no songs like the old songs; there are no shows like the old shows. That is Witham Operatic Society's recipe for success, and if the proof of the pudding is in the eating "Rose Marie" makes a very appetising dish at the Public Hall this week.
This spectacular show, set in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, has been a favourite for well over 40 years and if it is beginning to show signs of wear. Producer Roger Bentall has made sure that we do not notice them. He has brought a good deal of original thought to bear on the casting and staging. For instance, the broadly comic, part of Hard-Boiled Herman made famous by burlesque comedian Billy Merson, has been placed in the experienced hands of Derek Collins' who brings all his considerable expertise to play it as light comedy.
He is aided and abetted most delightfully by Pauline Hanford whose transition from the leading lady the last few seasons to a witty, brilliant soubrette is a piece of versatility to marvel at. Between them they provide quite the brightest moments of the evening.
Joy Fleming, as the unsophisticated French-Canadian heroine, sustains her broken English accent and her gamine conception of the character very well indeed and her singing voice falls pleasantly on the ear.
As her lover, Brian Gennings performs and sings with force and conviction and displays that much admired lean and hungry look now denied by the Welfare State to several of his companions on stage. Two admirable character studies are provided by Cyril Morrissey (Emile la Flamme) and Tim Sheppard (Edward Hawley) while Ricki Deadman is suitably statuesque as Ethel Brander.
The high spot of the show is undoubtedly the totem scene. All those girls in Indian costumes performing rhythmically while the intoxicating music throbs on! Their leader is Wanda, the passionate half-caste, and Pat Harris sings, dances and acts in this role with splendid vitality. As her husband Black Eagle, Geoffrey Coverdale takes the opportunity to offer a performance of considerable merit, and Jack Wilsher's impressive voice and appearance makes him an authentic Sergeant Malone.
Choreographer Sally Carpenter has devised some neat little numbers for her colourfully dressed dancers but the chorus work generally is a little restrained and their use of the stage too restricted in emotional moments. The Mounties look fine in their scarlet tunics and stamp about in great style. Early in the week, a slight lack of unanimity was evident but, as ever, they will be spot-on by Saturday night.
Musical director Ken. Ferris makes a welcome return to the society. His orchestra is skilfully controlled and his treatment of the totem music original and well suited to modern ears. This is a show which amply maintains the high standard of recent productions and is a credit to all concerned. Rose Marie was last performed here 14 years ago. Is this the first of a series of post-war revivals?
IT was 31 years ago this month that, as a schoolboy not yet in his 'teens, I first fell in love with « Rose Marie," and this week at Witham I fell in love with her all over again.
In the title role of Roger Bentall's production for the Witham Operatic Society, Joy Fleming is captivating and delightful acting' and singing with both charm and attack. But even to my love stricken ears on Tuesday there were moments when her intonation was not 100 per cent true, a criticism which must also be levelled at other members of the cast.
Another key factor to any successful production of Rose Marie lies in the actor playing Hard Boiled Herman and here, Derek Collins, returning to his true metier of comedy, gives a brilliant performance full of funny moments, not the least of which occurs in his golfing episode. As Lady Jane, Pauline Hanford gives far more than just support, making the character come alive, and her trio in the second act with Herman and Sgt, Malone (Jack Wilsher) is one of the highlights of the show.
Tim Sheppard displays a steely-charm as Edward Hawley, Pat Harris is a passionate Wanda, Cyril Morrissey produces Gallic wit and shrewdness as Emile, while Brian Gennings has the virile presence, if not quite the voice, for Jim Kenyon, the title song lying uncomfortably high for him. Others with speaking parts are; -Geoffrey Coverdale, Rikki Deadman and David Fleming. The Totem dance, arranged by Grace Rose, if not the most exciting I have seen, is well performed and holds the interest throughout; The conductor is Ken Ferris.
This is Mr. Bentall's first production for the Society and, like his predecessors, he finds difficulty in getting crisp movements in crowd scenes on this comparatively small stage. Things had not fully settled down by the second night and I hope by now the chorus, and particularly the Mounties, are belting their numbers out more, but notwithstanding these reservations I found this a happy reunion.
Now, what about Arcadians for 1970
FOR the second time only in their 47 years of existence, 'Witham Musical and Amateur Operatic Society have, this week, been staging Rose Marie, a romance of the Canadian Rockies by Harbach, Hammerstein, Friml and Stothart. The performance is produced and directed by Roger Bentall and is, in most respects, up to the expected standard.
It was possible, on Tuesday evening, to detect more than a little apprehension among the cast in the opening scene and they were not aided by the music which lacks a breezy chorus or song at the beginning. This passed and the remainder was a delight. Pauline Hanford, as Lady Jane, was well suited to the part of a saloon keeper, while Jack Wilsher, as Sgt. Malone, maintained a dignity befitting the Mounties, although his accent was rather incongruous. Tim Sheppard as Edward Hawley, while giving a wealthy impression also gave one that scheming was beneath him. The difficult parts of Emile and Wanda were successfully portrayed by Cyril Morrissey and Pat Harris. Although described as wild, Jim Kenyon (Brian Gennings) was, in fact, quite a gentleman.
Sorry to say I did not find Joy Fleming, as Rose Marie, a convincing character. Vivacity was there in plenty and her singing was excellent, but I felt a certain lack of strength in personality. Again, Derek Collins came up trumps as Hard-Boiled Herman. He was, by far, the most relaxed person in the show and well deserved his applause, He gives the impression that, should anything go wrong, he could ad-lib and the audience would not notice.
The musical director was .Ken Ferris, but there was not always complete unanimity between conductor, orchestra and cast. Indeed, the orchestra produced some most odd noises at times,
The scenery was provided by outside contractors and the choreography by Sally Carpenter was simple but effective.