I Well remember my first Merry Widow. She came at me out of a loudspeaker from those lovely early blue Columbia LP’s. (I was enthralled by the lushness of the writing. Was it Schwartzkopf and Kunz?) Elegant nonsense is what it is. Style is everything.
Not many amateur groups manage to convey a sense of style but the Witham Amateur Operatic Society did very well with their production by Betty Blower. It's at the Public Hall in Witham all this week at 7/45. If you can get a seat it‘s a civilised way to spend an evening.
There are some strong performances in the Witham show: Patsy Doy scores a personal triumph as the enigmatic widow of the title. She sings well (Oh, Villja in act two was very fine with a beautifully controlled conclusion) and knows how to use the stage (not many performers manage to simply turn on stage but make the move significant and watchable).
She was ably partnered by Howard Brooks as Danilo who, while not conveying quite such an aura, nonetheless managed his romantic role with conviction and some panache. Tim Sheppard was a nicely fussy old Baron and Pat Briggs was excellent as his flirtatious wife. Peter Green's Njegus was very funny and will be funnier when he's word perfect.
Congratulations to the chorus who all acted all the time and particularly to the six young ladies from Maxim’s who were nicely sexy without being embarrassing which is often the case in such circumstances.
John James conducted the very competent orchestra which contributed a great deal to overall excellence of the production.
ALL this week, at the Public Hall, Witham Amateur Operatic Society is presenting Franz Lehar’s light, sparkling, romantic, musical comedy, The Merry Widow.
The action takes place in Paris and is centred on the troubled romance of a wealthy young widow and a nobleman. They both declare at the start they will never marry one another. This, though, is musical comedy and we all know before the ﬁnal curtain they will be together and live happily ever after.
Patsy Doy was the merry widow. She had some lovely songs to sing and from her beautifully created entrance to the ﬁnal chorus, she had the ﬁrst night audience entranced. Count Danilo, played by Howard Brooks, was a good leading man though he tended to lack variation in the pace of his delivery.
There is a maze of sub plots, most of them concerning romantic liaisons. Pat Briggs as a scheming flirt and Simon Mitchell, as the sophisticated object of her attentions, gave interesting performances. Baron Zeta, the simple grey haired doddery cuckold, was played by Tim Sheppard and was very well balanced by Peter Green, who made the most of his every line in a dry, camp caricature of the Factotum Njegus.
Betty Blower’s hand as producer was visible right from the light hearted action during the overture. Her handling of the crowd scenes, especially at the start of Act Two, was a feature of the show and the septet Women brought the house down.
In the ﬁrst act the pace was rather uniform but John James, the musical director, introduced a lot more pace and vitality into the last two acts.
Cascada, played by Tony Court, and Stewart Adkins, playing St Brioche, raised a lot of laughs as a pair of characters lifted straight out of a Christmas pantomime. Geoff Coverdale and Edward Maltby, even though they only had minor roles to play, were frequently the centre of the audience’s attention. Helene Jones, Alison Brewer, Ann Marsden and Tim Clark completed a strong cast of principals. The six young grisettes in the scene a la Maxim bubbled with enthusiasm and Cynthia Stead, the choreographer, added a lot to the show. The chorus was, as usual, a very strong feature.
This lavishly and colourfully dressed musical will be added to the long list of successes already achieved by the society.
THE MERRY WIDOW
CAST Tony Court, Tim Sheppard, Pat Briggs, Peter Green, Stewart Adkins, Geoff Coverdale, Helene Jones, Simon Mitchell, Edward Maltby, Tim Clark, Alison Brewer, Ann Marsden, Patsy Doy, Howard Brooks.
The Grisettes: Cathy Swann, Sue Miller, Yvonne Mitchell, Susan Page, Alyson Cox, Kathryn Adkins.
Ladies chorus: Katrina Brooks, Sandra Broyd, Muriel Chambers, Miranda Comerasamy, Anita Collins, Veronica Crane, Janice Hawkes, Lynette Magnone, Elizabeth Miller, Julia Reed, Connie Render, Joyce Ryder, Mary Schoeser, Anne Sheppard, Edna Starling, Carole Turner,Roberta Tyler, Jo Wood.
Gentlemen’s chorus: David Bebb, Brian Henderson, Ron Howe, Roger Munt, John Render, Wayne Savill, Gary Smith.
Producer Betty Blower,
Musical director John James,
Choreographer Cynthia Stead,
Stage manager Audrey King, assisted by Derek Hunt,
Lighting Robin Dedman,
Stage crew Les King, David Hunt, Jim Harris, Roger Clark, Mick Adams,
Props mistress Anne Hunt, assisted by Jane Kennedy, Helen Collins, Mandy Smith, Helen Clark, Natalie Hawkes,
Tabs Phillip Harris,
Prompt Elizabeth Watson,
Wardrobe Nesta Hinchliffe, Pat Voyak, Pat Briggs,
Make up June Smith, Margaret Jex.
Front of house John Gunson.