WITHAM Musical and Amateur Operatic Society's annual production at the Public Hall this week 'is "Grab Me a Gondola," which is something rather different from the general run of amateur productions.
Producing the society for the first time is Miss Doris Lyndon, an ex-West End leading lady, who since her retirement from the stage has produced many shows for amateur societies in Southend, and has taught drama for Essex Education Committee Youth Service and been an adjudicator for the Southend Education Committee's Youth Drama Festival. With her background, it is hardly surprising that Witham should have yet another great success on their hands. From the first moment that the curtain rises the production is smooth and lively. The stage is a blaze of colour, the scenery excellent, the singing good, and the acting, for the most part passable, and the whole production goes with a youthful swing.
HER FINEST HOUR
Playing the part of the film star, Virginia Jones, is an old favourite of the Witham stage, June Gilbey, and without question this is her finest hour. She has a great part to play and she portrays it with astonishing verve and vigour. Her singing is excellent, her acting has improved beyond recognition, and every moment she is on stage one is conscious of watching a great star in action.
As her manager, Timothy Sheppard, in the role of Alex Bryan, gives another polished performance. He is ideally suited to his part, and here one must congratulate the society on an excellent piece of casting.
Two old favourites, Jack Wilsher and Patricia Vojak, better known to us as Patricia Hollick, in the parts of Tom Wilson, a columnist, and his fiancee, Margaret Kyle, bring a touch of romance and give some excellent singing. Jack, who is also the chorus master, is in fine voice.
Pat, whose first major role this is, gives a very assured and polished performance, and surely has a great future on the amateur stage. A pity her voice is not just a little more powerful, but, nevertheless, she plays her. part most attractively.
Derek Winslow, as Tino, proprietor of the Pensione Tino, and Kathleen Richards, as Giuseppina, his wife, are old and tried favourites of the Witham audience and both play their small parts delightfully. Brian Etheridge, whose only previous appearances on the Witham stage have been as a member of the chorus, plays the part of Herring, the Bo ‘sun, with enthusiasm and creates a favourable impression.
Judy Ryder, Carol Langley, Anne Sheppard, Avril Bright and Daphne Rushen, as the film starlets, add the necessary touch of glamour and beauty to the show, including an appearance, with June Gilbey, in bikinis. The dancing, including a jive session, is lively and first class, and the whole production moves with a speed quite new to the Witham stage.
Contributing largely success is the orchestra conductor, Cecil Barker.
THE list of "previous successes of many amateur operatic societies, conjures up memories of gypsy gaiety, waltzes in old Vienna, Red Indian goings-on, and all the faded relics of the musical stage of thirty years ago.
What a relief to find that Witham Musical and Amateur Operatic Society had dispensed with the mountain scenery, the lilac and the balalaikas and tackled a musical with some relevance to the world we live in. And without becoming involved in the difficulties of pretending to be American either "Grab Me a Gondola” deals with the publicity seeking stars and starlets at the Venice Film Festival and its attitude is highly irreverent.
Moreover the leading' part is played by no simpering romantic but by a hard-boiled, powerful blonde with the voice of an Ethel Merman. JUNE GILBY was splendid. She delivered her lines with tremendous zest and sang in a strident but accurate voice, Her rendering of "Man Not a Mouse" would have sent the average Nanette, Katinka or Rio Rita shrinking into the wings in shame and confusion.
The same vigour inspired the whole company. The dancing and stage movement were tactfully arranged, and the whole show was lavishly and wittily dressed. It could have been pruned with advantage; after the first two and a quarter hours it nearly sank under its own weight. But “Rockin’ at the Cannon Ball" revived our flagging spirits for the last lap.
JACK WILSHER as Tom Wilson, the newspaper columnist, sang in a pleasant tenor, as did DEREK WINSLOW, as Tino. Like most of the principals, they sang better than they acted. PATRICIA VOJAK sang sweetly as Margaret and had a pleasant stage personality. PATRICK CRAWLEY'S characterisation as Prince Luigi Bourbon Corielli was good, but hard to hear. The orchestra, under CECIL BARKER, overpowered him, as it did some of the others.
But excellent use was made of some pretty girls, the shortage of men was cunningly concealed, and the whole show was fashioned by DORIS LYNDON into a lively and colourful entertainment.
Other societies, please copy!