The Berwickshire High School
THEY say ‘life is a cabaret’ and the way the seating was set out at Berwickshire High School last week, that’s certainly what Duns and District Amateur Operatic Society were hoping to give the audience who took their seats for the opening night of their 2011 musical ‘Sweet Charity’.
Until two years ago when I reviewed the same show by another company, it was one of those musicals that had passed me by but now knowing a few songs I was looking forward to seeing the DDAOS twist put on proceedings.
Leading lady status was bestowed on Sarah Aitken who as Miss Charity Hope Valentine stepped out of the chorus and into the spotlight and by gosh did she make the transition look easy.
One of Broadway and the West End’s most sought after roles has been played by a host of stage sirens, most recently Tamzin Outhwaite, but from the off the young Duns actress definitely put the Sarah Aitken stamp on it.
Interviewing Sarah a few weeks ago she said Charity was “a dream role” for her to play and it was immediately obvious from the off that it was one she was born to play.
Landing in a lake isn’t the start most leading ladies would hope for but it was an apt opening for a play that was by all intents and purposes, that reality TV cliche of “an emotional rollercoaster.”
After being ditched by beau Charlie, Charity was in defiant mood in ‘You Should See Yourself’ and Sarah’s stage presence and facial expressions captured the mood perfectly.
Now a name like Charity Hope Valentine gives off connotations of innocence and purity but there was precious little of that at her place of work, The Fandango Ballroom, a dancehall which offered its customers more than the odd foxtrot.
But to give it its due it was the home of some particularly sassy ladies who set the musical bar high with a song that needed no introduction, although its opening bars gave its identity away.
‘Big Spender’ is most famous for being belted out by Queen of the Valleys, Dame Shirley Bassey, but it actually started life in ‘Sweet Charity’ and the Duns divas took it back to its roots.
With all the sassiness of Beyonce mixed with the confidence of Marilyn Monroe, the Fandango Girls certainly raised the temperature. Leading the lines were Nickie and Helene played by Lynn Gray and Rosie Daley.
Both women excelled in their roles with great singing voices, which also came to the fore later on in the show in ‘Baby Dream Your Dream’, and attitude and swagger to match.
Like Charity they wanted to get out from under the control of dance hall owner Herman, affectionately known as ‘der fuhrer’.
There were a few of the cast that I didn’t recognise but the man who played Herman was definitely a familiar face.
Bob Noble has been in countless productions with both the Operatic Society and Duns Players, and has thrown himself into a veritable pick and mix of parts.
Herman was another theatrical test for him but another one he passed.
Although we were probably not meant to be too fond of his character, Bob, in a shiny gold jacket that would send Graham Norton into a fashion frenzy, make it impossible for the audience not to like him, particularly when he showed his softer side in ‘I Like To Cry At Weddings’.
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself there as we were still to be introduced to Charity’s potential groom.
Before she met who she thought was the love of her life, Charity had a one night encounter with famous film star Vittorio Vidal, played by Rick Mondeau. Glancing at Rick’s bio during the interval I noticed that he had spent some time at the world famous Julliard School of Music in New York.
Had I read this before he performed ‘Too Many Tomorrows’ I might have been left scractching my head but after seeing and hearing it for myself I could well believe it.
His voice was powerful yet controlled and he still managed to sing in an Italian accent that would charm the birds down from the trees.
One bird who was most definitely charmed was Charity - she couldn’t believe her luck. And what better way to make your feelings known than a song?
‘If You Could See Me Now’ is ‘Sweet Charity’s’ iconic song and Charity’s calling card so the pressure was on for Sarah to deliver the goods.
As the famous line from the songs say ‘they’d never believe it’ and I sincerely doubt whether any of the audience would think this was Sarah’s first leading role. As a trained dancer, the number gave Sarah the chance to lay her choreographical cards on the table and you could see from her face that she was loving every minute.
As show choreographer Sarah had the responsibility of educating the DDAOS cast in the art of Fosse, probably the most intricite dance style in the whole of musical theatre.
They got the chance to show their mettle in ‘Rich Man’s Frug’ and you know what they might not be ready for ‘Chicago’ just yet but they certainly did Mr Fosse proud.
The women, dressed in outfits Twiggy would have been clammering for in her youth, were poised yet energetic and the men suave and sophisticated.
A man who those adjectives would be never be bestowed on is Oscar Lindquist.
From the moment both Charity and the audience met him, it was apparent he was one of life’s black sheep.
Duns Operatic patrons will have last seen Euan McIver in an array of getups playing the dame in last year’s panto but with them all locked away in the cupboard for at least another few months, his acting talent got to shine through.
The on-stage, or ‘in-lift’, chemistry between him and Sarah was spot on and their duet ‘I’m The Bravest Individual’ was exactly how an act should end - in thoroughly entertaining style and leaving the audience wanting more.
And more is what we got in abundance with ‘The Rhythm of Life’, set in a church like no other I’ve ever seen before!
Resembling John Lennon during his hippy years, Scott Brodie was fantastic as Daddy Brubeck and made the mood as colourful as the costumes worn by his parish.
LIke ‘If They Could See Me Now’ it was a stand out moment, and at the risk of sounding like a broken record, so was ‘Sweet Charity’, beautifully sung by Euan, and ‘I’m A Brass Band’, which gave Sarah another chance to make the stage her own.
Unusually ‘Sweet Charity’ didn’t give us the fairytale ending that musicals usually do, which meant that Charity didn’t get to make it down the aisle after all, ending up back where she started, in the lake.
But this show was anything but a damp squip.
The attention to detail was fantastic, from the on-screen projections to the fact that even prompt Kate Lester was head to toe in 60s garb.
As well as Sarah stepping out of the chorus into a larger role, it was nice to see others follow suit, particularly Emma Taylor who as Ursula even made the girls of ‘The Only Way Is Essex’ look low maintenance.
This boy can definitely be won over by a delicious complimentary cupcake, but in all honesty I didn’t need bribery to find this show a superbly ‘sweet’ treat.
The ‘fickle finger of fate’ has pointed to another success for Duns Operatic.