I'm a freelance writer living in Birmingham. I like Classic Rock, 70s pop music, football and interviewing celebrities. Follow me on Twitter: @andycoleman9
Back to the 70s
Ask a young person what they did in their summer holidays and chances are you'll be told ''played video games'', ''watched TV'' or ''was bored''. But almost 100 young people will tell you they spent two weeks working alongside industry professionals to put on a full-scale production of Boogie Nights - The Musical at Birmingham's Alexandra Theatre.
The annual Stage Experience initiative has been running for 15 years, giving young aspiring actors and technicians a taste of professional theatre. Past offerings include Footloose, Grease and West Side Story, and previous participants given their first stage experience include comedian Joe Lycett and stage star Liam Doyle.
With just two weeks of rehearsals, director and choreographer Pollyann Tanner has worked wonders, marshalling dozens of 9 – 24-year-olds and presenting a show to professional standards.
Speaking after the gala performance of Boogie Nights she admitted that last year's challenging West Side Story was a particular triumph and she was unsure whether a move to ''the opposite end of the spectrum'' (ie, a jukebox musical) would work. In the case of the enthusiasm, energy and ability of the cast, her worries are unfounded. But I can understand her doubts as to the choice of production.
Boogie Nights – The Musical, written by Jon Conway with Shane Richie and Terry Morrison, premiered 21 years ago. Its 2013 production featured the Osmond brothers Jimmy, Merrill and Jay, and Gareth Gates. Set in 1970s Britain, it revolves around a disco called Boogie Nights where young love blossoms, hearts are broken and dreams are dashed or fulfilled. The vast majority of the play is filled with 70s music – from disco staples like Disco Inferno, Celebration and Blame It On The Boogie, to pop hits such as Sugar Baby Love and Yesterday Once More.
The Stage Experience cast have a blast with the singing and dancing – there are often so many performers they spill out into the audience, turning the Alex into a giant disco. The ensemble company members are superb; they have obviously worked extremely hard on the choreography and it has really paid off.
The principal cast members are also excellent, although I feel the script does not allow us to see their full potential. I was particularly impressed with Isabella Kibble as Debs, the pregnant girlfriend of mainman Roddy (Elliot Gooch), an all-round ''sexist pig''. Isabella has been in Stage Experience's last two productions – West Side Story and Grease – and has a lovely singing voice. Her version of The Carpenters' Yesterday Once More was a highlight. One to watch.
I also liked Gibsa Bah, the singer with the band at Boogie Nights. At the age of 18 he is a Stage Experience veteran, appearing in the last seven productions. With a giant afro and Glam Rock-style platform boots he's the most 70s-looking performer in the cast. New Alexandra Theatre patron Noddy Holder, the former frontman of 70s legends Slade, was in the gala night audience and I thought he might ask Gibsa to give him his boots back!
The role of Roddy was something of a thankless task for dance and musical theatre student Elliot Gooch. The character is so unlikeable that Elliot struggles to connect with the audience. Some of his sexist comments even elicited boos from the crowd. But Elliot works hard and his version of Elton John's Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word gained a huge ovation.
Liam Huband as Roddy's dad Eamon has the best lines in the show; lots of witty comments and foul-mouthed humour. As a huge Elvis fan he's been made-up to resemble The King but actually looks like another 70s icon, Alvin Stardust.
The script does not allow for much character development of the supporting roles but well done to Thomas Parkinson, Jonah Sercombe, Melissa Huband and Grace Williams for making the best of slim pickings.
A thoroughly enjoyable night out, and I'm sure we'll see some of the cast on the professional stage in the future. As for next year's Stage Experience show, let's see something that will really challenge these talented performers.