TOPS latest outing at the Thameside Theatre is the 1957 Tony award winning the Music Man with Music written by Meredith Wilson . Robert Preston is the star most associated with the piece having been a member of the original cast and starred in the 1962 film.
It’s a show that has rare performances on the British amateur stage as its not very well known and only three songs will be familiar to modern day audiences. The shows weaknesses are overlong dance routines some forgettable songs and a weak ending but thats in the writing.
The plot concerns con man, Professor Harold Hill, who poses as a boys’ band organiser and leader and sells band instruments and uniforms to the naive Iowa townsfolk, promising to train the members of the new band. But Harold is no musician and plans to skip town without giving any music lessons. Prim librarian and piano teacher Marian sees through him, but when Harold helps her younger brother overcome his lisp and social awkwardness, Marian begins to fall in love. Harold risks being caught to win her.
TOPS did this show proud . Let us start with the chorus. The opening scene set in a train worked very well with difficult dialogue kept in time with the movement of the train . The townsfolk worked well together and director Anne Sullivan did a fine job in choreographing difficult movement around the small Thameside stage. I particularly liked the barber shop quartet consisting of Eric James,John Hunting,Alan Watts and Simon Mann. I can imagine they must have spent long hours honing their act .Equally the girls played their part as well with a good performance from Dawn Peat as the Mayor’s wife.
In fact all the cast were strong and if they are reading this and don’t see their name it just means there are too many too mention. I must however mention young 8 year old George Lane who gave a gutsy and believable performance as the speech inflicted Winthrop . I must also praise all the children who gave well disciplined and convincing displays. Harry Doyle also shone as Shinn the Mayor and Vanda Mercer was delightful as Mrs Paroo. William Messenger and Josh Handley both played their roles with equal aplomb and liveliness.
Let us turn to our two principals. It is the first time I’ve seen Cerys Wilkin at the Thameside and boy did she impress me. A lovely voice and good stage presence she played the love interest and drove the story along with ease. My heart went out to her when her microphone developed a mind of its own in one scene but she carried on bravely through it. The problem with our leading man Luke Coldham is that here we have a young man who should have been born 60 years ago. He would have given Danny Kaye or DIck Van Dyke a decent run for their money. I can think of no one else in the Essex area who could have even come close to give the strength he gave to the lead role . He sings well, he acts brilliantly and his stage presence is superb. If this opened tomorrow on Shaftesbury Avenue, I’d be the first to drive him to the auditions.
Patrick Tucker’s orchestra kept the music moving along and unusually for orchestras at the Thameside at the right volume as so many orchestras tend to drown out the singers on stage .
A thoroughly enjoyable evening performed very well by TOPS putting on a show that I wouldn’t rush to see again but that sent the audience home with a smile and probably humming a tune (till there was you) that they thought was a Beatles song