In a production awash with platform heels, sequins and high pitched solos…and that was only the men…The Centre Theatre Players blamed it on the boogie and took us back to those heady yet colourful days of the 70s when you could lose your heart to a Starship Trouper whilst Kung Fu Fighting.
At the Burgess Hall, St Ives, from May 20 to 23, John Conway’s musical tribute had them strutting in the aisles and shouting back the familiar responses of 40 years ago to the lively and enthusiastic company who performed Boogie Nights so energetically. From Celebrate to I Will Survive to YMCA, the audience became as much a part of the flow and action as the accomplished cast and this was much to the benefit of a piece that was weak on plot and strong on soundtrack.
The style and setting of the piece owed much to the Heather Brother’s Slice of Saturday Night as do so many ‘juke box musicals’, but in the hands of the Centre Players, it became a tuneful and poignant show enhanced by strong acting performances, powerful singing and exceptionally slick choreography.
At the top of their game among those performers were Michael Burke and Becky Keane. Both gave us totally believable portrayals of teenagers through to young adults whilst displaying a warmth and charisma which drew the audience into their world from the word go. Both allowed the 70s’ power ballads in particular to display their wonderful voices to perfection.
Michael carried the storyline of the young protagonist yearning to escape a poor, humdrum, hopeless existence, preferably taking the Love Train to fame and fortune whilst Becky made us empathise completely with a girl who wants love and stability in a rapidly changing world full of immature chaps refusing to grow up and constantly breaking her heart despite her protestations to the contrary. Both performances rank among the best I seen on an amateur stage in the past year.
In very strong support were Trish Fordham and Nick Thompson as best friends, Trish and Terry, to the love-struck pair and blessed with some very witty lines. Both actors proved to be adept at physical comedy whilst delivering a comic aside with immaculate timing and both added positively to tuneful vocals and vivacious routines.
Equally impressive in the main cast were Graham Lloyd as Roddy’s grief affected, angry, alcoholic father Eamon, Merille Duff as sweet-singing Geordie distraction for Roddy and Simon Webb as seedy impresario, Spencer, with Gary Arthur making the most of the somewhat thankless part of the loyal, reliable Dean.
The ensemble was very much to the forefront throughout and provided us with some terrific numbers of pace, performance energy and choreographic quality. There was no weak link in the company and they showed us what it means to give 100 per cent from entry to exit every time.
A skillful production team, under the direction of multi-talented Michael Burke, weaved their magic throughout with particular accolades going to the inspired choreography of Vicky Grant assisted by Ashleigh Barr.
The Burgess Hall once again proved to be truly welcoming and an ideal context for a show worth performing and another musical of mellifluous note by the Centre Players, but then That’s The Way We Like It!
Reviewed by Sandra Samwell