MADD Graduate Showcase 2017. Leicester Square Theatre. London.

On the 50th anniversary of the Midlands Academy of Dance and Drama what better way to celebrate than a much anticipated trip to London to watch the superbly trained and talented third year 2017 graduates show how brilliantly they have progressed in their three years of study. The venue for their important graduate showcase is at London’s Leicester Square Theatre.

The large audience is made up of principle Frances Clayton, Emma Clayton – choreographer and various members of the MADD staff, London agents, promotional individuals like the invaluable ex pro dancer and PR expert Simon Harper, previous successful graduates like Savanna Darnell, excited second year students and parents of the third year cast plus myself East Midlands Theatre representative, Phil Lowe.

The third years performing (and for them this is a very important moment) number twenty-eight and the mix is seven males to twenty- one females. One almost feels a musical called 21-7 coming on! The atmosphere in the small West End theatre is electric and the MADD showcase ensemble do not let us down.

Opening the show, Ryan Kayode musically sweeps the floor with a powerful rendition of ‘The Devil You Know’ from Side Show (Music by Henry Krieger and lyrics by Bill Russell). The full cast create a spectacular chorus line. What a beginning! Luke Haywood continues with a wonderful depiction of the Jerry Block and Sheldon Harnick romantic classic – ‘She Loves Me – She Loves Me’. Haywood is every inch the West End Star and draws every Broadway breath and pizzazz in this uplifting number!

Another stunning piece from the musical Side Show is ‘Who Will Love Me As I Am?’ It is given a sensitive treatment by Siobhan Murray and Bethany Brookes. Both artistes are a grand testament to the sterling training that MADD offer.

Dramatic text is a vital ingredient to the graduate performances to show off the students skills and Shannon O’Donnell and Sean Chamberlain prove this in the excerpt from Simon Stephens’ Punk Rock and Braidley Wilson and Ryan Kayode in the gay love story Beautiful Thing. In the latter both Wilson and Kayode bring something special and individual to their interpretations. It would be very nice to see them play the whole play at some point in the future.

With music and lyrics by Laura Tisdall both Amy Murchison and Charlotte Salter charm in their ‘She’s My Sister’ the slighting and fighting and biting duet from The In-Between. Their passionate applause is well deserved.

Now it is time for the girls big number in Hey Big Spender (Music by Cy Coleman and Lyrics by Dorothy Fields). Alisha Simone, Lucy Barnes, Beth Neal, Mia Slack, Siobahn Murray and Megan Petite pull out all the stops in a greatly sensual performance that certainly wouldn’t look out of place in a top professional production.

The transitions between each number are lush and perfectly actualised courtesy of director/choreographer Emma Clayton and almost instantly we are in the world of Cry Baby with music by Adam Schlesinger and divine lyrics by David Javerbaum. Sian Fletcher delivers ‘Screw Loose’ from the musical with comedic faux 1950s dexterity and majorly – off her head – neurotics in song form. This is certainly a top class performance from Sian Fletcher.

‘Pringles’ and ‘Unusual Victim’ are two great theatrical turns from actresses Rhianne Sutton, Kerry Moran, Luke Haywood and Maria Taylor. Both pieces are performed with great confidence and sharpness of delivery thus exemplifying the strong connection between straight theatre training at MADD and the musical and dance numbers. Further into the programme we have similarly strong drama vs musicals correlativity with neat performances from Alisha Simone and Mia Slack in ‘Pointless Exercise’ and Rianna Pateman and Naomi Critchley in the very funny ‘Career Counselling’ text by Madeline Martin.

Previously in the programme, Shannon O’Donnell wows with her right on banter comedy song ‘Right Hand Man’ from Broadway hit Something Rotten.

An ensemble piece called Sweet Dreams utilises most of the MADD ensemble and transitions well into Port by Simon Stephens, a play that explores a sense of personal history lived from within. This is a good choice for actresses Kerry Moran and Katie Gough. Play No 86 by David Dalton and Chad Schnackel is another superb choice to bring out the dramatic talents of students Amy Murchison and Charlotte Salter. The comedy Skinny Cap To Go by Richard James gets a fantastic response from this audience with its humour coming from the absurdities of ordering coffee between customer and barista played by Megan Petite and Siobhan Murray. Although the cast in the MADD graduate show is predominantly female it is still good to see and experience these talented young women in comedy roles. Their comedic pace is especially well honed and practised.

The entire show has great pizazz and we whiz through the next pieces with great anticipation and joy. One of things that MADD do exceptionally well is bringing new musicals to the stage including Tuck Everlasting. In this example Braidley Wilson and Kerry Moran do very well with a sparky version of ‘Partner In Crime’. ‘Big Doll House’ from the popular show Hairspray is an audience pleaser and well choreographed and sung by the ensemble.

Further highlights from the MADD graduate show 2017 include the sultry Maria Taylor’s fine rendition of ‘Dance Ten; Looks: Three’ from A Chorus Line and Dentist (Little Shop of Horrors) performed with comedy and a little subdued menace by the excellent Sean Chamberlain supported by Charlotte Salter, Naomi Critchley, Molly Kirk and Katie Gough.

A typical trait of the MADD College is to pay attention to old school musicals as well as the current and upcoming. A fine example and beautifully executed is Naomi Critchley’s depiction of ‘Far From The Home I Love’ from the universally popular show – Fiddler On The Roof.

We haven’t been able to cite every part of the MADD graduate show 2017 but the final three pieces are terrific end of show servings certainly enough to satisfy any theatre goer. We have the comedic First Night Nerves written by TLC Creative and starring comedy talents Beth Neale, Ashleigh Ward and Molly Kirk. The powerful ‘Dead Girl Walking’ from Heathers is sung with great gusto by Megan Petite and the finale (seen in last year’s Nottingham Playhouse Gala and well worth repeating ‘A Musical’ from Something Rotten. This is headed by the super talented Luke Haywood and Braidley Wilson and features the full company in excellent and exuberant form.

The MADD graduate show is presented 22nd May 2017.

The choreographers for the show are Emma Clayton (A Musical) Mark Hedges (Devil You Know, Big Dolls House, Big Spender) Sue Sparham Commercial (Sweet Dreams Part One) Lyrical (Sweet Dreams Part Two).

Lighting and sound designer are Andy McAnulty and Rob Ketteridge.

Musical Supervisor/Director. Mike Cotton. Assistant Musical Director Phil James.

Directed and staged by Emma Clayton with additional direction by Robert McQueen (HB Studios NYC.)

To learn more about MADD watch this promotional video.

Reviewer: Phil Lowe

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