NEXT year, Milborne Port Opera will celebrate its 35th anniversary, and during those years the company evolved from a scratch group of villagers putting on a show to welcome the new village hall to a fine vocal acting group putting on excellent productions of (mainly) Gilbert and Sullivan.
But, in common with so many other amateur dramatic and singing companies across the country, the pandemic has taken its toll. An ageing membership (and potential audience) is less willing to venture out, alarmed by scare stories and personal experiences of Covid, coupled with striking doctors, “isolation” hospitals and the scarcity of GP availability.
And while Gareth Malone has done a great job encouraging young singers, the pendulum of fashion has seemingly stopped at dance for the time being.
It’s well nigh impossible to find young men who want to sing, and those that do appear to favour the strangulated falsetto tenor voice that takes singer-songwriters to the top of the charts over and over again.
Milborne Port Opera’s 2023 show has a book by one of its members, Karen Pankhurst, who also directs. Its title, Everything Goes, is a double allusion. It’s a play on Cole Porter’s Anything Goes, a very successful production for the company in 2019, and a reference to that saying when shops and other businesses are closing and assets are being sold off.
Its format is a celebration of 100 years of musicals. The link is a village hall, where the caretaker (Stan) and the tea lady (Edith) sit in on a rehearsal and the director talks them through it. Edith is something of a musicals buff, but Stan is a non-believer. By the end he’s a convert.
Because the (fictional) society can’t afford the rights to the various shows, it’s essential that each is taken out of its original context and performed without costume, and director Matt (Matt Baker) has added some modern twists (or so he says).
The company, eight men and 21 women, included stalwarts of MPO and newcomers, all enjoying the chance to sing songs from Kiss Me Kate, Showboat, Top Hat, Follow the Fleet, Oklahoma!, Singing in the Rain, My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof, Company, Chicago, Sweet Charity, Sweeney Todd, Sunset Boulevard, Les Miserables, Rent, Wicked, Spamalot, Sister Act and even the rap of Hamilton. The most successful were Andrew Armstrong’s If I Were a Rich Man, the full company’s Ascot Gavotte and Libby Key and Rachel Milstone-McAdorey’s hilarious A Song Like This.
It is a pity that the linking narration, explaining the development of the genre and its social and political significance, didn’t get the chance to be developed in the songs.
Founder MPO member Linda Mumford was an enthusiastic supporter as Edith, and another company stalwart, Richard Gaunt, did his best Arthur Askey as Stan the Caretaker.
Once again Caroline D’Cruz provided the music, skipping easily across the vastly different styles and challenges of the century of music.
Let’s hope MPO attracts more men, and other new talent to bolster its experienced body of singers, and that the 2024 show will be an anniversary extravaganza.