The magic of the Minstrels!

The opening if this years Angus Minstrels show is all ablut Egypt as can be seen by the colourful costumes.
The opening if this years Angus Minstrels show is all ablut Egypt as can be seen by the colourful costumes.

IN HER programme note, director Joan Mitchell suggests that the Angus Minstrels’ 2011 production might well have been entitled ‘Something for Everyone’.

No one in the first night audience would argue with that. The universal feeling of the small but very enthusiastic first-night audience was summed up by the lady who was overheard to say to her companions as they left the theatre “what a great show - it just gets better and better!”

The energy and enthusiasm of the entire company was infectious. Congratulations to producer and choreographer Edwina Barraclough and musical director Paul Clancy for presenting a programme that obviously appeals as much to the cast as it does to the audience.

As ever, the big set pieces featuring the full company that were magnificent. From the time the curtain goes up when we are transported to Egypt, a land of heat, sand and caravans, baubles, bangles and beads to the traditional black and white finale, the audience is treated to a whirlwind trip through the musical ages with a welter of popular songs from the roaring 20s to the present day.

The golden theme of the opening number is reprised a number of times, notably when we find ourselves amongst the gold diggers – not panhandlers but those who enjoy putting on the Ritz and know that diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

The essence of a show like this, the thing that makes it such a successful form of entertainment, is the equality of effort put in by every one of the musicians, singers, dancers and actors to make sure that the evening is a success. Truly, everyone on stage is a star.

That said, there are several contributions that deserve further mention.

Garry Mitchell features in a very clever medley of two very different numbers, Charles Aznavour’s ‘Beyond the Sea’ intermingled with Sinatra’s ‘Fly Me to the Moon’. This is just one example of the skill with which musical director Paul Clancy orchestrates the music for both the big set pieces and the quieter front-of-curtain spots.

Colette Dear is on stage for three solo spots, each very different. It is difficult to say which of the three goes down best with the audience, the African/American spiritual ‘Wade in the Water’, the selection of Carpenter’s classics or, my favourite, the bittersweet Elaine Stritch number ‘Broadway Baby’ from Stephen Sondheim’s musical ‘Follies’.

In a very welcome departure, the audience know they are in for a special treat when Paul Clancy moves out of the pit and on to the stage to sing and accompany James and Garry in a suave and sophisticated selection of popular Barry Manilow melodies that includes ‘Could it be Magic’, ‘I Made it Through the Rain’, ‘Mandy’ and ‘Even Now’.

Maggie Findlay’s two solo performances could not be more different. In the first, she is a pocket-sized Shirley Bassey as she sings ‘Goldfinger’, arguably the best number of all the great songs that come from the Bond movies. When Maggie took the stage to sing ‘Nella Fantasia’, an Italian song based on the theme Gabriel’s Oboe from the 1986 film ‘The Mission’ and first sung by Sarah Brightman, the atmosphere in the theatre is electric.

Two of the youngest members of the 2011 company, Josh Wright and Ruaridh Mathieson, not only delighted the audience with their enthusiasm, skill and confidence but also sent out the positive message that the future of the Angus Minstrels is assured – unless, of course, they are bound for an appearance on the X Factor!

James Hutcheson, associate producer of this year’s production, introduces a new note with his performance of ‘Bui-Doi’, one of the most powerful and emotive songs from the musical ‘Miss Saigon’, that holds the entire audience in thrall to his formidable talent

A particular highlight of this production, one that deserves an extra-special mention, is the splendid dancing, by far the best to be seen for a number of years. From serene classical ballet sequences to slick tap dancing and lively up-beat numbers including some energetic hip-hop, the expertise, energy and enthusiasm of the eight dancers was a joy. Out of a number of excellent sets, their spirited performance of ‘That Man’, the Caro Emerald number reminiscent of the very best of 50s swing, was a triumph. Good choreography is also evident throughout the show.

No production of the Angus Minstrels would be complete without the traditional comedy spots. This year a trio of talent, names concealed behind the pseudonym JMJ, give a hilarious performance of ‘Triplets’, those three babies who love each other very much but also wish they had a gun to shoot the other two. This was followed by a guest appearance of comedienne Victoria Wood, aka Arbroath’s own Mo Morrison bemoaning the current state of the High Street and the inevitable downsides of getting on in years

Musical director Paul Clancy conducted and led the first-rate orchestra that features Arthur Balfour (keyboard), Donnie Laird (guitar), Gordon Jamieson (guitar), Charlie Maynes (saxophone and clarinet), Malcolm Ross (drums and electronic percussion) and Rhona Spink (keyboard), the rehearsal pianist and the Minstrel’s librarian and archivist.

Angus Minstrels Company 2011

Ladies: Susan Bowie, Jill Bridges, Heidi Cathro, Molly Connolly, Colette Dear, Stephanie Donachie, Karen Duncan, Wilma Ewart, Maggie Findlay, Tracey Fleming, Evelyn Fordyce, Elaine Fosbury, Teresa Gall, Gwen Geddes, Fiona Gibb, Kirsten Hammond, Chloe Leuchars, Chris McMillan, Jennifer Moore, Maureen Morrison, Louise Murray, Karen Ritchie, Eileen Robb, Stephanie Ruxton, Audrey Shepherd and Jennifer Speirs. Gentlemen: Brian Boardman, Ian Cargill, John Hayes, James Hutcheson, Sean McQuade, David Mathieson, Ruaridh Mathieson, Garry Mitchell, Scott Ramsay, David Walker, Jamie Watson, Ron Watson, Ian Wilson and Josh Wright. Dancers: Devon Adam, Remy Beattie, Jaymie Bray, Lisa Croall, Louise Crozier, Kathleen Esslemont, Beth Milne, Ellice Parsley and Danielle Phillips.

The stage crew includes Dale Barraclough, Donald Brown, Morna Brown, Brian Cumming, Grant Ewart, Cameron Kennedy, Ian Kennedy, Calum Mackay, Craig Mackay, Stefan Milne, Marc Ritchie and Susan Robertson supports stage Manager Jan Bledowski.

Wardrobe ladies: Barbara Cargill, Catriona Cumming, Joan Finch, Jeanette Glenn, Isabel Johnston, Joan Mitchell, Yvonne Mitchell and Joan Robb have come up trumps again, working night and day to guarantee that the costumes live up to the on-stage brightness and energy of the enthusiastic and talented company. Make-up is by Alison Creswell and Lynne Smith. Lighting & Special Effects by AM Lighting Ltd and Sound supplied and operated by Apex Acoustics Sound Services Ltd. The front of house team includes Ann Burse, Janie White, Allan Gibson, James Hutcheson, Robert and Sheena Seaton.

Last year, proceeds from the 50th Anniversary production allowed the Angus Minstrels to donate £18,000 to seven local and national charities including H.O.P.E., the Arbroath branch of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, Quarriers, the Café Project, the Arbroath Town Mission and C.H.A.S.

The Angus Minstrels 2011 runs until tomorrow (Saturday). At the time of writing there are still a few tickets left for the Friday night and Saturday night performances.

ECH