Encore – 40 Years of NYMT was held at the Adelphi Theatre, London.
Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The National Youth Music Theatre (NYMT) turned 40 this year, and in celebration the Adelphi Theatre played host to a spectacular one-off gala that featured the current crop of members and also reunited some of the most illustrious of the organisation’s alumni. The stage was as packed as the capacity auditorium, as upwards of 200 performers, young and old, expressed their thanks to NYMT in song and dance.
It would be churlish to describe the event as anything other than a five-star success, as an incredible amount of work had clearly gone into producing this unique night of festivities. And despite a couple of unfortunate sound issues – no surprise when you’ve got 100 kids swapping mics all evening! – it certainly all paid off, as those of us lucky enough to be in attendance enjoyed a thoroughly entertaining romp through the history of NYMT’s productions… all fully choreographed by Chris Cuming and Kay Shepherd, and fully costumed by the long-serving Anne-Marie Horton.
Before the singing kicked off, recent NYMT composer Benjamin Till (Brass) provided a fitting fanfare overture written specially for the occasion and delivered with serious power from the Dress Circle boxes by the young brass section.
This was followed by a scene from The Ballad of Salomon Pavey – NYMT’s first ever production, written by the group’s founder Jeremy James Taylor (aka JJT) and David Drew-Smythe – with Jasper Britton returning to the piece 40 years on and joining a selection of the current intake for the number ‘Let Me Sing of the Finest Play’.
From then, we pinballed through the history of the NYMT, with directors JJT and Chris Cuming delivering set pieces from the likes of JJT’s The Piper of Hamelin (written with John Rutter), Pendragon (with Peter Allwood) and Captain Stirrick (with David Scott); a medley of shows by Howard Goodall and Charles Hart (The Dreaming, The Hired Man, The Kissing Dance), a Sondheim medley (Sweeney Todd, West Side Story, Into the Woods), ‘Cathy’s Prayer’ from Whistle Down the Wind (Russell Labey and Richard Taylor), and – the highlight of the first half – a high-energy ‘Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat’ from Guys and Dolls, with alum Gavin Spokes revisiting his role as Nicely-Nicely Johnson and showing the current kids how it’s done.
With some of NYMT’s lesser-known early shows out of the way – most of which meant nothing to me but clearly had nostalgia value to the alumni in attendance – things got even better in the second half with a much more recognisable set list, including ‘You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile’ (Annie), ‘Oklahoma!’ performed by Dominic Tighe with dance accompaniment by Ashley Day and Layla Harrison, a fantastically funny rendition of ‘Bad Guys’ (Bugsy Malone) by “old boys” Sam Archer, Matt Fraser, Chris Herriot, Michael Jibson, Paul Lowe, Marc Pickering and Giovanni Spano, and ‘The Dust Cart Rag’ (Tin Pan Ali) by guest star Adebayo Bolaji.
Particularly successful were medleys of songs from Jason Robert Brown’s 13 – written for NYMT and introduced by the composer himself, in his typically droll manner – and Benjamin Till’s Brass, the latter reaffirming in my mind this show as the musical theatre highlight of the year.
‘Say It in Song’ from Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary’s Prodigy nearly blew the roof off the Adelphi, and the NYMT orchestra did themselves proud with an absolutely out-of-this-world performance of the Sweet Charity overture. Hats off to MDs Nicholas Chave and John Pearson for bringing the best out of the 44-piece orchestra.
Before the curtain closed on the evening, we were treated to a few teasing numbers from upcoming productions: ‘If He Only Knew’ from Imaginary by Timothy Knapman and Stuart Matthew Price and ‘Billy’s Song’ from Ben Frost and Richard Hough’s Billy the Kid – both new commissions – as well as a spine-tingling ‘Sunday’ from Sondheim’s classic Sunday in the Park With George… reassurance, were it needed, that NYMT is on course for another 40 year successful years.
The take-home for me – beyond knowing that we have some outstandingly good talent among our young performers and that the future is in good hands – was that if British musical theatre is the finest in the world, or at least on a par with what Broadway has to offer, then we owe a huge debt of thanks to NYMT for helping to put us in this envious position. Long may it continue.
Readers may also be interested in:
Brass – National Youth Music Theatre – Hackney Empire – Review