Guildford School of Acting – Fabulous 50

Fabulous 50 is performed by Guildford School of Acting musical theatre students at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre until 22 July.

Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

This brilliantly put-together celebration of the 50th anniversary of the University of Surrey by its current musical theatre students, both undergraduate and post-graduate, is a delight from start to finish.

It’s always a good sign when my wife says: “Can we go again tomorrow?” on the way back to the car, as if 44 numbers from 42 different shows were not enough.

They couldn’t quite get up to the Fabulous 50 of the title, but what a feast the triple-threat cast serves up, from the ‘Willkommen’ opening from Cabaret, which came to the West End in 1968, to the present-day Broadway hit Hamilton, due here in November.

Singing and dancing are of the highest order, the ‘Jellicle Songs For Jellicle Cats’ dance sequence particularly well applauded, and the choice of material, with so much to choose from, beyond reproach.

From the seriousness of the incredibly moving ‘Bui Doi’ (Miss Saigon) and ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’ (Blood Brothers) to the naughty humour of ‘I Believe’ (The Book of Mormon), the students do themselves proud. The standing ovation was totally deserved.

Head of Musical Theatre Julian Woodford wears one of his many hats to direct the huge cast through a dizzying array of show-stoppers, many written before the students were born.

The quick-change slickness which seamlessly runs one song into another is magical to behold, the pace never flagging, with musical director Peter Roberts and his four cohorts well up to the task of switching from one show to another every three or four minutes.

Projecting film footage of the worldwide events going on in the year each musical was written is a clever idea, even when there is tragedy on screen and joy on the stage.

No expense is spared with the costumes (with a cast of 44 the bill doesn’t bear thinking about), and the choreography, with six credited, Phyllida Crowley-Smith, Heather Douglas, Jo McShane, Lucie Pankhurst, Joe Prouse and Kate Tydman, so superb they all deserve a name check. They even take us to the ballet with Billy Elliot.

It is an evening of unashamed nostalgia, everyone having his or her favourite.

When the Evita and Blood Brothers segments were being played out, it made me realise it was those two shows that really turned me on to musicals, just as ‘Send in the Clowns’, beautifully sung here, turned me on to Sondheim even though, heard out of context, I hadn’t a clue what it was about.

‘Let the Sunshine In’, from Hair, is one of the early numbers. This is a show where the sun never stops shining.

Jeremy Chapman

www.gsauk.org/events/theatre/fabulous-50

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