west side story

October 6, 2014

West Side Story At The Rhodes

by Conor O'Sullivan

in Productions

Phoenix Autumn musical is our most critically acclaimed show yet!

West Side Story didn’t break any box office records at the Rhodes (it didn’t sell as many tickets as Annie did last year). However, one thing we can be sure of is that everyone who came to see it left having watched a show to remember. The audience feedback and comments were overwhelming in their praise and we received more emails and social media comments than for any previous Phoenix production. One woman emailed in to say:

‘I can safely say that without making ANY allowances yours was the best performance of the show I have ever seen and the only one that I have felt has really done justice to this wonderful, but very difficult piece.’

The staff at the Rhodes dealt with many audience members leaving the auditorium after the show only to go and book tickets to come and see it again, and the feedback we recieved on social media was unanimous in it’s admiration for the production.

‘WHAT A FANTASTIC PRODUCTION!!!!!!! What a superb cast – brilliant!!’

‘Congratulations to all the cast last night, that was by far the best production of West Side I have ever seen.’

‘Absolutely amazing! Extremely talented cast and production team!’

West Side Story is usually seen as a mainly dance focused musical, and so in professional productions professional dancers in their mid-twenties are cast, but right from the outset Director Phil Dale knew that wouldn’t be achievable. However with a young cast, all the right age for the characters, the story becomes much more realistic, more believable. Even with a relatively young and untrained cast, choreographer Katie Barker-Dale did a wonderful job with the dance numbers, with the ballet dream sequence section being one of the audience’s highlights of the show. She also managed to get the Jet boys to dance better than even they would have ever believed possible in ‘Cool’, an outstanding achievement for both them and her! With a set created by Malvern Hostick and Trevor Pavely, the centerpieces being a pivoting balcony and a wire fence that moved towards the front of the stage for the rumble, lit beautifully once again by Rob Dyer, and a whole show’s worth of costumes sourced by Jules Dale, the production looked spectacular.

‘Well worth an evening out. A great musical, great voices, beautiful to hear.’

‘A great performance by all, singing truly amazing! Can’t wait to see it again.’

A special mention must go to the 2 sets of leads who took on the daunting roles of Tony and Maria and delivered technically complex vocal performances night after night. Tom Dickerson (18) and Lydia McGrath (15) set the standard early on, performing the lead roles 4 times out of the first 6 shows, whilst Lewis Russell (15) and Abbie Middleton (17) ensured the great reviews kept rolling in during the second half of the run.

‘I just could not believe I was seeing and hearing 15 and 16-year-olds performing at this level of technical perfection.’

Lots of hard work went into this production, both from the members of the production team to every single performer out on the stage. To know that we managed to tell a story that profoundly moved people and surprised them by exceeding their expectations is enough reward for all the hard work. So thank you to everyone involved, thank you to everyone who came to see the show, and we hope to see you all over Christmas for Dick Whittington!


Read the press review here



September 2, 2014

Somethings Coming, Something Good!

by Conor O'Sullivan

in Productions

Only two weeks until West Side Story begins its run at the Rhodes

West Side Story is one of the most famous musicals around. Written by Arthur Laurents, with the music and lyrics written by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, it is inspired by William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The two feuding families are replaced by brawling street gangs. The Montagues become the American Jets, led by Riff, and the Capulets become the Puerto Rican Sharks, led by Bernardo. At a dance, Tony, former leader of the Jets and Riff’s best friend, and Maria, Bernardo’s little sister, see each other across the room and it’s love at first sight. With opposition from both sides, they meet secretly and their love grows deeper. However, the gangs are plotting one last rumble, a fight that will finally end the battle for control of the streets. Will Tony and Maria’s love carry through a battle that threatens to destroy the people they love around them?

Directed by Phoenix Principle Phil Dale, choreographed by Katie Barker-Dale and with musical direction from Will Joy, Phoenix Theatre Arts hopes to continue the success of the summer show slot, after Oliver! in 2012 and Annie last year. The adult characters in the musical will be played by some familiar faces on the Rhodes stage, such as Kevin Lacey playing Doc and Ritchie Parrott playing Officer Krupke, who both last performed at the Rhodes in Oliver! Jay Brown, who was Fatima in Cinderella and Rooster in Annie, returns to play Lieutenant Shrank.

Due to the difficulty of the music in the show and the strain it could put on voices, there will be two Tony’s and two Maria’s who will share the run doing 6 shows each. Lewis Russell and Abbie Middleton-Evans are both making their Rhodes debut, and Tom Dickerson and Lydia McGrath take part in their first Phoenix Theatre Arts production after last performing at the Rhodes in the Bishops Stortford Musical Theatre Company Juniors production of Grease. Sam Jackson was also in that production, and now takes the part of Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks with his girlfriend Anita, played by Amber Thomason. Ben Hawkins, who played Prince Charming in the record breaking pantomime Cinderella returns to play Riff, the leader of the Jets.

With an extremely talented cast of local young people, this is a show you won’t want to miss!

To book your tickets, click here

Or, phone the Box Office on 01279 710 200.

July 16, 2014

Phoenix Students at Local Events

by Conor O'Sullivan

in Clowns,Rhodes Pantomime

Festivals, Carnivals and Cazfest!

Phoenix students have been busy this summer outside of classes as well, with local events giving them lots of chances to perform and to represent the school, as well as getting to dress up and have a laugh at the same time! First was the Waltham Abbey Festival, organised by Phoenix Vice Principal Jeanne Stacey and Daniel James, who played Stan Laurel in the recent Phoenix Tour. Phoenix assisted with the event in many ways;  tutor Grace Wheeler who sang while ukelele trio The Descendants also played a few of their songs. The Phoenix Clowns were once again on hand to promote the school and to entertain the people at the Festival.

Then there was the Bishops Stortford Carnival, where the Rhodes Pantomime bus proudly headed the parade and was full to the brim, especially since this year it was promoting not just Dick Whittington but also the summer production of West Side Story. Phoenix Principal Phil Dale topped the float as Sarah the Cook, along with other pantomime characters.  The cast of West Side Story were also on the bus, a host of Jets and Sharks waving to the citizens of Bishops Stortford as they passed. Leading the parade were the Phoenix Clowns, passing out whistles and flyers, and hyping everyone up for the parade of floats. Last but by no means least, behind the Rhodes Pantomime bus, there was a horde of rats promoting Dick Whittington, all looking very mean and scary!

The Phoenix Clowns were then called upon again to help promote the school at Cazfest, a local music festival. Walking around in the scorching heat handing out leaflets doesn’t sound like an easy task, but the Clowns were really busy and productive all day, entertaining themselves and the people at the festival.

It’s good to see so many of our students taking part in events like these to help promote the school, but also enjoying themselves and having the confidence to give it a go. The ability to interact as characters with the general public is a valuable theatrical skill! A big thank-you to everyone who came and helped out, well done!

To see pictures from the Bishops Stortford Carnival, click here.

To see pictures from Cazfest, click here.

June 11, 2014

West Side Story Kicks Off

by Conor O'Sullivan

in Auditions,Productions

All parts cast, and the summer production gets underway

Although it took two Sunday’s worth of auditions, the summer production of West Side Story has been fully cast and rehearsals are already underway. Putting on a musical involving some of the vocally most difficult songs in the musical theatre repertoire is no easy task, which is why director Phil Dale, choreographer Katie Barker-Dale and musical director Will Joy wanted to make sure they had exactly the right people for the job.

The parts of Maria and Tony have been split between two boys and two girls, due to the vocal difficulties involved in having to sing such challenging songs and managing to maintain that for the run. So Abbie Middleton-Evans and Lydia McGrath will be sharing the role of Maria for 6 shows each, and Tom Dickerson and Lewis Russell will be playing the part of Tony for 6 shows each.

Phoenix newcomer Sam Jackson has the role of Sharks leader Bernardo and Amber Thomason, former Phoenix student and now training to be a dancer, will be playing the role of Anita. Ben Hawkins, who played Prince Charming in Cinderella, will be playing the leader of the Jets, Riff. Ritchie Parrott will play Officer Krupke and Gladhand, Jay Brown is Lieutenant Shrank and Kevin Lacey will play Doc.

So remember to book your tickets, and come and enjoy the show!

Roles still available after West Side Story Auditions

West Side Story upheld its reputation as one of the most physically and vocally demanding musicals in history when Phoenix Theatre Arts was unable to cast all roles from the show at the first day of auditions. Despite easily enough performers to cast the production twice over turning up to audition, at the end of the day the two main female roles of Maria and Anita were still up for grabs. The production company are also looking for a further 3 boys and 3 girls to take ensemble roles in the warring gangs of Jets and Sharks.

Most roles have been cast with Phoenix newcomer Sam Jackson taking the role of Sharks leader Bernardo after playing Danny Zucko in Bishops Stortford Musical Theatre Company Juniors production of Grease earlier this year. Ben Hawkins, who played Prince Charming in the record breaking production of Cinderella at Rhodes returns to play Jets leader Riff. There are 2 performers in the frame to play the lead role of Tony but Director Phil Dale will put this decision on hold until Maria is onboard.

“I would rather have cast the whole production on the day,” said Phil. “However, getting the right person for the right role is absolutely essential and we have never been a company that says ‘that’ll do.’ There were some fantastic performers trying for parts today who I’m sure would be snapped up by a lot of local companies but we are talking about some of the most difficult vocal parts in one of the biggest productions at the theatre. It has to be right.”

Anita needs to have a strong singing voice as well as very strong dance ability. Maria does not need to be such a strong dancer but must be an exceptional singer with a very high range. For full details of all the parts remaining click here.

For pictures of the day click here.