Saturday Night Dean - Jonah Sercombe struts his stuff leading the cast as DJ Dean

Boogie Nights

Stage Experience

The Alexandra Theatre


It’s high summer, cast numbers rival Ben Hur, the air is awash with boundless enthusiasm, there is no shortage of talent, and it’s pretty well a sell out, so it must be Stage Experience at the Alex.

This annual Alex tradition gives upward of a hundred youngsters the chance to shine in a professional production with a West End director and choreographer, Pollyann Tanner, professional crew and musical director, Chris Newton, guiding would be techs and musicians and all in a professional theatre – and shine they do.

In the past we have had Fame, 42nd Street, the best production of Footloose I have seen, Grease and last year a splendid West Side Story.

This year it’s Boogie Nights which, to be honest, comes from the shallowest end of the already not very deep jukebox musical pool. The characters are wafer thin, the plot would fit on a Post-it note and still leave room for a shopping list, jokes are tired, short on wit and often just crude while a staggering 41 songs, ending with a megamix, are shoe horned in; it is saved purely by the infectious enthusiasm and sheer joy of the brilliant cast.

They turn it from a somewhat weak musical into a full-on party night, even starting with a standing ovation as the audience enter to a megamix of 70’s hits with dancing, singing cast both on stage and mingling – and dancing - with the punters in the aisles


Isabella Kibble as Debs, lovelorn at the school gates

Acting as a sort of narrator is Roddy, played by Elliot Gooch who excelled as Tony in last year’s West Side Story. If we liked his Tony then his job is a bit harder here as even in the male chauvinist 1970s, Roddy is a total, complete and utter prick. No one is ever going to warm to the obnoxious little tosser – even his father throws him out - but, to give him his due, Elliot does his best to make him likeable, or at least less despised, with a sort of cheeky chappy air giving his character a bit more charm than he deserves, but it is always going to be a hard sell.

We almost, only almost, feel sorry for him, when everything in his life has gone belly up and he breaks into an emotional Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word. The lower register opening was a little underwhelming but when he moved it into a higher gear Elliot displayed a fine voice and, at least for a few moments, some real emotion.

The love interest is Debs, a delightful performance from Isabella Kibble. Debs is Roddy’s put upon, put down girlfriend, The script doesn’t give Isabella much to work with but she manages to lift Debs into a person we care about, with emotions and feelings. She is an attractive lass and shows a good range as well with gentle ballads such as The Carpenters’ Yesterday Once More, the harder Streisand and Donna Summer number No More Tears and she really belts out Gloria Gaynor’s disco anthem I Will Survive giving it some real welly along with disco diva Lorraine, of which more later.

Giving them moral support are old school friends car mechanic Terry, played by Thomas Parkinson, and Trish, played by Melissa Huband in her fifth time at the Alex. The pair go well together, popping up at one point as Princess Leia and Darth Vader in a dance competition; they bring a bit of fun, a bit of common sense and good voices to the party.

This is the 70s, remember, with Afro hair styles that make Marouane Fellaini look like Phil Mitchell, thus we have Spencer, with Gibsa Bah in his seventh show with the company, playing the cool dude, a sort of Shaft with attitude, with his band The Love Machine. Spencer has something akin to a furry airship moored on his head and wears platforms which probably need scaffolding erecting to clean them. Spencer is an arrogant, bully who treats his girl Lorraine, a nicely balanced performance from Grace Williams, worse that Roddy treats Debs, which takes some doing. The pair are convincing and show some smooth moves and fine voices.


Grace Williams as Lorraine with her disco backing singers

It gives us two girls with boyfriends who are poster boys for male chauvinism – hence their heartfelt survival duet.

Dean, played by Jonah Sercombe in his second Stage Experience, is the DJ at the Boogie Nights club where the youngsters of this bit of London spend their Saturdays, he is the sensible one, always looking out for Debs, her rock in Roddy’s stormy sea.

Then there is Eamon, played by Liam Huband, a local lad from Lower Gornal in his fourth time at the Alex. Eamon is a grumpy Elvis fan and Roddy’s widowed dad, who is frightened his jobless son, with his dream of being a rock star, will end up like him, a labourer with not much else to speak of. He might not have made a great success of his life – but he does have some of the best lines.

As always the support cast is huge and instead of cramming everyone on stage Tanner uses her chorus line to flood off the stage and pack the aisles for medleys of numbers, bringing the show to the audience, and as always the choreography is a delight to watch, slick, well drilled and good enough for any professional show, with excellent singing to match.

Costumes, from flares to jump suits, give an air of period authenticity while the eight-piece band keep things moving along at a cracking pace. Age is a cruel companion though, and I can remember the songs first time around - including Eamon’s Jailhouse Rock – all from long before any of the cast were born.

The enthusiasm and unbridled passion of this young cast lift what is a pretty mediocre British musical to heights it hardly merits to create an entertaining and lively evening brimming over with feel-good factor – the youngsters have done a great job, but they really do deserve a more substantial and demanding showcase for their undoubted talents.  To 25-08-18.

Roger Clarke


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