25 July 2006
Cannizaro Park, Wimbledon
Thank you very much for inviting me to Wimbledon Light Opera’s production of “Across the Pond – Rock to Rock” recently at Cannizaro Park. An intriguing kaleidoscope compilation of musical numbers intertwined with an interestingly unique script.
To quote from your programme notes;
First performed in November 2005, this epic romp through the ages begins when a ghostly female apparition appears in dreams of Tobias Jonathan Jacoby, an eccentric professor and inventor of the Time-Pod, a personal pocket sized time machine. She begs him to save her dying race, but neglects to tell him where she is, or for that matter when she is. All he knows is that the answers lie somewhere in America, somewhere in time, and somehow involve music.
Cannizaro Park is lovely setting for outdoor theatre. There is a magic in watching outdoor productions as the natural light fades and artificial light takes over. The outlay of the staging was very strange. It was almost diamond shaped with the unfortunately sparse audience set back a reasonable distance from the action. I can imagine it was difficult for the cast to get any real audience feedback.
This production was the brainchild of your own Al Clogston and refreshing to see such talent in-house. Initially the title seems a bit obscure but when unravelled we can see how clever it is. The music was very much a departure from the standard numbers we are usually party to in compilation shows. Reflecting in many ways the history of the society with many songs from the operetta genre yet encompassing the author’s taste for Rock’n’Roll music. I was delighted to be reunited with the music of Stephen Collins Foster in particular, so rarely performed these days as a result of its social commentary but nonetheless beautiful. Many may class the choice of music as old fashioned and to a large degree it was but I felt it brought many rarely performed songs back into the public glare. Some of the shows from which these songs emanate are rarely performed due to outdated and dull scripts and in many cases are not relevant to a modern audience. There was a pleasant array of soloists, combos and even barber shop. Obviously with such a mix of players the standard of vocalist varied but there was no doubting the togetherness of the ensemble. Nerves too I feel got to one or two performers in the unique atmosphere of Cannizaro Park. In the background we could see the very hardworking cast scuttling between costume changes and carrying substances props back and forth from the staging area. Due to a no show from your banjo player, the audience were left with a glaring gap in the second half where a short interval had previously been plotted to cover an ensemble costume change. I think this needed to be covered by an announcement of some kind.
This brand of production enabled some of the society’s members an opportunity to play a part or sing a solo where they ordinarily wouldn’t be cast in a major production. I absolutely agree in that sentiment but one must ask why these members don’t pick up parts and I think you could see from some of the well meaning but stilted central male characterisations why that is the case. However there were some beautiful voices amongst the lady principals and ladies ensemble in particular – they were a joy to listen to.
I’ve previously mentioned my delight in hearing some of the tunes of Stephen Collins Foster but this programme included a cavalcade of the beautiful melodies of generations ago in some instances. Particular favourites of mine were; I Got Rhythm, Oh Susannah, Sit Down Sister, Anything Goes, the extremely comical portrayal of the Indian Love Call, and The Student Prince Medley. In the second half; Brother Can You Spare a Dime, Only Make Believe, Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree, Surfin’ USA, Stand By Your Man, I am Woman, Summer Nights (why didn’t this chap sing more?), and Stout Hearted Men. Again the lilting music of Sigmund Romberg relived memories of past performances in The New Moon and The Desert Song.
All in all this was a successful night for Wimbledon Light Opera Society. Sure there were moments which could be classed as stock amateur but there were also some fantastic passages within this ensemble piece. Congratulations to a hard working cast and crew for this unique theatrical experience. Special mentions too for the wardrobe department for a multitude of period costumes and to a talented troupe of musicians, David Harvey, Neil de Haviland and the fiddling of Linda Sutch.
Once again thank you for inviting me to Cannizaro Park and best wishes for your upcoming production – the perennial classic “The Pirates of Penzance” at the Secombe Theatre in Sutton.
I looking forward to seeing you again soon and if I can be of any assistance at any time, please do not hesitate to contact me.
London Area 3