‘OH LOOK AT US. WE’RE DANCING!’
Bristolian memories of composer Julian Slade and his works were fully stirred on Sunday October 22 when, for just one night, ’A Celebration of The Music of Julian Slade’ was staged by the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School at the Redgrave Theatre in Clifton, Bristol. The occasion marked the tenth anniversary of the School’s Julian Slade Award for Musical Talent (set up with the School in his memory by his brother Adrian and nephew Rupert, a year after his death in 2006), and the seventieth anniversary of the founding of the Theatre School which Julian attended in 1951, going on to join the Bristol Old Vic Theatre Company a year later as an actor and its musical director.
Over the next 25 years Julian co-wrote and/or composed the music for no less than ten musicals that were first staged by the Bristol Old Vic at the Theatre Royal. Five of them (’Salad Days’, ‘The Duenna‘, ’A Comedy of Errors’, ‘Hooray for Daisy’ and ‘Trelawny’) went on to have successful runs in London, as did ‘Free As Air’ which started life at the Bristol Hippodrome.
In a guest appearance on stage near the start of the evening Dame Patricia Routledge, who was in the Bristol Old Vic Theatre Company at the same time as Julian and over the next eight years played leading parts in five of his musicals, reminisced with the evening’s admirably chosen compere, Mark Meadows, about Julian and what she described as ‘the wonderful way in which his fresh new musical style, along with that of Sandy Wilson’s ‘The Boy Friend’, had helped to lift people’s sprits out of their post-war depression’. She also delighted the audience by playing a recording of James Cairncross and herself singing a duet from ‘Christmas in King St’ in 1958.
Songs from almost all early or later Julian musicals were given their airing in front of the packed house at the Redgrave and the audience clearly loved every minute of it. Not surprisingly because they were performed with skill and vigour by a talented team of current and past students of the Theatre School, including seven of the Julian Award Winners.
It would be invidious to pick out stars from the cast, most of whom had little more than two days to rehearse the whole show, but, thanks to the guidance of Musical Director Pam Rudge, Pianist Christopher Northam, Artistic Director Jenny Stephens and Choreographer Clare Fox, they all excelled themselves
Particularly memorable were 2017 winner Pedro Leandro’s rendering of ‘A Star’ from ‘Lady May’ Julian’s Cambridge hit of 1951, the theme song from ‘Follow That Girl’ (1960) and a triumphant ‘We Cant Keep Them Waiting’ duet (‘Trelawny’ 1972), performed with the magnificently ‘damed-up’ Alex Morgan (2009), as Twanky and Demon or Gad and Colpoys. Jessica Temple (2014) captured the ‘Trelawny’ pantomime spirit equally wittily in the role of Avonia Bunn, the actress who can’t wait for her once a year Christmas moment, contrasting that with a beautiful interpretation of ‘Nothing But Sea And Sky’ (‘Free As Air’ 1967).
Alex Morgan also cleverly invested the theme song from ‘Vanity Fair’ (1963) with a suitable degree of threat and, each in her own distinctive style, Eleanor Jackson (2015) and Verity Blyth contributed a range of other memorable songs from ‘Lady May’ ‘Christmas in King St’, ‘The Duenna’, ‘Follow that Girl‘ and Vanity Fair.
Katie Moore (2008) who starred five years ago as Jane in the very well received London revival of ‘Salad Days’
at the Riverside Theatre brought a tear to the eye with her rendering of ‘I Sit In The Sun’ and, with Pedro, ‘We Said We Wouldn’t Look Back’. Bethan Nash (2012) who had already treated the audience to powerful versions of love songs from ‘The Duenna’ and ‘The Pursuit of Love’ (1967) alerted the second act with a hilarious portrayal of the scheming journalist trying to convert the islanders of Terhou (aka Sark) into enthusiasts for a popular paradise, (‘Holiday Island’ from ‘Free As Air’, 1956). Finally, Bethan assumed the role of Jane to sing (with Pedro) an energetic version of ‘Oh Look At Me’ from ‘Salad Days’.
The stand-ins for the missing Award Winners and a team of other current students all made highly effective contributions to other solo and or chorus numbers. Their most effective ensemble was undoubtedly their madrigal about Christmas Shopping from ‘The Merry Gentleman’ (1953) and perhaps the two most memorable soloists were Alex Wilson (‘Mummy Doesn’t Like me Any More’ from ’Free As Air’) and Shane David-Joseph (‘I Like A Woman Who’s Keeping Me Waiting’ from ‘The Pursuit of Love‘), but every one of the supporting cast contributed to the huge, and far from inevitable, success of the whole evening. As they were when ‘Salad Days’ first opened in London in 1954, the cast were bowled over by the enthusiasm of the audience and the sheer love of Julian Slade’s words and music that was clearly expressed by all in the theatre.
I know I am a touch partial but to judge from the reaction to the evening, I don’t think I am far wrong.
ADRIAN SLADE 24.10.17
FOUR ADMIRABLE STAND-INS FOR THREE ADMIRABLE BUT WORKING AWARD WINNERS
Photos Above by Adrian Slade Photos Below by Craig Fuller
FOUR ADMIRABLE AWARD-WINNING PERFORMERS
Bethan Nash Jessica Temple EleanorJackson Verity Blyth