For many years, the Northern Region of the Association of Irish Musical Societies successfully staged an annual concert-style event, Cavalcade of Song, in the Ulster Hall as part of the Belfast Festival at Queen’s programme.
In recent years, both events disappeared and the collective membership of the region has had no such platform for its great talent, which, thankfully, has not disappeared!
So, we should all be thankful to Gary Redpath, the Northern Region’s current Chairperson, not only for coming up with the idea of reviving ‘Cavalcade’ for a more modern audience under the name of Sunday Night at the Musicals, but also for producing and co-directing such a wonderfully entertaining and professional event.
Set in the more appropriate surroundings of Belfast’s Grand Opera House – the home of musical theatre in Northern Ireland – this show boasted quality performances from those on stage who were superbly aided and abetted by an equally talented team of musicians, technicians and back-room workers who ensured the highest degree of production values for this spectacular showcase.
Although the main production team of co-directors, Redpath and Timmy Bell (with Bell also acting as Choreographer) and Musical Director, Adam Darcy, were probably all too young to remember Cavalcade of Song (which served the audience of its day well), this new generation of creatives raised the bar to make this slick show much more attractive in content and style to a more contemporary audience.
Seamless in every department with superb sound, lighting, stage management, band, chorus and movement, the varied elements of this choreographed concert were perfectly put in context by that most affable and knowledgeable of comperes, Wilfie Pyper, who even got to dance and sing between introducing the extracts from various musicals.
The good mix of styles of musical theatre represented in the chosen extracts – both old and new – added greatly to the success and appeal of this production, with classics like Les Miserables, Mack & Mabel, A Chorus Line and Gypsy sitting alongside medleys of works by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Rodgers & Hammerstein right through to the inclusion of more recent shows like Something Rotten, Billy Elliott, Beautiful, All Shook Up and Matilda.
Individual performances from representatives of the various member societies were universally great and all are to be congratulated, including Emma Jane McKnight, Karen Hawthorne, Kim Marston, Nathan Johnston, Johanna Johnston , Sean Harkin, Emma Kelly, Sarah McFarlane, Mathew Campbell, Ciaran McCormack, Tony Young, Shirley Adair, Oprah Devitt, Laura Kerr, Laura Johnston, Courtney Burns, Dairine McCaughley and Caitlin McClurg.
It is difficult to single any one in particular out, but special mention must go to the hard-working dancers as many also doubled as solo singers and to Sean Harkin, Emma Kelly, Megan McGarry, Matthew Campbell, Courtney Burns, Laura Kerr, Emma Jane McKnight, Caitlin McClurg and Laura Johnston for impressive vocal contributions, while comedy crowns go to the trio of Shirley Adair, Karen Hawthorne and Oprah Devitt for their Gotta Have A Gimmick routine from Gypsy and to Tony Young for his performance from Matilda (that was a sight that I can never erase from my memory!).
Finally, full marks to the cross-generational chorus and especially to all of the talented young children from the Matilda section for proving to us that the next generation of performers is every bit as enthusiastic about musical theatre as the current one is.
A final thought? – There is no way this concert should be a one-off showcase … it must become an annual platform event for the Northern Region’s many and varied talents!
Sunday Night At The Musicals
AIMS Northern Region
Grand Opera House, Belfast
Sunday 4 June