Reviewing the CHMS Autumn Showcase: a marvellous ‘Movie Musicals Night’


Juliette Barlow reviews the 'energetic' and 'charming' CHMS Autumn Showcase

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Image by Photo Credit: Juliette Barlow

By Juliette Barlow

Shamefully, despite my illustrious stage background of being an ‘ensemble member’ in my school’s performance of South Pacific in year nine, I have never been to a musical theatre performance on campus. As a final-year student desperately trying to experience all that university life has to offer before the inevitability of graduation, I was intrigued by the prospect of attending the opening night of the Central Hall Musical Society’s (CHMS) Autumn Showcase.

The showcase itself was a performance of various numbers from different musicals, with the overall theme of ‘Movie Musicals Night’, meaning that all performances were from films that had been turned into musicals, or vice-versa. Raising money for Movember, the whole night was completely student-led and produced, with each number in the showcase being directed by members of the society. The 50+ performers on stage were supported by ten directors, five musical directors, five band members, six members of the production team, as well as many more people behind the scenes.

Admittedly, prior to the showcase, I had seen embarrassingly few of the featured musicals - or even their cinematic equivalents. At first, I found being dropped into the middle of a scene with absolutely no idea of what was going on slightly disorientating; but once I leaned into the concept, I started to really enjoy the show.

One of the standout performances of the night was undoubtedly the song ‘Beautiful’ from Heathers. Phoebe Hayton shone as protagonist Veronica Sawyer, with her mix of rich vocals and a stage presence that any West End performer would envy. I particularly enjoyed her ability to break the fourth wall, including the audience into the story she was telling. In fact, the scene itself completely transported the audience to the setting of high school, with the surrounding cast accurately capturing its toxicity and power dynamics. The interspersion of singing and dialogue, as well as the synchronised dancing, particularly from the three ‘Heathers’ themselves, resulted in an utterly engaging and enjoyable performance, which culminated in a triumphant ending.

Another jewel in the (literal) crown of the evening has to go to Joe Agnello, as King George III in ‘You’ll be back’ from modern day classic, Hamilton. As one of the few who hasn’t seen Hamilton and the fact that I usually prefer a full ensemble cast to a solo act, I naively thought this song would soon fade into distant memory. How sorely mistaken I was. To say Agnello had strong vocals would be an understatement; his honey-smooth voice hit every note perfectly as it permeated through Central Hall, filling every corner. Although he was but one man, he had a commanding presence on the stage, delighting the audience with his ballet-like movements. This, coupled with the dramatic lighting and his active encouragement of audience participation, ultimately enriched an utterly mesmerising performance.

Another favourite of mine was ‘Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat’ from Guys and Dolls. Louie Roberts charmed the audience as cheeky Nicely-Nicely Johnson, whilst the rest of the ensemble complemented him with perfectly timed movements and an enchanting harmony. I hardly knew where to look with the swirl of activity going on on-stage, with chairs being swung around and performers interacting playfully with each other. It was an all-round captivating experience, and I was genuinely disappointed when the song had to come to an end.

The final performance that I consider to be truly outstanding was ‘Master of the House’ from Les Miserables. Rowan Houghton and Joe Agnello excelled as Madame and Monsieur Thernadier respectively, perfectly embodying their charismatic yet conniving personalities. Once again, the eye was drawn to the lively bar scene happening around the protagonists, where the attention to detail in the acting as well as the incredible costumes effectively transported the audience to 19th Century Revolutionary France. The singing from the Thernadiers was compelling to say the least; this, coupled with the powerful chorus and lively choreography, resulted in an all-round merry affair.

An honourable mention should also go to Emily Pratt as Jo March in ‘Astonishing’ from Little Women, whose mellisonant voice was not only ahem, astonishing, but also accurately captured the bittersweet emotion of the protagonist. Sarah Natasha’s voice as Mia in ‘City of Stars’ from La La Land was also noteworthy, as well as Homme Sila and Elizabeth Winstanley as Zeke and Taylor in High School Musical’s ‘Stick to the Status Quo.’

All performances were commendable, yet naturally I enjoyed some more than others, particularly ‘La Vie Boheme’ from Rent, ‘Your Fault’ from Into the Woods, ‘Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee,’ from Grease, ‘Yorkshire’ from Calendar Girls as well as the celebratory final performance of ‘Freak Flag’ from Shrek.

The Showcase itself wouldn’t have been the same without the host, a very peppy Jamie Williams, whose classic showmanship and affinity for alliteration made the night feel truly special, whilst the halftime popcorn was also a nice touch (and well-worth the £1!)

Overall, it was a superb evening all round, and I will definitely look forward to seeing whatever performances CHMS have in store for us in the new year.