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A CHORUS LINE 2017 Nicky Lambert (North West End)

If there's even a slight suggestion of a top hat and some sequins on stage, I'm happy. So I was absolutely ECSTATIC after watching the Meighan Youth Theatre (MYT) production of 'A Chorus Line' tonight. I think this is their best production to date, it is a complete showstopper and everyone's performance was totally outstanding.

The story surrounds an audition of 17 chorus line dancers for a Broadway show. They each get to tell their story of what made them become dancers and we see that behind the glamorous facade of being in a show lies self-doubt, insecurity and unhappiness.

The person auditioning the dancers is Zach played by Chris Wagstaff and he is very convincing in the role, quite intense and with great presence.

There is a minimalistic set - well, it's an audition on a stage so what you see is what you get - with just five large mirrors being the only props.

Every single person in the audition line up acted their hearts out tonight. Each performance was convincing and credible with the characters being extremely well defined. Within a few moments of them each having their moment in the spotlight, I was able to get an idea of their personality.

I have to say that Amelia Atherton as Sheila Bryant almost stole the show. This is her MYT debut and wow! WHAT a debut. As Sheila, she is earthy and sassy with an almost overpowering sultryness. The audience waited expectantly for her to speak because nearly every line was a gem, delivered with well judged and expertly played comic timing. And sass!

Highlights of the evening (apart from anything that Sheila said) were Kristine (Olivia Newhouse) and Al (Joe Foster) singing 'Sing'. Fantastic teamwork during this number and I think they won everyone's hearts with this charming and very funny performance. Then 'Dance: Ten; Looks: Three' sung by Val (Niamh Mulvihill). Many professional actors would probably be daunted by this exposing number, not just some of the language in it but the way she has to flaunt herself. Niamh - you were excellent. Also Diana's (Eve Rowan) rendition of 'What I did for Love' in which the whole cast joined in, was really quite moving and she has a superb voice.

I would like to give a special mention to Caroline Featherstone as Judy - I could be wrong but I believe Caroline is one of the younger members of MYT and her performance just amazed me. Her character was a bit ditzy and also quite eccentric/insane and she played it brilliantly.

The group performances are simply stunning. There are so many people to watch, you can't see everything but every single performer is outstanding in their own right. 'Gimme The Ball' and 'One' are spectacular and as for the finale...well it is dazzling in more than one sense of the word.

What I particularly enjoyed was the fact that everyone remained in character from start to finish. A lot of the characters are on stage for most of the time and this takes stamina and talent - both of which were in abundance from everyone.

This was a great show for MYT to choose because it showcases the outstanding talent of every cast member perfectly. Everyone was exposed at some point because they each had to have their moment in the spotlight telling their story. This can't be easy, even for performers who have been acting for many years. Not only that, the costumes didn't leave a great deal to the imagination and that must also take huge courage - you all have my utmost admiration for that alone!

I loved the way the show ended - with the eight dancers being picked from the line and then Zach taking a bow in the spotlight.

Then...the glorious finale. Top hats, high kicking and beautiful sequinned costumes...oh I could have watched it all night.

Huge congratulations must go to Faye Etherington for the wonderful choreography and to the Director, Joseph Meighan. You have created a masterpiece. Be proud, be very proud!

Not forgetting the band, led by Musical Director Neil G Bennett and also the lighting crew who did a sterling job and created some wonderful effects.

The talent was off the scale tonight. I can't believe I have just witnessed a youth production. It came across as mature, highly professional and utterly compelling. What makes it even more remarkable is that the cast have only had eight, eight-hour rehearsals...! You simply won't believe your eyes and ears.

Go and see this and I guarantee you will come out high kicking and searching for the nearest item which resembles a top hat.

One singular sensation...I'll say!

THE WIZARD OF OZ 2016 Nicky Lambert (North West End)

Well if I had a pair of ruby red slippers, I'd click my heels together three times and wish to be back in Z-Arts on the opening night of MYT's production of The Wizard of Oz.

This is an enchanting, funny and heart-warming production, performed to the optimum level of professionalism by an unbelievably talented company. Seriously – if you don't go and see this show before it finishes on Saturday 17th December, you will have missed something absolutely wonderful.

Sadly, tonight's audience was low in number and I felt so sorry for the cast who deserved a packed house to play to. None the less, they gave it their absolute all and the audience were very appreciative.

The set is done imaginatively with a raised series of platforms which are present for the whole show. This means that the cast have to constantly navigate it, climb over it and walk round it, but they handled it with aplomb and style and literally took it in their stride.

Tara Kitson as Dorothy totally captures the wide-eyed, wholesomeness of the character. Dorothy is the 'straight man' out of the four main characters (Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion) and so doesn't have a great deal of humorous lines but she gave an excellent performance and her singing voice is beautiful. Her rendition of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" at the beginning was compelling – and it takes a great deal of confidence and assurance to sing on your own as she did.

We had a real life Toto – tonight played by Angus. I realise that Toto is an integral part of this show and it can't be done without him but I was quite distracted as I was concerned that Angus wasn't happy being picked up and held so much and was clearly happier when he had all four paws on the ground. Possibly there could be some very slight adaptions made so that he isn't being held for the majority of the time?

Lara Hancox takes the role of The Wicked Witch of the West and wow, is she scary! She is so wicked! She plays it in a way that would rival Margaret Hamilton, the Witch in the 1939 film and oh, the screeching and the cackling laugh! She has really got that down to a tee. I hope her voice can sustain it until Saturday, I wanted to pass her a soothing throat lozenge!
The Munchkins are hilarious and very entertaining to watch – what a superb ensemble. Every single person gives a strong and confident performance and is totally in character. I really enjoyed "Ding Dong The Witch is Dead" - it is performed with such gusto and enthusiasm and they really put their heart and soul into it.

I must mention "The Lollipop Guild" and in particular, Joshua Smith, who commanded my attention straight away. There are two excellent future stars there!

One by one we are introduced to the other three members of Dorothy's temporary and dysfunctional little family. The Scarecrow (Jackson Hayes) is particularly endearing and lovably dopey. Plus he can really fall well! He really embraces this role and is totally perfect for it. He plays the comedy just right and is absolutely spectacular.

A special mention has to go to the crows – who unfortunately I can't name as the crows aren't listed in the programme but the three of them had me laughing right from the start. I loved the interaction between them and their contempt for the scarecrow. Plus the imaginative use of yellow baseball caps is hilarious!

As I'm mentioning the crows, I also have to mention the three trees with attitude. So sassy! So snooty! So brilliant!
The Tin Man (Harry Jackson) is a star right from the beginning. What an actor. He is utterly compelling to watch and is totally at ease on stage and totally understands what the role demands. He plays it perfectly and has such an expressive face.

Finally, the Lion (Aidan Burgess) is perfectly cast. He has the empty bravado and bluff and bluster that so defines the Cowardly Lion.

Put them all together and you have something that is absolutely amazing and so much bigger than the sum of its parts. Watching Dorothy and her companions perform "We're Off To See The Wizard" is absolutely spellbinding. They truly are a fabulous foursome. I take my hat off to the director and choreographer, Joseph Meighan. It was Broadway style and a joy to watch. Not only that, they perform on a narrow raised platform which is no mean feat.

One of the highlights for me was "The Jitterbug" scene. What fantastic choreography! I could have watched it over and over again. The Fabulous Foursome really excelled themselves.

The Wizard himself is played by David Beeby. We hear his voice first and what a fantastic voice it is too. Commanding, ever so slightly intimidating (and also a little reminiscent of Peter Dickson – the Britain's Got Talent announcer) and totally what you expect the Wizard to sound like. He puts his own stamp on the role, as you would expect. Together with The Fabulous Four, this made for an evening of unsurpassable talent.

Chris Wagstaff as The Emerald City Guard is quirky, hilarious, a little eccentric and a joy to watch. I really loved "The Merry Old Land of Oz" which he sings with the rest of the company and again, it is beautifully choreographed. Clearly the direction given to all the cast is superb.

Joseph Meighan is to be congratulated for this absolutely first class production. I saw "The Wizard of Oz" at the London Palladium in 2012 and it left me cold. This production is undoubtedly superior in every way. Everyone is 100% perfectly cast. I had a big smile on my face from the start and it lasted all the way through. What a fabulous evening.

Never mind "there's no place like home" - right now, there's no place like Z-Arts so follow the yellow brick road and get down there!

THE ADDAMS FAMILY 2016 Nicky Lambert (North West End)

Families come in all shapes and sizes...and you don't get a family more mysterious and spooky (so the song goes) than the Addams family.

The audience were raring to go right from the start as the familiar Addams Family theme tune was played in the overture and everybody click clicked in the right place.

This musical version of the familiar television show follows Wednesday's romance with Lucas, the visit of his parents to the Addams family home and Wednesday's desperation for them to have a 'normal' night and Morticia's discovery that Gomez has lied to her which threatens to tear the family apart.   Oh and Uncle Fester falls in love...but more of that later.

The show begins with the annual Addams gathering in a graveyard to honour all members of their family – living and dead.   Look out for various dead relatives making their way down the auditorium steps to the stage...a nice touch.  The make-up and costumes are very good too.

Some special mentions should go to the following cast members:

Sam Cain as Gomez is outstanding.   He is suave, charming, a little bit risqué and also hilarious.   He plays the part with a nonchalant ease and consummate professionalism.   I loved his version of the character and found him to be captivating in this role.   I also loved his Tango with Morticia...he danced it as it should be danced: with drama and passion – it made me want to put a rose between my teeth!

Lara Hancox as Wednesday was excellently cast – she encompassed all Wednesday's trademark sullenness and gloom, alternating with angry petulance.   Her expression in the opening chorus is wonderfully deadpan.

Chris Wagstaff as Uncle Fester is inspired casting.   He almost steals the show.   Uncle Fester is the link between the audience and the show, he keeps us updated with what's happening in a narrator type fashion.   He is all knowing and wise...and in love with the moon. When he sings "When The Moon Says I Love You", this is done with a gentle coyness which is really endearing...whilst being ever so slightly insane.   Brilliant!   Chris's portrayal of the character is wonderfully quirky and totally hilarious.   I believe he shaved his head especially for the role...well, Chris, it was well worth it, you totally made this part your own.

Grandma is played by Niamh Mullvihill...and what a spirited performance she gives, it's uninhibited and brilliantly done.

Cousin It is played by David Beeby.   Not many people could give a floor length wig character and personality but David managed it.   I particularly liked his quivering!

Part of the story involves Lucas's mother, Alice, drinking a potion which brings out her dark side. Jessica Heaps plays this role and she changes from a simpering, downtrodden little housewife into a full-on, bitter and resentful yet feisty woman, simply in the space of one song.   I thought it was quite an amazing transformation and extremely well played.   Jessica managed to pour so much world-weary disillusionment and pent-up rage into this song, it was quite remarkable.

One of the highlights was the song "Death Is Just Around The Corner" sung by Morticia (Sasha Carrillo de Albornoz) and the ensemble.   It was funny and very well performed.   Sasha possesses the sinister elegance and poise that the role of Morticia demands and she carried this right through the song. It was delivered slickly and perfectly.

I very much liked the song sung by Gomez about Wednesday – it was about her growing up and finding her own life and his sadness about this but happiness for her in her new life...very touching and full of pathos and something I'm sure most parents would identify with.   I believe Sam Cain really understood the emotions needed for this song and it really worked, it was very moving.   There were some really heart-warming moments relating to Gomez as a father and Sam hit the mark every time.

There are some hilarious lines in this production:   "you're wearing yellow...you look like a crime scene!"   "Wednesday's growing up...she'll soon be Thursday".   There's a smidgeon of adult humour here and there which is well placed and delivered with good comic timing and intonation.

I would have liked to see a little more gothicness in the set – there were gravestones and ivy at the front of the stage but sadly I couldn't see these very well from my seat.   The set was a little bare for my taste and I think possibly a few strategically placed cobwebs and maybe some other little creepy nick-nacks would have just given it a little more Addams flavour.

This show has it all: family drama, a distant cousin twice removed, an oversized rat and a heretic torture device. Oh and look out for the shameless plug for the show towards the end – cheeky but effective!

GHOST 2015 Nicky Lambert (North West End)

Everybody knows the story of Ghost (and if you don't, where have you been?!) which gave Patrick Swayze one of the two best known roles of his career.   It's the bittersweet story of Sam and Molly who are parted too soon but reunited briefly via a psychic medium, Oda Mae Brown. It also has the satisfaction factor in that the bad people get what's coming to them.

I saw Ghost in Manchester a few years ago on its first outing, prior to the West End.   It wouldn't have been my first choice of a film transfer to a musical but it was entertaining. The MYT production tonight carried itself just as well as the professional production, with stunningly imaginative visual effects and very strong performances from the lead characters.

The show opens with Sam (Chris Wagstaff) and Molly (Hannah Lawson) singing "Here Right Now". There is very good chemistry between the two of them and they are totally convincing as a couple and they also have amazing voices.   The scene develops into a love scene which is sensitively done with the sofa being wheeled off stage as things start to become a little hot and steamy...!

The enthusiastic ensemble take part in the next song, supporting Carl (Sam Cain) singing "More".   The projection of the New York hustle and bustle throughout the song is visually stunning and really brought the song to life, as did Sam Cain's voice which is extremely strong and compelling.   His transition later in the show from supportive friend to sinister accomplice is quite chilling.

Sam's death scene is extremely moving and I did have some tears in my eyes...it is very well done indeed.

Chris Wagstaff expertly portrays the denial, anger and heart wrenching sadness of Sam. He captures every aspect of Sam's anguish and when Molly gives his shirt to Carl, it is really sad to see him standing there, absorbing what this means.   We really feel his pain and grief and his desperation to get his message through to Molly...which leads me very neatly to Oda Mae Brown, played so brilliantly by Emily Jones.   She stole the show with her earthy performance and excellent comic timing. Whoopi Goldberg is a hard act to follow but she did her proud tonight, delivering the killer lines with considerable ease and aplomb. The scene where she is first possessed by a ghost is hilarious and she plays it perfectly.

The lighting throughout this production is flawless and used to great effect.   I particularly liked the effect of the subway train which seemed simple but could actually have you believe you were in a subway, watching a train speed past.

The door illusion was executed brilliantly...I still don't know how it was done and I'm glad as I'd like to keep the illusion!

This show has romance, murder, anger, revenge and also comedy - one of the biggest laughs going to the nun who expletes when Oda Mae Brown very reluctantly makes her charitable donation...

There was imaginative use of the auditorium, with cast members descending the stairs from the back - and in Sam's case, ascending at the end.

There were a few sound gremlins due to occasional microphone crackles but nothing serious and the cast were consummate professionals throughout.   An observation I would make is that at times, the band are a little too loud during speaking parts and it was a strain to hear what was being said but I'm sure that can be easily rectified.

Special mention should go to the following:   Lorna Shakespeare-Smyth who plays a Hospital Ghost and also Mrs Santiago. She is extremely funny and also a very talented singer; David Beeby as the Subway Ghost who played it as a white hot ball of anger and rage at his untimely demise; Caroline Blair and Joshua Kime as Clara and Louis, Oda Mae Brown's assistants who play it for all their comic worth and finally, Rhys Nuttall who executed a stunning back flip during "I'm outta here". Breathtaking!

Ghost will not be here forever, so get down to Sale Waterside and start believing.

GHOST 2015 Julia Taylor (Messenger Newspaper)

THE 1990 film, Ghost, starring Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze was written by Bruce Joel Rubin who writes in the Meighan Youth Theatre (MYT) programme. Their stage version of Ghost, the Musical, at Waterside Arts hits hearts more than any movie.

MYT is always a cut above other youth groups and, they prove it with this amazing production.

You soon forget the players are only aged 14 to 25. The Director and founder of the company, Joe Meighan, 20, sprinkles the show with innovation making it something special. The story is about Sam, killed in a botched mugging and how his ghost tries to protect Molly, his true love, contacting her via spiritualist Oda Mae Brown Emily Jones, 18. plays the eccentric medium with great charisma and a powerful voice to match.

She belts out with vigour the song I’m Outta Here making her one of the show’s leading lights. A live band, led by Adam Boardman, gets to the heart of Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard’s music. Sam and Molly, (Chris Wagstaff, 18 and Hannah Lawson, 18), sing well moving duets and difficult threesomes such as Suspend My Disbelief with 19-year-old Sam Cain’s Carl. They move not only each other, but anyone who has lost a loved one.

This company can do no wrong and show that youth is an advantage rather than an impediment when it comes to theatre.

LES MISERABLES 2013 Julia Taylor (Messenger Newspaper)

JUDGING by Meighan Youth Theatre Productions Les Miserables, its 18-year-old producer, director and musical director, Joe Meighan, is all set to become the next Cameron Mackintosh.

His new show boasts a professional orchestra accompanying songs such as One Day More and Do You Hear the People Sing?

The £17,000  production ensures scenery and costumes are second to none and the battle scene uses realistic sound, lighting and special effects.

Even the programme has a professional touch and includes a piece about MYT’s famous President – Shane Richie.

It’s hard to believe that the huge cast are only aged 12 to 19 – and three of them younger than that. 

Rhys Nuttall (18) gives the performance of his life as lead Jean Valjean.   A future opera star, perhaps?

Adam Boardman (also 18) plays his police inspector pursuer, Javert, with insight.   He conveys a man with unbending views about right and wrong.

You can see the sweat on his brow when he movingly sings Javert’s Soliloquy.

A woman, Fantine, forced into prostitution to keep her illegitimate child, Cosette, is injured by a rough customer.  Valjean sends her to hospital and, when she dies, finds and looks after Cosette.

Lovely 17-year-old.Georgina Brame plays Fantine movingly.   Her I Dreamed a Dream is unforgettable.

18-year-old Rebecca Gilliland is equally good as the adult Cosette.

Ellie Hulme, who is only eight, takes centre stage when, as little Cosette, she performs Castle on a Cloud beautifully.

Even this, the school edition, is upsetting,  so the light relief provided by panto-style villains, John Wood (18) and Anna Carley (also 18) as the Thenardiers who mistreat little Cosette, is refreshing.

Two younger performers are impressive.  They are Dillon Burgess as Marius and Harriet Waters as Eponine, both 14.   Dillon’s Empty Chairs at Empty Tables and Harriet’s On my Own are touching.

Joe Meighan has dreamed the dream for four years and, in that time, has produced nine shows.  This, his 10th, is  Meighan Youth Productions’ swan song.

He’s off to London for a three year BA Hons Professional Acting course at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts.

I believe we will see his name again – in lights in the West End!

FOOTLOOSE 2012 Julia Taylor (Messenger Newspaper)

I DIDN’T think anything could match Meighan Youth Theatre Productions’ last show, Thank you for the Musicals, but something has.

Producer, Director and Choreographer Joe Meighan has come up with another winner – Dean Pitchford and Tom Snow’s musical, Footloose.

Joe again uses the talents of 30 teenagers to present a well staged, fully fledged production that has the audience practically dancing in the aisles.

The story’s about the dull town of Beaumont which has outlawed dancing after the death of the preacher’s son and others when returning from a dance.

Ren McCormack is determined to bring music back into the residents’ lives when he and his mother move there from Chicago to stay with his uncle after his father walks out.

The success of this role depends on the acting, singing and dancing skills of this character played by 17- year-old Joe Etherington He is the master of all three and takes command of the stage.

The Reverend Shaw Moore (Ryan Clarke) does everything he can to stop Ren from dancing but his daughter, Ariel played perfectly by 16-year-old Lauren Swallow, listens to Ren’s problems and they become an item. A mention here for wife and mother Vi. Rachel Isbister who plays her has a beautiful voice and sings Can You Find it in Your Heart with feeling.

There is a fun scene where Willard (Ryan Hall) is taught to dance. He also has that magic ingredient – stage presence.

The dancers are too well trained to be classed as footloose but the leaps and springs of their feet are important to the show’s success.

As well as the title song, Holding out for a Hero and Let’s hear it for the Boy are big hits.

There is an 8 piece band conducted by Adam Boardman and an imaginative moving set which only go to show how professional this group is. It is hard to believe that Joe is only 18 and this is his ninth musical. I predict a rosy future for this young impresario.

THANK YOU FOR THE MUSICALS 2012 Julia Taylor (Messenger Newspaper)

YOUNG impresario, Joe Meighan (18) runs his own production company Meighan Youth Theatre Productions.

Their latest show, Thank you for the Musicals at Altrincham Garrick, a lively revival of West End and Broadway musicals, left me gobsmacked. I couldn’t believe that a bunch of kids aged 12 – 19 could come up with a show that is so professional it matches some of the Britain’s Got Talent entries.

Trafford certainly has talent. The live orchestra, conducted by Sally Spencer is the perfect accompaniment for solos, duets and choral numbers.

The 200 costumes are fabulous and the lighting and sound second to none.

I couldn’t fault anything about this production. Even the programmes have biographies of the cast as they do in the West End.

One of the best extracts from a musical, Phantom of the Opera, is not far behind the West End production. Rebecca Gilliland and Ryan Hall, as Christine and Raoul give an expressive rendering of All I ask of You.

Rhys Nuttall’s Phantom has the tingle factor as he sings The Music of the Night with immaculate timing and expression before switching roles to Billy Bigalow in Carousel. His My Boy Bill is equally moving.

Kirsty Podlaski has a voice mature beyond her years. Her opening solo as Glinda in Wicked shows she can reach those high notes and we see her again as Nettie Fowler from Carousel singing June is Bustin Out All Over.

Younger performers excel in the Lion King, imaginatively choreographed by Beth Bradley.

Youngest of all is eight-year-old Ellie Hulme as the baby of the Von Trapp family in Sound of Music.

In his role of director, Joe Meighan ensures that his cast are confident enough to give the slick performance I saw on Saturday, 2nd June. A must see.