Tony Flook : Surrey Mirror. March 2004

The format of the Opera Club’s annual Sounds Familiar evening has become so well-known and popular over the past six years that it needs little introduction. Basically, 30 or more of the club’s members present around 40 songs, mainly standards from the musical theatre and film, in their own accomplished way.

A simple formula yet, every year, the team comes up with variations on the theme. This time, the first half generally focused on western musicals and the second went largely oriental, although the boundaries were somewhat blurred in both cases. The programme was well balanced although there was, perhaps, scope for some more recent compositions. Apart from On my Own from Les Miserables everything was at least 30 years old, and some stretched back well into history.

A number of features stood out. The ensemble work was impeccable almost throughout, exemplified by riveting interpretations of Yesterday and Something Wonderful. It was a pleasure to see and hear so many talented performers who are used to playing key roles in fully staged productions, taking their places in the chorus and obviously enjoying it.

Continuity was near faultless as one number seemed to glide effortlessly into another. Sensibly, there was no scenery and few props - too much clutter would have distracted attention from the singers and slowed the pace. All the atmosphere necessary was created by lighting and by simple images thrown onto the back of the stage. Thoughtful grouping in pieces such as Moon River and And this is my Beloved helped hold the eye.

Most of the solos and duets were excellent; just one or two overstretched their ranges. Jane Hogg came to the fore with the Jewel Song from Faust; Fiona Hayward and Clare Padbury wove their voices together attractively for The Flower Duet from Lakmé. Jane Flanders put feeling into Goodnight My Someone and Kevin Stuart led The Long and Winding Road. Sarah Jane Esser and David Brown evoked the romance of Our Lovely Day. Neil Williams showcased in Night of My Nights and David Longes brought his own personality to The Court of King Caractacus. Louise Forrest sang Rahadlakum and danced sensuously.

Artistic director Alison Cooper and musical director Angela Barker were great in every aspect of the show.


Reg Humby : National Operatic and Dramatic Association : March 2004

Regional Representative

With these Sounds Familiar series of concerts you appear to have hit upon a successful show format that enables your Society to present an entertaining programme of songs in a simpler, and presumably less costly, environment than would be expected from a full scale production. At the same time, it provides an opportunity for some of your less experienced members to exercise their vocal talents in a less demanding way than might be required of them, than if cast as principals in a larger show.

Selection of the numbers featured in each of these shows is, I understand, undertaken by the show’s Director, Alison Cooper, and Musical Director, Angela Barker. From the title and the Chairman’s notes in the programme, Paradise would seem to be situated within an Eastern locale, as evidenced by the choice of items in the second half of the programme. The first half held the elements of many of the numerous ways of getting there, but the relevance of some of the songs chosen for the journey eluded me.

Reading the programme before the show started might, because of the number of items listed, have suggested to your audience that the show would have been a long one, but the smooth way in which Alison had integrated the numbers, so that one followed quite quickly after another, meant that both halves of the programme were completed quite quickly. A variety of settings were used incorporating the use of various pieces of furniture and rostra of different heights and sizes to maintain the audience’s interest.

Imaginative use of lighting with variations in levels, judicious placing of spots and the introduction of appropriate gobos all helped to vary the scene.

Costumes chosen for the second half were more exotic than those for the first when it was possible for many of those taking part to use, presumably, their own clothes.

Music to accompany all the singers, whether as soloists, duettists or for the whole ensemble, was provided by a small band but the sound they generated, when required, was as substantial as that which might have been created by a much larger number.

Although one could appreciate the efforts of all those entrusted with solo spots, for me, the high spots of the show were those items involving the whole company that allowed some interested harmonies to be introduced, culminating in a magnificent rendering of the grand chorus from Aida to bring the show to a close. During the second half, whilst listening to the splendid rendition of the songs based on the Polovtsian Dances, I wondered why amateur theatrical companies rarely tackle Kismet. Afterwards I was told that it might be eschewed on the grounds of “political correctness” in the way that Showboat has been sidelined. If this thinking persists, no doubt we will soon be prevented from seeing The Mikado, The King and I and even Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.

As many of your members were involved individually in different songs, it must be accepted that some have better trained voices and are more experienced than the others, without detracting from everyone’s contribution to the excellence of the show. Those singers that I particularly enjoyed included Sarah Jane Esser for both her numbers, Fiona Hayward and Clare Padbury for the Flower Duet from Lakmé, and Jane Hogg for the Jewel song from Faust. Neil Williams, Kevin Stuart and Kevin Wood were most notable amongst the males for a number of songs, as was John Rapley with his fine bass voice. A special mention must also be made of the demonstration of vocal dexterity achieved by David Longes telling us about the court of King Caractacus.

My wife, Jackie, and I were very pleased you should have invited us to this well produced, musically satisfying concert. We thank you for doing so and for the welcome afforded us by Janet Hazell before the show and in the Interval, and the opportunity to meet Alison Cooper, Angela Barker, Geoff Hazell, together with Mary and Eddie Waller whilst partaking of refreshments between the two halves. We look forward to The Yeomen of the Guard.