REVIEW: Popstars: The '90s Musical - Duchess’s Community High School, Alnwick Playhouse

Popstars: The ’90s Musical – Duchess’s Community High School, Alnwick Playhouse

By Paul Larkin
Wednesday, 19th February 2020, 11:28 am
Robyn Charlton (Ella) and Jamie McIntosh (Mark) in Popstars: The '90s Musical at Alnwick Playhouse. Picture by Amy Collis
Robyn Charlton (Ella) and Jamie McIntosh (Mark) in Popstars: The '90s Musical at Alnwick Playhouse. Picture by Amy Collis

For me, the ’90s was not a classic decade when it comes to music - I feel that it passed me by.

Despite the emergence and subsequent demise of Britpop, the conglomeration of an increasing volume of styles, from grunge to gangsta rap, hip-hop to heavy metal and disco to dancehall, painted a confusing picture.

After all, it was also the decade that brought us Mr Blobby!

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The chorus in DCHS's production of Popstars: The '90s Musical at Alnwick Playhouse. Picture by Amy Collis

It was only when the Spice Girls exploded onto the scene that the pop world was given some kind of focus and indeed purpose.

Testament then to the brilliantly talented students of Alnwick’s High School, who made the last throes of the millennium appear like a musical goldmine.

The absolute energy they brought to the Playhouse stage was nothing short of miraculous.

It was a joy to behold the youngsters having such a great time, that enthusiasm seeping by osmosis into the veins of everyone in the audience.

Robyn Charlton (Ella) and Bethany Kirkley (Charlie) in DCHS's production of Popstars: The '90s Musical at Alnwick Playhouse. Picture by Amy Collis

There were some outstanding performances that sent quivers down my backbone; some jaw-dropping moments of brilliance; and a general wave of euphoria that swept us back 30 years, like it or not.

I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes that every performance this week will be greeted with the same enthusiastic standing ovation as the first night (Wednesday).

A rich vein of theatrical talent has run through the school for many years and the present crop of performers have big, big shoes to fill.

But they coped admirably and wrote their own chapter in an illustrious history, which has included the likes of Grease, Return to the Forbidden Planet, Back to the ’80s and We Will Rock You, the school’s final show at the Playhouse before its closure for refurbishment in 2018.

The boys, Brandon Snowdon (Shane), William Kane (Vinnie) and Lucas Thornbury (Patrick) in the Duchess's High School production of Popstars: The '90s Musical at Alnwick Playhouse. Picture by Amy Collis

Now they’re back with a bang, 718 days later! And with a whole new age group to audition as the school moved to two tier, extending its intake to age 11.

The plot of Popstars may be paper-thin but that was of little concern as the youngsters threw themselves into a battle of the sexes – boyband vs girlband in a local talent contest.

There’s a fair old love tangle thrown in for good measure, with Shannon, leader of the female group Candy Girls, dumping Mark, whose boyband, coached by Ella, would become their competition rivals.

All the principal parts were conducted with aplomb – Becca Pitcher (pop-band impresario Simone Austin) kicked it off with attitude in spades. Backstreet Boys’ Larger Than Life and the Spice Girls’ Wannabe gave us what we really, really wanted – some between-the-eyes rhythms and sassy dance moves. Cue the first cheers of the night!

Let the battle commence!

The boys, headed by the effervescent and naturally talented Jamie McIntosh (Mark), really rocked the stage. Their voices were strong and their acting top notch as they monopolised the laughs with some great comic timing.

Jamie led the line perfectly with a commanding confidence that would not look out of place in the West End. He nailed Bon Jovi’s Always and M People’s Moving on Up early on and set the scene for a stellar performance.

His love-hate interaction with the excellent Robyn Charlton (Ella), whose vocals were near-perfect and stage presence electric, was dynamic. Robyn is another star in the making – her cool authority was very engaging.

The lads alongside Jamie - Lucas Thorbury (Patrick), William Kane (Vinnie) and Brandon Snowdon (man of very few words, Shane) – were equally lively and comfortable in front of an audience. They had obviously spent a lot of time in each other’s company, the chemistry was dynamic and the numbers were slick - Right Said Fred’s I’m Too Sexy was typical and great fun.

The girls pushed them all the way, however, with some great tunes of their own – Spice Girls’ Stop and Christina Aguilera’s Genie In A Bottle were my favourites. Lauren Robinson was suitably feisty as the domineering Shannon and she was ably supported by Philippa Musgrave-Asher (Tina), Claudia Ilderton (who was standing in for the injured Roisin Lyst as Steffi for the first night, incredibly learning the part in a matter of days) and Bethany Kirkley (Charlie).

In fact, it was Bethany who produced the showstopping moment of the evening – her rendition of Bryan Adams’ (Everything I Do) I Do It For You was powerful and sung with intense emotion - truly stunning!

That came at the end of a hilarious girlband audition scene that provided another highlight.

The whole cast and chorus played their part in a rip-roaring tour de force. They grappled successfully with some tricky songs, including a few gender reversals, while the choreography was exceptional – take a bow Joanne Burn, Cora Drummond and Emily Breeze.

The last number of the first half, Let’s Get Loud by Jennifer Lopez, was an incredible spectacle, adding salsa to the collection of dance styles, from country (Achy Breaky Heart) to high-energy pop (Everybody, Backstreet Boys).

The great costumes and grungy set added another dimension to what was a class act.

But, saving perhaps the best ’til last, the band held the whole thing together superbly – they were tight and professional, not bad for a group of students whose youngest member was just 12 – saxophonist Sophie Johnston. The opening sequence of flicking through TV channels to find different music playing was faultless. Callum Van Schalkwyk deserves a special mention for his slick drumming.

Aside from first night nerves and the odd microphone malfunction, it had been a night to remember.

All the hard work, the hours of rehearsing had paid off – you all did your school and the community proud.

Popstars: The ’90s Musical was performed from Wednesday, February 12, to Saturday, February 15, including a Saturday matinee.

CAST

Jamie McIntosh (Mark); Lucas Thornbury (Patrick); William Kane (Vinnie); Brandon Snowdon (Shane); Robyn Charlton (Ella); Lauren Robinson (Shannon); Roisin Lsyt and Claudia Ilderton (Steffi); Philippa Musgrave-Asher (Tina); Bethany Kirkley (Charlie); Maddie Clements (Carrie); Becca Pitcher (Simone Austin); Fern Walton (Mrs Geller/Chef Joey); Jemima Green (TV Host); Lexie Slater (DJ Prince); Harry Roberts (Principal); Emily Breeze (Simone’s PA); Freya McLintic (Amber Shue).

CHORUS

Georgie Allan, Eloise Barber, Emily Breeze, Jessica Bryceland, Sophie Burn, Jake Davies, Macey Dolan, Megan Eaton, Emilia Grimes, Phoebe Hayton, Claudia Ilderton, Joseph Johnson, Ruby Juggins, Daisy Lucas, Jorja Marchant, Louis Mascall, Freya McLintic, Aidan Pitcher, Ethan Spall, Eleanor Wilson.

BAND

Rosie Shotton (guitar); Adam Johnston (guitar/alto sax); Sophie Johnston (tenor Sax/clarinet); George Moloney (keyboard 1); Hannah Edridge (keyboard 2); Finley Ross (bass); Callum Van Schalkwyk (drums).

DIRECTORIAL TEAM

Martin Allenby (director); Rowan Hart (assistant director); Jonathan Ridley (executive musical director); Tom Rippon (musical director/conductor); Susie Cochrane (musical director - vocals); Joanne Burn (choreographer); Emily Breeze, Cora Drummond (choreography assistants); Richard Lyst (associate director); Janet Kidd (costumes); Jessica Crossman, Caroline Titherinton (costume assistant).