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A review by Pauline Flannery for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

 

Stand Tall

A Rock Musical

 

 

Keisha Amponsa Banson as BLACK SHEEP in Stand Tall - A Rock MUSICAL Landor Theatre

 

Photo credit: Chris Hill

 

by Lee Wyatt-Buchan, Aldie Chalmers & Sandy Chalmers

 

Directed by Simon Grieff

 

Landor Theatre

 

12 Oct – 12 Nov 2011

 

 When Stand Tall was first produced last year it went by the title David and Goliath, had a cast of twenty and won a Princess Diana award for its anti-bullying message, presented by author Phillip Pullman. This latest version sees a name change and boasts a cast of just five with a four-piece band.

Stand Tall, directed by Simon Grieff, is based on the biblical story of David and Goliath. Told in a modern idiom, it is about the small standing tall and meeting bullying aggression, squarely eye for eye, tooth for tooth. Here a reluctant David, with pet lamb, Keith, is proclaimed King and under the guidance of the black sheep, with a little help from the holy guitar of destiny, learns how to accommodate Goliath, pacify King Saul the mercurial, the most indisposable rocker-king, and get the girl.

Ryan O’Donnell is a likely David. Wiry and thin, his natural power and energy is understated until he needs to strut his stuff behind the microphone or in the climactic battle of the guitar stand-off with Goliath, then he explodes with rock riffs and is transformed. There are shades of We Will Rock You here, as an untutored David plays like Brian May, living out the Black Sheep’s maxim, ‘when you are strong your guitar is strong.’

Martin Pirongs as King Saul, Jesse and Cassius is split three ways, a father for all seasons. Yet in this production in which fatherhood is a thematic thread, this tripling up, with minimal change in costume, and the same shoes, seems an oversight. Similarly, everybody provides back up chorus so that the characters’ impact is weakened, none more so than the bully/victim of the piece, Goliath.  ‘I’ve reaped the bitter seeds,’ he sings, yet the character/actor is compromised as he also dons an ill-fitting helmet and guys it up as one of King Sol’s guardsmen.

Written and conceived by Sandy and Aldie Chalmers, with book and lyrics by Lee Wyatt-Buchan, Stand Tall, was written expressly for schools to help tackle bullying. This is laudable. ‘Time to Talk,’ with its lyric ‘what would you do if your friend was hurt?’ sung by Black Sheep and David is the crux of the piece. The production’s catchment is upper primary/secondary, with its dialogue, particularly in King Saul’s bro-yo responses, aimed at a CBBC audience. The production straddles kid-adulthood in its appeal: sometimes pantomimic, sometimes musical theatre, sometimes TIE, and sometimes battle of the bands.

Yet the music is strong, gutsy and delivered with a hefty punch, under the musical direction of Peter White and Dean Austin. Its eclecticism is contemporary, edgy and perfectly suited to the raw aggression and hurt inherent in the subject matter. The singing is universally good, and at times, raises the roof.  The company of nine do well in a mix of styles that uses a heavy bass/ rock riff to filter in hip hop, rap, soul, R & B, with the gentler, subtle strains of a Lilly Allen or Cyndi Lauper, such as in cross-cut lyrical/rap ballad ‘Hold Me/Don’t Cry,’ sung by David, Mia and Goliath.

Keisha Amponsa-Banson is outstanding in her role as Black Sheep, a kind of guidance, guardian angel, messenger-type figure who also narrates, and in her rendering of ‘Ba Ba Blues’ and the strong rock ballads, ‘Time to Talk’ and ‘Stronger Than This’ on which she borders on mega-diva, all calypso jibe and Caribbean rhythms.   

Natasha Barnes as Princess Mia and Jack Shalloo as Goliath, also wield vocal power and strength, and each hold their own in ‘So Indecisive’ and in the hip hop styled ‘Goliath’s Song ‘. Martin Pirongs has a suitably fun front-cloth- mock-rap moment in his rendering of ‘Seven Wives.’

The final number ‘Stand Tall’ is suitably rousing, as it turfs us out and into the cold night air. It is heart-warming stuff. And with its lyric, ‘stand tall and give it your all’, is a positive note on which to end as the company, with its commitment to the music, certainly do……

 

 

Landor Theatre
70 Landor Road
London SW9 9PH
Box Office: 020 7737 7276 (24hr answering machine service)
http://www.landortheatre.co.uk/
Tickets £18

 

 

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