The Freshers’ showcase left me with one thought : “how are these guys not on Broadway?”
I came in quite skeptical — isn’t it just a karaoke with slightly better equipment? — but the incredibly talented Emily Phillips, Francesca Horgan, Harry Allderidge, Mia Shamrock and Theo Dowglass proved me wrong. The show was no Thursday night at the Library, it was the epitome of pure talent. The best thing about a show such as this one is it’s more eclectic than what you would expect : from coming-of-age film to Broadway excellence, the audience was offered a very impressive range of genres, all executed to perfection.
The enthusiastic director’s note was absolutely justified : “The Freshers’ Showcase has become a staple in the TDTC/ DST calendar, and we’re so grateful to get the opportunity to direct such a meaningful production. The idea of giving freshers the chance to make their Durham debuts, in the Assembly Rooms Theatre no less, is such an exciting prospect and we can think of no better way to kickstart the year. The objective of the production is clear from its name: it aims to showcase Durham’s most talented freshers. Being musical theatre focused, the night will be filled with all sorts of gripping performances, ranging from classics from A Chorus Line and Guys and Dolls to modern crowd-pleasers from the likes of Frozen and The Greatest Showman. Our amazing cast of talented freshers will be working hard to bring these numbers to life on the Assembly Rooms stage and you certainly won’t want to miss out! Our involvement with this year’s Freshers’ Showcase is made all the more special by the fact that we were both also a part of the showcase last year as members of the cast. We feel such a strong connection to this production because it gave us so much when we were involved as freshers. Not only did it provide a fabulous taste of what DST has to offer but it introduced us to other individuals, across a range of year groups, who all shared a passion for musical theatre. We hope more than anything that this year’s cast will share a similar experience because simply put, we could not have had a better beginning to our DST journey.”
The show started with a group performance which reminded me of the very recent choir-like opening scene of Annette by Leos Carax where the whole cast performs the Sparks’ song ‘So May We Start’. The choice of ‘Welcome to the Rock’ was a very nice touch as it immediately set the tone for the rest of a dynamic showcase. The first few seconds did feel a little awkward — although it might have been my uneasiness with musical theatre — but it didn’t take them long to harmonize and find their collective voice. Impossible to decide which performance was my favourite as each member of the cast kept stealing the show with a more powerful and breathtaking display of mastery at every new song. Yet, I couldn’t possibly compare them, as they all had a very unique voice, and a different register. It is actually one of the most impressive elements of the production : they know what works for them and their choice of songs was tailored to their voice and skill. I am not sure who is responsible for this, if the performers got to choose or if it was the directors, but congratulations.
Theo Dowglass gave an enthusiastic rendition of I Can’t Say No’ from the 1940s musical Oklahoma! with a flawless southern American accent — how she managed to make it look effortless I have no idea — and somehow made me feel like the heroin of an early 2000s film with ‘Home’ from Beetlejuice. Francesca Horgan was the Disney princess with a crystal clear angelic voice and the energy of ten performers, so when she sang Frozen’s ‘Love Is an Open Door’ with Harry Allderidge, it made perfect sense. I think I saw a few jaws drop when she performed her first solo song ‘When He Sees Me’ from Waitress — although, to be fair, every jaw was on the floor by the end of the showcase.
Mia Shambrook and Harry Allderidge were truly moving, they sang with both solemnity and humility. Harry Allderidge lacked a little panache and didn’t stand out as much as the girls — who could blame him? — until the very last group performance, ‘From Now On’, where he might indeed have been the greatest showman.
Even though they were all remarkable, Emily Phillips is the one who truly blew me away with ‘Adelaide’s Lament’ from Guys and Dolls. She took over the stage and showed everyone she can do it all : sing, act, and move on stage without a single sign of effort. Whoever sings a Barbra Streisand song has very big shoes to fill, and she managed to do it not once, but twice with the classic ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’. If you ever go to a showcase and see Emily Phillips is part of the cast, you simply have to go see it if you don’t want to risk missing the best performance you’ll ever see.
The director writing at the end of his note “we assure you that you won’t be disappointed!” was nothing if not the euphemism of the year.