Oh what a night! Chesterfield's dance students, singers, theatre companies, musicians and showbiz legend Bernie Clifton pull out the stops at Winding Wheel's 100th birthday gala

Bernie Clifton made a special guest appearance at the Winding Wheel centenary gala concert on Sunday, September 10, 2023.Bernie Clifton made a special guest appearance at the Winding Wheel centenary gala concert on Sunday, September 10, 2023.
Bernie Clifton made a special guest appearance at the Winding Wheel centenary gala concert on Sunday, September 10, 2023.
Centenary celebrations are well worth making a song and dance about and what a night the Winding Wheel’s 100th birthday gala turned out to be.

It was Chesterfield’s Got Talent – minus the judges – with every single act winning hearts, cheers and applause.

From teenagers dancing up a storm and singing songs from the musicals to the much-loved veteran of stage and screen that is Bernie Clifton, this was a show that will be the talk of the town for years to come.

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Hundreds of entertainers contributed to a hugely enjoyable and very special production displaying the variety of arts that Chesterfield has to offer.

In a nod to the Winding Wheel’s origin as a cinema, the evening opened with The Playhouse, a silent movie film starring Buster Keaton.

Chesterfield Symphony Orchestra then took the audience on a magic carpet ride through the music of Aladdin, including

A Whole New World, Friend Like Me and Prince Ali.

This was a neat introduction to the host Tony Rudd, who will play Wishee Washee in Aladdin at the Winding Wheel in December. Tony, best known as an impressionist who competed on Britain’s Got Talent, demonstrated his skill in the song Perfect Day in which he mimicked 20 voices ranging from Billy Connolly to Brian Blessed.

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Diane Bradbury Theatre Dance School brought sparkling tap dancing and glittery red and black party dresses to the stage in 42nd Street and The Hollywood Wiz. Students also put on a headline-grabbing performance in their dance interpretation of selections from the musical Newsies.

A newcomer to the Chesterfield arts scene, Wise Owl Theatre Company gave a taste of The Adventures of Alice In Wonderland, complete with a singing Alice and a giant puppet Cheshire Cat. More of this musical theatre show can be seen at the Winding Wheel during the October half-term.

Academy of Dance gave a wonderful performance of The Lion King which blended dance and gymnastics, demonstrating teamwork and trust in evocative and playful routines. Eight ballet dancers en pointe was a highlight of the school’s Miss Saigon routine which was also beautifully performed with twirling parasols adding to the visual delight.

Gekkota Arts slaked the audience’s thirst for drama in a trio of scenes from The Seven Deadly Gins which was performed at this year’s Buxton Festival Fringe. This entertaining original piece featured a householder’s irritation with his technical voice assistant, a couple scrolling through their phones while their kids were missing and a female diner ordering everything on the menu.

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Three students from Directions Theatre Arts performed a lovely tap dance to Miss Celia’s Pants from The Colour Purple. The school’s second offering took the audience on a journey into the jungle with a hot medley of dance and gymnastics to songs from the musical Tarzan with a particularly powerful, emotive performance accompanying You’ll Be In My Heart.

Chesterfield Operatic Society, which celebrated its centenary in 2005, sang selections from its Once upon a Musical concert including The Rhythm Of Life from Sweet Charity. A preview of Jekyll & Hyde, the society’s show next April, came in This Is The Moment sung by Karl Brennan and Chris Hanlon. The full Once Upon a Musical concert can be heard at Chesterfield College in November.

Rumpus Theatre Company’s John Goodrum and Karen Henson turned back the clock with What’s Your Poison?, based on a true Victorian murder-mystery. John played a respectable doctor with a sinister edge who left the audience hanging with a revelation that his mother-in-law had been found dead. Discover the outcome when the full production is staged at the Winding Wheel in November.

Chesterfield Studios chose the musical Beautiful, based on the songs of Carole King, for a marvellous medley including I Feel The Earth, On Broadway, Splish Splash I Was Taking A Bath, Poison Ivy and Stupid Cupid. Soloist Lexi Lee gave an exquisite performance of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

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Bernie Clifton is Chesterfield’s most famous adopted son and at 87 years old is still the consummate entertainer. The biggest laugh was when he let the air out of a giant inflatable diving suit, complete with the obligatory expellation of wind noise, which had the little girl behind me shrieking with laughter. Bernie entertained the audience with his trademark comedy song Dick Dodd’s Dad’s Dog Is Dead, stories about his early life in Chesterfield, a poem about Ken Dodd’s funeral and a moving rendition of The Lady In Red. Bernie’s book of memoirs about his life stretching from Crackerjack to Las Vegas is due out this autumn so it will be interesting to see what other gems he reveals about Chesterfield.

This awesome showcase of talent and variety was directed by Di Cooke and proved that the future of live entertainment at the town’s premier arts venue is in safe hands.

Councillor Tricia Gilby, leader of Chesterfield Borough Council, said: “It’s been an absolutely fantastic show, worthy of celebrating the centenary of our wonderful Winding Wheel Theatre.”

A cake was cut on stage by Coun Gilby as the performers and audience sang Happy Birthday Winding Wheel, accompanied by Chesterfield Symphony Orchestra.

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The centenary celebrations continue all week with films through the decades launching today (September 11) at 2pm with Metropolis and rounding off with Paddington on Friday, September 15, at 7pm. An exhibition of the Winding Wheel’s history is on show in the function room and there will be guided tours from Monday to Friday. Book at www.chesterfieldtheatres.co.uk

*If you have photos of the centenary gala concert, please share them with: [email protected]