God bless America for giving Matlock Musical Theatre so many songs for their musical journey.
The company’s stars earn their stripes in a show resembling a switchback ride which takes spectators from Britain to the States and back again.
This week’s production of American Dream at Bakewell Town Hall must be as exhausting as a transatlantic flight for the 20-strong cast
who put all their energies into singing, dancing and comedy sketches.
There’s over 30 songs woven into a story about modern-day show producer Hattie (played by Jo Petch) who needs inspiration for her next work. Hattie, whose musical influences include the show Wicked and Lady Gaga, uses her mobile phone to navigate her way around the States and track the best contributions to the American songbook.
She’s accompanied on the mission by her dad Joe (played by Tony Winfield) whose musical likes are rooted in tradition, preferring Calamity Jane and Randy Newman to his daughter’s contemporary choices.
Jo’s performance of Defying Gravity is the stand-out solo of the production, complemented by exquisite piano playing from musical director Delph Richards and young Joanna Rynott, the latter providing most of the piano accompaniment throughout the show.
Tony shines in a short medley of songs from Calamity Jane as does the chorus whose performance of The Black Hills of Dakota opens the second half of the show.
Flags and signs strung on wires across the back of the stage plot the leading couple’s journey around America.
While the accent is firmly on song, there are a number of comedy sketches. Maria Dent and John Kersey are a great double act as they emulate Gracie Allen and George Burns in That Jack Benny!! Sara-Kate Townsend makes a fantastic Phoebe and James Strath a convincing Ross from Friends as they get embroiled in a heated debate on evolution.
Song-wise, the high spots include Jim Eaglesham’s solo of Old Man River, David Hopkinson, dressed as an astronaut, leading the chorus in Fly Me to the Moon, Rachel Betteridge heading the hoodie-wearing chorus’s performance of God Bless The Outcasts and the chorus vamping it up in glitter and shades for Lady Gaga’s Edge of Glory.
However well you may think you know the American songbook, this show is bound to throw up a surprise or two. I’d never heard Candle on the Water, let alone the Disney work from which it comes, Pete’s Dragon.
With variety the spice of the show, musical director Delph moves from conducting the singers to playing flute and keyboard - something she would be unable to do without the support of talented pianist Joanna and violinist Caroline Rynott.
In the opening numbers last night (Thursday), the music was a little too loud to hear the voices at their best and extra microphones would have been beneficial. However, I’m hoping that this was just first-night teething troubles.
American Dream continues tonight (Friday, May 17) and tomorrow night at 7.15pm in Bakewell Town Hall.