A concert performance of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, at The Ambassadors Theatre last night, gave lovers of music theatre lots to look forward to.  There is still much work to be done, but the ingredients for an enjoyable night at the theatre are well and truly in play.

the sorcerer's apprenticeWritten by Ben Frost and Richard Hough and inspired by Goethe’s poem, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice started very well last night.  In the expert hands of Jan Ravens, who warmly welcomed the crowd, and reminded us that concert productions are without all the bells and whistles, costumes and sets.  She went on to encourage us to use our imaginations, as this is a work in progress, “and so the sets will be lavish tonight,” the audience laughed and relaxed.

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Ravens is right.  With this type of production, and in particular, a work in development, one needs to sit back without judgement and let it roll, allowing the imagination to be sparked, perhaps visualising how it all might be in full flight, when the design and an approach has been settled on.

The musical direction/piano by Seann Alderking and percussion by Ed Scull, were more than enough to accompany the cast on the intimate stage of the Ambassadors Theatre, London, following a previous nights performance at the Broadway Theatre, Letchworth.

Performing works in progress is imperative.  It allows all involved the opportunity to evaluate the progress made thus far.  Many worthy pieces never see the light of day because of the lack of funds required to stage such concert-style productions.  The value of “seeing it up on its legs” and performed by experienced actors cannot be underestimated.

The small cast, led by Tracie Bennett (Queen Larmia) and Neil McDermott (Johan Gottel),  all gave fine performances.  McDermott particularly shouldered most of the effective story telling during the evening, and his attractive voice, stage presence, and physicality certainly set the scene for a night of magic.

Goethe’s poem of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, written in 1797 is described as a ballad.  Its adaptation into a musical sets it in the realms of an intimate chamber piece.

Naomi Petersen as Eva Gottel, the said apprentice in the title, was suitably charming, sometimes willful, and sung her inner dialogue moments with gusto, occasionally reminiscent of another princess called Elsa… from another well-known musical.  Her role would benefit greatly from more development of the father/daughter relationship.  The writers have described their desire to investigate the drama that emerges from “a student who might be seen to betray his/her master.”  On this point, at least, they have failed, and the play would certainly benefit from successfully seeing that ambition through.

The direction by Ryan McBryde was remarkably effective, and the simple staging of key moments sufficiently physicalised.  The cast understood well to commit to the chosen gestures or mimes; they felt confident enough to not have to telegraph too much; their experience showing.

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Blair Gibson (Lieutenant Erik) as the love interest managed to steer clear of too much stereo-type, given his handsome looks.  He played the moments of comedy artfully and honestly.  Tracie Bennett brought a lifetime of gravitas to her role as the Queen, but on the page the role is drawn in tones of black and white, and even her dramatic dexterity could not fill in enough shades of grey to make her role truly interesting.

Jos Slovick seemed somehow miscast, only sometimes successful in conveying the darkness of his characters troubled soul.  Nigel Richards seemed almost ready to buckle on his boots and walk into a fully staged production, such was his suitability to the task of playing Chancellor Breel.

There is much to celebrate at the conclusion of an evening such as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – concert production – presented as a new work in development.  The score is fullsome, sometimes beautiful.  There are some cuts to be made, and a few pivotal scenes that require much more development, but the script flows, the characters make sense, and there are moments of magic.

It will be fascinating to watch The Sorcerer’s Apprentice development going forward.  The producers should be congratulated for taking the initiative to present this very professional concert production for the benefit of the show.  The cast performed remarkably well and the writers should be proud of the substantial work accomplished so far.

* If you saw the concert and wish to offer feedback visit their website: www.ApprenticeMusical.com

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The Sorcerer's Appprentice
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John Bowles
John Bowles, having started his career on Australian variety television at the age of ten, had notched up 300 hours of live national TV by the age of sixteen. As an adult he has gone on to star in many theatrical productions such as ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and ‘Cats’. He has produced, directed and written for television but admits his favourite role is as presenter, and he relishes the opportunity to talk to interesting show business people and tell their stories.