4-7 July, Hastings Girls’ High School Hall

Oliver! must be one of the favourite musicals of all time. It’s certainly mine. I had the score as a child and read it like it was a novel. I knew all the words to all the songs and loved all the ins and outs of the story. I’ve probably seen it in production seven or eight times. This current performance, a collaboration between Hastings Boys’ and Hastings Girls’ High Schools is terrific for a cast of 13-18 year olds, in an old-style school hall.

This production is about the 30th from Alan Powdrell, history teacher at Girls’ High, who has co-directed with Clive Alderton, and also produces the show. The depth of experience Powdrell brings to the students really shows in a tight and carefully thought-out piece that makes full use of the limited space.

Although there is strong singing and stellar acting, only in a very few are these two talents combined with the strength they need to bring the performance the full length of the hall. Stand-outs in singing are Faamanu Fuimaono, with his mellifluous bass, as the rogue Bill Sykes, and Jordan Fuimaono as the hilarious Mr Bumble whose opening prayer to the foundlings is pure genius and quite beautiful despite the miserable setting of the work-house. Acting gold is delivered by Neve Duff as the charismatic, tragic Nancy, Alex Thach as the Artful Dodger and Amy Heffernan as Oliver Twist. Special mention must be made of Dominic Hantz who really pulls his comedic weight despite being the smallest member of the cast.

The star of the production is LJ Crichton as Fagin. Arguably the hardest working musical actor in Hawke’s Bay, Crichton, at only 17, appears everywhere, from fundraisers to charity events to summer concerts, from Rockquest to Festival Opera. He has a huge personality on stage but brings subtly and humbleness to any role. On top of that he is an immensely disciplined singer who has total authority over his voice, a voice he uses to deliver a full range of emotions. His delivery of ‘Reviewing the Situation’ is one of the best I’ve heard. On top of a stunning Fagin, Crichton also took the role of Mr Sowerberry on the evening I attended, as the student cast in that role was out with illness.

Crichton, along with both Fuimaonos, has worked for many years with Anna Pierard and Jose Aparicio as part of Project Prima Volta. That attention and energy has given the natural talents of all three a wonderful shaping and a control that moves them beyond high school musical territory and towards the professional realm.

These hero performances are well met and supported by some beautiful ensemble pieces, most notably ‘Who Will Buy’, which was presented by the chorus in four parts. It had hints of barbershop, which worked so well in the market scenes. Some wonderfully slick but effortless choreography must be mentioned too. Those in the cast who can dance were given a thoughtful opportunity to do without it looking like an add-on.

School productions rely heavily on parents but more so on teachers who go above and beyond to give their students such an experience. Any ovation for the cast must also credit those teachers. In this production extra applause goes to the orchestra. Many familiar faces here, as the same musicians pop up in school show after school show, but the level of talent, sitting in near-darkness just off stage, gives the students a wonderful opportunity to perform side-by-side with some of the Bay’s finest musicians.

The one downside of this production is the school hall. No auditorium here, no raked seating, no known name above the atrium. It’s an embarrassment that such busy and well-populated schools, with such committed teachers and eager students lack the resources, between them, to enjoy the type of ‘state-of-the-art facilities’ that other, nearby, differently-deciled schools have. But even with the imbalance of resources the cast shone, the supporting crew made it all happen effortlessly and Mr Powdrell must be very proud of each and everyone of them!

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