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ALL THE FUN OF THE FAIR (Birmingham Hippodrome)

11-03-2009

David Essex

David Essex treads the boards in this new funfair based musical which trades on some of his best known songs. Terry Wills sings along – and sees the star of the show receive a special accolade.

A new musical with an older, much loved headliner with a gravelly singing voice. The question - how would the Birmingham Hippodrome audience react to the ‘second coming' of the seemingly ageless David Essex?

Last seen treading the boards at ‘The Grand Old Lady of Hurst Street’ starring in a revival of Andrew Loyd Webbers ‘Aspects of Love’, it was as if he’d never been away.

No striding onto the stage making a flamboyant entry, just a simple effective silhouette. But that was enough for a myriad of fans to sit back and wallow in this promising new production based on his music from the halcyon days of the 1970's.

He plays Levi, the owner of a travelling funfair, together with headstrong son Jack. He’s a widower still blaming himself for the death of his wife while Rosa, the gypsy fortune teller (mother of daughter Mary who is desperate to win the love of Jack) sets the scene with a wistful rendition of ‘Only a Winters Tale’.

It neatly sets the scene for a story that examines personal relationships, prejudice, and almost inevitably leads to a sad ending.

Staging a theatrical msical in a fairground obviously presents technical difficulties.

In fact, apart from the wonderful evocative ‘Carousel’ I can’t recall a similar story line and full credit has to go set designer Colin Richmond who successfully conveyed fading memories of days gone by when riding merry-go round-horses, dodgem cars, watching wall of death riders, and buying toffee apples was an integral part of a family day outing.

David Essex as Levi is, well, simply David Essex, and while many of his hits from the 70s are there to be enjoyed - although he doesn’t get to sing them all himself.

Particularly giving free rein to Paul-Ryan Carberry to do the honours in ‘Hold Me Close’ which had the audience humming along in unison.

It has to said he plays the role of Jack to perfection. Wanting to rebel and move on he defies Levi until meeting Alice, daughter of gang leader Harvey who makes it plain that any liaison between Alice and Jack can only end in serious recriminations.

Surely a new up and coming star of the future he makes a splendid debut in a portrayal that also allows him the opportunity to sing his favourite David Essex song ‘Lamplight’.

Louise English, no stranger to Birmingham audiences, plays the fiery Rosa and her opening and closing interpretation of ‘Just a Winters Tale’ is both evocative and moving, crystallising the sad story that runs throughout the production.

Indeed all cast members give strong performances. Tanya Robb as Alice- Susan Hallam-Wright as Sally and David Burrows as Harvey. (Suitably accorded a ‘Pantomime style Villain reception as he took his closing bows!) Credit has to go to the Jon Conway who wrote the story and produced the show.

He admits it wasn’t an easy task but together with director Nikolai Foster, plus the aforementioned Colin Richmond, and the Musical and Sound directors it all dovetails into place. (In saying that when ‘Silver Dream Racer’ hits the stage together with flashing, whirring spotlights and billowing ‘stage smoke’, be prepared for a blast of sound that had many in the audience holding hands over ears!)

Other numbers include title song ‘All the fun of the Fair’, ‘Father and Son’, ‘Rock On’, plus additional album tracks, and in a winsome mood depicting his sense of humour, David has his still adoring fans laughing when he admits “I used to have long black curly hair

This new innovative musical seems assured of a bright future. Several London producers are reportedly targeting it to finish it’s run in a West End Theatre while David Essex says there’s a possibility that it could also be turned into a major film production.

Exciting times for a splendid production that left the audience standing and cheering in appreciation.

But even that didn’t end the plaudits. The icing on the cake came when an announcement was made that David Essex had been made an Honorary Life Member of the Showman’s Guild of Great Britain, presented live on stage by the President of the Showman’s Guild, Mr Jimmy Williams.

Suitably modest in accepting his award, Essex paid tribute to his fellow artists and confirmed that the Hippodrome is one of his favourite theatres. But we knew that already didn’t we!

Any David Essex fan won’t need a reminder to catch this while you can but even if you’re not, why not pop along to the Birmingham Hippodrome to see for yourself a very different themed musical production that conveys ‘All the Fun of the Fair’?

All The Fun Of The Fair runs at Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday. Details at http://www.birminghamhippodrome.com/

(The winner of our ticket competition was Julie Waller from Bedworth, who correctly said that David Essex' first hit was "Gonna Make You A Star".)

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