It’s almost impossible for Joe Public to imagine how much work goes into preparing any of Basingstoke Amateur Theatrical Society's shows. Even if you could get close to measuring the blood, sweat and tears, it wouldn't be anywhere near the amounts which must have been shed during rehearsals for their new production, The Music Man.
During over 20 musical numbers, the big cast of men, women and younger performers participate in seriously impressive routines, marching here, there and everywhere on a somewhat restricted space, smiling broadly and giving it their all in the manner of true professionals. A big pat on the back must go to director's assistant Liz lIet, who, a little bird informs me, drills the company in their routines to get them to this enviable standard.
I was wowed right from the off thanks to the first number Rock Island, wherein men on a train sing-speak to the rhythm of said transport. It is scarily fast, and must have taken countless hours to get just right, but boy is it a way to begin. You'll find yourself almost holding your breath in anticipation, only able to release a sigh of relief when the train finally pulls into the station at River City, Iowa.
The Music Man is the tale of Professor Harold Hill (Martin Webb), a travelling salesman - con man - who arrives in towns, pretends to start a band, and scarpers with the residents' cash. But in River City, he finds its inhabitants a little harder to dupe than usual- and that's even before he's become smitten with the local librarian and music teacher Marian Paroo (Kirsty Kingham).
As a fan of the 1962 film adaptation of the musical, I was impressed to find that Martin's charisma, pizzazz and gift of the gab compared more than favourably with the movie's leading man, Robert Preston, and his voice was even a little reminiscent of the latter. He was matched by a wonderfully feisty Kirsty as Marian, and their monochromatic courtship sequence for Marian, The Librarian is sparky and fun - and again, incredibly demanding choreography-wise.
But, as usual, BATS' superb director Ray Jeffery and his team have managed to share the limelight amongst the talented company. Len Annakin is a wonderful Mayor Shinn, whilst both Nikki Taylor as his wife, Eulalie, and lan 'Spud' Smith as Harold's accomplice Marcellus, provide much comic relief, lan's glorious antics during The Sadder-But-Wiser Girl creasing up everyone present.
Young Izzie Stevens as Amaryllis and James Taylor as the lisping Winthrop Paroo, will surely win over many hearts every night they perform with their confident work. On the whole, the strong presence of younger performers, many graduates of BATS NextGen, bodes very, very well for the future.
And of course, all this is aside from the fantastic sets - what a beautiful location for Till There Was You - costumes, very professional wigs, and Neil Streeter's absolutely sterling work with the musicians. It's quite a sight to witness these hardworking amateurs, all resplendent in full period attire, busting a gut in their spare time, just for our entertainment.
Don't make all their hard work have been in vain - cheer yourself up in these troubled times with a visit to this energetic production. As I left, there wasn't a sad face to be seen!