Performance Academy was set up five years ago to give children in West Yorkshire the opportunity to develop their singing, acting and dancing skills. So it's no wonder that's tonight collection of acts was entitled "Sing! Dance! Act!"
Supported by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation and WACCL, Academy Principal Louise Denison, along with a full team of Directors and Academy Tutors, have put together a variety of songs, dances and acts from a variety of popular musical and films bringing a wide mix of ages from primary school aged children to teenagers, performed for one night only at the popular Theatre Royal in Wakefield.
My first disappointment of the night was seeing the A4 piece of paper programme showing the "running order" for the evening. When I had seen this event advertised at the theatre when coming to review another show earlier this year, it clearly showed a young girl dressed as a character from Les Misérables and so indicated that was part of tonight's show. It was not. No songs from Les Misérables were featured in the show and even on my return home I did a Google search for the event and once again I found the same advertisement clearly showing the same photo, with today's date and the event time on. So I found it to be a little bit misleading to show it in a promotional item. This particular advert also showed the end time as 11pm which for a show starting at 7:30pm is crazy enough but when the performers are all children? The show did not run for this long it actually finished a little after 10pm. This is, I am sure due to the information provided to the theatre from the production team as the show was not produced directly by the Theatre Royal itself. Something for Performance Academy to consider more carefully perhaps for future productions of this type.
My second disappointment was, I was allocated seats at the top circle and placed directly in front of a concrete pillar! I did raise my concerns with a member of staff seconds before curtain up and they did come back to me within five minutes of the show starting and move me to the third row of the stalls on an end seat with easy access, this enabled me to see and hear the performance clearly would not have been possible had I stayed where I was.
The first act was OVER THE RAINBOW from The Wizard of Oz by "PA Kidz". Although no age range for each category of children was given in the programme, the "Kidz" were no older than five or six and it was clearly their first time of performing on such a huge stage in a grand theatre. They sang acapella with some gentle guidance from a tutor onstage. Complete with a Dorothy and Cowardly Lion, these youngsters used cuteness and the audience was wowed by their confident stance on the stage despite being so young. I missed the beginning of this due to having a restricted view and then being moved by the kind member of staff but what I saw of it really plucked at my heart strings.
Next was JET SET by "PA3", which appeared to be the oldest age range of the Academy. I would say these performers were in the thirteen to nineteen range, but as stated no indication or information is given within the programme and despite several searches I cannot locate a website for this company nor can I find a social media page for them. Jet Set was a dance with an airline theme but it lacked appeal and did not feel relevant to the rest of the programme.
"PA1" who are the next age group from the PA Kidz were aged approximately seven to nine or ten. Their first installs end came in the form of a mixture of songs from popular musical "Olivier!" This was when the show really came into its own. This group were confident performers, mostly girls with only a few boys, with some fantastic vocal talents. Although names of whom was in each category was given in the programme, no indication was given as to who was performing certain roles within each section. As well as BE BACK SOON, and FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD, a fantastic rendition of WHO WILL BUY? was sang with precision by whom I believe to be by a young girl by the name of Libby Pawson. I am only guessing this as it does not indicate who sang certain solos in most parts but it does have her listed as singing another solo later on in the show (where only one song from a particular show was performed, a name of the performer was given, but if a medley of songs from a particular show was performed, individual solo names were not given). Libby has a wonderful strong voice, hitting every note with ease and oozes confidence and stage presence.
Liberty Wilcox performed "Dogfight" with a shaky and quite faint sounding start but improved once she found her confidence - well that and when a tutor walked on stage mid song and handed her the microphone she had obviously forgotten to bring on stage. Once she had found her confidence (and microphone), Liberty gave what became the performance of the evening. As someone who used to perform throughout my childhood and into my early twenties, I totally empathise with stage fright, but Liberty, with a voice like yours there is no reason at all to have any nerves as it is such a wonderful voice with perfect pitch and such power! I would love to hear Liberty sing some more challenging songs if she chooses to stay part of this Academy. It would be a total waste for Liberty not to follow her dreams and pursue a career in musical theatre as a voice like that is a wonderful gift.
The next instalment came from PA2, in the form of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. An improvised bit of acting which was a little random in place and did match the film or musical script. I noted one of the young girls in this section had a leg in plaster cast and a support brace on, yet she still gave an excellent performance. The girl playing overweight boy Augustus Gloop started speaking with a somewhat German accent but then it quickly disappeared. The two young girls portraying the roles of Violet and Verruca on the other hand held wonderful American accents throughout their performance.
Next came "Naughty" from the West End Musical adaptation of Matilda based on the Roald Dahl book of the same name, sang by three young girls - Abby Merrigan/Anna Schofield and Molly Clough, each one getting to sing a few solo lines. I am obviously unsure of which girl is which, but the girl with the darkest hair of the three, who was at the end of the stage closest to where I was sitting, had a beautiful voice and was the strongest singer out of three.
The next instalment was the most random part of the evening’s performance. A "devised drama" entitled NEMO by PA3, the oldest selection of the performers, aged approximately thirteen to sixteen. It was introduced as being about a fish played by two girls, and included NEMO eating McDonalds and being in a house and a lift. It was very random and I didn't feel it belonged in the show.
Another major highlight of the evening came in the form of "Tomorrow" from the musical Annie. It was introduced by stating that the girl about to sing the song had stood in to cover illness at the last minute, and she was introduced as Libby Pawson. I then recognised her as the girl who has earlier sang WHO WILL BUY during the Oliver! selection. Once again Libby proved that she was born to perform, boy can that girl sing! I admit she moved me to tears!
Act one ended with what was entitled "Rock Medley" by PA3, the oldest bunch in the Academy. Although it was more of a tribute to one of my favourite West End Musicals ROCK OF AGES. The entire bunch had excellent vocals, harmonies and dance moves, with some literally exploding special effects to finish!
Before the show started and during the interval, the audience was teased with a selection of favourite West End tunes but sadly none of these songs were featured in the evening’s entertainment.
Act Two opened with PA3s tribute to Cirque Du Soleil entitled simply "Cirque". Until this point as someone who was heavily involved in dancing as a child myself, hadn't rated much of the dancing, but this totally proved that there are some highly skilled dancers within this Academy, and some highly flexible ones too! PA1 followed with an interpretation in acting of THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, entitled Narnia. The young girl portraying the role of Lucy, had previously caught my eye during OLIVER! Not only did she ooze confidence and display talents in singing, dancing and acting, but she seemed mature beyond her years and gave a sense that she was totally destined to be a performer.
LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS followed by PA2, complete with an Audrey two! Fabulous singing and dancing by all and it was clear that any nerves from the performers had vanished by this point.
The evening ended with the full company performing ELECTRICITY from the musical Billy Elliot. I really wish I could find a website for Performance Academy as it would be interesting to learn more about them. They are later referred to as "Pontefract Academy" suggesting that they have different divisions throughout West Yorkshire but without being able to find them online I cannot be 100% certain regarding the set-up.
Although various parts of the evening were very amateur (forgotten microphones, microphone feedback and basic costumes which were clearly done on a budget), there was definitely some promising young performers amongst this bunch. I would love to see this group do a full staged musical complete with proper costumes and stage set, picking out only the stronger performers. Tonight's one night only show was pretty much a sell out and I believe if they were to put a musical on for a few nights, similar ticket sales can be achieved.
This was my first instalment of Performance Academy, and although weak in some places, the stronger performers really gave the whole evening a big lift. I certainly would love to see what this company continue to develop into.
Reviewer: Lottie Davis-Browne
Reviewed: 19th February 2016