Perfect Summertime Seaside Entertainment
Comeback Cabaret - Return to Live
Magna Vitae Productions
The Embassy Theatre, Skegness
Saturday 21st August
Magna Vitae Productions have proved one thing above all else this summer, audiences are eager for live entertainment. Producer Pollyanne Trapmore-Shaw has produced the perfect summertime seaside entertainment for the post-pandemic world. Under the musical direction of Steve Walker, they have created a live show with something for everyone. With a well-drilled, professional live band three singers were allowed to shine. It had been advertised as a show featuring four singers, but sadly Luke Murgatroyd fell victim to the pingdemic and was unable to appear and the audience's hearts went out to him as they understood the difficulties involved in bringing live shows to the stage in the current climate.
Matt Oscroft's lighting design enhanced the stage design and elevated the show above and beyond the type of cabaret you might enjoy at the local clubs. With two follow spot operators and a series of powerful, colour-changing revolving LED spotlights, the audience was delivered a feast for the eyes, before ever the band struck up.
Though Steve Walker was credited as musical director and band leader playing brass, he was accompanied by a simple set up of keyboards, drums bass and guitar. It seems that three of the band were named Steve along with Clive on drums and Sandy on guitar. Their opening salvo came in the form of Bill Conti's masterful "Flying High", the theme from "Rocky". It filled the auditorium and set the scene beautifully.
Then came the arrival of the three singers, who between them have vast experience on some of the biggest stages. Covering music from movies to Motown, Gary Priestley, CJ and Penny Johns showed their credentials and experience in handling an audience. They opened with a gorgeous version of "As If We Never Said Goodbye" from Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Sunset Boulevard". It proved a poignant opener reminding us of what we have missed over various lockdowns, being denied live entertainment and they did indeed show us "new ways to dream".
As the two women departed temporarily, Gary Priestley followed with a chirpy set embracing the spirit of Michael Buble. "I Just haven't Met you Yet" was followed by "Save the Last Dance For Me". It was clear that Gary was enjoying his return to the stage as much the audience. His voice was smooth and reassuring and his uplifting vocal delivery set the scene for what was to come through the remainder of the show. His He also proved a very capable MC for proceedings, introducing Penny Johns to the stage.
A vivacious blonde, Penny performed a series of soulful ballads with Leona Lewis's "A Moment Like This", "Into The Unknown" from "Frozen 2" and "I Have Nothing" by Whitney Houston from The Bodyguard". Her grace, power and charm were a winning combination and despite the glamour, she proved highly relatable recounting how manty times she had been made to watch Frozen 2 with her kids. Her delicious voice met the material head on and was more than equal to the challenge of such difficult songs. I would love to see her performing a siren set in a smokey jazz club, she was quite a performer.
This section of the show was followed by the 60s inspired set by CJ. Opening with swinging version of "Secret Love", she had the audience tapping its toes and beaming with appreciation. This strong opener was followed by "There is Always Something There to Remind Me" and the nostalgia oozed from her performance as she worked both stage and audience and her mini set finished with a rendition of "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me". The audience were delighted to hear such familiar songs given a fresh breath of life for the 21st century.
Gary Priestley returned with "Johnny B Good" and "You'll Never Walk Alone" and the first half of the show ended with a lively duet from CJ and Penny singing "Enough is Enough".
The tone for the evening was thus set, each performer returning to deliver a short set of numbers interspersed with duets and a little light banter. Act Two opened with an instrumental followed by Queen's "Radio Ga Ga" complete with obligatory audience particpation, as the three vocalists led the chants and clapping. There were more than enough recognisable songs to feed the hunger for nostalgia and we were once more treated to toe-tappers and soaring vocals in the second act of the show. Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" was a treat delivered by a lively Gary. Hits from The Temptations and Elvis were duly delivered energetically.
Penny returned to command the stage with "Dancin' in the Streets" as a tribute to Martha and the Vandellas further contributing to the strong nostalgia vibe of the evening. My personal favourite was her teasing delivery of the classic song "Sway" reminding me that she could be quite the torch singer should she choose to be.
CJ returned to deliver a second set of 60s classics and there was a nod to The Blues Brothers with "Gimme Some Lovin'" delivered by Gary and CJ. The audience was clearly having a blast as such consummate performers led them from the stage.
The show culminated with all three performers returning to the stage to perform an Abba medley that had the audience up and dancing with lively enthusiasm and obeying the old showbiz adage, always leave them wanting more. And they did. Live performance is well and truly back in Skegness and I look forward to more original content produced by Magna Vitae Productions moving forward.
Producer Pollyanne Trapmore-Shaw
Lighting Design Matt Oscroft
Sound Design Matt Boyles
Stage Sally Sharp
Spotlights Ben Wainwright and Andy Horton
Choreography Katy Walker
Marketing Brendan Bugg
22 August 2021