It’s a classic David versus Goliath story, but with a modern, rock n’ roll twist. Stand Tall is Lee Wyatt-Buchan's biblical rock musical about standing up to bullying and believing in your highest potential.
Ryan O'Donnell plays David, a shepherd by day and rock star by night for the merciless King Saul (Martin Pirongs). A black sheep (Keisha Amponsa-Banson) sent by God informs him that he is chosen to be the next king. While trying to sort out his relationship with Mia (Natasha Barnes) and his feud with Goliath (Jack Shalloo), David struggles to stand up for himself and accept his destiny.
Wyatt-Buchan’s story was originally written (in collaboration with Aldie and Sandy Chalmers) for schools as an anti-bullying message to help raise awareness and understanding in children affected by the issue. This becomes very apparent in sections of the dialogue and lyrics, which are elementary at best, even if some of the songs are undeniably catchy.
O’Donnell’s David is endearing – with his boyish curls and lanky figure he’s suitably awkward yet charming. He’s convincing as both rock star and underdog, though his singing voice doesn’t quite match with his acting.
Barnes, in contrast, is absolutely lovely to listen to, but frustrating to watch. She never fully gets into character, resulting in little chemistry between her and O’Donnell. However, when she sings, she transforms into an intriguing Princess, young and in love with a rock star.
Jack Shalloo is a brilliant Goliath from East London, and Wyatt-Buchan has put a unique spin on the biblical bully, bringing in his father, Cassius, as the source of Goliath’s unruly behavior. Pirongs’ Saul is hilariously stuck in a mid-life crisis, always referring to David as “bro”, while his Cassius is equally as menacing as his Jessie (father of David) is kind and empathetic.
But without a doubt it’s the sassy Keisha Amponsa-Banson who steals the show. I didn’t think it was possible for a sheep to be sexy until she strutted on stage in leather and fur. Her voice is powerful, and her thick West Indie accent adds to her captivating character.
I can’t see Stand Tall selling out the West End anytime soon, but the anti-bullying message is commendable and director Simon Greiff has marshaled a strong company of actors. Despite the cheesy songs and story, it’s ultimately a feel-good show that left me with a smile on my face.