Dick Whittington (Chelmsford - Civic Theatre)
Although the story is basically the familiar one, writer and director Simon Aylin has added some neat twists. Alice Fitzwarren (Abigail Rosser) is now the sole proprietress of the London shop; when we reach Morocco, its ruler is also female, the Sultana (Emma-Kayte Saunders) – cue culinary jokes galore. Choreographer Richard Peakman has provided some real show-stopping dances, excellently performed and costumed with real glittering style.
Then there's Tommy Jones, the coolest of streetwise moggies in Waylon Jacobs' smart performance which ditches the usual scraggy fur for dashingly-cut black lurex set off with the whitest of ruffles. Jacobs has a strong voice and a commanding stage personality; you know he's a magic cat before Eat Ender Fairy Bowbells (Jenny-Ann Topham) tells us so.
Sarah the Cook is the highly experienced Richard Earl, doting on her son Simple Simon (Lewis Barnshaw) – who gives the part interest with just a hint of something selfish as soon as Craig Rhys Barlow's Dick arrives on the scene. He's a Chelmsford lad naturally, which allows for a number of snide asides concerning the rest of Essex, not to mention London. Barlow sings well, as does Rosser, and they duet splendidly.
Our villain of the piece is, of course, Kng Rat, made into perhaps just a trifle too cuddly a rodent by Kivan Dean. Children from local schools and colleges make up the juvenile chorus and the male dancers are students of Laine Theatre Arts, which seems to have a monopoly on the supply of ensembles across the region this season. Very good practice for them and they in return give highly polished performances.