Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
With an eclectic mix of musical theatre tunes from classics to upcoming shows, Exeter University’s Spotlights performed with passion, energy and chemistry on the Exeter Phoenix stage. The company connected with the audience, singing and performing with intensity and incredible ability which were captivating from the first note. With a particular focus on celebrating individuality and inspiring self-confidence and expression, the Spotlights cast and crew created an atmosphere that consistently communicated their message.
Group numbers dominated the show with songs performed from Everybody’s Talking About Jamie to Come From Away. The energy and passion oozed from each individual performer and never ran out. Artistic Director Alice Donnelly’s choreography played to the strengths of each individual and complimented the score. Most notably the synchronisation in ‘Nobody’ (Bandstand) was impeccable and a credit to the dedication and skill of Donnelly and the performers. There were even choreographic contributions from the cast – a stand-out section was the Latin/Ballroom dance in ‘Loud’ (Matilda) choreographed by Ben Blackburn who matched the moves well with the mood of the song.
The show was peppered with solo, duet and smaller group numbers and features. It was clear that each performer had been chosen with a purpose for their roles as they acted with enthusiasm. The group performance of ‘Ex-Wives’ (Six) was outstanding in all areas of singing, dancing and energy. A special mention must go to the Musical Director, Gina Rees, who was able to highlight each individual’s voice and allow them to “shine” within each of these numbers. Rees facilitated a meshing of voices in multiple songs to create beautiful harmonies. She also must be praised for personally arranging one of the songs from watching a recent video of the US Dear Evan Hanson cast members performing it.
Characterisation within musical theatre songs is a particularly important feature. While there were occasionally slight hesitations, this was mostly well masked. Facial expressions in the all-male group’s rendition of ‘All-American Prophet’ (Book of Mormon) and the all-female performance of ‘Somebody to Love’ (We Will Rock You) were very engaging. However, this feature of characterisation was most successfully performed by Izzy Wicks whose solos in ‘Right Hand Man’ (Something Rotten) and ‘Freak Flag’ (Shrek: The Musical) were exceptionally captivating and witty.
The band made up of 11 members and led by Band Director, Ollie Kennett, executed the scores with professionalism and personality. The additions of the electric drum kit and an acoustic guitar meant a very successful blend of band and vocals was achieved. A highlight within the band was the feature of the trumpet (Alex Pace) in Show Me How You Burlesque which complimented the character of the song very well.
The title song ‘Shine Like the Sun’ from the musical 9 to 5 closed the second act of the show – Louise Pope and Anna Hogan, both among the featured artists of this song, performed with such charisma that it is sad to note that this is their final performance with Spotlights on the Phoenix stage. This song specifically radiated a strong message of inspiration, motivation, perseverance and acceptance that was felt by the audience in abundance, highlighting the spirit of individuality that emanated throughout the show.
Despite all these incredible factors, the most notable factor of the whole performance was the tangible chemistry within the entire company. There was a captivating sense of companionship between not just the performers, but also the band – it was like watching a family of close friends doing something that they all love. Seeing the performers so comfortable and inspired by their fellow peers made it feel like something truly unique and special was happening on stage.
Shine Like the Sun is being performed once more on Tuesday 25th February and is raising awareness for the Wave Project which uses surfing as a tool to build emotional and physical wellbeing in young people across the UK.