Terrific and so traditional with summer variety

Musicality at Royal Hippodrome Theatre XePERG78e5NT9wh0DbE-
Musicality at Royal Hippodrome Theatre XePERG78e5NT9wh0DbE-

A proper summer show at the Royal Hippodrome: it is like a little glimpse of Eastbourne’s past. Musicality, a terrific and quite traditional evening’s entertainment, is playing twice a week, and you can sense the town’s theatrical Grand Old Lady radiating with pride.

This is how it used to be. Full coachloads of hotel visitors disembarking on Seaside Road, and settling in for live night of music and dance - delivered by a youthful and talented company who know exactly how to capture those golden years.

Musicality: what a great name for a show. Did no-one think of it before? The people behind this night of radiant entertainment have musicality flowing through their veins. Best known for their Rattonians background, Debbie Hackett and Alex Adams both have almost unmatched experience in both performing and direction, and they have set the bar nice and high.

How easy it would have been to go through the motions. A list of favourite show songs, some routine dance numbers, and a few bits of patter in between: nothing too demanding? Oh no. The reverse is true. Alex and Debbie’s talented company seize the material - which in other hands might have felt a bit tired - and they infuse it with life and enjoyment.

A sizeable Hippodrome audience on the night, probably about an equal mix of local folk and visitors to the town, lapped it up. Exceed your customers’ expectations, some of those business advisors often say. Whatever those coachloads were expecting, they were more than satisfied. Yes, there is nostalgia by the ladle-full in a programme majoring on great numbers from the musicals, but they are delivered with warmth, with a smile and with genuine affection for the material.

Compere Grant Martins has it nailed. A bright young performer himself, with a golden tenor voice, he also engages an audience who are mainly - with all respect - more than twice his age with quick wit, plenty of ad libs and the sort of cheeky grin that would make any grandmas in the house want to adopt him. “Where are you from, my dear?” he asks Margaret in Row B, and she’s up from Somerset. “It’s rude to ask a lady her age. How much do you weigh...?” The material is just the right side of risqué, but never offensive. In any case, a Hippodrome stage which has hosted every great performer from Max Wall to Des O’Connor, and still echoes with that great heritage, can comfortably afford a saucy seaside joke or two.

Alongside Grant is a confident, accomplished company. Dance captain Laura Sivers leads brilliantly from the front, and her own astonishing feline solo, to Alex Adams’ Midnight, is a five-star highlight. The other seven ensemble girls - Grace Allen, Eliza Hackett, Rachel Brett, Sarah Baker, Vicky Potter, Becka Wyatt, Amie Woodgate - rise effortlessly to the challenges of Debbie’s tight and exuberant routines.

With Grant and Alex, Tom Hackett and Nick Hollands complete an assured male line-up, with Tom’s Me and My Girl number doing particular justice to his fine lyrical voice. And there is a delightful children’s chorus, as immaculately dressed as their elders and smiling just as brightly: the next generation, no doubt, in the Hippodrome’s never-ending story. Well done to Ria and Layla, Isabella and Amelia, Freddie and Fletcher, and Abigail and Lucy.

The Entire Company - as you have to call them in proper music hall - has the audience in creases with a spoof Victorian melodrama, the final scene of which was milked a little too long, but never mind. And if one number absolutely stands out, it has to be a stunning Good Morning, from Singin’ in the Rain. You had to look twice to be sure it was Sivers, Martins and Adams up there on stage and not Reynolds, Kelly and (Donald) O’Connor.

No reservations? Not really. One or two more recent musical theatre numbers might have added a dimension, but heck, we were already treated to well over two hours of packed programme, so we shouldn’t be greedy. Worth the ticket price, I ventured to suggest to Margaret (74) from Somerset on the way out? Oh no, responded her husband - worth twice the price!

Musicality continues at the Royal Hippodrome Theatre on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 8.15, and there is a special gala matinee on Wednesday August 31st at 3.30pm.

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