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Strictly Musicals 2

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The perfect blend of old and new is an ideal way to celebrate the opening of Darlington’s New Hippodrome.

Throughout history there have always been great double acts; partnerships which seem forged in perfect harmony and inseparable regardless of time, culture or changing tastes . For many years, Darlington Operatic Society and The Civic (as was) have been one such double act so it was fitting that the New Hippodrome would host, as its inaugural show the latest offering from the most professional amateur production group in the country. Not only was it a chance to reunite two of Darlington’s most loved offerings, but also to celebrate old and new, tradition and modernity whilst clearly spotlighting the future.

Strictly Musicals 2 (the sequel to the record breaking show of 2013) is another masterpiece of selection, choreography and musical direction, celebrating show tunes from old and new, classic and breakthrough and giving an opportunity to not only showcase the immense talent within DOS, but to also test and challenge the new theatre’s readiness for the hectic seasons to come.

Anyone who has been to a DOS production will be familiar with the quality on show; tremendous group vocal performances supported by elaborate and energetic dance routines and complimented by breath taking duets and solos. The choice of numbers this year incorporated some lesser known tunes which, whilst not always instantly recognisable, were performed so well that I am sure they will have piqued an interest to seek out the full shows from which they were taken. In making this selection, Director Joanne Hand and Dos debutant MD Steven Hood have certainly brought an exposure to shows which may have otherwise been missed; Children of Eden, Copacabana, Big River, Newsies and Ghost were ably supported by more traditional stalwarts from Wicked, Chess, Mamma Mia, Joseph and the quite brilliant Rent. Youthful enthusiasm, a trademark of previous DOS ensembles, remains super strong amongst the new ‘Dossers’ as they attacked each number with unreserved energy and passion although the number which seemed to illict the warmest response was reserved for evergreen Sam Morrison and stately Julian Cound who, through Small Umbrella in the Rain (Little Women) gave a masterclass in how to use 3 minutes to tell a lifetime’s story.

As for the Hippodrome itself, it is a masterpiece of sympathetic restoration of the old theatre coupled with the new, airy and stylish additions of foyer bar, heritage walkways and enhanced viewing. The seating is very comfortable (important when attending shows with rather long first acts) with noticeably more leg room. The new décor creates a sense of light and space, with the stage feeling not only bigger but more open, giving the audience a cinematic experience. One habitual problem for older theatres has been how to engage with the new digital sound systems required for modern touring shows (especially musicals) – thankfully, this is no longer a challenge for the Hippodrome; the new acoustics are brilliant, perfectly demonstrated by the stand out performer of the night, Naomi Potts, whose rendition from Phantom of the Opera was crystal clear and pure without ever sounding loud or forced.

Never has the future of musical theatre in Darlington been so exciting; a 1st class venue and a 1st class Society.

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