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Review: West Suffolk College students dazzle in a New York State of Mind

PUBLISHED: 17:57 14 November 2014 | UPDATED: 10:32 18 November 2014

West Suffolk College students perform New York State of Mind

West Suffolk College students perform New York State of Mind

Tony Kelly

A girl steps onto the dance floor, long blond hair falling down her back. The spotlight is on her, alone. Her voice is pure, rich and beautiful and I find myself thinking, one day I will remember that I was at West Suffolk College the first time I heard Shannon Gaskin sing.

Shannon Gaskin and George Lane Shannon Gaskin and George Lane

What a voice she has and what stage presence! I knew I was going to enjoy West Suffolk College’s Conservatoire East production of A New York State of Mind from that first moment, and loved every minute of her duet with the charming George Lane and her brilliant solo Another Night at Darryl’s.

Performance director and choreographer Gary Willis who has recently arrived at the college with a passionate vision to make the Conservatoire East a nationally renowned drama school reminded me at the interval that many students performing were first years who had only been on their course for eight weeks, so their achievement was even more remarkable.

“Many of them have never even sung solo in public before,” he said, “I’m so proud of them all.”

He has every reason to be. The crowd delighted in the programme which included every New York themed number you can imagine, as well as some songs I had never heard before.

My favourite was Taylor the Latte Boy, the story of a girl in love with the boy from Starbucks. Sadly, we learned in the second act that he does not return her affections! But the story was beautifully done. In the first act the girl’s experience was performed by Jade Laurie while the boy’s, rather cruel, but very funny comeback in the second act was by Elliot Stribling. Jade looked a little nervous at first but had no reason to be as she really was quite wonderful: funny and heartbreaking at the same time. Elliot also sang beautifully and humorously, though I couldn’t help wishing that his character felt the same way about Jade’s character as hers did about his!

Other highlights included a wonderfully acted Mr Bojangles by Robbie Noonan – I don’t mind admitting I cried during this, as I also did with the wonderful four-way version of Poor Child performed by Robbie – who is quite brilliant – Shannon Gaskin, Jordan Cooper and Scott Walker. Four amazing voices – how lucky West Suffolk College is!

I also particularly enjoyed Paris Moulds’ version of So Far Away and Oliver Haworth and Zak Simpson were very good too, and funny, in The Old Dope Peddler.

Ashley Mills, delivering a brilliant Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered is another real find; she has a great voice and utterly commands the stage.

And the highlight of the night was the Jersey Boys medley by Robbie Noonan, Adrian Seeley, Scott Walker and Charlie Bedingham. I could have listened to them all night.

But it feels wrong to single out anyone really because they were a team and they were loving it as much as we were and that is what this is all about. I sat with a lovely family who were there to see ‘Mark’, all of them so proud and not minding at all when some of the cast sat on audience laps! I must admit I was very relieved to avoid this ‘honour’!

I’m told the cast are a mix of first and second year students from the Musical Theatre, Performing Arts, Dance and Production Arts courses.

“Performing in the Season is great for our students. It provides them with the enrichment of an industry based experience. They audition, work together and commit to a rehearsal schedule and perform in front of a paying audience,” Gary Willis said.

I highly recommend attending the college’s next production. Although New York State of Mind is sold out – no surprises there – the students will be taking to the stage again in February to perform Dracula (Wed 4 - Sat 7)

I shall certainly be there.

I used to live in New York and miss it still. Sometimes I wish I was still there. But thanks to this lovely, heart-warming production, on Thursday night, I was.

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