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Norwich theatre company’s new musical puts spotlight on dreamers in the wings

PUBLISHED: 15:56 05 September 2017 | UPDATED: 15:56 05 September 2017

The cast of Ushers: The Front of House Musical which is at Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich. Photos: Andrew Butler

The cast of Ushers: The Front of House Musical which is at Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich. Photos: Andrew Butler

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Award-winning Norwich-based theatre company Sound Ideas who’ve gone from a friend’s garage to ambitious professional productions turn the spotlight back on the dreamers in the stage wings in new musical Ushers: The Front of House Musical.

Jessica Stewart as Lucy in Sound Idea's production of Ushers: The Front of House Musical Jessica Stewart as Lucy in Sound Idea's production of Ushers: The Front of House Musical

A theatre about to stage a new musical and the people in the wings dreaming of stardom and what might be. There could hardly be a more fitting show than the latest production from award-winning Norwich-based theatre company Sound Ideas.

Formed in 2013 as part of the Norwich Fringe Festival when five theatre nuts with an obsession for obscure theatre crowded around a piano in our friend’s garage, the talented company has grown from successful bar shows to well received full-scale shows.

They have very much taken the same journey are the characters in Ushers: The Front of House Musical which they are bringing to Norwich’s Maddermarket Theatre next week.

This lively new British musical, featuring music by Yiannis Koutsakos and lyrics by Koutsakos and James Oban, was a much-praised finalist in the West End Producer’s Twitter ‘Search For A Composer’ competition and played a try-out run at the Hope Theatre in London, before opening at the Charing Cross Theatre to rave reviews in 2014.

Now Sound Ideas are giving it a regional premiere following sold-out professional runs in both London and Edinburgh. Featuring a cast of six professional performers and a live band - audiences are in for a real treat and they are even giving out free popcorn every night!

Set in a West End theatre, the show follows a working shift in the lives of the stagiest people in theatre - the front of house staff, it portrays the hilarious, ridiculous and frequently moving stories of the ice-cream and programme sellers who dare to dream.

A preview performance of a new jukebox musical is due to take place, a three-year workplace romance is on the rocks, an untrained newbie is working her first shift and the amorous manager is under pressure to cut costs. What could possibly go wrong?

Sound Ideas creative director Dan Smith said: “We are the first company outside of Edinburgh and London to take on the show. It is a massive undertaking for us and to be trusted with this level of theatre is amazing.

Elliot Hunter as Stephen in Sound Idea's production of Ushers: The Front of House Musical Elliot Hunter as Stephen in Sound Idea's production of Ushers: The Front of House Musical

“We are really excited by the show and all our shows have been really different but this one is probably the smallest production with the biggest pressure as well.

“As it is so small and not many people have heard of it we want to make sure we get it right. We are super lucky to have worked with the script writers and have been supported by the writers.

“Ushers is a real comedy piece but it has a real heart to it. It is like a perfect night out with a real heart and a real story of acceptance and fitting into a new work place.

“It is a really good blend of comedy and seriousness. Also it is massive and lavish and glamorous with loads of glitter.”

Joe Betts as Robin in Sound Idea's production of Ushers: The Front of House Musical Joe Betts as Robin in Sound Idea's production of Ushers: The Front of House Musical

The songs of James Oban and Yannis Koutsakos have much fun pastiching West End numbers without completely ripping them off and the show is filled with gags and in-jokes at the West End’s expense.

Comedy comes from the fledgling romance between affable Stephen (being played in the Sound Ideas production by Elliot Hunter) and nervy Lucy (Jessica Stewart), there’s a note of poignancy in the connection between seemingly clownish Ben (Ross Youngs) and the more serious Gary (Harry Williams).

Meanwhile evious boss Robin (Joseph Betts) stars in cringeworthy videos about enhancing ‘customer experience’, while self-professed Twitter ninja Rosie (Kathryn White) stalks leading men.

The production is the latest from Sound Ideas who have come a long way in a short time with shows growing in both scale and the strength of audience reaction.

Kathryn White as Rosie in Sound Idea's production of Ushers: The Front of House Musical Kathryn White as Rosie in Sound Idea's production of Ushers: The Front of House Musical

Last year they pulled off a coup when they staged the regional premiere of oddball toilet-themed hit Broadway cult musical Urinetown. They followed that up with an equally ambitious Christmas production of Stephen Sondheim’s dark spin on fairytales Into The Woods.

The earlier this year they won much acclaim for a daring and ambitious site-specific immersive production of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, staged in a temporary theatre space they built in St Mary’s Works, a former shoe factory in Norwich.

And with Ushers almost on stage the company is already well underway with another show, a production of The Little Shop of Horrors which they are staging at Norwich Playhouse in the run up to the festive period in December.

“We started off small and have grown really quickly,” said Damn Smith. “Back at Norwich Fringe we did a concert after rehearsing in a garage. Then after a well received small scale concert we went away for a bit and then came back in 2015 we did four more concerts before our first paid production.

Jess Stewart as Lucy in Sound Idea's production of Ushers: The Front of House Musical Jess Stewart as Lucy in Sound Idea's production of Ushers: The Front of House Musical

“It is exciting to grow so quickly but it is hard to keep the support growing at the same pace but fingers crossed it will continue.”

• Ushers: The Front of House Musical is at Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich, from September 6-9, 7.30pm Wed-Fri/5pm and 8pm Sat, £15-£10, 01603 620917, maddermarket.co.uk

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