CELEBRATING A CENTURY OF BRISTOL HIPPODROME, 1912-2012

 

Great Hippodrome Years - 1986

Bonnie Langford flies across the stage in Peter Pan: The Musical.

  The Post thought Pump Boys and Dinettes would appeal to country music fans. “There is no story, just the framework into which 22 songs are set, and, judging by some recent musicals, the show is none the worse for it.

 

  “Quite what arch Cockney Joe Brown is doing serving petrol - sorry, gas - on Highway 57 isn’t clear, but his accent is pure hominy grits and his multi-instrumentalism dazzling.”

Tony Britton and Sandra Dickinson in The Seven Year Itch.

 

  It was an on-stage partnership acclaimed by the Post. “What a smashing acting partnership these two stars present,” said its reviewer. “They both incorporate such natural mannerism into their performances that you would think the roles were written for them.”

  The year’s run of musicals, which had included favourites Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Jesus Christ Superstar, continued with Cabaret, with Wayne Sleep as MC.

 

  But if he had yet to achieve the catlike menace that Joel Grey generated in the 1972 film, the sense of cynicism and sardonic cruelty was very well projected, said the Post. However, Kelly Hunter made Sally Bowles more like “a public schoolgirl on a jolly wheeze than a scarlet woman”.

 

 

 

  

  The Black and White Minstrel Show, whose national stage debut was at the Hippodrome in 1960, arrived in July for another highly-popular run.

 

  It was a show that invariably attracted good notices and this time was no exception, a reviewer admiring “brilliant singing” by the George Mitchell Minstrels and “attractive dancing” by the Television Toppers.

 

  “Last night they took us down to New Orleans on a globe-trotting trip which also featured ‘visits’ to Paris, London and Mexico.”

 

  When Tommy Steele arrived with Singin’ in the Rain at the end of September, the Post lavished praise on the production and the first-night audience gave a standing ovation.

 

  Staging any amateur production on the professional stage is a challenge and a gamble, but it paid off for the people of St Philip’s Marsh in Bristol who told of the area’s social history in a musical-comedy show in April that was so successful it returned to the Hippodrome in 1987.

 

  Former residents flocked from far afield to see Yesterday’s Island, performed every night for a week, which recounted memories of life in long-demolished terraced houses specifically from 1926 to 1956.

 

  

  The three-hour show reminded them “not so much of the hard times but of the community spirit - whether it was organising a street party or an outing to Weston-super-Mare,” said the Post.

  “Although sometimes ribald, the show often brought a lump to the throat as a wave of nostalgia washed over the audience.”

 

  Tony Britton had been the star of long-running My Fair Lady at the Hippodrome in 1964. In his latest role he was Richard Sherman in The Seven Year Itch, popularised by the 1955 film with Marilyn Munroe. Her part, the shapely girl upstairs, was taken by Sandra Dickinson.

THEY queued across Bristol city centre for tickets for the biggest touring show ever. Singer Tommy Steele had already been a triumph in Singin’ in the Rain in the West End. Now the blockbuster production was coming to the Hippodrome for eight weeks, its first venture into the provinces, and was the highlight of the year.

 

  Another early rock-and-roller, Joe Brown, also starred in a former Broadway musical, although Pump Boys and Dinettes was deemed more a glorified country-and-western music concert.

  Despite these welcome boosts for new owner Apollo Leisure as it sought to revive the theatre’s fortunes, the recovery masterplan was not without glitches. After a spectacular first year for the company and a winning formula of one-night concerts between popular musicals, it was plagued with the old problem of summer shut-down for want of good shows, and closures for the year totalled 11 weeks.

  “If there is just one word to sum up this high-powered, brilliantly-realised successor to the great MGM musical, it would have to extravagant,” said the critic. It was “spectacular theatre”. “It has the glitter, the hi-tech effects, the crowd-thrilling special staging - but never at the expense of the cast.

 

  “It is a special event - big, brassy and of a type rarely seen outside the West End - but it has class and a perfect mix between human performances and electronic ones. It can’t fail.”

 

  The story told of the plight of some silent film stars when talkies came in and fans found the voices did not match the looks. It was an American musical but Steele and co-star Bunny May wisely made their characters a pair of expatriate vaudeville performers, said the review.

  Steele did not attempt to copy Gene Kelly but kept to Kelly’s vision and style with a definite English overtone. “It is a very fine performance indeed, full of humour, bounce and vitality.” Mandy Perryment was a “total delight” as squeaky-voiced Lina Lamont and Danielle Carson an “enchanting” Kathy.

 

  The title number was “marvellously staged with gallons of water, real puddles and a lamp-post to swing on, while the finale adds yet more glorious costumes and authentic twenties tableau.”

 

 

 

Tommy Steele in Singin’ in the Rain.

  When Peter Pan: The Musical arrived in March, a Post critic hailed it as “something special”. “As a full-blooded, all-stops-out musical it must be the best to reach this part of the world since Guys and Dolls” (the latest version of which had been seen the year before).

 

  Bonnie Langford “puts everything she has into the (title) role. The ultra-sophisticated flying gear allows her to speed across the stage, turn aerial somersaults, and even sing in mid-air to breath-taking effect. She can sing, she can dance and she combines the two skills with an effervescent personality that makes Peter, for once, almost credible.” Joss Ackland was a “miraculous high-camp Captain Hook, hamming unmercifully like a reincarnation of Donald Wolfit.”

Jim Davidson as Buttons in                   Cinderella.

Also in Cinderella, Fairy Godmother Mia Carla with Ugly Sisters Freddie Lees, left, and Roger Kitter, right, and Prince Charming Allan                        Stewart, pictured on the Hippodrome stage.

  The second of comic Jim Davidson’s four Christmas pantomimes at the Hippodrome, Cinderella, began on December 22 for a ten-week run (the others being in 1979, 1996 and 2002).

 

  He dressed in blue tunic as Buttons and dominated proceedings but never tried to take over the show and turn it into a variety performance, said a critic.

 

  Dianne Lee, of singing duo Peters and Lee, was Cinders, while Freddie Lees was a perfect foil for Roger Kitter in their roles as Ugly Sisters. Impressionist Allan Stewart found opportunities to go through his routine but while always fitting in with the plot.

  There was also less classical content: London Contemporary Dance Theatre was the only such professional company besides the regular Welsh National Opera. It was the first year since 1973 without ballet.

 

  The concert menu ranged from Black Sabbath to Chas and Dave, with The Communards, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Depeche Mode, Jennifer Rush, Chris Rea and The Shadows in between.

 

 

 

  

  There was An Evening with James Galway, and Lindisfarne’s Christmas Show. One-night comedy came from Victoria Wood, Michael Barrymore, Freddie Starr, Les Dennis and Roy “Chubby” Brown.

 

  The year began with comedy duo Cannon and Ball in Babes in the Wood, described by the Evening Post as a traditional variety pantomime with individual acts interrupting the story, overlaid with a hi-tech gloss and songs borrowed from as diverse sources as Lionel Bart and Paul McCartney.