Audience members tapped up for Sheffield company's latest show 42nd Street

One of Sheffield’s oldest amateur dramatic companies, Ellesmere Musical Theatre Company, is bringing Michael Stewart's Broadway musical, 42nd Street, to the city’s Montgomery Theatre - and it promises to be an all-dancing, all-singing extravaganza.

By Sam Ward
Saturday, 7th March 2020, 5:00 pm
Rehearsals of 42nd Street in full flow
Rehearsals of 42nd Street in full flow

The company has been performing theatre in the city since 1947, with post-War productions including The Vagabond King and Goodnight, Vienna.

A whole host of these productions have taken place at the venue for next week’s 42nd Street, The Montgomery, on Surrey Street in the city centre.

And Gillian Deutsch, company treasurer and performer, says people should go along and see 42nd Street when it opens onMarch 11.

Louise and Dylan in rehearsals

She says: "It is a classic American musical sat in the early Thirties, post-depression.

“Somebody has come up and put some money forward together for a show on Broadway, and it starts with the audition for the show – so it is a massive tap number, no opening singing.

“The girl that is late for the audition, Peggy Sawyer, because she doesn't have the courage to come in, arrives later and eventually ends up with a part in the chorus and is supposedly not very good.

“At the end of act one, she takes out the leading lady by accident because they bump into eachother and the leading lady breaks her ankle.

The opening act of 42nd Street, on at Sheffield's The Montgomery this month

“They think the show is going to be cancelled, but the other chorus members say 'wait a second, even though she was late, she was the best’.

“So she becomes the lead and everyone lives happily every after – I’ll put it like that.”

The cast contains amateur performers aged 13 to 70, with their combined passion for theatre meaning they commit to a heavy rehearsal schedule and demanding choreography, of which most is based around tap dance.

Gillian says: “For this one, we have Cops, Carolan Copley-Tucci, who runs Sheffield Performing Arts, choreographing it, and we have ladies and girls that can tap, so it was a great opportunity to get a show out there that hasn’t been done that much, with lots of tap dancing and a great opportunity for us all to get out the tap shoes.

“We have people aged from 13 to nearly 70, so a full age range, and we have ladies tapping up to 60, I think, in various roles.

“Everyone is amateur, but most people have trained before, whether only as kids, and Cops was professionally trained.”

A number of members from Sheffield Performing Arts have joined Cops in the production.

Additionally, Louise Webster, who is playing Peggy Sawyer, and Dylan Lambert, who is playing the male lead Billy Lawlor, were first on stage together for Peter Pan at the Lyceum back in 2010.

Having returned to Sheffield from university in Durham, Louise says: “This is a dream role and the perfect way to return to Sheffield.”

Dylan, who trained with Amanda Holland School of Dance and has also hardly stopped performing in the intervening 10 years, says: “I can’t wait to transport the audience back to the glamour of 1930s’ Broadway.”

Ellesmere has been consistently offering the people of Sheffield musical theatre productions for almost 75 years.

Gillian says: “It started off at Ellesmere community centre, a lady that was our president up to last year, she died sadly, but she was a founding member and was active right up to the live show this time last year.

“There are a few people in the company that have been here for 30 years or so, and we have done pretty much every show since 1974 at The Montgomery.

“It is a lovely size for a small, ameteur company as it seats about 400, and, in all fairness, there is no civic theatre in sheffield and so it is the one place really.”

Running an amateur theatre company in the city is not easy, however, with costs and competition to contend with.

She says: “There is an awful lot of amateur dramatics in Sheffield, which is good on some ways and challenging in others. The very good people can pick and choose where they want to go, so trying to find shows that enthuse the performers, as well as the audience, is hard.

“When picking a show, we try to do a bit of everything; we have done classic shows, and modern, new shows, we need a mix to give different experiences to different people and get them interested.

“Everyone is doing things later, and don't plan ahead - people book really late and that's really scary.

“We are spending £25,000 on this and pretty much our only income is our ticket sales, so it's a massive outlay that you have to commit to - you have to commit to scenery, to costumes, to musical directors, and then hope you get the ticket sales.

“People pay a small amount to be part of the society, but it costs us about £850 a head to put them on stage, that’s the equivalent of how many tickets you'd hope people can sell each, so it's hard.”

42nd Street is on at The Montgomery from March 11-14 at 7.15pm, with a 2.15pm matinee on March 14. See www.ellesmeremtc.co.uk