It’s hard to see why Lionel Bart’s Blitz! is not performed more often. The musical rattles along at a fair old pace, there are some genuinely cracking songs and the plot is entirely inoffensive.
So Graeme Danby, opera singer of international repute and a visiting professor at the University of Sunderland, is to be congratulated on bringing the show to stage – and from switching the action from London’s East End to Wearside.
The change works well and the archive pictures and footage of bomb damage and everyday life during Second World War Sunderland are an interesting touch. They were much discussed by folk around me who recognised streets, fashions, customs and even people!
As you’d expect, the story is set during the Luftwaffe attacks of the early 1940s. Amid the bombings and rationing, two families vie for market stall trade.
The widowed, formidable Jewish matriarch Mrs Blitztein and the widower owner of a rival stall, Alf Locke, hate each other. But their children Georgie and Carol, love each other. Mrs Blitztein’s son, Harry, is meanwhile considering deserting the army.
When the show was originally staged in the West End, its intricate set was famous. For the students’ show, the stage is completely bare, with only the slideshow of archive pictures to set the scene. This ploy works well, and the recreation of the wartime years is also helped by some convincing costumes.
The show’s success, however, was always going to depend on the quality of the large cast. I’m happy to say the Sunderland University students were generally excellent.
Harriet Stout as Mrs Blitztein had real stage presence, a powerful singing voice and great timing.
Joel Brunt was fine as her chief adversary, Locke, prowling the stage with real menace.
Ollie Cook was superb as love-struck Georgie – a great voice, bags of energy and charm and totally convincing both when he’s full of hope at the start of the show, and later when he feels like he’s a failure at everything. Definitely one to keep an eye on for the future!
Aimee Norris was great as his love interest, Carol, and her song Far Away, was one of the musical highlights of the night.
The rest of the cast supported well, especially the dancers who had a challenging lack of space.
My favourite song of the night was a number written by Bart for Vera Lynn, The Day After Tomorrow. It is a terrific song and was beautifully performed by the ensemble, creating a very moving moment on stage.