Stand Tall is a new musical with music by Aldie Chalmers and Sandy Chalmers and book and lyrics by Lee Wyatt-Buchan. This production is directed by Simon Greiff.
It is a modern re-telling of the Biblical story of David and Goliath with a contemporary rock score. Here, David (Ryan O’Donnell) is a shepherd by day and a rock star by night. His life is alright until the mystical Black Sheep (Keisha Amponsa-Banson) chooses him to become the new King. He isn’t so sure about that, especially as he is also in love with Princess Mia (Natasha Barnes), the daughter of King Saul (Martin Pirongs). When word gets around that he is supposed to be the new King, Goliath (Jack Shalloo) becomes jealous and angry and starts to threaten and attack David. He finally challenges him to a guitar battle to decide who should become King and get Princess Mia. David has only one option: He needs to stand tall!
I did enjoy this musical, probably more than some other rock musicals out there (which shall remain unnamed). There are some good songs in it. I especially liked Goliath’s Song, Hold Me/Don’t Cry and of course the title song Stand Tall. Having said that, I don’t think they were very memorable though and I think the different styles don’t add anything to the musical, apart from making it appear very fragmented.
Ryan O’Donnell makes a great David and he’s got a very good voice. He was very believable and I especially liked his interactions with the Black Sheep.
Keisha Amponsa-Banson as the Black Sheep acts as a sort of narrator to the whole story, she holds it together and keeps it going. She’s got an incredible voice and has some great one-liners.
Natasha Barnes as Princess Mia has a very sweet voice and I liked her performance a lot. Personally, I find Mia not a very interesting character, but she made the most of it. She and Ryan O’Donnell had great chemistry and I loved their duet towards the end of the show (So Indecisive).
I loved Jack Shalloo’s Goliath. He always seems to play a similar type of character, but he was great. Menacing, but also vulnerable. He’s got a very distinctive voice and it suited these songs perfectly.
I wasn’t too keen on Martin Pirongs, who plays King Saul, Cassius and Jessie (the fathers of Goliath and David). There was absolutely nothing wrong with his performance, so I think the main reason for this was the he was very quiet and I found it hard to hear him most of the time. Out of the three parts I probably preferred his King Saul.
Despite all this, I left the theatre not really knowing what to think of the musical and it took me a while to figure out what it was. I personally find the story and most of the characters too simplistic. It isn’t bad, but they could have made so much more out of it. I thought the characters weren’t really three-dimensional, with the exception of Goliath and, to a lesser extent, David. This made it difficult for me to really get “into” the story. The cast worked very well together and you couldn’t tell it was the first ever performance, but there was just something missing. I somehow expected to be more moved by it, as it sounds so promising. Yes, there is an anti-bullying message, but it could have been explored more. There is a lot more focus on David’s self-esteem issues and Goliath’s abusive father. So for me, while I liked the concept of the show, it was a bit of a missed opportunity.
However, as I said before, I did enjoy it and the story isn’t in any way worse compared to those unnamed rock musicals, but I think it needs a lot of reworking.
The musical runs until the 12th November 2011 at the Landor Theatre in Clapham (which is a lovely venue by the way, by far my favourite fringe theatre!). There is also a four track studio recording (with a different cast) available, which can be purchased here.