The indomitable spirit of Londoners at the height of the Blitz comes to the fore in a stirring musical at Limelight Theatre this November and December. Written by Lionel Bart – best known as composer of Oliver! – and directed by Alan Brock, Blitz! is a musical full of family feuds, fun and forbidden love, sprinkled with nostalgic wartime melodies and rich characters.
The story focuses on the intense mutual dislike of Cockney stallholder Alfred Locke and his neighbouring Jewish trader Mrs Blitztein. Both are displeased when Mrs Blitztein's daughter and Alfred's son fall in love and eventually marry.
Originally staged in 1962, Blitz! was never seen for many years, largely because the original scores went missing. It was reassembled in Australia by 19-year-old Andrew Jarrett in 1985, leading Bart to come out of obscurity to see the production.
Elsie (Tania Morrow) finds herself popular with men in the musical Blitz!
Alan said he was inspired to direct Blitz! because he spent the majority of his school years down air-raid shelters in World War II. "I was evacuated out of London after our house was bomb-blasted three times, so I can relate to the storyline," he said. "Blitz! is the story of hardships, love and friendships, lifted by more than 25 lively songs, highlighting the resilience of people in the East End and their determination not to have their morale broken."
First appearing on stage 69 years ago as an 11-year-old, Alan performed in a comedy act with his father at numerous working men's clubs in London. He went on to perform in a plethora of productions in the UK with favourites including Scrooge The Musical, Hobson's Choice and Me and My Girl.
Since moving to Australia 15 years ago, Alan's alliance has been with Limelight Theatre where he has appeared in High Society, Out Of Order, 'Allo 'Allo, Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, The Phantom of the Opera and Pride and Prejudice.
"With Blitz! the main challenge is the cast of 43, including 14 children," he said. "For many of them, it's their first time on stage so there's a great deal of directing to be done."
Mrs Blitztein (Susan Vincent, left) and Alfred Lock (Alan Markham) are at loggerheads in the wartime musical Blitz!
Susan Vincent plays Mrs Blitztein. "She's a Jewish matriarchal figure and undisputed leader of the community," she said. "Mrs Blitztein is a widow who has brought up her large family single-handedly by selling pickled herrings in Petticoat Lane. The main challenge for me is physical, when I have to dive on the floor in a bomb explosion."
A professionally trained actress and singer from the UK, Susan trained at the Carona London Stage School and was a pop singer in the 1960s, recording three singles on the Decca label. She came to WA in 1974 to work for Frank Baden Powell at his old-time music hall and then had an 11-year stint with the WA Opera Company before moving to Kalgoorlie where she worked for ABC radio and a local television station.
The Blitztein family – mother (Susan Vincent, left) with son Harry (Adrian Price) and daughter Carole (Catherine Dunn) in the musical Blitz!
Over the years, Susan has acted, directed, stage-managed and worked on sets for the Graduate Dramatic Society, Playlovers, Goldfields Repertory and the Old Mill, Bindoon, Melville, Stirling, Limelight, Marloo and Garrick Theatres. With many awards for acting and directing, she was most recently named best actress at the 2013 Hills Festival of Theatre for her role in A Candle on The Table.
Earlier this year, Susan directed sold-out seasons of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None and the farce Run For Your Wife. "I was drawn to Blitz! because the character of Mrs Blitztein is a strong-willed woman, who is kind and caring," she said. "Lionel Bart also wrote it – the music is great and they're interesting songs to sing."
Blitz! plays at 8pm November 24, 25, 26, 30, December 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 9 and 10. Tickets are $32, $28 concession – book at www.limelighttheatre.com.au or on 0499 954 016 between 9am and midday, Monday to Friday. Limelight Theatre is located on Civic Drive, Wanneroo.