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First-of-its-kind performance brings the house down

First-of-its-kind performance brings the house down Banner Image

UCLan students worked with West End stars to produce a BBC Children in Need Musical in a Week

A charity collaboration between the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and West End stars has been hailed a big success.

Over five days, 40 third year music theatre and media production students worked with actors, writers and directors and produced an upbeat 45 minute friendship and inclusivity themed musical, called ExtraOrdinary, for BBC Children in Need.

It attracted national attention when it was covered live by BBC Breakfast, it hit television screens in the North West during the charity appeal’s television coverage and the final performance was played out to a packed out audience in Preston.

With expert help from choreographers, casting directors, producers and musical directors, the students developed a script, wrote lyrics, rehearsed and performed all within the very tight time frame.

Rachel Gerring, a third year music theatre student, played Mary Bacon. She said: “It’s been an incredible experience and one we’ll never forget. All the people who have come in from the industry have been so supportive and have been great to work with.”

James Desmond played Frank Bacon, one of the main characters. He said: “We’ve all been doing at least 12 hour days but it’s been great because we’ve learned so much and the hints and tips we’ve picked up throughout the week have really helped with our performance.”

It’s been lovely to have been involved in this project. To have the skills to create this musical in five days is really exciting and the students have looked like industry level performers.

During the week, top performers offered their advice at specialist masterclasses including West End favourite actress Claire Sweeney, new UCLan Honorary Fellow and Cold Feet star John Thomson and two-time Olivier Award nominated and Broadway actor Michael Xavier.

Claire Sweeney commented: “It’s such a pleasure for me to have had the opportunity to answer questions and pass on my experience to the students. The University of Central Lancashire is doing really great things, bringing great people in and this University is top of its game on the musical theatre front.”

Michael Xavier added: “It’s been lovely to have been involved in this project. To have the skills to create this musical in five days is really exciting and the students have looked like industry level performers.”

John Thomson brought many laughs to the theatre as he watched rehearsals and offered suggestions to the performers. He said: “I got my Honorary Fellowship from the University in summer and I was delighted to be able to give something back. If I helped by telling them about my experiences of dealing with nerves and channelling their adrenaline into the performance then I’m happy.”

Pip Minnithorpe, currently the Resident Director of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child playing in the West End; Ruth Bratt, co-creator of the Olivier winning Showstopper – The Improvised Musical; and Debbie O’Brien, who has cast numerous productions in the West End, were on hand throughout the week to offer their advice to the students.

Mark Goggins, Course Leader of Music Theatre, was delighted with the undergraduates. He said: “It’s been a fantastically intense experience and has given them a real insight into the breadth of roles available in the industry. To have worked with such top people is a massive boost for them and can only make them better performers.”

The initiative was part of an innovative University partnership with Perfect Pitch, an Arts Council funded organisation which creates contemporary new musicals.

The week was an absolute success. The work put in by everyone to pull not just the show together, but all the elements that go unseen in the background too.

Andy Barnes, Executive Producer of Perfect Pitch, said: “The week was an absolute success. The work put in by everyone to pull not just the show together, but all the elements that go unseen in the background too. From the team at UCLan, the creatives, celebrities, administrators and of course the students, the whole project was the true definition of a partnership.”

Dr Andrew Ireland, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Culture and the Creative Industries at UCLan, added: “Musical in a Week was an astounding success and enabled our students to experience something unique and innovative, working with West End and Broadway professionals and actors to immerse themselves in the full cycle of a musical production.

“The fact that we have been able to work closely with BBC Children in Need as partners to help worthy causes has really given this initiative added purpose. I’m extremely proud of all the UCLan staff, academics and students who worked incredibly hard to get a brand new musical ready to perform in just five days. It’s important that the Faculty of Culture and Creative Industries continues to push boundaries in this way so that students know that UCLan offers fantastic industry collaborations like musical in a Week.”

To help raise funds for Children in Need, the musical will soon be available free of charge to schools and colleges to encourage them to put on their own performance to raise money for the charity.

Photographs from a range of the week’s activities are available on UCLan's Flickr gallery.

Rachel Atkinson | 22 November 2017