Photo credit: Konrad Bartelski
I love the National Youth Music Theatre. Not only does it remind me of my own time going to a theatre school in the Netherlands, but these kids are so incredibly talented and the NYMT is deservedly the stepping stone for many onto the West End stage and beyond. From Ben Barnes to Sheridan Smith, some of the biggest names in entertainment have made their debut at the NYMT during the 40 years it has been going. And last Sunday night alumni, fans, friends, family and current company members all came together to celebrate some of the greatest productions and people in NYMT history at Encore: 40 Years of NYMT.
The first time I became aware of the NYMT was back in 2010 when the company performed a sneak peek of their production of Sweeney Todd at West End Live and I was instantly sold. The talent in the kids easily rivalled that of the older professionals also performing at WEL that week and I made an effort to go see the production at the Village Underground. It was an obscure venue to me at the time and a bit of a trip to get to, but so worth it (not in the least because I ended up sitting next to NYMT alumnus and now patron, Jude Law). Matt Nalton Anthony was the best Sweeney Todd I've seen and he has since been on the West End in Jersey Boys and now Beautiful, which is just awesome.
And the NYMT has gone on to do even greater things since then. Starting as the Children's Musical Theatre back in 1976, founded by Jeremy James Taylor, the company would do the Edinburgh Fringe. Now, they produce several full-scale productions each year across the country. In 2016 their big shows were Spring Awakening in Leicester, Brass in London, The Battle of the Boat in Kingston, and The Piper of Hamelin (UK tour). The current company performed numbers from each of these productions at the gala and they were sensational. You could see that these were the most recent shows as the performances were epic and flawless. I am however gutted that Spring Awakening wasn't in London as it's one of my favourite shows anyway and their rendition of Purple Summer gave me goosebumps, it was that good. Fingers crossed they might revive it for London audiences or a UK tour in the near future.
The evening didn't only encompass a trip along the 2016 productions, numbers were performed from a whole host of shows the NYMT has put on throughout the years. From the very well-known such as Guys & Dolls, Into the Woods, Sweet Charity and Annie, to the lesser known but still very fun to watch The Other School, Les Petit Rats and Captain Stirrick. And, bonus, we even got a sneak peek at the 2017 productions: Imaginary, Prodigy and Billy the Kid. They all sounded brilliant and I'm hoping I'll have a chance to see at least one of them in London during the new season.
Performers ranged from very little kids (NYMT takes children from age 10) to adults – with alumni taking the stage alongside their shorter counterparts, taking on some of the roles they performed themselves while in the NYMT. Particular highlights on the night included nearly the entire main cast of Bugsy Malone coming back 19 years after their NYMT production (see picture at the top of this post), a beautiful rendition of What it Means to be a Friend from 13 by Siena Kelly (a show which she performed in just a few years ago), a tap-dancingly fun introduction by NYMT alumnus Tom Chambers (who I will forever adore for the greatness of Top Hat) and a stunning Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin' from Oklahoma sung by Dominic Tighe and with a beautifully choreographed number for Ashley Day (The Book of Mormon) and Layla Harrison.
And I haven't seen even mentioned yet how special it was to also see founder Jeremy James Taylor on that stage at the Adelphi, as well as patron Jason Robert Brown, who's musical The Last Five Years I'm coincidentally seeing at St James Theatre tonight! This is a gala that truly showed the incredible talent on stage, from young to old. It felt like a privilege to be a part of such a special celebration and here's to the next 40 years of musical greatness!
As a small arts charity, however, funding is of ongoing importance to the NYMT and one of the things they spoke about on the night is the brilliant NYMT 40th Anniversary Friends scheme. Becoming a part of this for just £40 a year supports their bursary programme to drive more diversity, which is always a good thing. For more information about this scheme as well as other ways to donate, have a look at the NYMT support page. Let's all ensure that a great charity such as the NYMT will continue to celebrate the immense talent of their students another 40 years from now, shall we?