Directly adapted from the acclaimed film, Nativity! The Musical centres around the chaos of underperforming school St Bernadette’s. Headteacher Mrs Bevan sees this year’s nativity as her last opportunity to turn around the school’s reputation, and puts failed actor Paul Maddens in charge. Still suffering heartache from being left by a girlfriend at Christmas five years earlier, Mr Maddens’ fears for the festive season are realised when a quick lie escalates into a city-wide affair thanks to childish school assistant Mr Poppy. Yet, with rivalry against the local preparatory school stirring him on, Mr Maddens is determined not to let St Bernadette’s down.
Simon Lipkin brings all the same ridiculousness and amusement to Mr Poppy as his manic movie counterpart. Mr Poppy’s wild antics and outlandish aspirations for the nativity muster many laughs from both young and old audience members alike, as does the subsequent exasperation from Mr Maddens [Daniel Boys]. Andy Brady makes the perfect rival as Oakmoor teacher Gordon Shakespeare, conveying the arrogance and outrageous competitiveness of the character with ease. Likewise, Jamie Chapman masters the flamboyancy of theatre critic Patrick Burns.
However, the children playing the pupils of St Bernadette’s and Oakmoor are the stars of the show. Their individual quirks and talents make the musical all the more endearing and help to portray the familiar mayhem of school nativities that originally gave Debbie Isitt the idea for the film.
The composition and songwriting by Isitt and Nicky Ager are exemplary. In addition to lovable hits “Sparkle and Shine”, “She’s the Brightest Star” and “Nazareth”, there is short but necessary relief through more sombre, heartfelt songs – often sweetly assisted by Pepper the poodle- and a hilariously exuberant “Welcome to Hollywood” Act Two opener. The lyrics are ingenious and responded to extremely well by the cast.
The production also offers remarkable scenery. Set and costume designer David Woodhead does a stellar job of boosting the vibrancy of the performance and is particularly clever with his manipulation of the set for the climactic cathedral scene. The costumes are equally as bright and aid the feel-good atmosphere of the musical.
Along with its charming storyline, Nativity! The Musical is tremendously entertaining and creative. Forget pantomimes this year: there is simply no better show to get an audience into the festive spirit.
Photos: Richard Davenport