Theatre Review: Singing With The Stars, Thomas Whitham Sixth Form

THREE international opera singers took to the stage in Burnley with six local students and two talented pianists and the result was a wonderful evening of stirring music.

The students and their mentors entranced the audience at the Thomas Whitham Sixth Form theatre and it was thrilling to see so much talent from the professionals and students combined.

It was more remarkable because all the professionals have strong connections with Burnley - one was born here, one was educated here and one married a Burnley girl.

This must be a first for the town so well done to Thomas Whitham staff Dave Warren and Nigel Wilkinson from the performing arts department for pulling off such a coup.

“Singing With The Stars” was the title of the one-night-only production and it was true to its name.

Burnley’s own much loved opera star Kathleen Wilkinson, an ex-St Hilda’s girl who studied at the Royal Northern College of Music and sings all over the world and regularly at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, opened proceedings with the duet “You Are My Heart’s Delight” with Sean Ruane. Sean is a familiar figure in Burnley having studied at St Theodore’s and now works with young people in the town and is known as “the operatic voice of sport” as he sings at the opening of major sporting events including the Ashes cricket. They were accompanied on piano by Kathleen’s husband Nigel Wilkinson.

They were followed by Argentinian Roberto Garcia Lopez who met his Burnley wife, pianist Joanna Porter, when they were both studying at the RNCM. Former Walshaw School pupil Joanna, who works at the Barden Campus, accompanied him on piano beautifully.

Then we heard from three students who all performed very different songs. Tom Shaw sang a piece called “Devotion” by Schumann, Kasia Draszkowska a Lithuanian folk song and Jake Newsham sang “Alma del Core” by Antonio Caldara. Nerves were forgotten and they all sang beautifully.

Sean continued with a piece from “Tosca” and then the amusing “Girls Were Made To Love And Kiss” with a twinkle in his eye and a few winks for the ladies.

The next three students then sang solos. Toni Hodder gave us the entertaining “The Worst Pies In London” from “Sweeney Todd”, followed by Jack Herbert’s fine rendition of “Johanna” and finally Joe Martin’s moving version of “Empty Chairs And Empty Tables” from “Les Miserables”.

Solos from Kathleen and Roberto followed before Kathleen took to the stage with students Jake and Tom to lead us to the interval with a performance of “You Raise Me Up.”

After the interval we were treated to another melting pot of music with all the performers singing solos. Joanna’s accompaniment of Roberto’s traditional Argentinian folk songs nearly brought the house down, while Kathleen sang two jaunty numbers from “Kiss Me Kate” and Sean had the audience singing “the ice cream song” “O Sole Mio” and an emotional rendition of “Bring Him Home” from “Les Miserables”.

The whole company then provided a rousing finale with “Nessun Dorma” and finally surprised us all with the patriotic “Jerusalem.”

A wonderful end to a splendid evening worthy of the standing ovation received. It was well worth braving the bitter wind and snow outside to appreciate such a wealth of local talent.