Ipswich Operatic and Dramatic Society gear up for Sounds Familiar music revue

Ipswich Operatic and Dramatic Society returns with its Sounds Familiar musical spectacular next week. Entertainment writer WAYNE SAVAGE finds out why it has a special place in two particular people’s hearts.

Third-time director Stephanie Brown grew up with Sounds Familiar; literally.

Her mum Pam and late father John White, came up with the idea in 1979. John compered the revue show - which started off performing in schools - for many years until he became ill and Pam is the current wardrobe manager, sorting out the hundreds upon hundreds of costumes.

“My first show was probably when I was 16. Prior to that I used to run up and down the stairs at the Regent and do the calls so I’ve been involved many, many years.

“Mum and dad used to run a little theatre company when we used to live in Essex so I was on the stage from a very young age and still love performing, hopefully I’m not too old just yet,” she laughs.

“I’ve been a member [of IODS] for about 30 years and might have missed a few shows, but I’ve been in a lot. I’ve grown up with theatre really and would always rather be on stage than off it.

“Luckily with this I do get an opportunity to do both,” adds Stephanie, who’s particularly looking forward to throwing a diva strop as Spamalot’s Lady of the Lake this year.

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A good way to get the stress of planning the show out of her system, perhaps?

She and her production team spend weeks sat around her front room coming up with ideas, navigating intricate licensing and copyright rules and making sure there’s the right balance of old and modern; never mind co-ordinating countless costume changes and rehearsal schedules for a 50-strong cast that ranges from 18 to over 60s.

For the first time, members have had to audition for a spot in the show too.

“This year everybody was on the same level. People hate them [auditions], I hate them but it probably is the fairest thing and we do have to cap numbers. We don’t like any more than 50 people really to be in the show because otherwise the stage gets too crowded,” sighs Stephanie.

“It’s very challenging [the organisation] and through the summer you have lots of people on holiday and we’ve had quite a bit of illness this year; it’s very frustrating when you’re trying to set a number with 30 people in it and some are missing.

“But at the end of the day it’s very rewarding. I know they’ll come up trumps, I know they’ll be brilliant and then I’ll be standing at the after show party with my glass of wine saying ‘tell you what, we’ll do it all again next year’,” she laughs.

Rehearsals have gone well, she adds; now it’s a case of people brushing up on their words before curtain up next Wednesday.

Both halves feature seven sections made up of several musical and comedy items that this year include a celebration of 25 years of Phantom of the Opera and music from West Side Story; which weren’t without their issues.

“Basically to costume anything from a show is a total no-no,” she explains.

So no mask for the Phantom then?

“No, absolutely not, no,” Stephanie laughs. “We’ve had a bit of trouble with West Side Story this year in that you can do it in a sort of concert form but you can’t do, say, America with all the dancing and all the costumes and you have to have all the orchestra to go with it. We’re doing a sort of acoustic set because that’s all we’re allowed to do without movement.”

Another highlight this year will be the cast’s exciting tribute to the late John Barry, celebrating the music he wrote for the Bond movies.

Stephanie’s mum be proud she’s taken over the reins of the show.

“I think she is; I think she likes to make sure... I mean somebody could come along and change things very radically. Obviously you do have to go through a certain amount of changes through the years because tastes and styles change.

“I think with me at the helm mum feels it’s probably in safe hands and I’m not going to totally obliterate the thing they created over the years,” she laughs.

With 50-plus main IODS shows and 26 out of 27 Sounds Familiar revues to her name, you can’t accuse Sue Goodall of lacking devotion. “I did 15 years on the committee quite a while ago too; I’m very, very passionate about IODS and passionate we carry on,” says the 66-year-old, who joined the company as an 18-year-old in 1963.

“I’d been going to the shows for many years; I’ve always supported the operatic. I don’t know [why she made the jump from watching from the stalls to performing]; I’ve always sung from about five in little anniversary concerts at Sunday School and I was in a choir. I went to singing lessons so singing has always been my passion if you like; I just love the art.”

Her first role was in the chorus of Oklahoma; one of many shows she’s repeated over the years.

“I’ve done Half a Sixpence three times, My Fair Lady twice, Carousel twice when we were in the Rodgers and Hammerstein era. Of course we’ve progressed to wonderful London musicals; Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar, things like that. We’re still waiting for Les Miserables; I still think ‘oh maybe I could get in that even though I’m older’,” she laughs.

Sue, who’s just spent three months compiling a history of the society for its website, describes herself as a chorus person.

“I’ve had one or two cameo roles but I wouldn’t want to aspire to a leading part,” she adds. “I’ve had one or two cameo parts, like shop girl in Half a Sixpence, I played Grandma in Fiddler on the Roof twice but I do ensemble singing, I don’t think there’s anything better really.”

Sue remembers watching the society stage Carousel at the Ipswich Hippodrome in 1957 and watching all the vaudeville stars there with her father when she was a child.

“When it closed and was made into a bingo hall it was the worst thing that could happen to Ipswich because it was such a beautiful theatre.

“It was the right size whereas the Gaumont, or The Regent as it is now, was built as a cinema and is very big to fill in the present climate. It’s wonderful but it’s a lot of bums on seats.”

Long gone are the days of �2, �1.80 and �1.50 tickets - which is what they cost the last time the society did Oliver in the 1980s. A show they’re reviving next year.

The growing cost of staging shows and the growth in the number of amateur dramatic and school groups has changed radically too.

“People have got so much choice now; when I started in the society there was only us and the Ipswich Gilbert and Sullivan.”

Sue will be starring in this year’s Sounds Familiar, lending her voice to the ensemble singing and the old biddy - her words, not mine - comedy number. Did she imagine all those years ago she’d still be performing today?

“No. Never in my wildest dreams would I have said I’d spend nearly 50 years on stage but that’s how its worked out and I don’t regret one minute; I just love it.”

Ipswich and Operatic Dramatic Society’s Sounds Familiar runs at Felixstowe’s Spa Pavilion from next Wednesday to Saturday.