All Ireland premiere for Ballywillan Drama Group

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NEXT month Ballywillan Drama Group, Portrush, bring one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s major musicals to Northern Ireland and the Riverside Theatre for the very first time.

Never before released to an amateur company, Whistle Down The Wind comes direct to Ireland from its last West End run and national tour which starred Jonathan Ansell.

The hugely successful family musical has toured the world and entertained hundreds of thousands of people with its haunting story of a sixteen year old Louisiana girl who believes she has found Jesus hiding in the family barn.

Songs from this majestic show are universally known – “When Children Ruled the World”, “Whistle Down The Wind” and, of course, “No Matter What”, made famous by Boyzone, which went platinum and a No.1 Hit in eighteen countries, becoming the most successful song from a musical in history. The musical score is accepted as being Lloyd Webber’s best score since his Phantom of the Opera.

Ballywillan has been working hard on pre-production since last February. Once their Diamond Jubilee production of The Sound of Music finished, director and producer, Brian Logan and musical director, Eric Boyd, have been planning and designing the show.

It is an immense undertaking, working with Lloyd Webber’s production company, The Really Useful Group, ensuring everything meets their exacting standards.

A principal cast of 15, an adult ensemble of 40 and two children’s troupes of 25 each make this the biggest show in the group’s history. The two children’s troupes alternate performances as it is not allowed that children perform over such a long performance run.

Ewan Campbell, the group’s costume designer from Utopia Costumes in Scotland is designing and making over 150 costumes for the show based on the original West End designs.

Sharon Logan, choreographer and musical staging, has been extremely busy coaching the large company in all their musical movement. Her work with the children’s troupes is doubled as she must coach the two sets of children in all their musical numbers and ensure that each troupe is absolutely identical in movement and placement so that they fit seamlessly into the Main Cast.

The principal cast is headed by Ashling Reynolds who takes on the lead role of ‘Swallow’, the young girl whose story the show is based around, with Alan McClarty accepting the role of ‘The Man’. Ashling’s role is particularly demanding as she is on-stage for nearly the entire show and features in sixteen musical numbers!

Other principal roles are taken by David Ferguson, Vicky Creelman, Colin McClarty, Adam Goudy and Shay Reynolds.

The actual staging and music for Whistle Down The Wind presented many demands. The script and orchestral score received from The Really Useful Group were exactly as the West End professional production. Most new shows, prior to being released to the amateur market, are tailored for their abilities and circumstances thus making it easier for them to perform – but not in this case!

The challenge for Brian Logan, who has designed the sets, was to take a show from a West End theatre with all it’s facilities and shoehorn it into the relatively small space of the Riverside Theatre.

This has been admirably achieved with all the show’s requisites being met. These include depicting a town in the state of Louisiana in the late 1950’s, an electrifying motorcycle ride, an oncoming train and an ultimate fire scene.

Eric Boyd has worked tirelessly over the summer months preparing the orchestral scores and preparing the music of the show ready for rehearsal. His tasks included taking some of the complicated choral numbers and making them more accessible for the cast.

The story of Whistle Down The Wind will appeal to all ages making it a wonderful show for the entire family. The tale of innocence and hope as the children of the small town join forces with Swallow, the sixteen year old heroine, to protect the man they have discovered, and are caring for, from the less naïve and adult world he is avoiding.

The original feel-good musical, which juxtaposes child and adult worlds and highlights the ability for unconditional love to open the hardest of hearts will have audiences entranced.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s beautiful love songs and uptempo numbers make this a musical event that just cannot be missed and will continue to have audiences standing in tearful ovation night after night after night.

Whistle Down The Wind is now booking at the Riverside Theatre on 028 70 123 123 or book on-line at www.riversidetheatre.org.uk The musical runs from Friday, January 18 to Saturday, February s with evening and matinee performances.