Nativity! The Musical
Writer and director: Debbie Isitt Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Broad Street, Birmingham Until 12 November; then touring until 6 January 2018 (www.nativitythe musical.com) Running time: 2hrs 40mins (including interval)
“Sparkle and shine!” chorus the children of the fictional St Bernadette’s primary school, Coventry. And my goodness, Debbie Isitt’s stage version of her hugely successful Nativity! film series certainly does both, said Dominic Cavendish in The Daily Telegraph. This “feelgood bonanza” boasts “lavish sets studded with flashing stars; giant gift parcels”; over-thetop costumes that “wouldn’t disgrace a Broadway musical” – and a finale filled with “fusillades of golden streamers”. Short of “hauling on a reindeer and unleashing a mass of pyrotechnics”, I’m not sure what else writer-director Isitt could have done to “glitz up proceedings further”. It all goes on rather too long, and the familiar story lacks surprise, but even so: it’s “hard to resist”.
For this “warm-hearted” family stage show, Isitt has stuck closely to the plot of the first Nativity! film, said Diane Parkes on Whatson Stage.com. Having told an idiotic lie to an old rival from a posh private school, Mr Maddens, a stressed schoolteacher from the failing St Bernadette’s school, needs to entice a Hollywood producer to come and watch its school nativity play. And he only has the “goofy” teaching assistant Desmond Poppy to help him. The production (Isitt’s, that is, not Mr Maddens’) is blessed with great songs, lively performances from the adults, and a superb cast of 27 “incredibly versatile” children, all recruited from the West Midlands, who are both funny and moving. This really is “Christmas come early”.
I fell for this “heartfelt hit” of a show within minutes, said Ann Treneman in The Times. The children are a “delight”, the story a warm-hearted joy, and Simon Lipkin is “marvellous as the demented teaching assistant”, Mr Poppy. “You hit every note!” he tells one child (who hit none) as she beams, specs askew, pigtails dancing. This show may not be as subversively funny as Matilda or as slickly produced as School of Rock, two productions “with which it shares an affinity”, said Mark Shenton in The Stage. But it has catchy songs, Christmas cheer and charm aplenty: I could easily see it becoming a “seasonal staple”.