Nativity! The Musical

"There is something really special about this show that means you leave the theatre with a big smile and a happy heart"

From its first premiere at the Birmingham REP in 2017, Nativity! The Musical has been entertaining audiences across the country over many a festive season and it’s definitely a show that can easily fill an auditorium.

Written by Debbie Isitt, Nativity! started life as a 2009 film starring Martin Freeman, Marc Wootton and Jason Watkins, a family favourite in my house for many years!  There have been subsequent films such as Nativity 2: Danger in the Manger (2012), Nativity 3: Dude Where’s My Donkey (2014) and Nativity Rocks! (2018).  These films all have something in common and that’s warmth. They are so beautifully crafted by Debbie who really does have a complete understanding of how to produce a wonderful family Christmas story.

After many very successful UK tours, Nativity! still shines as bright as ever with an incredible cast of young performers who absolutely sparkled throughout.

The story centres around St Bernadette’s Catholic School in Coventry and their quest to win that 5-star review from critic Patrick Burns played magnificently by Jamie Chapman.  Mr Maddens (Billy Roberts) is tasked with producing the Christmas Nativity show much to his dismay. His Christmas spirit was extinguished when Jennifer (Daisy Steere) leaves him and their adorable dog Cracker for her dream job as a famous producer in Hollywood.  St Bernadette’s are pitted against ‘posh’ Oakmoor School under the leadership of the rather pompous Mr Shakespeare (Matthew Rowland).   There is history between Jennifer, Mr Maddens and Mr Shakespeare as they all went to drama school together and a rivalry remained.  Headteacher Mrs Bevan (Jemma Churchill) introduces her nephew as the new classroom assistant, Mr Poppy (Ben Lancaster) the biggest kid of the whole class who has lots of rather weird and wonderful ideas for the Christmas Nativity, all of which are bought to life in the most spectacular way!  Mr Maddens, still in love with Jennifer, tells a small white lie that Hollywood would be coming to the Nativity performance much to everyone’s excitement.  He travels to see Jennifer to try and persuade her to come home to see the show only to find out that she isn’t the famous producer she purported to be.  Jennifer manages to talk her boss (Cameron Johnson) into making the trip to Coventry and the happy ending ensues.

If you’re familiar with the film then you will know how much Mr Poppy (Ben Lancaster) is loved by the children, and this love was transferred onto the stage through the wonderful group of young performers and class members of St Bernadette’s.  Lancaster plays the role just right, with the pure innocence of this ‘big kid’ shining through each time he appears on stage.  Each and every child look like they are having the time of their life, dancing around, throwing snowballs and delivering some wonderful musical moments. There are songs you will know from the film such as ‘Sparkle and Shine’, ‘Nazareth’ and ‘She’s The Brightest Star’. You can tell from looking around the audience during these moments that they still hold a dear place in people’s hearts.

The staging, designed by David Woodhead is full of sparkle and Christmas cheer including gigantic Christmas presents which double up as an entrance/exit for many of the young performers.   We were transported to St Bernadette’s, Oakmoor and Coventry Cathedral seamlessly. Each and every one of the songs, composed by Debbie Isitt together with Nicky Ager is a delight for the ears and delivered wonderfully by the band under the musical direction of Joshua Griffith.  There were some great stand out vocal moments from Daisy Steere (Jennifer) and Mr Maddens (Matthew Rowland).

Now, we have to talk about the children in this show.  They are the essence and the heart of the cast bringing such innocence, fun and joy to the characters they are portraying.  It’s a real delight to see a group of young performers enjoying every inch of their time on the stage which of course is testament to Debbie Isitt and her writing.

There is something really special about this show that means you leave the theatre with a big smile and a happy heart.   The cast really are shining stars and from me, they definitely get their 5-star review!

Nativity! The Musical is playing at Birmingham REP until the 7th January 2023.  Tickets are available here: https://www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/whats-on/nativity-the-musical/

For more Christmas joy from the pen of Debbie Isitt, you can find ‘Christmas On Mistletoe Farm’ now available on Netflix.

Photo credit: Pamela Raith

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