Viva Youth Theatre

The Viva Youth Theatre, now in its 16th year, was the catalyst for the whole Viva Arts and Community Group. It is the brainchild of Dan Schumann from Soham, back then a 16-year-old drama student who went on to study at The Central School of Speech and Drama in London.

Having been inspired by theatre himself Dan felt there was the need for more opportunities for people to take part in the arts, regardless of their situation, abilities or circumstances – and so started Viva to give more people that chance.

From a small production of ‘Bugsy Malone’, staged in Soham Village College back in 1997, with a cast and crew of just 50, Viva has grown now tackling huge productions such as ‘Les Miserables’, performed in 2009 at the Mumford Theatre in Cambridge to an audience of 1200, and ‘West Side Story’, Viva’s most ambitious project yet, which played to audiences in the hundreds at Ely Cathedral in January 2011.

The Viva Youth Group were lucky enough to perform ‘Fame’ this year at the Playgroup Theatre in New York City! Yes the BIG APPLE! The group worked with professional choreographers, voice and acting coaches to help polish and shape the musical before taking to the broadway stage! Viva is always finding new ways to push their members and flying to New York City was a once in a life time opportunity that could not be missed!

The Youth Theatre welcomes young people from age 11 to 25 from Soham and the surrounding area. Theatre experience is not necessary, just commitment and drive to put on a great show.  It aims to encourage young people in all areas of theatre – not just on stage but in set and costume design, lighting and sound, choreography and direction.

Viva usually auditions for two or three productions a year.

The show open to the entire youth theatre age range is generally staged in January. Past shows have included: ‘Oliver’, ‘Me And My Girl’, ‘Barnum’, ‘Calamity Jane’ and ‘Thoroughly Modern Milly’.

In July the Viva Youth Theatre stages a junior show aimed at garnering the talent of younger members aged 11 to 16. Former productions include: ‘Annie’, ‘The Wiz’ and Disney’s ‘Aladdin’. Youth Theatre members aged 16 and over have also taken seven productions including ‘Fame’ (2005), ‘Blood Brothers’ (2007) and ‘Godspell’ (2010) to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – to much critical acclaim.

Students of the youth theatre have been lucky enough to benefit from training and master classes from some of the West End’s finest actors, directors and choreographers so it’s no surprise a Viva Youth Theatre Show is a show of the highest quality.

  • Bugsy Malone – 1997
  • A Night at the West End – 1998
  • Annie – 1999
  • Wizard of Oz – 2000
  • Thumbelina – 2001
  • Little Shop of Horrors – 2001
  • Me and My Girl – 2002
  • Gold – 2002
  • Jabberwocky – 2002
  • Return to the Forbidden Planet – 2003
  • Myths and Models – 2003
  • A Slice of Saturday Night – 2003
  • Oliver – 2004
  • Guys and Dolls- 2005
  • The Sound of Music – 2005
  • Barnum & Aladdin – 2006
  • Thoroughly Modern Millie & The Wiz – 2007
  • Calamity Jane & Annie - 2008
  • Les Miserables & Gypsy – 2009
  • Disney’s Beauty and the Beast – 2010
  • West Side Story – 2011
  • High School Musical – 2011
  • Smike the Musical – 2012
  • Fame – 2012 New York
  • The Sound of Music – 2013 The Lady Chapel, Ely Cathedral
  • Grease the Musical – 2013
  • Phantom of the Opera – 2014
  • Edinburgh Fringe shows:
  • Back to the 80’s – 2006
  • Little Shop of Horrors and Blood Brothers – 2007 FRINGE AWARD WINNER
  • A Slice of Saturday Night – 2008 FRINGE AWARD WINNER
  • Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story – 2009 FRINGE AWARD WINNER
  • Godspell – 2010
  • I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change – 2011
  • Footloose the Musical – 2013

Past Reviews

Footloose the Musical – Based on the original screenplay by Dean Pitchford, performed by Viva Youth Theatre
Footloose is loosely based on events which took place in the small, rural and religious community of Elmore City, Oklahoma where dancing had been banned for over a hundred years. However “loosely based” are the operative words here as with most, if not all, teen musicals, the story line is pretty basic. Ren, a stroppy high school student is uprooted from his Chicago home after his parents’ divorce and moved to the tiny hick town of Bomont where he discovers dancing has been banned by Reverend Moore, the local preacher, and the Town Council. Being someone who can’t stay still and has to dance Ren is determined to change that. This finally leads to a head-to-head between Ren and the Reverend Moore – or open-mindedness versus narrow-mindedness, which is about as deep as the show gets. This show calls for total commitment from all participants and this is just what we got. This was a three-night run before the show takes off to the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe and therefore the cast was somewhat smaller than one usually sees for Footloose, made up as it was of thirteen young performers many of whom doubled up on roles. This was a very talented cast, full of drive and energy: everyone played their part and worked as a team creating a great performance.
The programme held much information about the individual members of the cast and production team but unfortunately contained no indication of who played which role; being unfamiliar with all apart from two of the performers who I saw in Sound of Music I found this both disappointing and, from a reviewing point, frustrating as I am unable to match name to character. Preacher’s daughter Ariel and friend Rusty, were both excellent and together with their friends Urleen and Wendy-Jo did a fine job; it was easy to believe they were all good friends. In particular I thought Somebody’s Eyes was very well done and Holding Out for a Hero and Let’s Hear it for the Boy were great. Ren was confident in movement and voice which was matched by some fine acting. In particular his scene with the Rev Moore towards the end of the show was powerful from both actors. Good support came from good ol’ country boy Willard Hewitt, Chuck Cranston, Ren’s mother Ethel, Mrs Moore and in particular Rev. Moore. Mrs Moore’s Can You Find It In Your Heart was lovely.
Compliments to choreographer Louise Plummer for some excellent routines carried out with great verve and skill but the cast. A big pat on the back too for the excellent, although at times over-enthusiastic, band. There were some slight technical problems with the odd lighting cue and radio-mics but nothing to mar the enjoyment.
Congratulations to director Dan Schumann and his cast and crew on an excellent show which, I am sure, will attract lots of attention in Edinburgh.
Julie Petrucci
Regional Representative NODA East (District 4S)

Grease the Musical

Book, Music, and Lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey.
Is presented through special arrangement with Theatrical Rights Worldwide, New York
Review of Viva Youth Theatre’s production of ‘Grease’ at the Performing Arts Centre, Soham Village College on Friday 12th July 2013
On a gorgeous summer evening in July, there is nothing finer than attending an excellent theatrical production and Viva Youth Theatre’s ‘Grease’ was no disappointment. The energy, enthusiasm, fantastic choreography and very high standing of music brought the stage alive.
There seemed a massive cast, but the multi-levelled staging was no problem for these talented performers. The leading members of the company, Danny (Charlie O’Connor) and Sandy (Madison Eddy) were ideal, their characters, singing and actions recreating that memorable love story perfectly. Other notable characters were the sparky, spiteful, Betty Rizzo (Laura Day), the goody-goody Patty Simcox  (Olivia Fahy), Kenickie (Aaron Lord) and his amazing  ‘greased lightning’ car, beauty fanatic Frenchy (Emily Palmer) and Eugene Florczyck (Breannain Jakes).  I also thoroughly enjoyed the portrayal of the lively Cha Cha DiGregorio (Mariana Carvalho), Sonny (Dan Lane), the straight-laced Miss Lynch (Cassie Rouse), Marty (Rebecca Storey), Vince Fontaine (Dylan Cardwell), Jan (Zara Minns), Doody (Matthew Buzer). Congratulations must be given to Artistic Director, Michael Kowalczyk, for stepping into the breach and filling the role of Roger after the original actor broke his arm!
Supported by a lively rock band, the singing and dancing rocked, twisted and jived magnificently. Authentic haircuts, colourful costumes and youthful banter and antics made the day. Producers Dan Schumann and Lynn Quelch, Directors Michael Kowalczyk and Jenny Surridge (Music) and Choreographers Ellie Bovingdon and Louise Plummer and their team are to be congratulated for such a wonderful evening’s entertainment.
Rosemary Westwell
Dr. R.J.Westwell (PhD, MA TESOL, MA Ed, B Mus, BA Hons)

West Side Story – Ely Cathedral – 2011

Despite the seasonal chill of the Cathedral, the unique venue contributed a great deal to this exciting production. The large performing space created underneath the Lantern, supporting simple scaffolding, provided a very versatile stage with a variety of access points and several different acting levels. The acoustics enhanced both the quality of the music and the voices of the performers. The strongest challenge of this show is usually getting the choreography right and, in particular, finding and developing sufficient dancing ability within the male gang members. In this Viva were particularly fortunate and, again, the size of the stage helped. The choreographed movements were simple but very effective and the enthusiastic company all performed them with complete confidence. I liked the use of individual soloists for the ‘Somewhere’ sequence and the way in which the large company and different levels were used throughout the whole presentation.

There were some strong individual performances and this was especially the case within the two gangs where the different personalities were well expressed and complemented each other perfectly. Ben Clark as Bernardo, Lee Sherwood as Action, Mikey Kowalczyk as A-rab, Ryan Hutten as Baby John and Simon Jones as Pepe all impressed. Duncan Earlan was also quietly effective in the difficult role of Chino. David Tickner brought a useful gravitas to the role of Doc.

As Riff, Simon Thompson produced a very sympathetic interpretation and acted, sang and danced with great strength and ability. This was a very memorable performance. Similarly, Emily Norman was a perfect choice for Anita. She sang and danced beautifully and extracted a great deal of emotion out of the part.

In the important central roles of Tony and Maria, Matt Johnson and Shellie Baigent made an attractive romantic couple and coped well with the tremendous demands on these characters, both physically and emotionally. Shellie, in particular, displayed a lovely singing voice and both soon established a strong rapport with the audience. However, the strongest overall impression of this production would have to be the teamwork, total commitment and sheer energy of all the young performers which all combined to produce a show of considerable quality.

- Michael G Williamson

NODA Regional Representative : District 1

Smike the Musical - The Brook, Soham – 2012

I must admit to being very excited to be reviewing a production of Smike, a musical very well-known to me.  Having been first captivated by the BBC1 production in the ‘70’s starring the formidable Beryl Reid as Mrs Squeers.  Since then I have been privileged to direct three productions of this wonderful show, one in Peterborough and two at the Kings Theatre in Newmarket.

Based on the original story by Charles Dickens of Nicholas Nickleby, Simon and Roger succeeded in giving the subject matter a very modern feel, enhanced by some incredible musical mixtures of rock, pop and ballads.

The Soham audience were not to be disappointed, as this proved to be a fresh production which would have made the authors very proud.  As the lights went down on the Overture we were greeted by a superb black and white, symbolic set which created just the right backdrop for the numerous different locations.  From the modern schoolroom, Victorian public house, Yorkshire moors and, ultimately, the bleak Victorian boarding school Dotheboys Hall.  Added to the ambience of the settings were the dreary Victorian costumes.  Just right and well done.

Since the formation of Viva, the company has continued to grow; from the highly skilled production, technical and musical team right through to the last member of this talented cast of principals and chorus.  There were many outstanding performances; in particular, Ben Clark with his portrayal of Nicholas Nickleby.  His acting performance as the educated, sympathetic school master was only surpassed by his superb singing voice.  Tilly Lewis as Smike worked really hard with some beautiful singing and will long be remembered for her rendition of the ballad Brand New Day.  Unfortunately, using a mature young lady in the title role did lose the ‘Ah’ factor!  Mollie Shaw as Mrs Squeers was able to create just the right element of fear from the pupils contrasting strongly with the love for her own children and her hateful husband Mr SqueersLee Sherwood also made the character of Mr Squeers his own, although his tendency to pantomime the role for the laughs, for me spoiled what was, in every other way, a great performance.  The Squeers family was complimented by two actors who really understood their characters of Fanny played by Alice Turner and Wackford played by Adam Hebbard. What a shame the props department had not provided Wackford with a constant and necessary supply of food to emphasise the contrast between the gluttonous Squeers family and the poverty stricken, starving pupils.

The rest of the cast was made up with many talented and mostly young people playing a variety of cameo roles and well done to everyone for maintaining the period of the piece.

One minor gripe which did detract from this outstanding production, and which was voiced by members of the audience sitting around me, was the difficulty to hear words from the cast as they were drowned out by the great sounding orchestra!  The right balance is so important.

Having said that, a great evening’s entertainment and thank you for inviting me.

Wallace Wareham – NODA

Review of Viva Youth Theatre and dramart’s production of ‘Fame’ the Musical at the Brook, Soham on Thursday 12th July 2012.

Viva Theatre always comes up trumps. This was a fantastic production of ‘Fame’. What was particularly successful was the way in which the performers were all utterly believable and drew us inextricably into the drama. We felt their adolescent angst, we never felt as if we were separate from the action.

The characters were strongly portrayed, the part- singing particularly strong and the dancing inspiring. Congratulations go to the Choreographer, Louise Plummer, who managed to reflect the emotional drive of the performers extremely well while including movements of amazing agility and moments of exquisite calm and fluency.

Tyrone Jackson (Charlie Ellerton) filled the stage with his eccentric character. Anti- establishment and oozing raw talent he sang and danced like a pro. Joe Vegas (Daniel Lane) was completely uninhibited, his wild diatribes horrifying the girls, marking his role in the troupe of hopeful actors, singers and dancers as the one that was decidedly ‘odd’, but loved all the same.

Carmen Diaz (Shellie Baigent) was the epitome of the show: ‘Fame’, her sparkling talent swamping us with exuberant confidence and determination. She was going to be famous! She created a phenomenal contrast between her arrival at the Performing Arts College as the brash fresher and the humbled addict doomed for failure and an early death at the end.

Serena Katz (Ellie Bovingdon) was one of the best performers to express strong emotions as her relationship with Nick developed. Her singing was particularly impressive, her top notes well rounded and beautiful.

Iris Kelly (Laura Day), the precious ballerina, exhibited charming fragility. Her dancing was particularly inspiring.

Ms Bell (Lisa Bushell) and Miss Sherman (Hetti Wood) made highly credible college teachers. Their struggle for dominance culminated in a magnificent cat fight over how to educate the talented but illiterate Tyrone. Their assertive, school ma’amish characters were wonderfully clear. Their colleague, Mr Myers (Adam Hebbard) was always the quiet voice of support and reason while student Goodman“Goody” King (Charlie O’Connor) wowed us all with his fantastic guitar improvisations in the band. Forthright Grace ‘Lambchops’ Lamb (Emily Palmer) was the feisty drummer of the band and Schlomo Metzenbaum (Lee Sherwood) the much maligned descendent of a musical genius was the pianist. His relationship with Carmen was one of the most poignant of the show. Another outstanding character was Nick Piazza (Ben Clark) and he and Serena sang some of the most moving duets. The nerdy piano teacher Mr Sheinkopf (Phil Evans) and the food addictive student Mabel Washington (Naomi Porter) added delightfully strong extra dimensions to the show.

This was an outstanding production. Director Mikey Kowalczk, Musical Director Graham Brown and the Band, Producer Dan Schumann and the essential crew are to be congratulated for such a moving event so packed with pizzazz.

Sound of Music by Rogers and Hammerstein. Performed by Viva Theatre Company in The Lady Chapel, Ely Cathedral
Directed by Dan Schumann assisted by Mike Rouse.
Viva Theatre Company chose this famous musical for their fifteenth birthday production. Based on a true story of the Von Trapp family I am sure there cannot be many people who are unaware of the story of Maria the feisty young novice nun, who has been sent by the Mother Abbess on a temporary transfer to look after the seven Von Trapp children and ends up married to their widowed father.
I am going to struggle to find enough superlatives to write this review. From the first note to the last the audience was spellbound. The Lady Chapel in Ely Cathedral was a wonderful (if cold) setting for this production. The staging provided two levels which was used to its fullest extent. It depicted a mountain which the nuns and others ‘climbed’ at various points and which opened up in sections, under cover of darkness, to allow the swift and efficient stage crew to make the scene changes. There were some lovely lighting effects too which enhanced it all.
The choreography by Louise Plummer was impressive: nothing was held back and no quarter given to the small area available, it was vibrant and interesting. I must compliment Ellie Bovingdon and Duncan Earlham who were marvellous with 16 going on 17 . The musicians under MD Stephen Kenna were first-rate complimenting the singers well. The costumes were amazing and how the dressers managed some of the fast changes had to be seen to be believed. They must have had a conveyor belt system back stage. It is a long time since I have seen such a huge cast but everyone did their bit.
Shellie Baigent produced an electrifying performance as Maria. I’ve rarely heard singing so good in an amateur show. It was superb and worthy of a West End performance. Equally Anthea Kenna played the Mother Abbess with authority,
confidence and genuine emotion, her powerful rendition of Climb Every Mountain brought the first act to a stirring and emotive close.
Special mention must be made of the Von Trapp children: Ellie Bovingdon (Liesl), Zara Minns (Marta) Tarryn Richardson (Brigitta), Holly Marsden (Louisa), Ben Howard (Frederick), Lawrence Whitworth (Kurt) and (always last!) Lola Macdonald (Gretl). They were without exception excellent. All had good singing voices and all produced good, believable, confident performances. Jenny Surridge played the elegant Baroness Elsa with genuine warmth towards
Captain Von Trapp with none of the overlay of wicked stepmother but with the right condescending ‘don’t touch me’ approach towards the children. Jon Bridgeman played the unbending Captain Von Trapp well but I would like to
have seen just a little more empathy with Maria, it did come out more towards the end but this musical doesn’t give the Captain and Maria much time to build on romance so the attraction needs to be shown as early on as possible. David
Tickner imbued his character of Max with much humour. An actor who knows how to use facial expressions and delivery to the fullest extent.
There was excellent support too from Ben Clark (Franz), Charlie Ellerton (Herr Zeller), Hetti Wood (Sister Margaretta) Duncan Earlham (Rolf), Naomi Porter (Schmidt), Lesley Wood (Sister Berthe) and Emily Palmer (Sister Sophia).
The show was “topped and tailed” with beautiful singing by the nuns: musically the piece was of a very high quality all round.
I am so glad I saw this fabulous production. It was a wonderful evening.
Julie Petrucci
Regional Representative NODA East (4S)


  • Seven Edinburgh Fringe Awards
  • Cambridge Evening News Community Award
  • High Sherriff’s Award

Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service