We’ve all heard that familiar phrase never work with children or animals — but if one show can prove this wrong it’s Pick Me Up Theatre’s Nativity! The Musical.
A show bursting with spirited children, hilarious characters and one very cute dog called Cracker; it was the perfect start to the festive season.
Nativity! The Musical opened at Grand Opera House York on Thursday 24 November and runs until Saturday 3 December.
It’s been over a decade since the hit movie by the same name was released, and the story is just as joyous and heartwarming in the stage musical — and in this particular retelling.
The show follows the story of teacher Paul Maddens, who struggles to direct the St Bernadette’s primary school nativity due to a combination of overly energetic students and a broken heart. But with the help of his new teaching assistant, the lovable Mr Poppy, and one very big lie, it leads to the creation of Coventry’s greatest Nativity yet!
It features all the fan favourite songs from the film — ‘Sparkle and Shine’, ‘Nazareth’, and ‘She’s The Brightest Star’ — but also features new numbers such as the emotional ‘Dear Father Christmas’. It also brought modern-day references to the script — from the mention of TikTok to Harry Styles, it made it feel more current and got laughs from the audience throughout.
Jack Hooper as Mr Poppy definitely carried the show. From his first appearance giving us a fresh take to the familiar ‘no phones’ speech, to his involvement throughout the finale performance, there were no limits to his energy.
When working with such a large number of children, it isn’t just as simple as giving a stand-out performance — it also means being responsible for guiding the children throughout and dealing with the unexpected. Whether helping cue lines or shouting children onstage when they may have forgotten, Jack stayed in character the entire time, often accidentally creating some laugh-out-loud moments.
Stuart Piper (Paul Maddens) played the heartbroken teacher whose character arc throughout the show was wonderful to watch. His emotional duet ‘Suddenly’ with the talented Toni Feetenby (playing ex-girlfriend Jennifer) contrasted beautifully with the mayhem of the bigger, bolder numbers.
Stuart also had some excellent scenes with both Stuart Hutchinson (Gordon Shakespeare) and Jonny Holbek (Patrick Burns), two expertly played characters. However, the most recognisable performance for me personally was the portrayal of headteacher Mrs Bevan (Alison Taylor), she had the same warm demeanour as in the film and her speech before the Nativity was a special moment — you could see she was proud of the cast performing.
For opening night, we had the privilege of watching Team Poppy but I have no doubt that Team Maddens, the alternating children cast, are just as talented and enthusiastic. The children really are the true stars of the show and were having the time of their lives on the Grand Opera House stage.
If I could I would name every single child individually, they radiated Christmas cheer through their passion for performing — and not to mention their hilarious dance moves, some of which I have no doubt were influenced by their parents sitting in the audience!
A stand-out performance was from sassy star Beau Lettin — with such a lovely voice and confidence from start to end, she deserved her shining moment. Jonah Haig played the charming Ollie, and you were truly rooting for him and his desire to be Joseph. It was easy to feel like a proud parent when his big moment came!
The contrast between the two schools was one of my favourite elements, and the direction and choreography by Robert Readman and Lesley Hill must be highly praised. Whilst the children at Bernadette’s may have ended as the stars of the show, the Oakmoor students were absolutely phenomenal. They embodied the stereotypical privately educated, privileged students perfectly and their performances were outstanding, with synchronicity and determination throughout.
As with all amateur performances, there were a few technical issues and I really wished they had more microphones to support such a fantastic cast. Despite the children giving their solo lines their all, it was challenging to hear them at times.
The set and costumes were up to a professional standard and truly did sparkle and shine! From the opening number where we were greeted with dancing reindeer and Christmas trees, to the final performance where Nazareth came to life — every number was just as entertaining and enjoyable as the rest.
You do not want to miss this heartfelt, joyous musical — there is no doubt you will leave full of Christmas cheer!
Nativity! The Musical is at the Grand Opera House until Saturday 3 December. Tickets start from £22.90 and are available here.