Friday, 14 May 2021

Making the Christmas season go off with bang

THE first of a series of festive gala performances will be staged at The Mill at Sonning from tonight (Friday).

Christmas Crackers features West End stars Miranda Wilford and Christian Gibson with a live band of four leading musicians under the musical direction of Toby Cruse.

The set comprises a raft of seasonal songs from Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and Frosty the Snowman to contemporary hits such as Merry Christmas Everybody and Mistletoe and Wine.

There will also be some surprise numbers from well-known musicals.

Toby, who will be playing piano during the performances across eight days, is determined to finish the year on a high.

He said: “Christmas Crackers is a festive gala of seasonal songs and some American songbook standards from musicals of yesteryear.

“There will be general sort of banter between the songs and talking about the year we have had but the idea of the show is to see out the year on a high in the midst of the pandemic.

“We have chosen to add some pop or contemporary songs to channel a bit of energy. It is certainly going to be a bit of a Christmas party and really get everyone into the spirit.”

Miranda has appeared on stage in Priscilla Queen of the Desert, The Rat Pack and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in the West End, in films and is a regular vocalist with big bands.

Christian has appeared in the likes of Chess, Saturday Night Fever and The Producers in the West End and is a performer with The Rockafellas, a Fifties and Sixties tribute act featuring four lead performers.

Toby said a lot of work had gone into the staging of this show. He said: “Miranda and Christian have appeared in many shows between them, both nationally and internationally, and they are also dancers so the audience can expect some movement on the stage.

“I will be directing a four-piece band from a piano. We will have a bass, drums/percussion, saxophone and woodwind.

“We have had to tweak the arrangements a little bit because the big band numbers have had to be scaled down but the process has been fun to do.

“We have tried to retain all the sorts of notes and moments of these songs that you would expect to hear to keep the magic.”

Toby says he is itching to be back performing on stage with an audience again.

“We have had a tough year,” he said. “As well as performing, I run a talent agency and produce and promote live events.

“The pandemic has meant we have had to diversify and we have moved to doing a lot more digital projects, including streaming performances, but it is lovely to be back on stage again.

“Personally, I feel it will be late summer or autumn next year before we can see a potential end to social distancing at live events but expect the live stream offering to continue.

“We are trying to encourage people to have the confidence to get back out into theatres and concert halls and we are seeing a clear appetite for our shows already.

“We produce a number of shows each year for the Mill and in January we are doing a number of cabarets. The Mill is a lovely place to visit and it has won an award for being the most welcoming theatre. Independent venues like the Mill need to be supported by local audiences.”

Christmas Crackers will be staged on the evening of December 18, 19, 21, 22, 23, 26, 29 and 30 at 8pm with matinées on December 19, 20 and 27 at 2pm.

For more information and to book tickets, visit

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