Chichester Festival theatre cancelled its scheduled summer productions for the first time in its history as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The theatre’s traditional big musical is now rescheduled for 2021 but three of the stars of that South Pacific revival will perform in an outdoor August bank holiday concert also featuring Omid Djalili, Gabrielle Brooks, Giles Terera – who played Aaron Burr in Hamilton – and Chichester’s artistic director himself, Daniel Evans.
“Thankfully I’ve got the next six weeks to tune up my vocal cords,” said Evans, who won two Olivier awards for best actor in a musical before running Sheffield Theatres and took over at Chichester, in West Sussex, in 2016. He will be directing South Pacific next year. “Even though we can’t open the Festival theatre’s doors yet, we felt it was really important to offer our audiences something uplifting to look forward to this summer,” he said. “We’re very lucky to have both a glorious park and a big car park on our doorstep – so it was a no-brainer to take advantage of both of them, with the sterling support of Chichester District council, and to work with our local independent cinema, Chichester Cinema at New Park, to put on a drive-in cinema.”
A raised stage will be erected next to the Festival theatre in Oaklands Park for the theatre’s Movies and Music Weekend on 28-31 August, with plots marked out for audience groups of up to two people and up to six people. Djalili, who starred as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof in Chichester, will introduce songs from West Side Story, Wicked and The Sound of Music, as well as a medley from South Pacific performed by Gina Beck, Rob Houchen and Julian Ovenden, “to give audiences a taste of what’s in store for next year”.
Next year Evans hopes to reconvene the three of them with as many of the original company as possible for South Pacific, which features some of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s best-known songs, including Some Enchanted Evening and I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair.
The drive-in cinema, in Chichester’s Northgate car park, will screen musicals including Singin’ in the Rain, The Greatest Showman and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Other events over the weekend include Hugh Bonneville reading Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came to Tea and Mog the Forgetful Cat, accompanied by a puppetry performance. “We’re Hugh Bonneville’s local theatre so we’re thrilled he’s coming to entertain families by reading Judith Kerr’s immortal books on bank holiday Monday,” said Evans, who suggests that the theatre will be able to stage further productions later in the year.
Last Thursday, the government gave permission for outdoor theatre productions to take place with the necessary safety measures in place. A number of concerts featuring stage musical stars performing remotely have been streamed in recent weeks. On Wednesday, Terera will host a free online concert in honour of Harry Gabriel, who will be celebrating his 40th anniversary as the Shaftesbury theatre’s stage doorkeeper this year. Judi Dench, Anthony Hopkins, Amanda Holden and Chita Rivera are set to appear.
• The Music and Movies Weekend takes place in various venues, Chichester, 28-31 August.