"Amateur theatre has underpinned all the theatre in this country and the chance to act with others is useful even for those who do not want to make a career. When you work in a little theatre it can only be done in friendship and by putting yourself out. There are many wonderful actors in amateur shows who could easily make a living for themselves in the professional theatre . . ."
And indeed that's been the case with a good number of former TOPS members! Here are a few - some who have gone on to become household names, others who are making names for themselves now - and others who still make appearances in our productions!
Bonnie is the youngest daughter of our choreographer, Babette Langford (herself a former professional dancer). She first performed in the TOPS production of Song of Norway in 1969. Bonnie is best known for her television roles in Just William and Doctor Who, her film roles in Bugsy Malone and Wombling Free, as well as countless theatre roles. More recently she was seen in Dancing on Ice.
Scarlett, Babette's grand-daughter and Bonnie's niece, first appeared in a TOPS production in 1994 - Meet Me in St Louis - but since then she has gone from strength to strength, including the title role in Mary Poppins in London and on Broadway, Truly Scrumptious in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the London Palladium and film roles in Beyond the Sea and The Snow Queen.
Scarlett's sister Summer also made her TOPS debut in Meet Me in St Louis and she went on to play other roles in TOPS shows, including Laurie in Oklahoma in 2000. Her professional credits include Hollyoaks and Land Girls on television, while notable theatre roles include Maria in Andrew Lloyd Webber's revival of The Sound of Music and Meg in Love Never Dies.
Two other Strallens are also regular performers on West End and touring stages.
Zizi has appeared in West End productions including eRock of Ages and Cats and mopst recently followed in her eldest sister's footsteps to play Mary Poppins.
Sasi made her professional debut in the tours of Nine to Five and Fame. She is currently at RADA. Both Zizi and Sasi have appeared in TOPS shows over the years, with Sasi following in her sister's footsteps by playing the part of Laurie in Oklahoma in 2012.
And the Langford family connection goes on: Cherida, Bonnie's sister (Scarlett, Summer, Zizi and Sasi's mother - still with me?) was a professional dancer with credits including being in the original cast of Cats, where she met and subsequently married the girl's father, Sandy. Both Cherida and Sandy have appeared in or helped choreograph TOPS shows over the years.
Other former (and current) TOPS members who are regulars on the professional stage and television include:
Dayle Hodge - made his professional debut in Les Miserables and is about to tour in Jersey Boys.
Marlon Moore - toured as the Pharaoh in Bill Kenwright's production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and is currently touring in Dirty Dancing.
Ellie Beaven - played Phil Collins' daughter in the film Buster and has television credits including My Family, The Wild House, EastEnders and Down to Earth. She is currently starring in The Thirty Nine Steps at the London Criterion Theatre.
Jack Harrison-Cooper - currently in Miss Saigon at the Prince Edward Theatre, London.
Giovanni Spano - played Simon Zealotes in the Live Arena Tour of Jesus Christ Superstar. Most recently played Aladdin in panto at the Theatre Royal Windsor.
Ben Roberts - is about to play the Tiger in the tour of The Tiger Who Came to Tea, starting in December in Birmingham.
It's not just former members who get a taste of the professional stage. Our Chairman, Ian Stark, has been touring the UK in a highly praised one man comedy, Tea With The Old Queen, which started at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012 and finishes at Jermyn Street Theatre in the West End in December 2016.
And so to a new generation of performers. Many of our members get their first taste for the stage in TOPS productions and go on to performing arts schools around the country. After completing his training at PPA Dan Stark went straight into a number of professional productions, including Spamalot where he played Sir Galahad. Over Christmas 2016 he is playing Prince Charming in panto and then next year joins a cruise liner for six months as one of the lead performers. Dan's brother Jack is in his first year at PPA. Annabelle Green is currently in training at Laine Theatre Arts and both of whom have played leading roles in recent TOPS productions. Charlie Booker is attending an evening course at Arts Educational, while Chris Taylor is at D&B School of Performing Arts. We wish them and all our friends in the tough world of professional theatre and television the very best of luck.
Being the member of a flourishing musical theatre group can open all sorts of doors . . . why not come and open your own door and join us at TOPS? Who knows where it might lead?
© TOPS Musical Theatre Company 2016