Oxford boasts a vibrant arts scene with year-round theatre, music and festivals. But did you know that Oxford is also home to its very own award-winning teenage musical theatre company? SAM HENNEY shares the history of MYCO

The Musical Youth Company of Oxford began in 1988. Originally called Oxford Operatic Youth Theatre, it was the brainchild of local greengrocer and active member of Oxford Operatic Society, Rod Denton. His then 14-year-old daughter had asked him why there were no musical societies for teenagers. Rod took this excellent question back to his friends at the Oxford Operatic Society – and the Operatic Youth Theatre was born.

An ad was placed in The Oxford Times calling for enthusiastic youngsters between the ages of 12 and 18 to audition and 200 eager teenagers turned up.

The Oxford Operatic Youth Theatre’s first show was a double bill of the Edwardian musical comedy The Arcadians and the one-act Gilbert and Sullivan opera Trial by Jury at Magdalen College School. The shows sold out and the group needed to find a bigger venue for future productions. In the years that followed, the young company performed Bugsy Malone, The Boyfriend and Guys and Dolls at St Edward’s School.

Still, a bigger venue was required so, in 1992, they bit the bullet and took Annie Get Your Gun to the Oxford Playhouse. It was to be the first of many hits.

Known as the Musical Youth Company of Oxford (MYCO for short) since the mid-90s, Oxford’s talented youngsters have earned a reputation for creating theatrical magic way beyond their years.

The National Operatic and Dramatic Association recently awarded MYCO a prestigious Youngstars Award for Best Youth Production for its 2017 production of The Hired Man, directed by ex-member and now professional producer and director, Ed Blagrove. MYCO’s 2018 production of the groundbreaking rock opera Godspell received a glowing five-star review from The Oxford Times for its “divine display of young musical talent”.

The Oxford Times:

As older members move on to Higher Education, drama school or the world of work, MYCO welcomes new aspiring performers in their place. Auditions to join MYCO happen every April and are open to all teenagers with a love of, and talent for, musical theatre regardless of background or experience.

Many former members have gone on to pursue professional acting careers including Emily Berrington who starred as Niska in Channel 4’s Humans and the title character in the BBC Christmas special of The Miniaturist. This year, Shak Gabbidon-Williams, who left MYCO in 2015 to attend drama school, made his professional debut as Seaweed in the UK tour of Hairspray and it was recently announced that he will play the legendary Marvin Gaye in the forthcoming UK tour of Motown the Musical.

Former members look back on their MYCO years with affection. Ashley Harvey (noted in MYCO history for playing Javert in Les Misérables with his arm in a sling because of a fall at the dress rehearsal), and currently in the Horrible Histories tour says “Since leaving MYCO I have gone on to perform in and direct several professional shows all over the world including the West End. Being a member of MYCO was fantastic. It gave me phenomenal memories, some life-long friendships and ‘on the job’ training for being a performer.”

MYCO continues to stage a major West End or Broadway musical every year. It takes over seven months of rehearsals to perfect each production but the hard work and dedication pays off.

The young company is currently in rehearsal for next year’s show, the high-energy romantic comedy musical, The Wedding Singer. Set in 1985, 15 years before the oldest member of MYCO was even born, the cast are having great fun reimagining the days when hair was big, collars were up and a wedding singer might just be the coolest guy in the room. Nicola Pratley, who aged 13 played Dorothy in MYCO’s 2002 production of Wizard of Oz, will direct the show.

Liz Nicholson, the current chair of MYCO, is extremely proud of what MYCO has achieved. “Throughout the past 30 years, the spirit of MYCO has remained intact. Our courageous young members continue to break boundaries, take risks and work tirelessly for excellence. Friendships are made and young talent is nurtured.”

The Oxford Times:

Review of 1992's Annie Get Your Gun by The Oxford Times's Christopher Gray

MYCO will celebrate its 30th anniversary with a Starmaker Gala Concert at Oxford Town Hall on Saturday, October 20.

The current company of 60 members will be joined on stage by more than 50 former members who are travelling from as far as the Juilliard School in New York to take part in the celebration.

The evening will feature a host of showstoppers from MYCO’s past and present including songs from Sweet Charity, 42nd Street, Guys and Dolls, West Side Story and Les Misérables.

MYCO’s resident director duo Julie Todd and Guy Brigg MBE will direct the concert.

Here’s to the next 30 years!

  • Tickets from myco.org.ukThe Oxford Times: