Oklahoma!

Brunton Theatre

Musselburgh

May 10th-13th

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A little slice of the American Old West has just giddiyupped into the Brunton Theatre, Muselburgh, this week, & boy what a ride it is! Rogers & Hammerstein’s first collaboration together, OKLAHOMA! is a chirpy family feast full of poppy, melody-fueled numbers; witty chitter-chattering in deep southern drawls; & a lively portrayal of love on the farms. This production is a joint affair, between two East Lothian musical theater groups organised by the very capable team that is Peter & Heather Antonelli. In a recent interview with the Mumble, Heather Antonelli described the familial relationship; ‘Musical Youth and Encore are a big family who support each other. For example, our leading man in “Oklahoma” – Kevin McConnachie – helped in Musical Youth’s recent production of “Footloose” by playing the key role of the Rev Shaw, the minister. In return, Musical Youth are helping out Encore by providing some dancers for “Oklahoma”. Also, our leading lady – Jen Harris – is a former Musical Youth member who has now performed several leading roles with Encore. We have several mums and daughters in Encore as well as husbands and wives and even a gran and grand daughter.’ Jen Harris was an excellent Laurey, as was her leading man Kevin McConnachie, who played his Curly with smooth eptitude. Hazel Gray’s grinning Aunt Eller was absolutely hilarious, as was Robert Simpson’s bimblingly eccentric Persian pedlar, Ali Hakim. His ‘wooing’ of Gillian Hunter’s Ado Annie really was something to behold.

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I don’t have enough space to praise everyone here, but it really was a team effort, & a successful one too; the music was great, the costumes, scenery & propwork were authentically atmospheric; & the kids were class! I loved the drummer too, a white-haired gentleman of a certain age who was a highly entertaining watch, perhaps completely oblivious to how cool he looked. Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed this particular OKLAHOMA, & there is something about ‘amateur’ musical theater – I say that only in the technical manner, for this production was far from amateurish – that taps into the raison d’etre of the theatrical tradition. Art imitates life, & when real people play characters drawn from real life, the overall effect is, well, incredibly real.

A picture perfect presentation of an increasingly timeless classic, I shall always remember the moment when Oklahoma came to East Lothian. As we left the Brunton, the light lyrics of OKLAHOMA were fluttering like skylarks in the car on the drive home, & one just feels better this morning for our wee trip to the American West.

Reviewer : Damian Beeson Bullen

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Dreamboats & Petticoats

The Edinburgh Playhouse

May 8-13

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As I sat in the Playhouse last night, basking in the melody-driven cheeky chirpiness of Bill Kenwright’s widely-loved musical, Dreamboats & Petticoats, I had a sudden blast of foresight; that I was watching a classic being born. D&P is not an instant classic, however, but an a witty piece of historical archiving that has captured an era perfectly in its theatrical time-capsule. The epoch is 1961, when fender stratocasters were about to change the sonic highways forever, & female sexuality was about to explode in a way not seen since the Amazons burst out of the Caucasus. As the war babies hit puberty, popular music was being claimed more & more by these massed phalanxes of liberated teenagers, & in youth clubs all across England & America, future stars of the swinging sixties were performing their first gigs.

054_Dreamboats and Petticoats__Pamela Raith Photography.jpgDreambots & Petticoats is jam-packed full of brilliant songs, such as Shakin’ All Over, Da Do Ron Ron & Lets Twist Again, to name just three. These are then performed by a youthful, bouncy cast, & the whole thing felt rather like being in a luscious mountain valley, where the babble of crystal brooks all blended in an invigorating whole. What marks out this musical as special is the fact that the songs are played with extreme talent live on stage by a band who also get involved in the acting. Opera Comique at its most modern best & thrilling to watch at times. The Book is excellent; songwise it is impossible to fail when one can draw on the immeasurable brilliance of the 1960s, while the dialogue is funny in an ‘Only Fools & Horses’ meets Cliff Richard’s Summer Holiday’ kinda way. Although I have seen Kenwright do better with his stagecraft; it was effective enough, with a certainly cool touch coming with a couple of dodgems being driven onto stage to represent a funfair down Southend-on-Sea.

Dreamboats & Petticoats is a nostalgic ride through an amazing period of history; it has all the right songs, all the right clobber & all the right moves. The overall picture has been painted so well that as I stated at the start of this review, D&P should at one time in the deep future be remembered as fondly as we 21st centuryites enjoy Jane Austen.

Reviewer : Damian Beeson Bullen

An Interview with Heather Antonelli

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THE MUMBLE : Hello Heather, so where ya from & where ya at geographically speaking
HEATHER : I’m a primary school teacher by day and a producer and choreographer by night with both groups. I was born and bred in Prestonpans but now live in Gullane.

THE MUMBLE : So you are a co-founder of the Musical Youth Project & Encore, when did you first set these up
HEATHER : Musical Youth was set up in 1992 then Encore was begun after the parents of the youngsters wanted to join in the fun.

THE MUMBLE : What is it about Musical Theatre that makes you tick
HEATHER : Musicals make you feel good! You should come away singing or humming the tunes with a “beautiful feeling that everything’s going my way!” Musical Youth and Encore are a big family who support each other. For example, our leading man in “Oklahoma” – Kevin McConnachie – helped in Musical Youth’s recent production of “Footloose” by playing the key role of the Rev Shaw, the minister. In return, Musical Youth are helping out Encore by providing some dancers for “Oklahoma”. Also, our leading lady – Jen Harris – is a former Musical Youth member who has now performed several leading roles with Encore. We have several mums and daughters in Encore as well as husbands and wives and even a gran and grand daughter.

THE MUMBLE : What do you get personally from watching the youngsters flourish under your wing
HEATHER : Overall, it is rewarding to see the blossoming confidence of the young people who come along to Musical Youth.

THE MUMBLE : Have any of your youngsters continued in the Musicals business
HEATHER : Over the years, we have had several members of Musical Youth and Encore who have performed on the West End stage. Ashleigh Gray was a founder member of Musical Youth and she recently played the lead role of Elphaba in “Wicked” at the Edinburgh Playhouse. It was a great delight to see her talent take her to the top of the musical profession. Also, Sandy Moffat – who coincidentally played the role of Curly in Musical Youth’s production of “Oklahoma” – has performed leading roles in “Jersey Boys” and “Rock of Ages”. Colin Carr, another founder member, and many others have taken the next step to becoming professional actors.

THE MUMBLE : You are just about to produce Oklahoma at the Brunton, why this particular piece
HEATHER : As someone who grew up watching the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, it is such a priviledge being able to take part in them and to share their stories and music with others.

THE MUMBLE : What does Heather Antonelli like to do when she’s not putting on musicals
I love singing and dancing so my spare time (!?!) is filled with more of that including pilates and ball room dancing. This year I have been asked to be a professional dancer in East Lothian’s charity Strictly Come Dancing evening where local celebrities are taught to dance. This year’s charity is Leuchie House near North Berwick which is a place both groups visit every year in conjunction with Longniddry Rotary. Personally, I find the most rewarding aspect of performing is when we visit places like Leuchie House or other care homes and you can see the power of music stimulate memories and it makes people smile and join in. In the world that we’re living in, that is a great gift to give!

Sister Act 

Edinburgh Playhouse

3-15 April 2017

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Directed and choreographed by Craig Revel Horwood, this revamped version of Sister Act opens with Doloris Van Cartier (played by the impressive Alexandra Burke) in the middle of an audition, in funky purple boots, flanked by backing singers in glorious shiny silver. The medley of songs gives us an immediate taste of Alan Menken’s wonderful score. A Tony and 8-time Oscar winner from the world of Disney and musical theatre, Menken impresses again as his lively disco-funk numbers plunge us straight into the Philadelphia Soul scene of 1977, and keep the packed-out theatre rocking for the next couple of hours. Burke makes a perfect Doloris, with her thrilling voice well known to us from X Factor and the Bodyguard, but adds perfect comic timing and sensitive acting to the mix. She stakes her claim to the character, with a persona sexier than Whoopi Goldberg’s 1992 film version. It contrasts perfectly with the solemn celibacy of the convent that serves as her refuge after she witnesses her no-good boyfriend Curtis (Aaron Lee Lambert) committing murder. Doloris, however, certainly meets her match in the staid and stern matriarch of Mother Superior, played solidly by Karen Mann, determined not to let her bring the corrupting influences of the outside world into the convent, not dreaming for a minute that she will transform not just the nuns’ fortunes but their entire lives.

All of the nuns’ characters are strongly defined with great acting. Sister Mary Robert (Sarah Goggin) is the shy, timorous one, who amazes us with her rebellious transformation. Sister Mary Lazarus (Liz Kitchen) makes us laugh, and you can’t help but love Sister Mary Patrick (Susannah Van Den Berg) the jolly, excitable one. Doloris works her magic on each individual in the horribly discordant ‘cat’s choir’ as she expertly encourages them to shed their inhibitions and ‘raise your voice up to heaven’ like a Black gospel choir would. They learn fast, as their traditional hymns quickly transform into a funky jazzy numbers and emerge as full-on disco nuns in sequinned habits with some serious swag.

Seeing as Craig Revel Horwood is also a Strictly Come Ballroom judge, you would expect the dance numbers to be more prominent, but to be fair, we are dealing with comic gangsters and nuns holding instruments. Dance numbers didn’t really kick in until the second act, and partly due to the unusual amount of live instrumentation woven into the play by the actors/musicians themselves. Nuns with washboards, priests with saxophones and gangsters with guitars; ambitious and different but certainly impressive. Some dance numbers were bold and flashy, like Burke’s ‘I’m gonna be a star’; pure disco diva gloriousness surrounded by ‘boys’ in pink jumpsuits, and some were comedy gold. The imagined seduction of the nuns by the gangsters with their cheesy creepy, classically 70’s moves made me laugh out loud. Watching the nuns bend over as they encourage them to ‘Drop that Bible just a bit’, baby, well, Lord have mercy!

Curtis and his ridiculous band of cronies in their leather and flares added to the thin plotline and brought some laughs along the way. Lambert began to impress as he sang, managing a tricky combination of sinister, comic, cheesy and funky as the strength of his voice starts to come out. Sweaty Eddy (sounds better in an American accent) the policeman besotted with Deloris, is strong and multifaceted. Played by Joe Vetch, his awkward character belies a rich, golden voice. He does a touching guitar solo about being dorky and overlooked, preparing us for the unleashing of his own inner disco star. He does a great number in the bar, surrounded by drunks, his lovely notes soaring over the sound of a man vomiting behind him.

The set was excellent; managing to triple up beautifully as church, club and jail with a couple of change of props and some clever, colourful lighting. The symbols in the visuals work really well, with nuns behind a disco ball and a neon red light around a traditional cross  Seeing as half the cast were in identical habits, everyone else’s costumes fully milked the era to treat us to the full range of seventies’ nasty flares and leather jackets to gloriously glittering, over-the-top outfits. Burke managed to still look beautiful with a nun’s habit framing her exquisite features.

It is a dazzling, funny, feel-good show which despite its ludicrous plot, throws us not just drama and the expected romance, but some important messages of togetherness and understanding. As Burke descends the stairs in a stunning white sequinned gown, under a neon cross with kitschy angel wings, belting out another powerful number, you cannot say for a minute you don’t get your money’s worth. Backed up by a strong, talented cast, Burke really has it all, and as she gave her all to us, fully deserved her standing ovation.

Reviewer: Lisa Michel Williams

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An Interview with Craig Revel Horwood

 Sister Act The Musical will be hitting the Edinburgh Playhouse next week

The Mumble caught up with director & choreographer Craig Revel Horwood

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With a CV boasting creative credits of some sort in just about every popular show going and a high-profile place on one of UK TV’s biggest shows, you would think Craig Revel Horwood had ticked off everything on his career wish-list. But there is one show that had evaded his creative input until now and that is Sister Act. As the show prepares to visit Edinburgh, he tells John Bultitude why working on the show is his dream come true, unlocking Alexandra Burke’s comedy potential and who his dream Strictly contestants would be.

All good things come to those who wait. That is very much the motto of Craig Revel Horwood when it comes to his ambition to be part of the Sister Act phenomenon. The feel-good story of Deloris Van Cartier’s journey has delighted millions. First portrayed on the big screen by Whoopi Goldberg, Deloris is the sassy soul singer who witnesses a shooting and ends up in protective custody in a convent where she (and her ‘Sisters’ in every sense of the word) learn some life lessons.

Sister Act was one of the most financially successful films of the Nineties worldwide before becoming a smash-hit stage show which has enchanted audiences across the globe. The love for the show is shared by Craig and it is why it appealed to him so much. He was initially asked to do some work on the West End production but that did not work out for him. When plans for the current tour came up, he jumped at it. Craig recalled: “I was absolutely delighted because it gives me the chance to fulfil a nine-year ambition. The story is really, really good. That is the number one thing for me. The songs are great, the music is great, the lyrics are great and the plot has this wonderful, wonderful heart which is what I love about it.”

Heading the cast is Alexandra Burke, the incredibly successful singer who shot to fame on The X Factor becoming a top recording star. This is paralleled by incredible stage success following a recently critically acclaimed tour in The Bodyguard. Her vocal prowess speaks for itself but Craig, as director and choreographer of this production, has succeeded in releasing another of her talents. He explained: “Alexandra is a natural comedian and people have never seen that side of her. It is really wonderful for her to get stuck into some comedy and it really suits her down to the ground”.

“Of course, this show has fantastic vocals as you can imagine. It is so lovely that Alexandra was available and wanted to do this show. She is also a brilliant mover and dancer and fits into the company brilliantly well. We are doing it as an ensemble piece. Everyone plays different characters. They are actors/musicians so they sing, they act, they dance but they also provide the music because they play instruments. I do have to say though that it is quite an alarming sight watching a nun with a saxophone,” chuckled Craig.

Also in the show is the much-loved and hugely experienced stage star Rosemary Ashe whose West End credits include hits like The Phantom Of The Opera, Les Misérables, Oliver!, The Witches of Eastwick and Mary Poppins.

A high-energy show like this also requires some pin-sharp choreography which is also Craig’s forte although it is not without his challenges. As he says: “The problem is that a lot of the cast are in habits. As well as choreography, you need to do lots of arm-ography too and there is a lot that nuns cannot do so you have to be quite inventive with it all which I am really enjoying.”

This mix of emotions within Sister Act also makes it a real joy for Craig with the great music and the show’s rich seam of storytelling running through it. He said: “We are getting into the world of gospel music which is uplifting and will give you a big smile on your face. The show does have a dark side too and it is quite intense in places with gun warfare, murder, and of course love. It is a really good story and it covers every human emotion.”

So top of Craig’s priority list is getting every single aspect of this show exactly right and ensuring audiences also leave each performance with a big grin. But with this and no doubt other stage projects on the go as well as his TV commitments, how on earth does he fit everything in? Craig laughed: “I have a good PA and my diary is very well organised. I am genuinely booked up three years in advance so I generally fit in everything around all of that. I love it. I love directing and choreography. It is my passion and joy. That is what I will do until the day I die. It is something I can still do while I still have a brain and the assistance of my body.”

And he seems to have his working year sorted out with stage commitments from the spring, Strictly Come Dancing starting in the autumn and then the show’s live tour early in the New Year before a very important 6-week holiday to recharge the batteries and catch up with family and friends in Australia before the whole showbiz cycle begins again. Craig also really enjoys working with the general public teaching the rudiments of dance on a special P & O Cruise before they compete with each other for a title which lets him share his talent and expertise as well as enjoying some time at sea.

And so to Strictly, the Saturday small-screen juggernaut that gets the nation talking and lets us judge whether the celebrity contestants are dynamic divas and dashing devils of the dancefloor, or more of a dad-dancer. While many have competed for the highly-sought-after Glitterball, there are still a few big names that Craig would like to see in action. He said: “I would love to see Simon Cowell on there as it would make great television. Sharon Osbourne would be great too as she is so mouthy. The Royals would be good. Prince Harry? Yes please.”

But what about if they answer back? Everyone knows Simon does not stand on ceremony and gives as good as he gets, and Prince Harry could have Craig sent to the Tower. With a belly-laugh, he retorts: “I like feisty. Why not?” And there lies the bond between the hit show Sister Act and the creative force of Craig Revel Horwood. They are both outwardly a mix of emotions blending humour and drama but boasting an inner kind and strong heart which everyone envies and appreciates.

An Interview with Holly Marsden

This week the EUSOG will be bringing H.M.S. Pinafore coming to Assembly Roxy. The Mumble managed to catch up with its director for a quick interview;

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THE MUMBLE : Hello Holly, so where ya from & where ya at,geographically speaking
HOLLY : I am from a village in Cambridgeshire and currently attend the University of Edinburgh, studying History of Art.

THE MUMBLE : You’ve had quite a busy time in your three years in Edinburgh : performing, directing and producing scores of productions. What is it about the theatre that you love
HOLLY : I have always been involved in theatre – I guess it’s my form of personal expression. Performing and watching theatre is escapism, during which the trials of life can be forgotten about. It is the whole process that I love though: collaborating with like-minded people to create something organic and original that reflects not only what you are performing, whether it is a musical, devised or whatever, but the relationships that have developed over the short period of rehearsal time. You have such a short and fleeting time to build friendships that everybody is instantly open and willing to show their whole selves. I feel I can be myself. I also love how theatrical works stand as a reflection of that historical period, how people felt at that time, and how relatable they are even in the modern context; Pinafore stands as a perfect example of this!

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THE MUMBLE : Can you tell us how Spring Awakening went at last year’s Fringe
HOLLY : Spring Awakening was such a whirlwind. Containing such deep and emotional themes as the show does, the rehearsal and performance period was intense and emotionally challenging. I couldn’t quite believe how much of a success it was; we sold out every night and received many standing ovations. I knew it was a good show because of how it felt, and how talented the director Emily Aboud is, but selling so well was brilliantly shocking. The reviews topped it off as one of the best performance experiences I have had. I credit it to the talent and dedication of Emily and the rest of the production team as well as my fab fellow cast members.

THE MUMBLE : What does Holly Marsden like to do when she’s not immersing herself in the theatrical arts
HOLLY : When not being a drama kid, I work with children with additional needs at playscheme and at a nursery. I also work at a modern art gallery in New Town and as a student ambassador for Edinburgh College of Art. I have a passion for historical documentaries, pub quizzes, glitter and I love having obscure experiences (or exploring Edinburgh’s vegan eats) and laughing with pals. I also like finding excuses to travel as much as possible and pretend to study.

THE MUMBLE : You’re just about to put on H.M.S Pinafore along with the rest of the EUSOG. Why this choice
HOLLY : I have been a member of EUSOG since 2015 and am on the committee as a Fundraising Manager, so am aware of how they run as a society and I guess this meant I felt comfortable enough to propose my vision. EUSOG also has a great and well-established reputation that has been building since its establishment in 1961. Applying to direct a Gilbert and Sullivan, being so well known, felt right as this is my first musical directing experience.

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THE MUMBLE : How will you be presenting HMS Pinafore aesthetically
HOLLY : Aesthetically, this version of HMS Pinafore is set on board a present-day cruise ship so we are going for lots of fun colours and patterns. There are recognisably modern features – expect lots of inflatables, leis and sunglasses.

THE MUMBLE : How is Musical Director Sam Coade handling the band & the music
HOLLY : Sam Coade is wonderful, not only is he extremely talented but he makes me laugh constantly. I think it’s important to have a good relationship with your prod team to ensure things run smoothly. We have worked together to decide on the sound we want to create in order to fit the vision, and Sam has been great in arranging the music to align with this. We have just had the sitzprobe and the band sound amazing! It is going to be a very musically-pleasing show indeed.

THE MUMBLE : What does the rest of 2017 hold in store for Holly Marsden
HOLLY : Looking forward, I am taking a break from the high table and auditioning for Fringe shows (fingers crossed). I hope to visit friends abroad over summer and complete an internship. As for my final university year, I will hopefully be on a committee and start a pottery society and/or Louis Theroux society with my flatmates. But no set plans so I will just see what comes my way!

 

 

The Commitments

Edinburgh Playhouse

Feb 27th-March 4th

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The new Commitments musical comes with high praise from the West End, so like myself and the gentleman to my right, & just about everyone else in the audience, we were all expecting big things! This show is not just a musical, for it stays very true to the film and a lot of the first act is more of a play telling the story of the movie, with a few musical numbers thrown in for good measure. By being true to the film one has to remember the cast were not very good at the start, and have to go on a musical journey to reach their destination. Or as my friend to the right put it “it was alright but they were a bit shite”. I was lucky enough to be accompanied for the evening by two of my very favourite ladies (my Auntie and my 82 year old Nana), who had made the trip through on the bus from Glasgow to see the show. We all loved it and had had a positively splendid night, we thought, sitting with a couple of whiskys later that evening while comparing notes on the show. My auntie said it “just didn’t get going” in the first half. I agreed, and ruminsaed they could have done more, but I understood the reason why there were holding it back. For me, there was a glimmer of hope, as three very bright stars in the form of the ‘Girls’ (played by Leah Penston – Imelda, Christina Tedders -Bernie, Amy Penston – Natalie) bounced on to the stage and quickly went from “shite” to songbirds.

The set changes are slick, and focus on small areas of the stage, which has the effect of drawing you in as the story unfolds as it is narrated by Jimmy, played by Andrew Linnie. As the curtain fell on the first act I politely asked a very kind lady who was sitting on the other side of the steps from me if she would be so kind as to swap seats so that my Nana & Auntie could join me at the front left of the circle.  Now these were good seats and you felt as if “you were right there in the middle of at all,” to quote my Nana, and I would have to agree our position was brilliant.

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Like the title of the band and the movie, you have got to stay committed, and feel the faith that there is a lot more to come. Now I had my two ‘Soul sisters’ beside me, & after a our interval drinks we were all set. Ads the show progressed, although I never saw anyone standing up in the isles and dancing, I think there were a few people dying too! I have been told off from my Nana over the years, but as she told me to “stop moving about, you are shaking the life out of me,” I did have a wee laugh to myself and started a more serene hand-tapping. The 2nd act was a riot, nonstop frolics from start to finish. Everyone stepped up to the plate, and Declan – played brilliantly by Brian Gillian – was on fine form as he belted out all the favorites. I wasn’t sure if he would big enough to fill Declan’s boots when I saw and heard him in the first half, but he absolutely nails it in the second. It is a roller-coaster of a ride with lots of thrills, tons of soul and bags of laughs. We had a brilliant night and thoroughly enjoyed the full thing.

Get yourself on the weekend, relax ,have a few drinks and don’t be afraid to let it all out! You will have a brilliant night!!

Reviewer : Mark Parker

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