The Producers

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The Pleasance Theatre
Edinburgh
27th November – Saturday 1st December


It was a mild wet and windy night as I cut across the city, not too dissimilar to August Fringe time. The last time I had been at the Pleasance was for a Fringe Production. Tonight was like a step back into August. Having never seen Mel Brooks’ film The Producers before, tonight’s brilliant and very clever cast were going to have to sell it to me. My beautiful companion Natalie was well versed in tonight’s proceedings. The theatre was comfortable. And with a full orchestra warming up, it set the tone for this all singing, all dancing romp through the Third Reich.

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A producer (Max Mclaughlin) and an accountant (Rob Merriam) have set out to create a musical in as bad taste as possible, Creating a Broadway smash when it was intended to be a flop at the box office, for dodgy accounting purposes. A musical within a musical. Titled Springtime For Hitler. Just to piss off any real Nazis, the SS were all camp queens. With a very clever use of a few props and stage lighting, the scene changes were very convincing. Each of the characters was faithfully portrayed, this is dark comedy indeed. Reproduced beautifully and with the perfect song. The accountant’s neurosis was a touch unconvincing, the shouty bits were the only reminder that this was a Fringe show. That all changed once he fell in love with Ulla (Georgie Rodgers). Ullas’s singing voice was fantastic.

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On the whole the subject matter is too disturbing to be light-hearted entertainment. How Mel Brooks got away with it in the first place bewilders me. In equally bad taste as Theresa May The Musical would be. The ironic thing is, Mel Brooks was a Jew. Interestingly, male homosexuality had just been made legal in 1967. The Producers was released in 1968 to a British audience. I wonder how well it went down? In 2019, however, all the cast members and orchestra involved in this Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group production put in maximum effort and gave 100%. Well done everyone.

Review: Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert

Photos: Gav Smart

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Motown the Musical

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Edinburgh Playhouse
Until December 8th

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Motown the musical is a jukebox jamboree, with superslick set changes which painted a picture of the era to perfection. Berry Gordy was the mastermind behind the Motown explosion, with this retrospective being based on his own book, To Be Loved: the Music. The Magic. The Memories of Motown. He is played by the wondrously voiced Edward Baruwa, whose drive, motivation & precise ear for what sells is retold with a series of lyrical & poetic vignettes. His love affair with Diana Ross is a major subplot, with Karis Anderson pulling off a stella & Diva performance. Add these to an extremely strong supporting cast, & of course those hit-hit songs, then we have a consummate mix.

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This is a tale of dreams & ambition replaced by a Shakespearean finale tilted on power & money. All the greats are present; Nathan Lewis depicts Smokey Robinson with youthful cheeriness. Shak Gabbidon-Williams was a marvel as Marvin Gaye, while the boy who played the young Michael Jackson, altho’ not quite to the levels of the original, which made one realise just how brilliant Michael Jackson was in his pre-teen pomp. With its iconic costumes & that eternal soundtrack, one revels in the former glories of superstars, & enjoys a real foot-tappy sing-alonga joy-ride.

Damo

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Saturday Night Fever

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Edinburgh Playhouse
October 23-27 (19:30)

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I love disco me, its well funky, & in the timeless masterpiece that is the 1977 film, Saturday Night Fever, the music & the moves find a cosmic synchronicity. Forty years later it has hit the stage under Bill Kenwright’s umbrella, & we’re winning before we even sit down. I mean, I watch’d La La Land for the first time a couple of days ago, & found the songs quite insipid really, but SNF gets down to the grooves of the Bee Gees at their peak, whose beat-defining soundtrack album is the second biggest seller of all time after Whitney Houston’s Bodyguard.

In the film, America’s biggest secret at the time, the smooth-struttin’ 22-year-old John Travolta, was magnificent, a bar set very high indeed. Luckily for us, the stage representation’s Tony Manero is Richard Winsor; a class act of accent, acting & slightly synthetic but passionately accurate dancing. This was done on a disco floor, which was angled into the aesthetic by a large mirror at the heart of the set. The scene changes were astounding, & the way the action moved about them stunning, & I really loved the bite-size snippets of plot which echoed the movie & kept things trucking.

About Winsor buzzed a great supporting cast, ballooning through a Brooklyn-youth vibe which mixes West End Story & Grease. Above them a band play’d the songs live, which were sang by a Bee Gees tribute group at the very summit of the set. This glossy musical is a pure wonder, pulsing with witty one-liners & sweetening sub-plots, & with a seminal soundtrack, sensational sets, pin-perfect performances & dedicated dancing, Saturday Night Fever is a cut above the rest.

Damo

five-stars

Madagascar

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Edinburgh Playhouse
2nd-7th October

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Dreamworks’ Madagascar movie has turned out to be a modern classic for the kids, a primal story of freedom & adventure full of quirky animal characters &, in the hands of Grammy award-winning George Noriega & Joel Someillan, bursting with funky tunes & meadow-whistling harmonies. Madagascar the Musical is touring the country as we speak, a more than fine production for kids, lets say nine & under – & parent alike. I was loving it, actually, as was my nine year old, but my eleven year-old was proving disinterested in a pre-teen way – that’s a good gauge, & like I said nine & under is the best age.

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The cast are young & full of life – recent graduates of establishment temples such as the Italia Conti, Rose Bruford & the Urdang Academy. The latter produced Antoine Murray-Straughton, who sizzled in his role of Marty the Zebra. Up front beside him was the X-Factor 2016’s winner, Matt Terry, who shared wonderful performance energy with Marty as Alex the lion. We also had the other denizens of Central Park Zoo – the ‘hip-hop’ hippo, the hypochondriac giraffe, the wise, old monkey -, all played impeccably well.

Madagasacar the film is most memorable for the penguin posse, given extremely believable life & vocals on stage by puppeteers, directed beautifully by Emma Brunton. The costumes were also top-grade, & overall the stagecraft was a pleasure to witness. The show is film length – plus an interval – so its just within range of maintaining a young child’s interest, or indeed the young child still dwelling inside the old uns soul. Imagine the Singing Kettle on an epic stage & you’d pretty much get what Madagascar the Musical is all about – great fun!

Review: Damo

Photos : Scott Rylander

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Legacy: Book of Names

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Assembly Hall, Mound Place
Aug 3-26 (15:00)

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It’s easy to be political. Typing in the word ‘Trump’ to the Edinburgh Fringe website yields dozens of results, with everything from a Trump/King Lear mash up to an all-singing, all-dancing musical about his life plastering the results page in orange. These are plays that are political for politics’ sake, and certainly deserve their space in our theatres and in our minds. What The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland have done with Legacy: Book of Names, however, is weave a story of love and pain whilst making the political subconscious, and the play is all the more powerful as a result.

Set in an immigration processing centre on Ellis Island, the 15-strong musical follows the lives of a motley crew of young and old men and women from all over the world as they try to gain permission to live in America. Throughout the piece we see the many characters face the trials and tribulations that come with being on foreign soil handled with depth, wit and warmth. We are immediately thrown into a jaunty opening number that sees the cast being grilled and examined by immigration officers, with dynamic and busy choreography quickly establishing the musical as a feast for the eyes as well as the ears. The lives of individual characters are portrayed well, with the plight of Simon and his pregnant wife and the optimism of chirpy Irishman Finnigan being quickly established amongst many others.

The music is fantastic, with Jonathan Bauerfeld’s score hitting the right note at every turn with lyrics that are both sensitive and witty in perfect doses. A particular song highlight is ‘This Is It’, which delicately handles the pain of a couple being separated and another being brought together with nuance and sensitivity. Here the blocking simply and effectively echoes the parallels of great sadness and great joy that the two couples experience. It feels deeply earnest, with the entire ensemble handling complex subject matter like this with poise and gravitas throughout the hour. Other highlights are Simon’s moving ballad ‘What My Father Said’ that perfectly sums up the pain of leaving behind your country and the fear of entering a new one, as well as ‘Don’t Mind Me’ that humorously sees an older woman and a younger girl empathise with each other’s experience of being continually ignored.

Our show explores what it would have been like to be an immigrant coming through the station; how scary and disconcerting it could be, how heartbreaking being told you couldn’t come through was, and how new connections can be made across divides. It is very much an ensemble show and we have a wonderful cast of 15. We will be using all of their voices to create a big, sweeping musical world for the show
Read the full interview

What the play does so well, however, is examine relationships that are unconventional. Whether it be a son’s love song to his father, an older woman meeting a little girl and connecting through their language, or a sick girl and her sister comforting one another, we see relationships in musical theatre examined that are normally left in the dark. All of this is made yet more moving with the occasional brief interlude where the name and life story of real immigrants who passed through Ellis island is read out: a reminder that there are names and faces behind those who politics then and now can oppress and devastate. This show is a human reminder of those who are put through the ringer of immigration with an impressive score and attention to detail to boot. Though a busy play, it manages to avoid being complicated with the lives of individual characters being handled with warmth and nuance.

Lucy Davidson

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American Idiot

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C Venues Adam House, Fringe Venue 34
12th – 18th August 2018 (13.45)

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Warning: I’m going to shoot holes in this production, and then I’m going to beg you to go and see it. I’m of a generation that approaches terms like ‘rock opera’, ‘concept album’, and so on with a certain amount of trepidation. They seem to embody everything rock is not supposed to be. Even Green Day’s American Idiot has always seemed, in some respects, a bizarre idea, and that’s allowing for the fact that listed amongst its tracks is one of the most recognisable (and greatest) rock songs ever – ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’. So I carried that trepidation with me into this performance.

Footlights’ blurb for this presentation calls it “a non-stop assault on the senses,” and so I was wondering whether it would work in a Fringe venue – not many Fringe venues are anything more than compact. Add to that the fact that a ‘sung-through musical’ relies, for its ability to convince and to carry a story, on the music, the lyrics, and the accompanying histrionics. There is little chance, beyond that, for character development etc., which means it can easily become nothing more than a concert in costume, at best a spectacle. American Idiot has the advantage that Billy Joe Armstrong’s lyrics are written to be heard, not lost in the middle of a rock wall-of-sound; that thrusts upon the stage performers the obligation to deliver them with clarity.

So, did it work on that level? By and large, no. With little in the way of costume change, a black set, and the main props being a sofa in one corner plus three black boxes that were moved around the stage, and a segued sequence of energetic ensemble dance routines, there was absolutely nothing to carry the story along. Having said that, I don’t see how they could have practicably put more into it than that, given the finite limits of what can be done in a Fringe venue. What do you need to know about the story anyway? Boy loses himself; boy’s best friend’s girl has a baby; boy’s other best friend goes to war and gets maimed; boy finds himself. However, I don’t think that not being able to discern a story line from the performance matters much in this context; the blurb claims that the show will have you humming guitar solos for weeks, but let’s face it, if you came here it would be because you are already able to hum all the guitar solos! I’m prepared to bet that most of us were there because we already know and love Green Day’s music, and could join in with all the songs.

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So we were left with the spectacle. There were technical difficulties to that. Occasionally a spotlight and an actor failed to line up, and an empty piece of stage was lit; occasionally a principal’s voice was lost, maybe through a fault in a radio mic. But Anna Steen’s choreography kept the eye busy, and the cast were so in-your-face – at least if you were sitting in the front row – that any such problem was gone before it was too detrimental. The energy of the performance was relentless, even in quiet moments such as the verses of ‘Wake Me Up When September Ends’ I felt as though there was something more going on. Occasionally a voice came out of the chorus line that I felt could have carried a principal role, but actually that added something to the delight of the performance, rather than taking away. Probably the weakest part was the ‘traditional’ encore of ‘Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)’, which actually changed the atmosphere too much. Individual stand-outs: Brett McCarthy Harrop as St Jimmy has a lot of stage-presence. Matt Galloway as Johnny maintained an anguished grimace throughout, like a noh demon-mask. Trevor Lin as the Extraordinary Girl had me at hello.

Now I come to rate the show. The book is by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer, for heaven’s sake! To rate it less than four stars would be a bloody travesty. Given all I have said above, I can’t give stagecraft and performance more than three stars each. I wish The Mumble would allow me to award three-and-a-half overall, because it was on the high side of good, and only a few niggles stop me from rating it as ‘excellent’. So three stars, but pretend it’s more, and take my recommendation that if there are a handful of returned tickets out of the sell-outs you should try to get to see it. Oh, and I think Edinburgh Footlights should do Hair, if they haven’t done it before. They would nail it. I wish I’d caught their Guys and Dolls.

Paul Thompson

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Thor & Loki

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Assembly Roxy
Aug 4-12, 14-26 (19:15)

Libretto: four-stars.png Stagecraft: five-stars Performance: five-stars  


This auditorium has to be my favourite to date. It’s called The Assembly Roxy and it is Roxy by name and Roxy by nature. The seating was a steep slope just like you find at the grandest theatre, except that the Roxy is a fraction of the size, offering great cosiness and intimacy.  As the lights darkened and the musical began, a booming voice introduced the tale of Thor and Odin in Asgard, a great city where the Norse gods abide. There is a tree there, a golden apple tree, which holds the power of their immortality. It is well protected and is the most sacred thing in the heavens of Valhalla. The Giant race who live in one of the nine realms and are perpetual enemies of Asgard know all about the golden apple of immortality.

But this is not a traditional telling of this ancient story. In the initial scene, the inhabitants of Asgard wore funny American football guards in place of what would normally be golden armour. Odin, the Asgard king (Bob Harms), wore a hilarious boxing outfit with his name written where the belt would be. There was an immediate dynamism, both obvious and subtle, between the traditional story where the comedy was understated, and full-on funny. It gladdened me to see and hear all of the story that I myself have an interest in, and I took no offence at the comedy that complimented it so well.

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Thor (Harry Blake, also the author), he of the hammer and mighty strength, was depicted not as a warrior, but as being enamoured of poetry, love and flowers. The show even goes so far as to suggest that he was attracted to another man, and they share a kiss, something to outrage the traditionalists! Tradition was further subverted when we saw Thiassi (Laurie Jamieson), general of the Giant army, threaten war between the worlds, then promptly sit down to play the cello. In fact all the players moved easily between various musical instruments, making the music itself almost like a powerful entity in its own right.

In its own charming way, the final insult to fans of the myths was when instead of being a male actor, the half-Giant Loki was played by Alice Keedwell, a woman with an angelic voice. When Alice sang Loki’s lyrical blues, it was as if it were the most serious play in the world and made us forget we were watching a comedy.

This show was full to the brim of loud, brash, almost alarmingly forceful detail, including energetic battles and a troop of tap dancing trolls. The writing is top notch and the production incredibly well put together, set in front of a cosmic planetary prop that took up the entire back of the stage. The talented cast played their parts to perfection, constantly interacting with the audience and drawing us further and further into the ancient tale. Odin moved with uncanny ease between being a powerful god and adopting a more humble demeanour. And Thor, in his cheap golden jacket, was thwarted by the contrast between his warlike image and his own poetic nature.

The story is one of the oldest on the planet, the well-known Vikings had these visions of gods, Asgard, Valhalla (where they believed they could go if they lived well enough, mostly to be a good warrior) This musical could be described as playing with the whole idea. The coy understanding behind the work is something greatly to be enjoyed. In the end it was Loki who was at the heart of the plot, with the destruction of the golden apple tree of immortality movingly revealing in the final scene a special aspect of her character. This production was engaging right from the whirlwind beginning; developed to perfection, charmingly low budget, crowd teasing, crowd pleasing, spectacular amalgamation of theatre at its very best. If you don’t believe me come in and see it for yourself!

Daniel Donnelly

five-stars