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

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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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The Band

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Edinburgh Playhouse
10th-14th July 2018

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I was looking forward to this production but was not expecting such a fine example of musical theatre, Quite possibly the best stage production for the genre I have ever witnessed. Not so much about the Band, but a story about fans of Take That.

We took our seats, which were brilliantly positioned, 26S and 27S, central stalls. Literally the best seats in the house. A massive telly was projected onto a massive sheet, upon which was a Ceefax page. Dated 09/09.1993. This is when the story opens with a 16-year-old girl explaining her love of “Take That” and how she and five of her girlfriends all had their first concert experience together. Each of the girls gave a spectacular vocal performance. there was more than one moment that my eyes filled up, a true indication of how brilliant this was. Each member of the audience was then spirited back to 1993 to remember what they were doing at that time.

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The Playhouse was heaving with middle-aged ladies, & it was obvious that they had grown up with the songs performed by The Band.  Replicating the vocal performance of each of the boys in Take That, each member of this very slick tribute act had won his role by entering a TV talent show, called Let It Shine. The vocal performances were brilliant. On top of these the stage presentation and overall production were quite simply mind-blowing. It was easy to see and understand why this piece of musical theatre has become the smash that it is.

But there is more. The story of the five girls moves on to them having all grown up and moved on through life, 26 years later. One of the girls wins a radio competition to see Take That in Prague. Dutifully inspired, she contacts the girls (now mature women) to invite them on a ladies’ adventure, It was a superb script. This within itself would have made a moving and entertaining performance, and I am quite sure that this is going to become a movie in the not too distant future. Every audience member recognized a bit of themselves in the characters. It was massive, it was bold, and with our replica Take That performing songs that everyone was singing along to, the capacity audience relished every moment! Feel Good Theater At its Very Best.

Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert

five-stars

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Pure Freezin’

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Lunchtime Summer Panto
Oran Mor, Glasgow
2nd-21st July

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Mr and Mrs Punch may be dusting off the sausages, preparing to entertain in coastal sunshine all around the country but in Glasgow’s west end ‘tis the season to be jolly. It’s July and the Lunchtime Summer Panto is back at Oran Mor. This year things are heating up and cooling down as the scheming Mayor of Cumbernauld reveals his nefarious plans to go for the big one, the pinnacle of political ambition – Lord Provost of Glasgow. Trouble is the city’s just elected one, mysterious, beautiful Elsie, who appears to be cauldrife, as we say in these parts, for why else would she need to wear gloves when the sun is totally scorching?

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Her doting mother, Widow Swanky, has little time for her other daughter Annie, who has never been forgiven for producing an embarrassing, bobbing evacuation in the local swimming pool when young. Starved of love, will Annie fall prey to the easy charms of the sleazy Mayor and unwittingly help him in his dastardly scam to dodge democracy? Perhaps gabby snowman, Wee Gnaff, can be persuaded to help things slide towards a happy ending? Let’s hope so.

George Drennan plays a grand dame, blonde, rude and full of… herself mainly. Teasing the audience with winks and innuendos, gloriously cruel and dismissive of Annie (whose psychoanalyst’s fees must be enormous), if Swanky is a widow, then surely it’s because her husband topped himself. Hannah Howie’s Elsie provides a softer, sweeter ingredient to the panto, giving plenty of unrestrained, diva warbles to the big song that isn’t, ‘Let It Go’ from the movie. Walt disnae want them to use that one.

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Rebekah Lumsden’s Annie lives in the shadow of her enchanting sister. In her wee football strip she’s as determined and plucky as Cara Delevigne’s eyebrows. With unflagging energy and affection for her big sibling she will even travel to the murky depths of Glasgow’s south side, to save the day. Tom Urie’s Mayor is an unabashed conman in a red tartan suit and huge bowtie reminiscent of a 1950s holiday camp comedian. A sly, sleekit bad-yin, he’s prepared to sacrifice a vulnerable young Annie’s feelings for a position of power… and a bit of a laugh. Hiss boo.

Written and directed by Andy McGregor this summer panto, with its slick interchanges between cast and audience, original songs, dash or two of hilarious Glesga coarseness and traditional sing-along finale, is a hot ticket for the next three weeks.

David G Moffat

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Cranhill Carmen

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A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Mini Musical
Oran Mor, Glasgow
25th-30th June

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In Edwardian times, when out and about, a lady wore her hat. Not so to do, was frowned upon and any woman who wantonly displayed her locks in public might be given the pejorative term ‘hairy’. In Glasgow she would have been known as a ‘herrie’. Over the years, ‘wee herrie’ evolved into a set phrase that was used to describe a female of doubtful virtue.

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Charlene Boyd’s Carmen fizzes and bubbles with street smarts. The dress, lips and flower in her hair are all scarlet, indicating passion and danger, both of which she revels in. Innocence and illusions have long since been stripped; she is a woman who knows exactly what men see in her. She sings, struts and spouts bad language beautifully.

Ryan Fletcher’s Millio fancies Carmen something rotten and sets about to win her with wide-boy patter. He’s full of swaggering self belief, dodgy compliments and smutty innuendoes. Ewan Petrie’s Donald is a wistful young man from a sheltered background who is appalled and fascinated by Carmen in equal measure. His light voice brings a plaintive innocence to his sentimental songs that contrast with the brash, gritty reality of the other two characters.

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Benny Young’s musical play is a treat. Though based on the Bizet opera there is a fresh take on the story, further enhanced by staging it in Glasgow. The opportunity to use the local parlance has not been abused; each colourful, stinging retort is believable, true and necessary. The songs are well crafted and when comic, really funny. Seldom has foul, abusive vulgarity been put to such excellent use. This Carmen is a rebellious burd, well worth catching.

David G Moffat

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