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.

IMG_8013i Charlene Boyd, Ryan  Fletcher.jpgWhen we meet Carmen walking the mean streets of Saturday-night Glasgow, back in the 1950s, she tunefully informs us she is “Herrie Mary from the Gallowgate”. She is also seeking the convenience of a secluded lane in which to urinate. (Drink has been taken.) Happily she finds one, squats in a corner and goes about her business. Her actions are seen (and heard) by a young policeman Donald, recruited from the Highlands to keep the city streets safe. With his heart full of love for his mother and his church, he feels he has no option but to take down her details for committing such an offence. Although extremely straight laced, he finds something in this foul mouthed beauty intriguing, could he be the one to save her? He has a rival for her soul in Glesga Millio, who believes he is the man Carmen is looking for and has the distinct advantage of being in possession of a half bottle, when Carmen has a right drouth on her. What’s a girl to do?

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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Edge Of The World – A Digital Detox Musical

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A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Mini Musical
Oran Mor, Glasgow
18th-23rd June

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Are you in love with your tech, Android-appy or iProne? Are you Microsoft in the head for your device; is it the Apple of your eye? If so, you might require a digital detox, somewhere a mobile signal just can’t penetrate – like up a close in Glasgow’s Hyndland, or on a remote, windswept Scottish isle that’s the last land-stop before Canada.

IMG_7952ii Isabelle Ross, Katie  Barnett, Simon Donaldson.jpgThis is where American, motormouth banker Lindsay (Simon Donaldson) finds himself, with fellow retreaters, writer Annabelle (Isabelle Joss) and web fantasist Charlene (Katie Barnett). All three have diverse problems. Lindsay is a wheeler dealer, barking orders down the phone to financial institutions all round the world, using cocaine to fuel his 24/7 life style. Annabelle can’t get through a meal without constantly checking her phone, endangering her digestion and marriage. Charlene is a Govan lassie who suffers from a sort of Stockholm syndrome – she presents herself on the internet as a glamorous, exciting, Swedish girl. How will they cope for an entire week, having surrendered their cellular gadgets to Hamish (Richard Ferguson), the organiser of the group’s rehabilitation? Will fresh air and porridge work their wonders?

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Richard Ferguson’s mini musical has a tangled web of a story. We are introduced to elements such as the island’s Norse history and dress code, its Julian calendar and the practise of chanting Om, none of which advance the narrative. If it’s a serious look at the problems of virtual realities then there’s nothing new being said here. If it’s a comic take on addiction to technology, there’s precious little in the way of wit or humour. The songs are far from memorable with a couple having a distinctly Sondheim feel to them.
The composer provides piano accompaniment throughout.

Barnett, Joss and Donaldson all sing well, both individually and when harmonising. It is their combined energetic efforts, which bring to the production what little life it has.
Not likely to go viral.

David G Moffat

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Melania

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A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Mini Musical
Oran Mor, Glasgow
11th-16th June

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Melania Trump is not a happy FLOTUS. The First Lady of the United States does not sleep well, as she can hear the obsessive tweeting of her husband’s stumpy ‘Kong-King’ fingers pumping away all night, just down the hall. Between that and the 45th president’s other women, she’s had enough of the White House. But there is no silver bullet to her problems, certainly not in the pistol she briefly considers using on herself. Luckily the spirit of former, redoubtable First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt has been keeping an eye on her and with the savvy guidance of glam ghost, Jackie Kennedy, Melania’s future might end up looking brighter than her husband’s perma-orange face.

IMG_7859i FRANCES THORBURN, KIRSTY  MALONE.jpgKirsty Malone’s Melania Trump is highly strung, full of nervous regrets, her heavily accented voice working beautifully with the comic songs she performs. Her dearest wish is to get back to the ordinary, simple life of shopping all day with her girlfriends. Margaret Preece’s Eleanor Roosevelt likes girlfriends too. She is self contained, erudite, hooked on current affairs, a sort of can-do librarian. Her lack of fashion flair is mirrored in the restrained, often clipped delivery of her songs. 12 years in the White House has left her with few allusions about the perfidious nature of men. Frances Thoburn’s Jackie Kennedy has pillbox hat glamour. A style icon, she is what she wears. A woman around when the 60’s began to swing, her voice resonates with upbeat vitality.

IMG_7891i MARGARET PREECE,  KIRSTY  MALONE, FRANCES THORBURN.jpgHilary Brooks and Clive King have written a highly entertaining musical play with songs full of humour and irony that not only entertain with current observations but cleverly reflect the eras of the two former First Ladies. Jackie takes us back to a pre-Beatles, sweet American, big-pop sound, for a song about her love for JFK during the 1960’s Missile crisis (Cuban heels and Russian spies, I lost myself in his blue eyes), while Eleanor sings of the Great Depression (The grapes of wrath made lousy wine) with stark, slow rolling, piano accompaniment. With plenty of jokes, surreal developments and the happiest of endings, this is a treat well worth seeing. Gr8, as tweeting thumbs might have it.

David G Moffat

five-stars

 

The Thinkery

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A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Mini Musical Season
Oran Mor, Glasgow
04-09 June, 2018

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Socrates, as we all know, was a chap given to rumination. He encouraged young men to have contemplative thoughts while musing on the ever changing shapes of clouds. The technical term we use for seeing pictures in otherwise amorphous shapes is pareidolia, appropriately enough from the Greek, para meaning something faulty or wrong and eidolon meaning image or form. According to ancient Athenian playwright Aristophenes, Socrates taught this philosophy at The Thinkery, which does exactly what it says on the amphora.

IMG-7831i.jpgAnd The Thinkery is where young spendthrift Pheidippides finds himself, having fled from a seriously peeved money lender intent on skewering the wastrel debtor, in lieu of payment. Socrates mistakes Pheidippides for a curious student and introduces him to the philosophy of the clouds and the three rules of life. The clouds can speak and offer advice, which is really handy and soon the youth is heading back to Strepsiades, his worried dad, confident he can logic his way out of the family’s liabilities. The mouthy, house slave has her doubts. All depends on whether the stop-out adolescent can become a citizen and take responsibility for his own actions.

Jimmy Chisholm’s Socrates is full to bursting with oratory, striding the stage like a wee colossus then stopping, sandals wide apart, manspreading in his toga, while tipping the audience a knowing wink. Sandra McNeely’s slave provides grounded, streetwise advice to the household and her cloudy Zenobia with the masked, cumulus face attempts to influence her sybarite son from beyond the grave.

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Nathan Byrne’s Pheidippides is gloriously gangly with all the misplaced confidence of youth, glibly avoiding consequences, happy to be a drain on the Bank of Dad. Tom Urie’s Strepsiades doesn’t have his troubles to seek. He does good gloom, missing his dead wife and burdened by worries about his dwindling finances, due to his errant son.

All four actors whether solo or together, are in fine voice when they sing and appear to be enjoying the performance as much as the audience, i.e. a great deal. Brian James O’Sullivan’s funny, musical play is full of delightful, knowing anachronisms (Nike is the god of victory, not trainers). There’s much to enjoy here, from Keystone Cop type chases around the stage, to a misunderstood dialogue between father and son that brings to mind the Abbott and Costello ‘Who’s On First’ routine.  The songs are good and drive the plot which is as relevant today as it was two and a half millennia ago, while Annette Gillies’ set, a collection of flat Ionian columns in front of a screen of moving clouds, captures the classic Hellenic atmosphere simply but perfectly. A super, Glaswegian Greek comedy, bearing gifts.

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