Brigadoom

A Play, A Pie and A Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
5th-10th May

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Stagecraft: five-stars     Book: five-stars     Performance: five-stars  

It’s 1946 and an amorous Alan Jay Lerner (with an eye for the girls) and his song writing partner, a pragmatic Fritz Loewe (with an ear for their voices), are searching for a young singer/actress to play the lead part of Fiona in a new show called Brigadoon. As they are about to call it a day and leave the piano and brick-walled back of stage, in walks a hard-working Motherwell lass now employed as a hat-check girl in New York. Heather (Kay McAllister) apologises for being late for her audition and reveals she has a typical Scottish theatrical background. Her father was a knife thrower.

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As she is put through her singing/dancing paces, Heather begins to point out the anachronisms and absurdities of the plot to Lerner (Ali Watt) and Loewe (Graham MacKay-Bruce), an unwelcome history lesson for the composers, who imagine Scotland as a ‘western Shangri-La’. That this delightful musical comedy by Tony Cox manages to fully develop three characters in just over 40 minutes, is a testament to the crisp writing of the author and the assured delivery of the performers. There’s even an opportunity for the audience to sing along with the finale. As we are prone to say in Scotland, “Jings, that was braw!”

Reviewer : David G Moffat

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The Playhouse on the Fringe 2017 line-up announced

download.jpgAnnounced today – Thursday 1st June – this year’s The Playhouse on the Fringe line-up will showcase the works of five international performers across 56 shows. Helping celebrate seven decades of Edinburgh as a festival city, the programme includes comedy, music and cabaret.

Now in its sixth year and running from 2nd until 26th August, The Playhouse on the Fringe will see return performances by Danny Condon and Michael Griffiths. Following a hit season at Adelaide Fringe, Condon’s Songs from the Black Sheep is a unique comedy providing an insight into family dynamics, set to original music, Chopin and show tunes. Returning after his 2014 sell-out debut In Vogue, Helpmann Best Cabaret Award winner Michael Griffiths takes on Annie Lennox as he charts her career and life from the early days of the Eurythmics to her solo work, with Sweet Dreams.

As well as Australian talent, the venue will also provide the backdrop for American singer songwriter and three-time Grammy nominee, Michelle Shocked with Truth vs Reality. Meanwhile Jason Kravits’ Off the Top! presents an evening of improvised cabaret based on audience suggestions. Following her Edinburgh Fringe debut last year, Carla Lippis’ Cast a Dark Shadow sees original songs and cult classics come together in a reinvention of rock ‘n’ roll in an intimate cabaret style.

Edinburgh Playhouse Theatre Director, James Haworth, said: “We’re pleased to be returning for our sixth year of The Playhouse on the Fringe. We’ve worked with Civil Disobedience to develop a small but dynamic programme that offers Fringe-goers international variety, all within one of the city’s most iconic venues.

“It’s a real celebration of talent in cabaret, music, diversity, performance art and comedy. Including a completely improvised one-man cabaret show and a performance exploring the career and works of Scottish singer songwriter Annie Lennox, amongst others.

“Our Fringe offering, which runs alongside movement and music performances for the Edinburgh International Festival, promises to make for a fantastic August season. All made doubly special as Edinburgh marks 70 years of its world renowned festivals.”

Alongside a programme of dance and music for the Edinburgh International Festival and in addition to the Playhouse’s Fringe line-up in The Boards, throughout August the main stage will welcome performances by the likes of singer songwriter Regina Spektor (3rd August) and renowned illusionist Derren Brown (14th and 15th August). Over the course of two days, Friday 4th and Saturday 5th August, Forth on the Fringe will present this year’s must see acts and performers with a selection of dance, comedy and music.

I Love You In Danish

Play, Pie, Pint

Oran Mor, Glasgow

29th May – 3rd June

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The initial setting for this musical play by Dave Anderson is a fairground strung with coloured light bulbs. An un-named jaikie, played by the author is woken from a melancholy dream to tell his tale. Two ersatz carnival organs provide backing in a mini-musical that carousels from the Great Depression of the 1930s to the aftermath of World War II. A lyric refers to once upon a time – anywhere but here and maybe that is why things move around perplexingly from the Palais in Glasgow (ur yi dancin) to moonlit Copenhagen with an impassioned tango in between. Or maybe the lack of clarity reflects the disjointed memories of the jaikie? IMG_6122i Kevin Lennon, Miriam   Ewell-Sutton.jpg

Christine Bovill plays the chanteuse with vocal authority ably accompanied by an energetic Stasi Schaeffer and Kevin Lennon as the young couple falling in love while the world prepares for war. The play is sung throughout and the songs tackle big, significant themes, social injustice, parental expectations, Nazi atrocities, world peace and women’s rights. Mr Anderson has chosen to work on an enormous canvas, attempting to draw parallels between now and the past in what is a brave, ambitious but ultimately confusing endevour.

Reviewer : David G Moffat

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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Stagecraft: 3  Book: 4.png  Performance: 4.png

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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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