Tag Archives: 2 stars

Review: You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown

A return to the world of musicals inbetween trips top two operas.

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FRINGE RUN: 13/8-26/8 @ 20:10; Paradise in Augustine’s; [£12.00/£10.00]

Who, Where and When: EUSOG; Paradise in Augustine’s; Tuesday 13th August 2013, 8.10pm

The Show

When the advert says “Tony Award Winning Show”, you should always beware that this can be entirely false advertising. In this case, it was the cast in a revival run that won the awards, and not, strictly speaking the show. Frankly, that’s no surprise. Although the script was peppered with the astute comedy you’d expect from a show based on the Peanuts comic strip, it has no real substance.

The show is constructed essentially as a sketch show linking reenactments of the comic strips by theme, and using songs where appropriate to move the action along. There is nothing really innovative, or exciting about the show, and the lack of central plot leaves nothing behind after the laughter has faded. Ostensibly, Charlie Brown goes on a journey to find out if he is a good man, but there is no real development of this theme in the show, and his journey just ends with Lucy telling him he is one before the curtain falls.

None of these failings in the show itself should detract from the fact that the original source material is excellent and as a result is not an unpleasant way to spend a couple of hours. However, the show leaves no lasting impression and is easily forgotten. It’s regular revival can be attributed primarily to the small cast and simple staging, as well as a nostalgia for Peanuts. If there was a deeper point or message it was too well hidden.

The Cast

The EUSOG cast were a mixed bunch. I’m given to understand some of the parts have been double cast, so the second cast might be stronger. I was also given no cast list, and the EUSOG website did not give one either.

The actor playing Charlie Brown did a sterling job in the opening as he responded to various voices off stage. This nuanced portrayal of the unconfident Charlie was sustained throughout the performance. The actor’s singing was good and could be heard clearly for the most part.

The two women taking the roles of Lucy and Sally also did a very good job of characterisation, and both sung well. Lucy’s tendency to sing deliberately off-key was both well executed and a tad grating by the end of the show (though I think this is how the part is normally played). Sally was by far the strongest vocalist to the point where her voice stood out in group numbers.

The other three, Linus, Schroeder and Snoopy, were significantly weaker. All of them sung songs during which some or all of the words were completely lost because of their inability to project sufficiently for the space. Their acting and characterisation were good, but not enough to make up for many words being inaudible.

Overall

The show itself is light and enjoyable, but is by no means Broadway’s finest hour. More importantly, the cast suffered heavily from a lack of microphones on a very deep and acoustically dead stage. This was not the right venue for this show, and it demonstrates the importance of the getting the right relationship between the group, their show and the venue. If you are a fan of Peanuts or like that genre of humour, you will likely enjoy this show, but otherwise I found little to recommend it when there are many other much better shows around.

Notable Songs

  • The Kite – Charlie Brown (Medium)
  • Red Baron – Snoopy (Medium)
  • Suppertime – Snoopy (Medium-Hard)
  • New Philosophy – Sally (Medium)

Rating ♥ ♥

Review: Viva Forever

The evening choice for my London visit, as promised to my sister as a birthday gift, was Viva Forever touted as “a new musical based on the songs of the Spice Girls”.

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Where and When: Picadilly Theatre London, Thursday 13 June 2013, 7:30pm

The Show

I did have a wobble about seeing this show as the reviews have been at best mixed, since the opening in December. Some were pretty brutal. (See the Daily Mail for a selection of quotes, the Guardian for a gently disappointed review and the Telegraph for a complete trashing). However, I don’t think it was quite so bad as to deserve half a star out of five (The Telegraph)!

I’ll start with the show itself, as usual. The real highlight was the book – the script was witty, especially the exchanges between Viva’s mother, Lauren, and her friend Suzi. Some of the songs were also used to great effect, such as “2 become 1” as a duet between Lauren and her new boyfriend Mitch.

Like all jukebox musicals, some of the songs were put in places where they felt forced or awkward. I didn’t think the problem was half as bad in this show as it was in We Will Rock You. However, the big group numbers worked really well, and I loved the duet/trio arrangement of “Goodbye/Mama/Headlines (Friendship Never Ends)”.

There were, ultimately, two big problems with this show. Firstly, the sound mixing was terrible on many of the songs sung as solos. The vocals were left very bare, so the sound felt thin, even though my musician’s ears could hear that the orchestral backing was designed to make up for it. This was noticeably better in the second half, but remained an issue.

The second was the overall plot. I’m not sure that the talent show story was the right way to go. The story itself did work from beginning to end, but it has been done before several times over, and once you’ve seen Charlie Brooker’s fabulous Black Mirror: 15 Million Merits which satirises talent shows, the plot of Viva Forever is saying nothing new.

Still, if you don’t go expecting much, it is an enjoyable evening as as you get into Saunders’ Ab Fab-esque comedy there are some great moments of this show to enjoy. I certainly found myself laughing right through the show.

The Cast

Despite many of the failings of the show, the cast themselves did a great job with the material. The characterisation award has to go to Tamara Wall as the scarily plastic talent show judge Karen. A cliche of cliches, maybe, but Wall pitched her character just right. Sally Ann Triplett (Lauren, Viva’s mother) bounces really well off Lucy Montgomery (Suzi) and it’s in their conversations you can see Saunders’ style most clearly. Simon Slater also does extraordinarily well as Mitch. In particular, I must say that Triplett and Slater responded beautifully to some heckling which made them both laugh. Thankfully, the scene was already meant to be funny and awkward for the characters, so they were able to return to the script without too much trouble!

Unfortunately, the vocal performances of the girls cast as ‘Eternity’ left a lot to be desired. They did well enough, but they weren’t strong enough as a group to really be convincing. Hannah John-Kamen did sing well as Viva. However, she was a rather lacklustre heroine overall, not least because she was playing straight to the comedy of the ‘adult’ characters. Her sub-plot romantic interest (Angel, played by Ben Cura) was never developed enough to be convincing.

Credit must be given to Hatty Preston who was cast in the dire role of Minty who seemed to be scripted to end every sentance saying “hashtag” as though her character could not tell the difference between real life and twitter. However, Preston carried the role off with apolmb. I don’t imagine she will miss her script much after the end of this month though!

Notable Songs:

  • Goodbye/Mama/Headlines (Friendship Never Ends) – Viva/Lauren[/Simone] (Medium, Duet[/Trio]) 

Overall

Since I went in not expecting much, I was pleasantly surprised at some very funny moments in the book, and some really well arranged songs. There were some strong dance performances, and some good examples of characterisation. The overall plot/premise was really the problem here and I think the same creative team could have produced something really special if the plot had been more innovative. I don’t think this show will get a transfer or revivals, but I’m still glad I saw it, and I’m glad I shared one last Spice Girls moment with my little sister (even if she did cringe when I attempted to join in with the dance to Stop during the encore!).

Rating ♥ ♥  (2/5)  [I’d give it 2.5 if I could, but alas, I chose the Fringe 5-star rating system]