Tag Archives: 4 stars

Review: [title of show]

This is the first of my reviews for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2013!

Title of Show

FRINGE RUN: 1/8 – 26/8 (not 12) @ 15:10; Assembly Checkpoint (322); [£10.50/£8.50]

Who, Where and When: Patch of Blue Theatre, Assembly Checkpoint, Thursday 1 August 2013, 3.10pm

The Show

[title of show] is a show about writing a show about writing a show. You might want to read that twice… and yes, it is a bit surreal. In fact, my friends and I were not sure if it wasn’t too surreal.

The dialogue is very cleverly constructed to model real conversations, phonecalls and events which happened as the show was created. To the best of my knowledge, the show is more or less true to life, as the show did open at the New York Musical Theatre Festival, and then off-Broadway at the Vineyard. The script and character names have also been adapted, changed and expanded to chronical the play’s journey.

There were some very funny moments, and I loved the way the scripted interrupted songs, and questioned itself. Some of the songs were excellent – quite possibly the best thing in the show. The theatre geek in me particularly loved “Monkeys and Playbills” – a song made entirely of the titles of Broadway flops.

The frustrating thing about this show is that its postmodern and deconstructed nature is what makes it both brilliant and also terrible. It can be difficult to engage with at times and lacks some of the character and plot engagement that makes musical theatre so addictive.

The Cast

In stark contrast to the show itself, the cast of this production were brilliant. They threw themselves right into the action and were not afraid to make fantastic use of space and physicality. Both Robbie Towns (Jeff) and Ricky Johnston (Hunter) captured their characters’ identity as gay Broadway writers perfectly – it would be easy to “over-camp” these parts. The girls (Carley Stenson as Susan, Jamie Lee Pike as Heidi) also did a brilliant job of showing the transition from strangers to friends throughout the show.

The sheer enthusiasm of the team was utterly infectious and this alone made what might otherwise have been a mediocre show an enjoyable way to open this year’s Fringe experience.

Notable Songs

  • Monkeys and Playbills – Company (could be sung as a solo) (Medium)
  • Die Vampires Die – Susan (Hard)
  • Secondary Characters – Heidi/Susan (Medium, Duet)

Overall

The cast were the real stars of this show, and they were marvellous. They are, of course, pros, so that helps. I immensely enjoyed many of the theatre in-jokes, but for a musicals newbie, much of the comedy comes from the physical movement and the judiciously sliced up script which is interspersed with voicemails, sudden stops and backstage scenes that reflect the nature of the plot. I probably wouldn’t both to see this show again, but I am glad I have seen it and I’m confident any and all theatre aficionados out there will enjoy it. If you can get in on the Half-Price Hut when it opens next week, so much the better.

Rating ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ (4/5) [Show 3, Cast 5]

Review: Billy Elliot the Musical

As part of my trip home to see my family in England, I was lucky enough to be able to pop into London to see a couple of shows. First off, the matinee choice:

 

Where and when: Victoria Palace Theatre London, Thursday 13 June 2013, 2:30pm

The Show

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this show as I’ve seen the film which inspired it, but had not heard much about the musical other than about the rigorous training required for the child actors. It very quickly becomes apparent that this is a show which casts dancers who sing. I was overwhelmingly impressed by the choreography throughout, though in particular the “Solidarity” scene will be the one I remember. Police officers and striking miners dance their war of attrition while young ballet girls weave in and out of them. There are some longer dance scenes for Billy which, while impressive, did not do much to forward the story.

The music has been written in a way that retains a traditional musical theatre sound while drawing on the sound of 1980s music. There are a few solo song numbers which convey beautifully the tense and fractured relationships between members of Billy’s family, as well as Billy’s personal grief at the death of his mother prior to the start of the story.

I will freely admit to finding the opening number of the second half “Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher” more than a bit uncomfortable, after her death earlier this year, but I think that was an issue of timing more than anything. I did read on Wikipedia that: “On 8 April 2013, it was announced that Margaret Thatcher had died at the age of 87 of a stroke and there was uncertainty whether the song ‘Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher’ would be included in the performance that day due to the lyrics including: “We all celebrate today ’cause it’s one day closer to your death”. Director Stephen Daldry said that after “much discussion”, the audience were given the choice to decide whether the song should be performed and, with only 3 audience members voting against it, the performance went ahead as normal.”

The Cast

The adults in this cast were very good (frankly, it’s the West End, they should be). The particular highlight for me was Ann Emery in as Grandma, who has the wonderful solo “Grandma’s Song”. Anna Jane-Casey also does brilliantly as the insecure but forceful Sandra Wilkinson. Both Deka Walmsly as Dad and Kevin Wathan as Tony also carried off their parts brilliantly.

It’s obvious that Billy (I believe it was Tade Biesinger on for our performance) is cast almost entirely on dance ability rather than singing or acting, and the acting was the weakest skill by miles. Zach Aitkinson as Michael was much better, but the role of Michael doesn’t require so much dancing, and needs greater acting skills than Billy. The wee, nameless, boy who opens the show did a marvellous job, especially given he couldn’t have been more than 6 or 7.

Overall, I would say that the energy did feel a little flat compared to other shows I’ve seen. When you’re playing eight shows a week, it’s not surprising that the medweek matinee doesn’t quite sparkle as much as it should do.

Notable Songs

  • Grandma’s Song – Grandma (Hard)
  • Born to Boogie – Sandra Wilkinson (Technically an ensemble, but could be a med-hard solo)
  • Electricity – Billy (Easy-Med)

Overall

I really enjoyed this show, and I expect it to have a good long time to run yet. I do wonder how well it plays internationally, but it seems that overseas transfers have all done well, so the book clearly does a good job of explaining the British politics!

I wasn’t outright blown away by this show, but I feel we made a really good choice and I enjoyed the story thoroughly.

Rating ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ (4/5)

Review: Ghost the Musical

This is the first of what I hope will be a regular series reviewing the myriad of musical and theatre performances I see in Edinburgh. I’ll try to give a review of both the show as a whole, and then the particular cast I’ve seen, along with a star rating. There’ll also be a list of the most useful and interesting songs for exams and auditions as well, since this is, ultimately, a teaching blog.

When and where: Edinburgh Playhouse, Tuesday 14th May 2013, 7:30pm

The Show

I will open this review by admitting to having seen Ghost before. I was lucky enough to grab a standby ticket to see it in it’s original run at the Picadilly Theatre in London in December 2012 and I loved it. When I heard there was going to be a national tour, I had my ticket broker (well, my friend with an ATG Theatre Card) get us front row seats for the Edinburgh run. It was worth it.

Ghost is, as the title suggests, an adaptation of that classic Patrick Swayze film from the early 1990s. Unlike another Swayze/musical adaptation, Dirty Dancing, the creative team behind Ghost were, well, more creative. The show features more than a dozen original songs, wonderful incidental music, and still has room for a rendition of Unchained Melody. Dave Stewart (of the Eurythmics) and Glen Ballard (also a “pop song” writer) have shifted genre from pop into music theatre seamlessly and their score is what really makes this show brilliant. Despite a change of cast and director from the London production, their music still had me in tears at the heartbreaking “With You” sung by Mollie and laughing away at Oda Mae Brown’s numbers “Are You a Believer?” and “Outta Here”. There are a number of wonderful examples of counterpoint where Sam, Mollie and Carl are given different melodies to sing over one another such as “Suspend My Disbelief/I Had a Life”.

The book was adapted by Bruce Joel Rubin from his own screenplay, which means the story is still as moving as the original film without there being any major changes to the plot.

Special note should also be made of the designers (Rob Howell, Hugh Vanstone, Tim Lutkin and Jon Driscoll) who used wonderful LED screens to show us images of everything from downtown Brooklyn to the inside of Subway carriages. Paul Kieve is the Illusionist (what a brilliant job!) behind the myriad of visual tricks used to enable the Ghostly characters to walk through walls, and appear to move objects while invisible to the audience. The sleight of hand used to swap a single actor for a corpse and a ghost at the moment of a character’s death was masterful – even from the front row I couldn’t see exactly how it was done!

The Cast

The cast had some very big shoes to fill, and they did an admirable job. I certainly wouldn’t imagine anyone seeing this show for the first time would be disappointed. Stewart Clarke (Sam Wheat) has a hugely powerful voice which was used to great effect as Sam struggled to come to terms with his new ghostly state. I enjoyed his new, more jovial take, on the living Sam in the early scenes, but he perhaps became a tad too angsty as a ghost. Acting opposite Stewart was Rebecca Trehearn, who conveyed Mollie Jensen’s conflicting emotions very well. There was an unpleasant nasality and dullness in the sound of her voice when she moved into the upper registers during her solo items, but, during the reprise of Unchained Melody at the end of the show, her voice proved to have a lovely sweetness of tone throughout. This suggests that it is the musical director to blame and not the actress.

David Roberts (Carl Bruner) and Wendy Mae Brown (Oda Mae Brown) both deserve recognition for excellent performances in the secondary roles. Stevie Hutchinson as the Subway Ghost also did a fantastic job at a part which requires both athleticism and the ability to rap. The remainder of the cast provided additional characters and an excellent ensemble. There are some impressive dance routines throughout the show, as well as some wonderfully choreographed passers by who move with great physicality.

Notable Songs (For presenting for exams and auditions etc, difficulty levels in brackets)

  • With You – Mollie (Hard)
  • Here Right Now – Mollie (Hard)
  • Outta Here – Oda Mae Brown (Medium)

Overall

I would highly recommend this show! Bring tissues, you will cry at least once. Or more often, if you’re me. I hope that long after the tour is finished, this show is still remembered for it’s moving solos and great chorus numbers. It certainly deserves recognition as one of the best shows to come out of London’s West End in the last few years.

Rating ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ (4/5)