Tag Archives: musicals

Review: Made in Dagenham

Full of youthful vigour in tackling a valuable and important topic.

FRINGE RUN: 10/8-12/8 @ 15:00; Paradise in Augustines; [£10.50/£8.50]

Who, Where and When: Norfolk NYT; Paradise in Augustines; Friday 11 August, 15:00

The Show

Made in Dagenham tells the story of the female workers at Dagenham’s Ford factory who went on strike in 1968 over equal pay, bringing the issue into the political sphere. It’s based on the film of the same name.

The story moves at a good pace (some cuts may have been made in this production  to limit run-time), and there are some fantastic musical numbers, including a dancing Harold Wilson. The group numbers are clear and powerful.

It lacks the panache of similar shows such as Billy Elliot, but nevertheless tells a moving story through an excellent score.

The Cast

This was clearly a young cast, and there were a few wobbles to begin with. However, as they hit their stride, they really shone in both the singing and acting. There were some very moving performances in the second half in particular.

Overall

Much like Billy Elliot, Pride and the film that inspired this show, the story of the strikes is one that needs to be made accessible to a new generation, and this show does a fantastic job of just that. Add in a talented young cast, and you’ve got a lovely afternoon ahead.

Notable Songs

  • Wassname – Clare (Intermediate)
  • The Letter – Eddie O’Grady (Advanced)

Rating ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Review: Sing Musical Theatre

One of the things I had been intending to add in to my blog posts is reviews of new materials. Now I’ve finally been shopping, here’s my first review.

Sing_Musical_Theatre_Wouldnt_It_Be_Loverly_Book_and_CD_e

 

 

Title: Sing Musical Theatre; Wouldn’t It be Loverly? (Foundation, Grades 1-3)
Type of Material: Sheet Music with Backing CD
Publication: 2011 Faber Music
RRP: £14.99

 

 

I was delighted when I discovered this series as I have been looking for a “graded” approach to musical theatre songs for a while. Musical Theatre is dominated by vocal selections, or anthologies sorted by theme or voice type, rather than difficulty. This made it hard to give students a single text to buy. Thankfully, Trinity developed these volumes which help students up to Grade 5 work on easy but satisfying songs.

Wouldn’t It Be Loverly? has a good selection of songs, many of which are well-known. A good number, however, are taken from UK Youth Music Theatre productions which are less known. This could be a disadvantage, but I like that the book isn’t just the standard songs. There is a good range of styles and dates which means one could pull an LCM programme out of this book alone for the early grades.

This book is also an educational manual as each song has some background on the show, and tips on both musical and theatrical performance. This makes it a great buy for learners as they have reference material to support their practice. For LCM candidates, the information about the song is really helpful for the viva too.

The backing tracks too are good. They’re nicely paced (not too fast or slow) and have a fuller sound than just the piano, with some percussion etc where appropriate.

I would recommend this book to any beginner or teacher working with beginners. It’s not too condesending to use with adults either, and the inclusion of backing tracks really makes this a value for money choice.

Content: ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠
Layout: ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣
Value for Money: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Overall: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Movement for Non-Actors (Part 3) – It’s the Little Things

As we have been discussing in previous posts, the use of movement in a performance is always tied to the information you’re trying to communicate to your audience. So far, we’ve talked about the big movements – walking around and changing levels. In this post, we’ll take a look at a few of the smaller things that are really important.

NervesEye contact & Posture

One of the key ways we communicate with others is through our eye-contact, or lack thereof. If you want to appear confident, or in charge of the situation, you’re likely to look someone directly in the eye. If you’re afraid or someone, or aware you’re in the wrong, you’ll probably avoid looking at that person’s eyes as much as possible.

Here are some of the questions you can ask yourself to establish where you should be looking, and how you should be standing:

  • What status does your character have? Are they a powerful person in society or a weak one? A pauper or a king?
  • What relationships does your character have with others who are on stage during the song?
  • How does your character feel about themselves? Do they feel confident or insecure? This will determine how you look at the audience.
  • How do these feelings change throughout the song? Does your character increas in confidence through the song, or do they get more insecure?

One of the exercises that is really good to do, is to try to communicate your status just through posture and eyecontact. Practice this with your teacher.

Inhabiting the body of your character is very important, so you could also try a technique called “hot seating” where your teacher asks you questions and you have to respond as though you were this character. By thinking like the character, you will find your body responds to your thoughts and moves like your character.

I hope to do a series on characterisation in the future to help with just this issue.

Gestures

public-speakingGesture is a tricky area in theatrical performance. Many people do talk with their hands, so standing still is unnatural, but you don’t want to be waving them around aimlessly, or worse, in a choreographed “hand dance”.

We usually gesuture to emphasise particular things we are saying. Consider where the most important lines are in your song. These are the points where you should consider moving your hands. To take an example, in the Gilbert & Sullivan song A Lady Fair of Lineage High, there’s a repeated line: “but it would not do / his scheme fell through” which has an accompaniment that is emphatic too. When performing this song, I chose to make a repeated gesture at the same time as singing these lines to emphasise the shortcomings of the character the song is speaking about. You might want to consider similar actions.

Whatever you choose to do, make sure it’s a natural action, and a simple action. Unless you are deliberately communicating the whole song through Sign Language, too many motions which interpret specific words will look downright weird!

PropsCups of Tea

The final aspect I want to mention is props. The LCM syllabus encourages the use of props and costume, and so I always encourage students to use a prop in at least one song. This might be anything from a ruler to a suitcase. Including props creates simple movement and action, and helps to communicate character and meaning.

If you want to make use of props, start by selecting your prop carefully. You want something simple, small and safe. An entire car is probably unrealistic, but a mocked up steering wheel might be do-able. Don’t use any props which involve fire, chemicals, or liquids etc. If you want to drink, it’s much safer to mime the wine than to try to pour it while singing, slop it on the floor and end up slipping over in your next number. Note that in the UK, at least, smoking is not permitted indoors, so you’ll need to keep cigarettes fake or unlit. Over the years, I have used folded letters, lipstick, picnic baskets, rulers, suitcases, and mugs.

Whatever you choose, mark all your actions into your score so you can rehearse them.

Oh, and don’t forget to pack your props on the day of your exam!

That’s the end of the whistlestop tour of movement for non-actors. I hope to come back in a week or two and talk about choreography for non-dancers, and also look at characterisation for singers. If you’re interested in any of these, click the RSS feed at the top right to subscribe to the blog.

In the meantime, do any of you have tips on how to add movement into your performances? Add them in the comments below.

Movement for Non-Actors (Part 2) – Where?

Mary Poppins

As we talked about on Tuesday, movement isn’t normally part of a singer’s repertoire, but it becomes vitaly important in musical theatre.

However, once you’ve worked out why you’re moving, it’s time to work out where to go.

Geography of the Stage

In this post, I’m going to give a quick run-down of some of the different places you can move to, and ways in which you can move there to help you develop a plan for your song.

One of the first considerations is where on the stage you will stand. Will you go for front and centre, or back and off to the side? Each choice says something different about how you character is feeling, and how s/he relates to others.

Stage Geography

Front and centre is the most powerful location on the stage. No other actor can get in front of you, and you can speak right to the audience. For a song like Maybe This Time from Cabaret, you might want to select a front and centre position, and stay quite static too. Something more tragic, and uncertain such as I Dreamed a Dream might feel a bit odd sung from that location.

Conversely, the back of the stage suggests weakness. You’re easily overshadowed by other actors and the set from the back of the stage, and you need to really project to be heard. It’s rare to find an entire solo sung from the back of the stage, but many a number begins at the back and moves forwards as the character develops.

Character or plot development pieces like Daddy’s Girl from Grey Gardens often end up in the middle of the stage. Front and centre breaks the imaginary fourth wall of the room, and speaks to the audience. If a song is directed at a character on stage, then it makes sense to be mid-stage, well inside the imaginary room.

Off to one side or the other of the stage is a good location for narrative songs, or for introspective songs, as the character has removed themselves from the action and can look from the side of the stage over to the events of the story.

Levels

It’s important to consider not just where on the stage you are, but what kind of position you take in that location. When directors talk about “levels” they are referring to whether an actor is standing, sitting on a chair, sitting on the floor, or lying down. You can think of it as what “level” your head is on. In some shows, such as the opening number of Wicked, levels can even mean flying in from overhead!

Standing up is a confident and pro-active position. A big solo number with a very definite mood like I Am What I Am might be stood throughout. Character and plot development numbers might also involve standing, depending on the context.

Lying down on stage

Sitting down is often a sign of meakness or uncertainty. It can also be a sign of reflection or introspection. A number like Still Hurting usually starts with an actor sitting down as it’s a reflective song, dealing with painful issues. Sitting down on the floor can have a similar effect of sadness as in With You from Ghost, or it can be a relaxed and optimistic act as in By The Sea from Sweeney Todd.

Lying down is either result of the events leading up to the song, or absolute emotional brokenness. Being horizontal can make breathing difficult, so this should be used with care, but it can be very dramatic and communicate strong emotions.

Making the Move

Movement means choosing where you’re going to start and then when and where you’re going to move to. Go back to the score you’ve marked up and start by thinking where you are going to be when the introduction plays, or you say the preceeding lines. From there, at each point where the emotional story of the song changes, you should consider moving to another part of the stage, or changing your level. If you get sadder, move away from the centre of the stage or sitting down. If you get angry, stand up and move forward. Happier people also tend to move more, and faster. Think about how you move when you feel particular emotions.

Don’t be afraid to move while singing too. If a bridge or chorus builds towards a new emotion, you could make the transition as you sing.

Whatever you decide to do, make a note in the music as to exactly when you are going to move, and where you are going. Practice the movement to a recording of someone else singing before you try the movement while you are singing.

I hadn’t intended this, but there’s so much to say that I’ll conclude this with a third part next Tuesday talking about smaller kinds of movement such as eyecontact and gesture.

In the meantime, are there areas of the stage that you think have particular meaning? How do you map out the stage, or use levels to show emotion?

Movement for Non-Actors: Part 1- Why Move?

If you’re preparing for an LCM Musical Theatre Performance exam, you might have noticed this rather ominous line in the syllabus:

dance and movement are encouraged and expected, and credit will be given for appropriate dance and other movement which is in context and is integral to, and enhances the performance of, the pieces… (p14, section 2.5.2, emphasis added)

To the first study singer, this kind of instruction can strike fear in the heart of even the most confident. So, how do you start to bring movement and dance into your performances? In this post, I’ll talk about movement, and then in a future post I’ll discuss dance.

Why Do I Need to Move?

Eponine

Standing still in the middle of the stage makes a statement. It’s very intense, and it’s very direct to the audience. Some songs are definitely those kinds of songs, but most of them aren’t. Think about it. How many times have you seen someone be completely static in a musical? Have a look at this example from Ghost. Although most of the song is static, there’s still a point at which Molly moves (at 3:35). Note how the choice to move conveys a change of mood as the song breaks from the sad and depressing verse to an angry bridge.

Movement is just as important as the music in helping the audience to understand the meaning of a song. Just as you map your song vocally, you’ll need to map your song out physically. Here are some questions to help you start figuring out how to build in movement:

  • Who am I talking to? Am I singing to the audience or another character on stage, or who has just left the stage? e.g. There’s a Fine, Fine, Line (Avenue Q) is directed at the audience, but Daddy’s Girl (Grey Gardens) is sung to Jack, and Bring Him Home (Les Miserables) is directed at God.
  • Is there a particular point where the mood changes? e.g. With You (Ghost) or Still Hurting (The Last Five Years)
  • Do the lyrics describe what I’m doing? e.g. in On My Own, Eponine talks about walking through the streets.
  • Are there instrumental sections where you aren’t singing?

Grab a copy of your music, or the lyrics, and in pencil write the person to whom you’re talking to on the top. Then mark in the other points in the music. Once you have these key aspects you can begin to map out where and how you’re going to move.

Kate Monster

Move with Intention

One of the most important rules in theatrical movement is always move with intention. You don’t, in real life, wonder around aimlessly. You always move for a reason, even if it’s unconcious. Sometimes we move closer or further away from someone to show our feelings about them. We might pace the room to help us think. We move to pick something up or put something down.

The same is true for your character. For every movment you make, you need to make an active and considered choice about why you are moving. As you map out you movement, write in the reasons why you’re moving in pencil next to the action.

Starting Point

Before the beginning of any number, something has already happened to your character. Even if it’s the opening number of the show, the character hasn’t popped into existance at that very moment. In Les Miserables, Jean Valjean is already in prison. He’s had a whole life before that point which has landed him there in the first place. In the immediate moments before he sings his first solo number, What Have I Done? he has been speaking to the Policemen and the Bishop. This means he will already be on stage, and in a particular location.

In your song, you need to know what has happened before. Write this at the top of your music too. Is it that you have just finished talking to someone? Have you just come on stage? Where are you entering from, or where did the conversation take place? There’s no requirement for anyone to start a solo number in centre stage. Look again at With You from Ghost. Molly sings the whole song downstage left, which adds to the atmosphere of weakness, pain and fear.

Making Choices

From there on, you can make choices that work for you. Perhaps your character gets frustrated and starts to pace? Or they’re happy and they want to dance around? Do they give up by the end and need to collapse on the floor? I sang one performance where I began lying on the floor and slowly stood up towards the end. At each of the change points you’ve marked, make some decisions about whether or not to move and where to go. Look at some videos on YouTube of actual performances and see what aspects you like. A friend of mine has been preparing Steps to the Palace from Into the Woods, and she found it very frustrating that for someone who was supposed to be stuck to the spot according to the lyrics, an awful lot of Cinderellas kept moving around! I, on the other hand, borrowed most of the movement from the original show for The Wizard and I from Wicked.

In Part Two

On Thursday, you can pick up on part two of this post, where I’ll talk about how you can use space, levels, eyes, gesture and props to help bring movement to your performance.

What do you do to help bring more movement into your performances for Musical Theatre? Add your tips in the comments below!

Review: Hairspray

The opening of the 2013/14 theatre season at the Playhouse was bright, colourful and bursting with joy.

Hairspray-show

Where and When: Edinburgh Playhouse; Tuesday 3rd September 7.30pm (Run ends 14 Sept)

The Show

Having seen the film of Hairspray (which I wasn’t overly impressed with) I wasn’t certain whether I’d like the show. I was pleasantly surprised. The film comes over as brash and silly, but on stage, the bold strokes in which this story is painted are just enough to get over a very real and important point about social acceptance while still allowing the audience to have a whole lot of fun.

The basic plot takes place in 1962 and follows the rather “larger than average” Tracy Turnblad who has ambitions to dance on The Corney Collins Show on TV. While planning how to manage it, she meets some of the black kids in her school and begins to question the racial segregation which is considered normal. Comic capers ensue, and a happy ending is had by all. It’s a little bit like someone smushed together Show Boat, Grease and the great British Pantomime tradition (complete with the Dame in the form of Edna Turnblad) and then topped it a little bit of Sixties technicolour. Despite this strange combination, the story works. It’s not too silly, it’s not too brash, it’s not too moralising – it’s just right.

The musical numbers are a standout highlight of this show and one of the reasons for it’s success. Shaiman and Whittman write fantastic songs which manage to pastiche many great 60s hits while still allowing the music to be fresh, innovative and unique. It doesn’t surprise me at all that they were invited to write the music for Bombshell, the fictional musical in the US TV Show Smash.

My final note is that although there’s an “everyone get up and dance” moment at the end of the show, this is very clearly after the curtain call. This small detail made me very pleased because it allows the audience to choose whether to give a standing ovation, rather than being forced into one. It’s my petpeeve to attend shows where I am not given that theatre-goers’ right not to give a standing ovation. However, this production pitched their ending beautifully, allowing me to remain seated during the curtain call, and then stand to join in with the dance break.

The Cast

Surprisingly, the opening night in Edinburgh of this tour featured not one, not two, but six replacement cast members, including the understudies for both Tracy (Nikki Pocklington) and Edna Turnblad (Daniel Stockton). In fact, my ticket-broker-come-musical-theatre-encyclopedia companion took most of the interval to work out how there could be six replacements on stage, but only five swings in the cast (the answer being that Tracy’s understudy is a “walking understudy” meaning she has no other role in the production due to the requirements for the actress to be large – you learn something new every day!). Of course, most of the audience would have no idea, and it certainly didn’t show that this had been the debut performance in their role for several of the actors.

The highlight performance of the evening was, for me, Lauren Hood as Penny Pingleton. Penny is a geeky and awkward character which would be easy to overact, but Ms Hood’s performance was spot on. Paul Rider was also a gorgeously entertaining Wilbur Turnblad opposite the understudy for Edna, Mark Hilton. The weakest performance of the night, sadly but expectedly, was Lucy Benjamin. Although her acting of the part was lovely, and her physicality was good, her singing was rarely singing – very raspy, breathy and strained.

There were some technical issues which also detracted from the largely excellent performances. The balance of the sound was often poor, making it difficult to hear the words to the songs. There was also one glaring costume problem – Edna’s finale dress was clearly intended to be pink (to match Tracy and Wilbur’s costumes), but instead it was a strange, clashing shade of red. I sincerely hope that this was due to costume damage, and not a directorial choice!

Overall

This is a lovely, upbeat musical best seen at the theatre rather than on film. It’ll definitely be appealing for teenage girls as well as adults, making it a good family choice. The lively music will be ringing in your ears long after you leave the theatre, and the moral of the story, about being true to what you believe is right, is one everyone could use a reminder of now and then.

Notable Songs

  • Good Morning Baltimore – Tracey (Medium)
  • I Can Hear the Bells – Tracey (Medium)
  • You Can’t Stop The Beat – Tracey/Chorus (Medium)

Rating ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Review: Pippin

A return to Morningside’s Church Hill Theatre for a second American High School Theatre show.

250PIPPINshow_12007_31781

FRINGE RUN: 16/8-20/8 (Not 17) @ Various; Church Hill Theatre (137); [£5]

Who, Where and When: American High School Theatre; Sunday 18th August 2013; 4.15pm

The Show

Pippin is a fantastic example of a post-modern semi-surreal musical theatre. The show takes influence from the Italian Commedia Dell’arte which influenced everything from Shakespeare to the Pantomime. The basic principle is that characters are charicatured and slightly abserd. This is the case in Pippin, where the story is told by the performing company, and the journey of the central character takes him to meet a range of personalities. It is surprising how similar this seems to the Bernstein operetta Candide in content and physical style.

What makes this show so brilliant is that it is very flexible. There are many smaller parts, so although some leads do have a heavy burden, the ensemble of secondary characters is large and varied. This makes it a surprisingly good choice for a High School Theatre group, as well as being capable of wowing audiences on Broadway by adding performers trained by Circ du Soleil.

I really enjoyed the story which is simple, but gripping, and comes to a dark and challenging conclusion (which I won’t spoil, lest you are able to see this show some day). Every character Pippin meets on the way is colourful and entertaining – from his overly matcho brother (played in this cast by a female actor, which only added to the hilarity) to his dear batty grandmother.

The Cast

Although young, the cast, by-and-large, rose to the challenge of this show. Some vocal performances were perhaps a little too weak. The girl playing Fastrada struggled with the demanding songs and was unable to hold her pitch accurately at times, and the actress playing the grandmother was clearly very nervous despite her wonderfully entertaining acting.

However, all of the cast threw themselves into the mood of the piece which was really the most important aspect in this show.

Overall

Pippin is a fantastic show, and deserves to be remembered as part of musical theatre’s greatest. In particular, the nature of the piece makes it extraordinarily accessible for a wide range of theatre groups (I could imagine it would work well for mixed-ability theatre groups such as Chickenshed). The story is engaging and funny (the hallmarks of Mr Schwartz of Wicked fame) and the characters lively. One can only hope that the Tony Award for Best Revival-winning Broadway production is given a West End transfer and a long run in the UK.

Notable Songs

  • Corner of the Sky – Pippin
  • Simple Joys – Leading Player
  • Spread a Little Sunshine – Fastrada
  • And There He Was – Catherine
  • Extraordinary – Pippin
  • I Guess I’ll Miss the Man – Catherine

Rating ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

 

Review: Merrily We Roll Along

First and only Sondheim of the season.

MatthewHomquist_Merrill_We_Roll_Along

FRINGE RUN: 12/8-24/8 (not 18th) @ 10:10; Greenside [£5]

Who, Where and When: Red Oak Theatre; Greenside; Saturday 17th August 2013; 10.10am

The Show

One should be under no illusions about Sondheim. His work is genius, but it’s not easy to get right. Merrily We Roll Along follows the life of composer Franklin Shepard, starting at the end of the story as his success crumbles away around him when he realises that on the way to fame and wealth, he has lost the people he cares about the most. The story then travels back in time, reversing the decisions Franklin makes, and ending at the start, where he and his closest friends have nothing but optimism.

As is always the case, Sondheim’s musical score is exquisite, with multi-layered harmonies and a huge range of songs incorporating both lyrical numbers, and more dialogue-based elements. Tying the whole score together, the title song “Merrily We Roll Along” is used to designate the movement back in time.

The story as a whole is typical of the “American dream” genre of American art. In this particular case, some of the American dream rhetoric is challenged (that about wealth and fame being the highest form of success) while others (doing what your heart desires no matter what) are underscored as morally good. Certainly, if this is Sondheim commenting on his experience of success, he implies that his fame as a composer is not as important to him as the musical works he has produced. However, I doubt Mr Sondheim is strapped for cash yet he censures Franklin for making decisions which bring financial gain at the cost of his art.

The Cast

Unfortunately, I feel Stephen Sondheim is in the same category as Jason Robert Brown – best not attempted by amateurs. Although this cast did well to perform the music, I felt there was significant depth missing in their acting performances. I didn’t really believe the depth of the friendship between Franklin (Henry Adams) and Charley (Andrew Horton) – I mostly wondered what they could possibly have seen in each other. Franklin was too business minded, and Charley too geeky, and so they seemed to fundamentally have nothing in common. Equally, though Mary Flynn (Rosie Archer) is supposed to be in love with Franklin, she mostly came off as lonely and desperate, rather than devoted. I felt the direction left this whole show a cast of caricatures, which trivialised the deep and powerful emotions running through the musical score.

There were also significant problems with audibility at times as not all of the cast had mics. Although the central cast were afforded amplification, there was no such grace given to the supporting chorus or peripheral characters and as a consequence there were a lot of lines which were not clear over the volume of the live band. It would have been a better decision to either mic everyone, or no one, rather than having a mixture.

The band, I must say, were brilliant, and I really enjoyed being able to see the musicians on set. I have seen shows of this difficulty suffer from lack of a conductor, but that was not the case here.

Overall

This is not one of Sondheim’s most innovative or exciting musicals, although it is not without merits. However, I was underwhelmed by the performances of this cast. A less difficult show might have seen them produce very good theatre. As it is, this is little more than mediocre. The band, should, however, be congratulated for being the highlight of the show for me – I actually think I spent as much time watching the musicians as the actors!

Notable Songs

  • Franklin Shepard Inc – Charley (Hard)
  • Not a Day Goes By – Beth (Medium)
  • Good Thing Going – Charley (Hard)

Rating ♥ ♥ ♥

Review: You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown

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

you-re-a-good-man-charlie-brown_31237

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: Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens

This was first of a couple of American High School Theatre productions I’m planning to see over the festival. I’m particularly keen to see this show as a number of the songs are listed in the LCM Musical Theatre Exam suggested repertoire.

250ELEGIETshow_12009_31800

FRINGE RUN: 5,6,8&9/8 @ Various; Church Hill Theatre (137); [£5]

Who, Where and When: American High School Theatre; Church Hill Theatre; Friday 9th August 2013, 8.15pm

The Show

Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens is not a light hearted show. It’s a show about AIDS, and it documents the stories of various victims of the disease. This isn’t a show with a plot – it bears more relation to a cabaret than even a “concept musical”. Songs break up a series of monologues telling the tale of AIDS victims. We start with the “classic” victims – the gay man, the prostitute. Throughout the show, we also see victims of blood transfusions, and maternal transmissions.

What is most striking about this show is the lyrical nature of the monologues. They have an almost Shakespearian quality with very rhythmic language, and a smattering of rhymes. I’d be keen to see a printed copy of the book just to know how the speeches were laid out on the page. In terms of performance, the style of the language made the speeches just stylised enough to stop this show just being a misery-fest which would cause the audience to shut down rather than engage with the issues.

The songs were catchy, and emotive. All of them work as stand-alone songs, although “My Brother Lives in San Francisco” is particularly closely related to the preceeding monologue. I liked some of the songs more than others, but all of them worked really well to lift the show without making light of a serious topic.

I don’t know if the staging of this production was new, or similar to the original version, but the use of projected images was excellent and the dancers were fantastic.

The Cast

The cast of this production were a mixed bag. Some of them were excellent. I particularly loved the group performing “My Brother Lived in San Francisco” – the song almost moved me to tears. Overall, the singers were good, but these are big songs, and I felt the show probably needed more mature voices to really bring out the full potential of many of the songs, such as the rootsy and gospel-esque “Angels, Punks and Raging Queens”. The limited band (just a piano) was also not enough to carry some of the more upbeat numbers such as “Celebrate”.

There was also a very variable quality in the acting. This was a very young cast, and none of them would be old enough to remember the AIDS crisis (in fact, I suspect the show itself is older than most of the cast). The show is full of difficult and complicated emotions, and although the actors all did admirably, many of them were unable to capture the full depth of the speeches. An older cast would likely have been able to tackle this work more convincingly. Some performers were excellent, though tellingly those were the ones given more light-hearted sections.

The finale number was very well staged, with the cast coming into the audience and giving everyone red ribbons, and shaking all our hands to thank us for supporting those who live with AIDS. A retiring collection was made for AIDS charities, and I believe they were able to give at least £4500 from the donations and ticket sale profits.

Notable Songs

  • Angels, Punks and Raging Queens – Female (Medium)
  • And the Rain Keeps Falling Down – Male (Medium)
  • My Brother Lives in San Fransisco – Female (Medium-Hard)

Overall

I loved the show itself, and I am keen to get hold of what music and script that I can as it’s a fantastic resource. However, I’m not sure the cast were really able to tackle the full depth and complexity of the show – something that is highlighted by the fact that the dancers were the best performers by far.

However, I wish I could have been a fly on the wall in 1989 and 1990 when this show was first performed in the US. With a full band, and professional actors, it must have been heart-wrenching and challenging. I hope that this show and its songs continue to raise awareness of AIDS long into the future. We may be able to manage the condition in the Western world, but people still, ultimately, die of AIDS.

Rating ♥ ♥ ♥ [Show 5, Cast 3]


A Final Note…

For more information about AIDS and support for anyone living with AIDS and HIV, or caring for someone, contact Waverley Care. This performance was also supporting Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, who work with the theatre community in the US to help raise awareness and provide support.