Tag Archives: playhouse

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: 9 to 5

Last week saw the return of 9 to 5 The Musical to the Edinburgh Playhouse. Based on the 1980s film of the same name, this show has music written by Dolly Parton.

9to5-main

When and where: Edinburgh Playhouse, Saturday 8th June 2013, 7.30pm

The Show

This show was entirely new to me, as I’ve not even seen the 1980s movie, so I didn’t really know what to expect from it. The first half, while opening well with the title song, was a little slow to get into the real plot, but the plot did pick up in the second half, albeit concluding with the most cheesy ending you could imagine. The movie origin also shows as the scenes are shorter than is usual for theatre, though the book has still been creatively adapted to prevent scene changes being too frequent.

The real highlight of this show for me was the music. I’m not a Dolly fan per se, but I really enjoyed all the songs. It’s not often that a show comes along with only one big male solo, verses four female solos, and that alone is enough for me to love it. The songs also carry the emotional depth of the story, and without them the plot would have likely fallen very flat. I would recommend looking out the original cast recording of this show, even if you never see it on stage.

The Cast

Like many musical tours, this show has been “stunt cast” with three of the five lead roles going to people who cut their performing teeth in TV. Both Ben Richards (Franklyn) and Jackie Clunie (Violet) have made the transition to theatre brilliantly. My friend who came with me said that Clunie was the first true alto she’d seen in a musical and, boy, does she have a voice. I’m sure she could have out sung her duet partner, Mark Willshire, with ease! Ben Richards also does brilliantly in the role of Franklyn, which requires more than a little confidence to do well in.

Natalie Casey (Judy) was, unfortunately, the weak link in the casting. Although she clearly has a good, strong voice, and good acting skills, she has been allowed by the director to over do the role of Judy to the point where there is little to no depth left to the character. Instead of being awkward but genuine, Casey’s performance is played for laughs to the point where her emotional moment of “Get Out, Stay Out” is not really convincing.

Of the rest of the cast, who all performed brilliantly (I always have so much admiration for ensemble and swing cast who never get a mention in reviews, but without whom we’d have no show), Amy Lenox as Doralee was the standout performer of the night. Her Texan accent and bubbly outside were marvellous, and yet she still let the confident outside slide away to really share the true feelings of her character in her solo “Backwoods Barbie”.

Dolly herself does make a cameo as a talking head in this show. It’s entirely unnecessary and actually detracts from the show’s content. I’m not sure why it was added in when the show transferred to the UK from Broadway.

Notable Songs

  • Backwoods Barbie – Doralee (Medium-Hard)
  • Heart to Heart – Roz (Hard)
  • One of the Boys – Violet (Medium)
  • Get Out, Stay Out – Judy (Medium-Hard)

Overall

All in all, an enjoyable girly evening, made sweeter by a deal offering a cocktail at the bar in with our ticket. If it’s touring to a venue near you, 9 to 5 is definitely worth a watch.

Rating ♥ ♥ ♥  (3/5)

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)