Posts Tagged ‘musical’

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Showstopper! The Improvised Musical

Wednesday, 25 August, 2010

Edinburgh  2010 –   Gilded Balloon   –  4 – 30 Aug 10  –  22:50 (1.00)

Andrew Lloyd-Webber Never Dies

Every night, a different musical

If nothing else, ‘Showstopper! the improvised musical’ is a great night out, going by the grins on departing audiences’ faces.  But there is a lot more to this musical than simple fun and laughter. This is the kind of one-off show that gets people talking.

The process begins with suggestions from the audience.  Some are discounted, the best voted on democratically.  The cast then have no time at all to start acting and singing, directed by a mediator on the side of the stage who interrupts every so often, with ever increasing demands such as ‘I said more references to West End shows’ on the night of ‘Andrew Lloyd Webber Never Dies’.  Led by a keyboard player, the cast cleverly integrate humour, showstopping solos and even tuneful harmonies.  Utilising the well worn Lloyd Webber formula of wistful looks, slow steps towards and away from one another, peppered with regular smatterings of jazz hands, the result is a kind of cliché, as this is surely the only way that providing a new musical every night could work.  A funny farce of a musical follows.

The most impressive aspect of the show is the ability of the cast to think on its feet, coming up with endless rhyming couplets to tell a story that has not yet been written.  Quick thinking, talented comedians as well as accomplished musicians, this cast is at the top of their game.  Many of its members perform daily in other shows at the Fringe.  Despite the demands of improvising storyline, music and humour, awkward pauses are kept to an absolute minimum, and nearly all songs and sketches are to the standard expected in any musical.  Ruth Bratt, in particular, has a strong, versatile voice which is a pleasure to hear, and each of the remaining cast members is able to harmonise with whoever has begun singing, a peculiar skill considering that these songs have never before been sung.  Although a strategy for success which can be applied to each show must be in place, it is rather the experience and expertise of the cast, allowing imperceptible communication between its members, which paves the way for such delightful entertainment in demanding circumstances.  A word with returning audience members (and there are many) confirms that each show is, indeed, improvised and unique.

In ‘Andrew Lloyd Webber Never Dies’, the audience was treated to a story of betrayal and ultimate devotion between two sisters, hopeful to follow in their father’s footsteps and sing on stage at Lloyd Webber’s memorial gig.  With X factor style hopefuls, a sob story, baddies in the shape of directors looking for cash (singing a catchy background rift of ‘and the money keeps rolling in’), and the final realisation that neither money nor fame brings happiness, perhaps this generic sequence of characters and ideas is standard, but it is brought together by quick, commendable, stand-up style humour.

The musical talent and comic expertise of this cast is unquestionable, and the idea for the show, innovative.  However, as control comes largely from the on stage director, more audience input may be appreciated.  Cast members laughing aloud at their ludicrous of-the-cuff ideas (‘no I’m not doing that, that’s too weird’) is endearing, and authenticates the improvisation aspect, but could make an audience feel isolated if they miss the in-joke.  Occasionally these jokes become a little naughty.  Then again, this is a late night show, and political slights aside, there is nothing to offend here.

Watching ‘Showtopper! the improvised musical’ is like watching stand-up, enjoying West End wonders, and being treated to something unique all at the same time.   A great show.

Cast and company credits:  Chris Ash.  Ruth Bratt.  Julie Clare.  Dylan Emery.  Pippa Evans.  Sean McCann.  Adam Meggido.  Phillip Pellow.  Nigel Pilkington.  Andrew Puglsey.  Oliver Senton.  Lucy Trodd.  Duncan Walsh-Atkins.  Sarah-Louise Young.

(c) Claire Higgins 2010

Reviewed Saturday 21st August 2010.

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Hamlet! The Musical

Friday, 13 August, 2010

Edinburgh – Pleasance Courtyard – 4 – 30 Aug 10 – 17:00 (1.00)

A cast of six brings Shakespeare’s Hamlet up to date in Hamlet! The Musical, playing in a balmy venue in Edinburgh’s Pleasance Courtyard.  As the five supporting actors move skilfully and seamlessly between multiple characters, the result is a fast paced and funny show.

This is not so much ‘Hamlet’, as ‘what Hamlet is about’, so it is not necessary to know the play in advance.  Rather, an introduction of sorts is on offer for children or adults alike.  Sharp and witty, the light-hearted humour and teen speak help to move the focus from the old English usually associated with Hamlet.  Along with catchy pop and rock tunes, and over-the-top camp characters, the way is paved for some feel-good fun of the musical variety.

Is this a picture of the cast I see before me?

However, fast, funny and farcical does not equate to hasty here, as the cast is clearly well rehearsed, with all lines perfectly learnt and scene transition smooth.  Throughout, every actor gives it his all, from vocal projection to body language and facial expression, resulting in some energy fuelled performances to raise spirits.  Jack Shalloo as Hamlet and Jess Robinson as Ophelia are exceptional in their convincing portrayal of today’s troubled teens facing timeless parental problems.  On top of the usual hang-ups and dating dramas any teenager might encounter, this pair finds it really annoying that their parents keep betraying one other, leaving the teenagers with difficult dilemmas.  But Jack Shalloo’s Hamlet is less the tortured existentialist and more the Harry Enfield teenager, sulking and huffing at his parents, and indulging in fantasies of being cooler, leading to some enjoyably obscure songs and hairdos.  His character appears in dress, stance and attitude, as a likeable rogue, who might have stepped straight off a council estate, complete with a regional cockney accent.  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern provide slapstick humour which will appeal to children, with their falsetto voices and oversized human heads perched on puppet bodies.  An atmosphere of pantomime prevails.

With catchy, original tunes, belted out to the accompaniment of a live orchestra, the musical talent heard here will rival any else to be seen at the fringe.  Hamlet’s rich singing voice is a sweet surprise, incongruous to his rough and ready appearance, and Ophelia’s voice is impressively powerful with an extraordinary range.  The remaining cast support with a variety of strong solos, tuneful harmonies and rousing chorus numbers.

While puppetry, pop songs and limitless laughter abound, the result may be a little too slapstick and slapdash for anyone expecting a serious piece of musical theatre. However, with its musical and acting talent, and pantomime style signed with a singalong ending, Hamlet! The Musical should prove to be a great show for the family to enjoy together.

Cast credits:  Phile Cole – Polonius / Gravedigger.  Virge Gilchrist – Gertrude / Gravedigger.       Mark Inscoe – The Ghost / Claudius.  Jess Robinson – Horatio / Ophelia / Rosencrantz.  Jack Shalloo – Hamlet.  Stephen Web – Laertes / Guildenstern.

Company credits:  Writers – Ed Jaspers, Timothy Knapman and Alex Silverman.  Director – Ryan McBride.  Musical Director – Leo Nicholson.  Choreographer – Abigail Rosser.  Set Designer – Simon Scullion.  Costume Designer – Mia Flodquist.  Lighting Designer – Ben Cracknell.  Sound Designer – Richard Ryan/Mike Walker.  Puppet Designer – Simon Buckley.  Stage Manager – Molly Campbell.  Sound Operator – Robin Conway and Tom Pickering.  Production Manager – William Hill.  Publicity Designer – Pete Le May.  Photographer – Steve Ullathorne.  Producer – Eleanor Lloyd.

Reviewed Wednesday 11 August 2010, / Pleasance Courtyard Edinburgh UK

(c) Claire Higgins