Eight-time Tony Award-winner, Spring Awakening made its debut off-Broadway in 2006, finally arriving in the West End in 2009 after a sold-out run at the Lyric Hammersmith. An adaptation of Franz Wedekind’s seminal, 1906 work Frühlings Erwachen, it chronicles the rocky path from adolescence to adulthood in a hugely oppressed, 19th Century Germany, dealing with themes of puberty, sexuality, rape, child abuse, homosexuality, suicide and abortion.
In direct contrast to its setting is its modern pop/rock score from Duncan Sheik and Steven Slater, a score replete with knock-out tunes that both elevate and save the relentlessly dark book.
Edinburgh-based Captivate Theatre’s age-appropriate cast delivers a huge dose of raw enthusiasm and teenage angst throughout and ably cope with the demands of this emotionally draining show. However, their fervor at times spills over into imprecise diction, lack of projection and tuning issues. The cast whilst competent individually is at their strongest when singing as one, and the harmonies are glorious throughout.
This is a gripping work with much to say, but the weakness of the book and its relentless intensity fails to sustain interest for the two-hour running time. Were it not for the first-rate score and the commitment of the young cast it would be a hard watch. A brave choice, which should be applauded.
The tale of a fictitious medieval prince and his search for the meaning of life is unlikely source material for a musical. A favourite of US amateur and school theatre groups, Stephen Schwartz and Roger O. Hirson’sPippin had its last professional outing in the UK in 1973 and on Broadway in 2014, where it’s big-top staging was highly lauded by both audience and critic alike.
Often overlooked for its 70s pop/rock score and lacklustre book, the music has the same hippy-dippy, student production origins as Schwartz’s earlier work, Godspell. Here, in the hands of Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society, it returns firmly to its roots. No big top, no acrobatics, with just three lidded, wooden boxes and a few drapes, this hugely talented ensemble manage to deliver a cohesive and entirely absorbing production of this seldom-seen work.
The direction at the hands of John King is tight and fluid, transitions are smoothly achieved and there are some nice touches peppered throughout to enliven the staging: shadow puppetry, inventive movement sequences and pseudo-Edwardian costumes that are easy on the eye.
Central to the production’s success is its cast. Universally fine-voiced, it seems churlish to single any out; however, mention must be made of Megan Henson (Charlemagne) who is stunningly gifted as both actress and singer and Oli MacFarlane whose Pippin is beautifully judged. Strong support comes too from Caroline Sautter (a brunette Kerry Ellis look-alike) as the charismatic narrator.
Given a bigger budget and a professional venue, this would give many touring musicals a run for their money. A triumph of strong direction, clear artistic vision and a stand-out cast has produced one of the must-see shows of the Fringe.
Runs until August 31, 2015
Image: Johannes Hjorth
This review was originally published at: http://www.thepublicreviews.com/pippin-c-edinburgh/
A rare and unusual thing – an original Edinburgh cast recording.
Following in his family’s illustrious songwriting footsteps (father and uncle The Sherman Brothers, were composers of the music for Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and grandfather Al – a Tin Pan Alley alumni, Love Birds is Robert J. Sherman’s new musical premiering at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
It’s the Roaring 20s – well the golden era of Vaudeville just before the twenties roared. Armitage Shanks’ avian revue is in turmoil as his star turn ‘the feathered Caruso’ Baalthazar Macaw has mysteriously gone missing. His remaining acts: a trio of singing macaw sisters and a quartet of performing penguins press on, but there’s revolt in the ranks as Shanks refuses to move with the times and embrace the dawn of a newer, racier era.
Despite its setting and its 20’s-evocative feel, there are some interesting and fresh-sounding tunes here: ‘Mary Poppins’ is arguably the best of the bunch and has the penguins lament their abandonment at the hands of the most famous nanny in the world, it’s a barber-shop, doo woop number that could easily sit beside Sherman’s illustrious forebears classic output. Every style of the era is represented, there are Charleston tunes, Vaudeville numbers, Ragtime, torch songs, soft-shoe shuffles and ditties that wouldn’t sound out of place in 42nd Street, Bugsy Malone or a Busby Berkeley extravaganza. That the sound is produced with only a three piece band (keys/bass/drums) and a fine sounding (if small) cast of nine is laudible.
It’s perky and it’s peppy and full of brio, but it could do with a little more light and shade to contrast the unremitting joy of the rest of the recording. One can’t help feeling that this is a springboard to something bigger. It’s clear a lot of time and effort has gone into its creation and the unusual production of an Edinburgh Fringe cast recording certainly signals intent for a longer life for Love Birds: it wouldn’t be surprising to hear in the future that this is being expanded into a full-blown two and a half hour production. Meanwhile enjoy a charming blast from a bygone era.
Love Birds is available from SimG Productions
A comedian equally revered and reviled, Bob Monkhouse is a difficult subject to tackle: the unique cadence to the voice, the perma-tan, the very individual delivery. Alex Lowe’s play The Man Called Monkhouse attempts to address some of the misunderstandings and un-truths that dogged the much-maligned man throughout his life.
The show begins in 1995 at a point when Monkhouse was taking advantage of a career resurgence after years in the wilderness. A notorious collector and documenter of jokes, TV shows and movies, two of his beloved joke books have been stolen (an event documented in the TV news of the day) and Monkhouse frustratedly tries to get the help of the police to ensure their return. Meanwhile he is called upon to write a eulogy for his former comedy writing partner Denis Goodwin and it is here that we are given a glimpse into Monkhouse’s path to fame, his notorious womanising and his treatment at the hands of the media.
It is impossible not to sympathise, especially at the tabloid’s exploitation of his son Gary’s wedding (Gary had cerebral palsy) and in his revelations about his mother who showed up to his wedding in head to toe black. There’s also reflection about the constant accusations of insincerity levelled at him throughout his career – where he confides that he often felt detached from others and pretended to have feelings just to fit in. The play never explicitly says that Monkhouse had a personality disorder but the hints are dropped pretty heavily.
Actor Simon Cartwright’s unsettlingly accurate portrayal of Monkhouse raises goosebumps the moment he opens his mouth and is deserving of the highest praise. A fascinating insight into the man behind the mask and a stellar performance from the leading man.
Runs until 31 August 2015
Originally published at: http://www.thepublicreviews.com/the-man-called-monkhouse-assembly-hall-edinburgh/
You would be hard-pressed to find more bang for your buck anywhere else on the Fringe this year. Frances Thorburn, Gail Watson and Clare Waugh, (under the musical direction of the award-winning Hilary Brooks) deliver not only the Doris and Dolly of the title but Judy and Liza and just a spoonfull of a potty-mouthed Julie Andrews in Morag Fullerton’s hysterical backstage exposé of the biggest divas of the 20th Century.
Under the considerable laughs there are some fascinating glimpses into these incredible women’s lives: the tales of Garland and Minnelli show stunning similarities – gay fathers and husbands as do their’s with Doris Day, with her “enthusiastically encouraging” German mother and there’s the hugely disgruntled Julie Andrews too – thoroughly hacked-off by her goody-goody image. The only diva who has no skeletons in her closet is the irrepressible Dolly Parton – the shrewdest operator of them all.
The laughs and stories here are more than enough but what sets this show into the stratosphere are the knock-out vocals of the trio of actresses: Thorburn, Watson and Waugh are fabulously talented, but it is Watson who gets the prize for most impressive vocals with her spot on takes on Parton, Andrews and Garland.
This is a stunner of a show and you’d be a fool to miss it.
Runs until 30th August 2015
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The true story of the feud between Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle proves to be rich fodder in this interesting new play at the Fringe.
Just as Doyle will not be dissuaded in his belief in Spiritualism, Houdini refuses to countenance its existence. The pair embark on a trans-Atlantic pas de deux each to convince the other. Reality bounces straight off Doyle as Houdini continues to debunk psychic after psychic but Houdini’s premature death prevents the pair’s reconciliation.
Alex Cox delivers a charismatic turn as Houdini and Phill Jupitus is a competent, if horribly accented Doyle. A compelling piece, well worth a watch.
There’s little to say about this recreation of four of the legendary ‘missing’ Hancock scripts save that you will be hard pressed to find anything of better quality on the Fringe this year.
Faithfully re-staged with an infinite eye for detail and starring the absolutely wonderful Kevin McNally as the man himself, and the hysterical Robin Sebastian as a scene-stealing Kenneth Williams, the accuracy brings goosebumps. This is a class act from start to end and it won’t come as any surprise that the laughs still come by the shed-load 60 years after they were written. An evocative walk down memory lane.
There will be few shows you see this year with more content packed into them than Christina Bianco’s Party of One. The diminutive diva packs a great big punch in her latest show here at the Fringe.
Vocally impersonating an alphabet’s worth of female musical superstars, it is her takes on Julie Andrews (singing Lady Gaga) and the most accurate Cheryl (Fernandez-Versini) Cole you will ever hear, that steal the show.
Bianco is a considerable talent and luckily for us she also takes the opportunity to showcase her own, fine, singing voice.
She may have her own impersonators out there, but Bianco is the real deal.
Billed as “a madcap comedy of illusion” this Easter European existential examination of loneliness and existence is certainly not that.
Bulgarian absurdist playwright Hristo Boytchev’s incomprehensible play ruins the long-awaited return of film and TV star John Hannah to the Fringe. Hannah’s acting is faultless and his sleight of hand tricks thoroughly impressive, but the soul-searching avant-garde script isn’t enough to keep the interest levels high for the 70 minute running time.
It is a pity as Hannah is a fine actor with a great stage presence – one can’t help think that this is a huge opportunity lost.
There’s a world water shortage and you can only pee if you pay, that is the premise of Greg Kotis and Mark Hollman’s Urinetown.
Presented by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, this is a high quality production with a talented cast of a, quite frankly, meh! musical. In trying to be clever (it parodies the musical theatre form and many hit shows) it just isn’t as clever as it likes to think it is.
Too many pee-related puns which get thin quickly and an instantly forgettable soundtrack save the glorious “Run, Freedom Run” render it a pleasant way to kill a few hours but little more.