Tag Archives: RCS

REVIEW: Street Scene – New Athenium Theatre, Glasgow

Street Scene, Kurt Weill’s 1946 “Broadway Opera” is rarely revived in Scotland, the last time, the 1989 Scottish Opera/ENO production.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name by Elmer Rice (who wrote the book for the opera), Weill considered the score his masterpiece. One of his exile works, it was written in the US after fleeing the rise of Nazism in Germany in the inter-war years. Street Scene also has the distinction of being the winner of the first Tony Award for Best Original Score.

It’s the stoop of a New York brownstone in the Lower East Side of Manhattan over two swelteringly hot summer days in 1946.

The gossip flows as the vast cast of characters float in and out of the action: Anna Maurrant is having an affair with the milkman, but in reality Anna is seeking some comfort away from her monstrous bully of a husband, Frank. Rose her daughter is torn between two men – one a safe choice, the other not so.

Street Scene inhabits an interesting place in the world of theatre. A transition between European Opera and what we now know as modern American musical theatre. It has been said it places perfectly between Weill’s own Threepenny Opera and Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story.

The music on its own is absolutely intriguing, mixing operatic arias such as Somehow I Never Could Believe, which is almost pure Puccini, Jazz and Blues in I Got a Marble and a Star and Lonely House, Broadway in Wrapped in a Ribbon and Tied in a Bow and the Jitterbugging, Moon Faced, Starry Eyed. There’s light and shade, drama and comedy and romance and tragedy all in one show. The mix of musical styles mirroring the multi-racial melting pot of the tenement’s ethnically diverse inhabitants.

While the book can suffer from too much going on, writer Rice had his finger firmly on the vibrant pulse of New York in the 40s. Where this Royal Conservatoire of Scotland production wins out is the stupendous cast and the stunning visual design. Any qualms about it’s 3 hour-plus running time are assuaged by the glorious sound and visuals. The music sounding at its most goose bump-inducing in the ensemble numbers.

Bravo and brava to all concerned. This is a production of infinite quality and a fitting showcase of the performers of the future, who, on the basis of this production, can and will go far.

Images: © Robbie McFadzean

REVIEW: Side Show – West Brewery, Glasgow

Based vaguely on the true story of British-born conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, vaudeville performers of the 1920s and 1930s, Side Show isn’t your average, jaunty musical. Instead it’s the story of two women with very different inner lives, forever joined, whose hopes and dreams are subsumed by the other, their individual potential never to be fulfilled.

Violet wants a home, a husband, a ‘normal’ life, Daisy desires fame, fortune and the bright lights of the Orpheum circuit. Those whose care they’re in, their only aim – to make as much money as possible exploiting them. Would-be impresarios  Terry and Buddy enter their lives, to, on the surface, help the twins escape their side show lives, only to in turn exploit them for their own ends.

The cast of self-proclaimed ‘freaks’ who populate the side show include a bearded lady, the Cannibal King, a human pincushion and a lizard man. Played here by a cast of actor/musicians in minimal costume/makeup.

Having the distinction of having failed twice on Broadway, this 1997 musical is rarely seen and it is easy to see why. The faults lie entirely with the writing and not the performers.

Act One plods and it takes until well in to act two for it to hit any kind of dramatic stride. It barely scratches below the surface of these complex women’s lives. There’s a lack in variation in tone, too many songs and a discomfort at the subject matter that doesn’t sit well with the modern psyche. The book is quite frankly, badly written and the lyrics tediously bombastic.

What is a winner is the cast. Despite fighting with an overly loud band (that sounded frequently out of tune) and questionable acoustics (although in a hugely atmospheric venue) that deadened the lyrics almost entirely, the cast gamely fight on. Their quality never in question. On the occasions they managed to break through the cacophony they are sublime. Their harmonies glorious. Grace Galloway is magnetic as twin Daisy, overshadowing the less effusive (as her character dictates) Violet from Emma Harding. Callum Marshall’s (Sir) vocals are unfortunately drowned out by the band and the lyrics are lost in the important first few songs that establish the plot. None of this is Marshall’s fault as he is visibly projecting. The ensemble are talented, but it sounds as if musicianship is not their forte and the playing space is sprawling (long and narrow) leading to the audience’s focus dancing all over the room uncomfortably.

A brave attempt but it doesn’t feel fully thought through by the production team. What seems like a match made in heaven – unusual, atmospheric venue and a musical set in the 20s/30s about side-show freaks – doesn’t work in reality. There are practicalities that need to be thought out when you present to an audience. Their viewing experience is paramount. If the sound is distorted by the venue and the staging renders watching it a physical feat, you are doing a disservice to your viewers and also your actors, whose undeniable talent is masked through no fault of their own. All of this added to the fact that Side Show just isn’t a very good show, makes this a rare misstep from RCS.

Performances at West Brewery until 23rd May 2018.

REVIEW: The Fiery Angel (Scottish Opera Sunday Series) – City Halls, Glasgow

Masochistic obsession, black magic, demons, mass possession, exorcism, skeletons, nuns, appearances from Faust and Mephistopheles, it’s no wonder Sergei Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel, often called lurid and sensationalist, is seldom staged. This latest production in The Sunday Series from Scottish Opera sees the work given a stripped back concert style treatment and it’s all the better for it.

Rehearsal for The Fiery Angel
Photos by Julie Howden

While lacking a set, it lacks for nothing else. The principal cast is largely made up of native Russian speakers and some fellow Eastern Europeans and is supplemented by current students of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland opera school. The expertise with the language is partly the reason for the quality of this production, that and the considerable singing and acting skills of its principal players. Russian soprano Svetlana Sozdateleva is fine-voiced and gives a convincing, emotive performance throughout as the mentally unsound Renata, as is Azerbaijani baritone Evez Abdulla as Ruprecht and Russian tenor Dmitry Golovnin as Agrippa von Nettesheim, though it must be said that at times they, and their fellow singers find it hard to be heard over the outstanding orchestra (itself swelled in number by students from the Conservatoire), who, under the commanding baton of Mikhail Agrest, have rarely sounded more powerful.

Rehearsal for The Fiery Angel
Photos by Julie Howden

For all its, quite frankly insane subject matter, the score is an absolute winner: powerful, hypnotic, dissonant, majestic, bold and gripping.

Every aspect of this largely concert hall venue is utilised well: singers enter through the auditorium, sing from the balconies, orchestra stalls and act out the considerable drama in an arrangement of simply staged, but hugely effective scenes.

An absolute triumph for both Scottish Opera and The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and a fantastic opportunity to hear Prokofiev’s masterpiece sounding at its best.

 

 

100 WORD REVIEWS: Urinetown – Assembly Hall, Edinburgh

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.

3 ***

REVIEW: Under The Ground – Assembly Checkpoint, Edinburgh

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s new musical Under The Ground wears its influences well and truly on its sleeve. This tale of loneliness, life, love and loss on the Glasgow Subway, whilst entertaining, offers little in the way of originality.

Presented as a series of vignettes, all forms of life are here: a young widow mourning the loss of her husband, a love rat, a man forced by a slip of the hand to propose to a girl he can barely stand, to name a few.

It is, as it always was with RCS productions, meticulously put together: slick staging, an on-form band and professional delivery and there are sufficient changes of pace, tone, texture and emotion to keep interest levels high, but the derivative songs are quite frankly, instantly forgettable the moment you cross the exit. The are issues with the setting too, which could have been more clearly stated and the idiosyncrasies of Glasgow’s infamous Clockwork Orange, that anyone who has ever travelled on could instantly recognise, are not utilised to add much-needed atmosphere.

There are though some nicely nuanced performances and some fine voices however, there are a few whose energy levels tipped their characterisations into over the top territory and quite a few had projection issues rendering their voices inaudible beyond the first rows.

An admirable attempt at a new musical but more work needs to be done on the music and setting before it’s the finished article.

Runs until 31 August 2015 (alternative days)

This review was originally published at:

http://www.thepublicreviews.com/under-the-ground-assembly-checkpoint-edinburgh/

100 WORD REVIEWS: Willy’s Bitches – Assembly Checkpoint, Edinburgh

The second of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s musical offerings, allows Shakespeare’s women to vent some steam at their treatment at the hands of The Bard.

As their other work this year, Under The Ground, this musical is presented as a series of vignettes, but the lack of a ‘book’ means one can’t help feeling that this could have been so much more.

That’s not to say it doesn’t have some emotional impact. There are a few notable performances and a few not so. There’s also an over-reliance on over-acting to convey emotion and much potential impact is lost in the histrionics.

A little more work and this could be a cracker.