EDINBURGH FRINGE 2014 REVIEWS
A VERY EDINBURGH CELEBRATION
Scottish Storytelling Centre, Tuesday 19th August, 3pm
Former Edinburgh Makar, Ron Butlin, was accompanied by musicians Anne Evans on flute and Dick Lee on bass clarinet for this celebration of Edinburgh and its people, in the lovely setting of the Scottish Storytelling Centre. Ron reminded us that we were in part of the building that had been John Knox's House, and that we shouldn't be enjoying ourselves, but then went on to provide an hour of entertainment which the audience greatly enjoyed. Ron's poetry and prose is always worth reading or listening to, whether it's a light-hearted look at Edinburgh's trams or some of his more serious work, but the addition of the accompanying music made it even more special. The very talented Anne Evans and Dick Lee played music which enhanced the mood of the work being read, and also added sound effects. All three performers seemed totally relaxed and at their ease, and it all made for a very enjoyable hour.
This show continues until 25th August
CRAZY FOR YOU
Church Hill Theatre, Monday 18th August, 2.15pm
American High School Theatre Festival has been part of the Edinburgh Fringe for many years now, and this particular show was performed by students from Castle Performing Arts Center in Hawaii. Featuring the songs of George and Ira Gershwin, it is set in the 1930s and tells the story of a New York bank official, Bobby Child, who is sent to Dead Rock, Nevada, to foreclose on a small theatre. As in all the best Broadway musicals, the leading man saves the day and gets the girl, despite several misunderstandings along the way. The show includes such well-known songs as I Got Rhythm, Someone To Watch Over Me, and They Can't Take That Away From Me.
The cast of teenagers was energetic and enthusiastic, with Jeremy Hurr as Bobby Child being the stand-out performer here. HIs performance was on a different level from the rest of the cast. This young man can sing, dance and act, and has great stage presence. He's definitely a name to watch out for in the future.
THRILL ME: THE LEOPOLD AND LOEB STORY
C Venues, Chambers Street, Sunday 17th August, 8.55pm
Based on the true story of a child abduction and murder in Chicago in 1924, this may have seemed a rather unlikely choice of subject for a musical. However, it worked surprisingly well to give a production that was both powerful and disturbing. It tells the story of two rich law students, Richard Loeb (Jo Parsons) and Nathan Leopold (Danny Colligan) who commit what they think will be the perfect crime. Nathan is obsessed with Richard, desperate for his love and attention. Richard, on the other hand, is obsessed with finding the ultimate thrill and, from studying Nietzsche, he believes himself to be a Superman, beyond good and evil. The story is told by Nathan as a series of flashbacks, while he is awaiting parole. Parsons is excellent in the part of Loeb, ranging from arrogant yet charming, to manic, to frightened, all played entirely convincingly. Colligan is equally good as Leopold, who is willing to do anything to ensure Loeb is his and his alone.
The whole story is played out by two actors on a very simple but effective set, with a pianist providing the accompanying music. It was totally intense and absorbing throughout, with an unexpected twist at the end. It's about as far from the usual cheerful, sing-along musical as you can get, but definitely deserving of the nominations and awards it has received.
Thrill Me continues until 25th August.
MARY MAY SINGS BILLIE HOLIDAY
The Jazz Bar, Friday 15th August, 7pm
There was a long queue outside The Jazz Barr tonight, and when I finally got inside, it was pretty much standing room only left.
Aberdeen-based jazz singer Mary May, accompanied by a four piece band of drums, bass guitar, guitar and keyboards, performed a faultless one-hour set of Billie Holiday songs (some written by Billie Holiday herself). The tone of her singing was perfect for numbers such as Don't Explain, Lover Man, and God Bless the Child. As Mary explained during the set, some of these songs had been given a slightly more up to date arrangement and were being performed and sung "not exactly as Billie Holiday would have sung them, but as she might have performed them now", and this worked very well. For some, the omission of Strange Fruit as a song choice tonight may have disappointed, but not for me as the songs chosen for this set had obviously been very carefullly selected to work well within the confines of a short set performed in a Jazz Bar setting.. Mary seems to have a lot of loyal fans, and many it seems had travelled tonight as the Jazz Bar was packed out for this performance. Mary was also a gracious enough performer to recommend the next singer of the night at The Jazz bar to everyone in the audience.
The Brunton, Musselburgh, Thursday 14th August 7.30pm
Them Beatles were just fab! This Glasgow-based tribute band played a 2 hour show covering The Beatles' whole career, with a section being devoted to "A Hard Day's Night" in its entirety, in celebration of the album's 50th anniversary. While they played many of the big hits you'd expect, it was nice to hear some lesser known songs too. The band had a good rapport with the audience, including playing a couple of requests, and were talented singers and musicians. The stage set was simple but effective - mainly the use of lighting effects, and a film screen backdrop which had news clips and photos to set the scene. All in all, great entertainment, which had the audience on their feet and singing along to many of the songs.
The Brunton itself was a very pleasant surprise. This was my first visit to the revamped Brunton, and it's an extremely comfortable and clean venue, with very polite and helpful staff. Although we were sitting only a few rows from the back, there was a clear view of the stage, and there was lots of legroom too.
This was a one-off performance at The Brunton tonight, but I'd recommend looking out for other performances by Them Beatles, and would definitely recommend The Brunton too. It's easy and quick to get to from Edinburgh, with plenty of free parking, and is a lovely welcoming venue.
DIRTY HARRY:ULTIMATE TRIBUTE TO BLONDIE
Electric Circus, Wednesday 13th August 7.00pm
I'm a long time Blondie fan, and saw them live way back in 1980, so I was looking forward to seeing this tribute band. The evening didn't start well. The starting time on the tickets was 19:00, but we were still standing outside in a queue well after 7. We finally got in, to find the room where the event was being held had very limited seating, most of which had no view of the stage. In fact, the focus of the room appeared to be the bar, certainly not the stage. Maybe about 7.30 or so, a band appeared on stage, but not Dirty Harry. They finally appeared on stage around 8pm. By this time, the room was very busy, and there was no view at all from where I was sitting. By standing up, I was able to see part of the stage in between the people standing around the bar and in front of the stage. Some of the "audience" didn't make any attempt to see or listen to Dirty Harry, and continued chatting loudly throughout the show.
BUT, the positive side is that Dirty Harry were excellent. Singer Sarah Kennedy was a very convincing Debbie Harry look-alike and sound-alike, the rest of the band were great, and the set covered most of their biggest hits. It was a fun evening, with many of the audience singing and dancing along. I'd definitely go to see them again.
They're playing at Electric Circus again on 20th August, so if you don't mind seeing them in what is essentially a noisy, crowded bar, go along and indulge in a bit of Blondie nostalgia.
STUPID CUPID:THE GIRL GROUP ERA
C Nova, Tuesday 12th August 7.15pm
On paper, this sounded like it would be a good show - internationally acclaimed singer, Rosemary George, singing songs from the 1960s.
The musicians, Pat Levett on drums and pianist John Turville, were excellent, as were backing singers Emma Divine and Jana Skene. Rosemary George herself has a lovely voice, and I'm sure I would enjoy hearing her sing a different genre - Broadway musicals perhaps - but this show just didn't work for me. Ms George forgot the running order of the show on occasion, introducing a song then finding out everyone else was ready to start a different one; this was apparently because the show had been cut down from a longer one.
However, the main problem was that a mature lady like Ms George singing songs about first love and teenage angst just didn't work. Songs like Lipstick on Your Collar, Where the Boys Are, It's My Party need to be sung by a young fresh voice, like the original singers I remember from the 1960s.
The venue was a bit claustrophobic, being a very small room draped with black fabric. All in all, much as I had looked forward to seeing this, I really couldn't recommend this show. However,I have to say that other members of the audience did seem to be having a good time, so it's all a matter of taste.
SINATRA:THE FINAL CURTAIN
The Space@Surgeon's Hall, Monday 11th August 7.10pm
Kingdom Theatre Company's original musical play, based on the life of Frank Sinatra, sees Ol' Blue Eyes in a hospital bed recalling his life to a young nurse. He recounts his days as a young, very successful singer and actor, while his younger self sings the hit songs from that time. The very simple set worked well in this space, with either the hospital bed or a bar being lit, depending on where the action was taking place.
Moray Innes as Sinatra gives a performance that is at times funny, at other times very moving, as he recounts his story to the young Nurse Rosie (Sarah McGillivray) who is apparently too young to even know who he is - although she tells him her grandma was a fan of his. Moray Innes has a very fine, strong voice, which isn't quite matched by James Heatlie as his younger self, although Heatlie still gives a credible performance. The hit songs were there, including New York, New York, Come Fly With Me, You Make Me Feel So Young, One For My Baby, and of course My Way which was the finale after Sinatra had indeed "faced the final curtain".
This was a very enjoyable play, and I'd love to see it extended to tell more of Sinatra's life story and to include more of his songs.
THE RAT PACK LIVE
C Venues, Chambers Street, Sunday 10th August 7.50pm
Hidden in the basement of Adam House is a surprisingly comfortable little theatre, which was the venue for tonight's show.
Backed by a 12 piece jazz orchestra, and with two glamorous female backing singers, the music of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr was brought to life by three very talented young men. Each had a solo spot, where they performed such classic songs as King of the Road (Martin), Mr Bojangles (Davis) and Fly Me to the Moon (Sinatra), and they then performed together on other greats which included Mack the Knife and New York, New York. The whole show was very slick and professional, and great fun to watch, with the three singers joking with each other between songs. While everyone taking part was very talented, the highlight for me was the performance of My Way. This song has been recorded by so many people that it must be hard to give a truly original performance, but this one was perfection. With just a spotlight on "Frank Sinatra", and minimal backing music, it was sung with such skill and emotion that it was like hearing it for the first time.
The audience, who ranged in age from teenagers to those who may well have seen The Rat Pack perform at their peak, loved the show. At only 55 minutes, it had to cram a lot of material into a short time, but still managed to have a relaxed feel about it. Catch it if you can, as this is the last time they're doing this show at the Fringe.
CRY ME A RIVER - THE SONGS OF JULIE LONDON
The Jazz Bar, Saturday 9th August 7pm
Kerry Jo Hodgkin (Vocals), Colin Steele (Trumpet), Malcolm MacFarlane (Guitar)
The Jazz Barr tonight was full for this intimate set of classic songs from the vast back catalogue of Julie London. The all too short one hour set took us from songs from her first Album album "Julie Is My Name" in 1955 which gave us the penultimate song of the evening and title song of the show (Cry Me A River) to her final album "Yummy Yummy Yummy" in 1969. It is from this last album that we were given a version of The Doors classic "Light My Fire".
Kerry took some time to explain how difficult it was to choose such a small number of Julie London songs to fit into a one hour set and also that tonight she was singing low in the original key these songs were performed in by Julie London herself. Kerry's interpretation of classic songs written by people like Bobby Troup (Julie's manager and later husband) and Cole Porter worked well in the small stage and small downstairs club area that the Jazz Club provides. Kerry obviously had a great personal liking for the material she was singing tonight and that came over to the audience. As she said, she had also done her homework and listened to all 32 of the original Julie London albums in order to get tonight's song set together.
Kerry was also supported tonight by Colin Steele on trumpet. Colin displayed control of a wide range of trumpet techniques on this short set, and having a first class jazz trumpeter with you on a set like this is a must. Praise must also go to Malcolm MacFarlane on guitar. Malcolm has an obvious feel for this material that shows in his playing.
This was really a three person show tonight, and an enjoyable evening out.
PARAS OVER THE BARRAS
St Serf's Hall, Thursday 7th August 7.30pm
Leitheatre's production of this comedy/drama set in the East End of Glasgow during the Second World War was a joy to watch from start to finish. Although primarily a comedy, there were some poignant moments too, but the overall message was of making the best of things while keeping a sense of humour. There was always the underlying worry of the possibility of bombings and uncertainty about loved ones who were away fighting, but everyday life still had to go on.
Billy Renfrew in the lead role of Wullie McSorley completely stole the show with his facial expressions and fine sense of comic timing, and the other main roles of Annie, Ina and Rita were very well played by Fiona Robertson, Phyllis Ross and Megan Travers respectively. There were a couple of moments when the actors needed prompting, and I suspect the lighting wasn't quite keeping up with the action at times, but let's not forget this is an amateur production.
The show continues its run until 16th August, and I'd definitely recommend it for a couple of hours of entertainment with plenty of laughs.
St Andrew's & St George's Church Thursday 7th August 2.30pm
A bit of staging with Union Jack bunting, sandbags and an air raid siren, in the lovely setting of St Andrew's and St George's Church, set the scene for a wartime musical experience.
The Three Belles and Swing Sensation Dance Band joined forces to perform the music and songs of the 1940s. The Three Belles - Gail, Betty and Dorothy - are inspired by The Andrews Sister, and performed a selection of songs with close harmonies, a bit of dancing, and cheeky personalities. They performed the first half in military-style costumes, and returned after a short break in 1940s style swing dresses. The girls looked and sounded the part, and the audience loved them and their renditions of such songs as Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, Why Don't You Do right, Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree, and a beautiful acapella version of Count your Blessings. The 9 piece Swing Sensation Band got everybody "In the Mood" with their big band sound, including an audience sing-a-long of It's A Long Way to Tipperary and Pack Up Your Troubles. The one hour show went by far too quickly, finishing off, maybe a bit predictably, with We'll Meet Again. This was a one-off performance, but I'd love to see and hear them together again.
The band are performing again on 15th and 16th August, and the Three Belles are starring in a "naughty but nice" show called London Life from 11th to 16th August.
NEW YORK NEW YORK
VENUE 54 REVIEW WEDNESDAY 6th AUGUST 9.25pm
When is a sextet not a sextet? How about when it only has five instruments. The Neil Pennock Sextet provided the music for this "toe-tapping journey through the Great American Songbook", but it was rather an odd combination of instruments for the genre - drums, trombone, clarinet, guitar and bass guitar - which I felt didn't really work well together.
The two vocalists, Rachel and friend (sorry, I didn't catch his name!), were very likeable and had charisma, and sang a selection of classics which the audience enjoyed. They started off with "Get Happy", a message which didn't seem to get through to the bass guitarist, who looked pretty unhappy and uncomfortable with the music all through the set. With a more traditional arrangement of backing instrumentalists who had more sympathy for the genre, the undoubted talents of the singers (and their love of the music) would have shone through more. They sang some great songs, including I've Got Rhythm, At Last, Mack the Knife, How High the Moon, That's Why the Lady is a Tramp, and I would have enjoyed hearing more of the great swing songs from the singers.
The basement venue is a small, intimate space, which works really well for this type of show.
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