Showcase 2016

September 28, 2016 | By | Reply More

★★★☆☆  Energetic variety

Church Hill Theatre: Tues 27 Sept – Saturday 1 Oct 2016
Review by Hugh Simpson

Well staged, beautifully sung and dazzlingly eclectic, Showcase 2016 is not always consistent but certainly has something for everyone.

The annual fundraiser for Macmillan Cancer Support usually features an array of songs from the shows, from the past and the currently popular. With a cast of nearly sixty, there is no shortage of talent on display.

The Uptown Funk sequence from Showcase 2016. Photo Diane Scougall

The Uptown Funk sequence from Showcase 2016. Photo Diane Scougall

The opening parade of hits from the past 18 months immediately shows the variety and talent of soloists. Arlene Cassidy’s Hello is strong and emotional while Louise McLaren’s Love Me Like You has considerable impact.

Jemma Crawford and Helen Hunter lead a spirited Uptown Funk, while Matt Fullerton and Louise Hunter’s duet on Up is touchingly bouncy. The orchestrations display considerable invention, but are never quite able to quash the suspicion that chart pop music does not always lend itself ideally to a musical theatre format.

This is even more noticeable in a tribute to David Bowie. One of the most interesting things about Bowie was his appropriation of the rhythms of genres as diverse as American funk and German motorik electronica, but here it is undifferentiated and clumpy.

Despite sterling efforts by the various vocalists, awkward transitions between the songs are not helped by choreography that is less than secure. Furthermore, the costumes evoke the campest of low-budget science fiction movies, which is a less than fitting tribute to the genuinely startling figure Bowie cut in his heyday.

atmosphere

That the costumes and choreography seem below standard here is testament to how good they are for the rest of the evening, with James Gow’s lighting design also adding greatly to the atmosphere.

Xanadu at Showcase 2016. Photo Diane Scougall

Xanadu at Showcase 2016. Photo Diane Scougall

If the Bowie sequence seems out of place, the same cannot be said for the Jeff Lynne section that follows. His songs might have been designed for the stage, with the portentousness and bombast some object to on record suddenly appearing almost understated in the realms of musical theatre.

Chorus versions of Livin’ Thing and Don’t Bring me Down work perfectly, as does a Kat Lawrie-led Xanadu. ELO’s patented mix of Classic FM and Chuck Berry on Rockaria is less successfully evoked, but Andy McGarry and Magdalena Chojnacka attack the contrasting vocal parts with real gusto. Director Andy Johnston’s ability to vary the mood is particularly in evidence here, with McGarry, Craig Macbeth and Keith Kilgore combining beautifully on Handle With Care, and Kilgore providing a spine-tingling solo on Not Alone Any More.

The first half’s closing collection of show tunes shows an equally sure-footed approach to pacing and contrast. Anna Chidgey’s suitably dramatic rendition of Sondheim’s Losing My Mind is followed by the title song from Dave Clark’s Time. The marvellous Ibeyemi Osinaike invests the song with the maximum of emotion and meaning, building beautifully throughout. An a cappella chorus version of Days by the Kinks is less impressive, but Mhairi Summers, Kirsten Johnstone and Fiona Macfarlane’s rendition of Green Day’s Wake Me Up When September Ends has real impact.

Aghogho Ogunlesi’s solo turn on I Know Where I’ve Been from Hairspray is simply astonishing; a masterclass in structure and interpretation, it seems impossible to follow. But Tell Me It’s Not True from Blood Brothers does exactly that, beginning with a heartfelt solo by Tanya Williamson and progressing through a duet with John Whelan into a full chorus number that plays to Showcase’s strengths.

accomplished

The second half’s opening Stevie Wonder medley is much tidier than the Bowie effort, with the transitions between the songs handled more smoothly and the movement much more accomplished. Such difficult tasks as the snappy fanfares on Sir Duke and the absurdly funky riff on Superstition are handled with aplomb by the orchestra, who are on form throughout.

The Finale of Showcase 2016. Photo Diane Scougall

The Finale of Showcase 2016. Photo Diane Scougall

There is some particularly noteworthy work from the brass section, but the whole band – under the expert direction of David McFarlane – show their versatility by turning Ace of Spades by Motorhead into a theatrical overture.

A section featuring songs from recent films features strong solos from Jennifer McIntosh, Lynsey Magro and Cassie Dougal. This is where Claire Smith’s choreography really comes into its own, with the pieces featuring diverse but equally accomplished routines.

A selection of pieces from Rent does not work as well as it might. The problem is that, unlike the vast majority of recent musicals, it is a thoroughly dramatic piece where the songs arise from the situations and work less well in isolation. Sophie McHaffie, Ross MacTaggart, Matt Fullerton and Judith Edie are touching enough, while the combined talents of Ibeyemi Osinaike and Aghogho Ogunlesi make I’ll Cover You an emotional affair, but far worse singers have convinced more completely – particularly as it is the reprised version, shorn of much of its impact through loss of context. To include a selection from Rent and not include Seasons of Love is brave; to then play part of the finale, featuring a snatch of that song as well as others, is just baffling whether you know the musical or not.

Speaking of context, there is absolutely none to what follows – a number from Elf, featuring Alan Hunter, Craig Macbeth and a parade of dancing reindeer. Whether or not someone has misread the calendar, it is great fun.

perfectly judged

The finale is an utterly eclectic and perfectly judged selection. Don’t Worry About Me may well be the most obscure song in the show, but its message of solidarity chimes beautifully with the collective, consciousness-raising and fundraising ethos of Showcase, and Joanne Skilling and Keith Kilgore’s duet is wonderfully touching.

Gillian McNeill’s rendition of If I Can Dream is one of the night’s highlights; to copy Elvis’s gospel-drenched original would be sheer folly, and the almost operatic tinge it gets here is spot on. Love and Mercy is one of Brian Wilson’s best songs, little known only because he recorded it on a solo album rather than with the Beach Boys. Rather than the perkier recorded original, Arlene Cassidy’s follows the more stately mode Wilson uses to perform the song live, and it fits perfectly.

The chorus numbers – a thoughtful Purple Rain, a stomp through the unofficial Scottish national anthem Shang-a-Lang, and a joyful rendition of Primal Scream’s Movin’ On Up – are suitably celebratory and bring the evening to a fitting close. While not everything works, the evening’s high points are definitely worth the admission fee.

Running time 2 hours 35 minutes (including one interval)
Church Hill Theatre, 33a Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
Tuesday 27 September – Saturday 1 October 2016
Evenings at 7.30 pm
Matinee Saturday at 2.30 pm

Details and tickets at http://www.show-case.co.uk/nextshow.htm

ENDS

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