All Who Wander

Mar 29 2024 | By | Reply More

★★★★☆   Revealing

Magnusson Centre: Thurs 21 – Sat 23 Mar 2024
Review by Thom Dibdin.

The Edinburgh University Footlights Showchoir just about knock it out the park with All Who Wander, their latest portmanteau show of musical theatre numbers, at the Magnusson Centre in the Edinburgh Academy to Saturday.

Such shows need a peg or a theme to coalesce around. Which might appear to be a simple art; the reality is anything but. So Showchoir’s decision to draw their inspiration from the stages of life, bringing in those from the periphery of humanity, was a bold one – potentially so nebulous as to be almost meaningless. The result, however, is both fascinating and revealing.

The cast of All Who Wander. Pic: Showchoir.

It starts in a fairly obvious place: a medley of songs from Matilda. It’s what you might call a very beginning and a very good place to start in an evening that deals mainly (although not exclusively) with 21st century fare.

Naughty, with vocal captain Abby Harkness taking the lead, is the perfect expression of the whole show, with its lyric about changing your own world and recognising that “just because you find that life’s not fair it doesn’t mean that you have to grin and bear it”.

The whole medley sets up the promise for what is in store, with My House (featuring Méabh Downey) and Quiet (Martha Keegan) allowing the whole company to display their dancing skills on the Magnusson’s tiny stage, thanks to some tight choreography from Amelia Brennan.

drama

But it is the drama of the songs which is the real draw of the whole piece, even if the lyrics aren’t always as clever as Tim Minchin’s (Harkness aces the brilliant forced rhyme of the above quote, by the way).

The opening scene of All Who Wander. Pic: Showchoir.

And so it goes, with the first bundle songs dealing with setting out on a journey, from Mimi Boettcher on Go the Distance from Disney’s Hercules, Isabella Mandich getting on her bike for the title song from Ride and Ewan Robertson as Elder Price, hoping against hope he will be sent to Orlando in Two by Two from The Book of Mormon.

Of course he doesn’t get his dream but, like Nina Birbeck in her number from Frozen II, he is sent Into the Unknown.

At which point, there is something of a hiatus, as Ellie Jackson brings considerable vocal drama to Little Miss Perfect. Not, technically, a song from the musicals – yet. Although a musical is being built around it. It’s a complex mix of regret and longing as the song’s protagonist questions her own sexuality – its bouncy delivery contrasting with its birth as her “fifth reason for committing suicide”.

complexities

It is at this point that you realise just how special a piece of work this evening is. The complexities lie not so much in individual songs such as Seize the Day from Newsies with Brandon Yim as Jack Kelly or Come Alive from Barnum (with Max Middleton as PT Barnum) which bring the whole company into play, but in putting them all together.

The first half continues much in this vein with Maya Bayliss giving a heartfelt take on Corner of the Sky from Pippin and the full company really letting rip with Found/Tonight, the rather extraordinary mashup of The Story of Tonight from Hamilton and You Will Be Found from Dear Even Hansen.

The cast of All Who Wander. Pic: Showchoir.

There are great vocal finds all the place. Hannah Shaw gives all the angst in Lost in the Wilderness, from Children of Eden, with a real display of vocal dexterity. And Marie Keinde’s Almost There from The Princess and the Frog is quite simply a revelation. Here’s hoping we get to see more of her, in bigger numbers in future productions.

The half is crowned out by a brilliantly staged Wait for Me, from Hades Town – which itself is rather special in its staging in its current incarnation in London’s West End. Among the passionate performances, Giulia Pesciarelli joins the named roles as one of the Fates.

oodles of choreography

It feels greedy to want more after all that, but more there is to be had as the second half takes flight with Jet Set from Catch Me If You Can. It’s a great ensemble number, giving nearly every one of the 17 performers a chance to shine, oodles of choreography and all led by the imposing Brandon Yim again, as con artiste Frank Abagnale Jr.

With Aaron Venter finding Neverland in a suitably ambiguous take on the song, Giulia Pesciarelli and Marie Keinde hit the high notes in a properly memorable duet of Take Me or Leave Me from Rent – as do Ellie Jackson, Scarlett Lloyd-Dickinson in For Good from Wicked.

The cast of All Who Wander. Pic: Showchoir.

The second half, much like the first, is procession of high points. But still wandering questioningly through life, whether it is Into the Woods or Stopping the World from Come from Away – with Noah Brooks, the last named singer to get on the feature list, proving that he is no afterthought in both.

Time then, to begin to think of endings. And what better way to do that than with Les Mis’s Bring Him Home. Yes it has become a cliché of such shows as this, and yes, it is a much earlier work that most of the rest of the production. Fortunately Ewan Robertson is on hand to do himself and the song justice.

melancholia

Méabh Downey gets just the right amount of melancholia in her take on Dear Even Hansen’s So Big/So Small before the whole winds up into the full ensemble finale of For Your Light to Shine from Fiver and, rising out of it, Scarlett Lloyd-Dickinson with I See Stars from Mean Girls.

The whole production is something of triumph for all concerned. Creative director Abigail Halperin gets the staging just so, doing enough to ensure that it isn’t simply a concert performance. And MD Eric Rogers keeps his band tight and well reined in from behind the upstage curtain.

Running time: Two hours and 25 minutes (including one interval).
Magnusson Centre, 42 Henderson Row, EH3 5DW
Evenings: 7.30pm, Sat, mat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

The cast of All Who Wander. Pic: Showchoir.

ENDS

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