Review – Showcase: Musical Diversity

Sep 25 2013 | By More

★★★★☆  Bold choices, big voices

Church Hill Theatre Tue 24 – Sat 27 Sept, 2013

There’s no disputing the title of Showcase’s latest adventure into the world of pop, rock, musicals and music from films and TV. Musically, diversity runs right through it.

Who's this? Louise Hunter in red with the dancers in Showcase 2013: Musical Diversity. Photo: Mark Cassidy

Who’s this? Louise Hunter in red with the dancers in Showcase 2013: Musical Diversity. Photo: Mark Cassidy

And, once it gets going, that diversity makes for a some truly scrumptious offerings – both through juxtaposition and through the sheer chutzpah of what is on offer. There’s even a Dr Who sequence.

Not to mention some great staging, solid work from lighting designer Calder Sibbald to give each number a unique and appropriate feel, and what you might call “special” elements to the wardrobe.

However, diversity also implies that all offerings will be welcome, so there should be little surprise that not all the numbers are as good as the best ones. What does come as a shock, however, is that it is the very first number that sees Showcase at its weakest.

The overture starts brightly enough, with musical director David McFarlane getting the 14 strong orchestra right into the opening bars of Beethoven’s fifth symphony. Which, in this context, can only mean that the playful MD has set up  ELO’s version of Roll Over Beethoven to fire up the opening rock’n’roll sequence.

Fair enough. The sleight of baton is nicely gauged. Unfortunately, rock’n’roll on a stage such as this rarely feels scuzzy enough. It has that High School wholesomeness: all pastel polka dot dresses and the general whiff of niceness that simply jars with the material.

It’s as if Dr Who had aimed his Tardis for the 1950s but ended up on the set of the musical Grease.

So that when Andy McGarry gets his pipes around Led Zeppelin’s Rock & Roll, instead of giving an open-throated wail, enough to drown out the throbbing of massed Harley Davidson motorbikes, it is a very nice accompaniment to gentle hip swinging from the chorus. They are very decorously swung hips, it must be said, but it is the swinging of hips nonetheless.

To be fair to the singers, the whole sequence suffered on the opening night, as the sound desk hadn’t yet got the balance right – particularly for the choruses when accompanied by the orchestra at full pelt.

A superb piece of programming

The great thing of the format is that if you don’t like one number, something better is bound to be just round the corner. In this case, it is Cat McInally and Ibiyemi Osinaike with the first of a sequence of duets: It Takes Two.

The chorus perform Rod Stewart's Sailing. Photo: Mark Cassidy

The chorus perform Rod Stewart’s Sailing. Photo: Mark Cassidy

And by the time Louise Hunter and Jacqui Mills duet on Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves, with the female chorus in support , all that rock’n’roll suicide is forgiven. Not least, when it gives way to Ian Sutherland and Keith Kilgore duetting on Let It Be Me with the male chorus.

This is a superb piece of programming from Johnston. The sexy, rumbustious staging of Sisters with its full-throated interpretation and the singers all in sizzling outfits, makes the perfect juxtaposition to the statically staged, mournful yearning of Let It Be Me, with the men in much more sombre attire.

And the duet section gives Andy McGarry a chance to get his mojo back when it climaxes with Barcelona. He hits all the high notes, as does his duetting partner Gillian McNeill.

The first half, which finishes with a sequence of musical theatre hits, tops out in fine form with a pair numbers from Jesus Christ Superstar. How do you surpass Tanya Williamson’s skilful, sensual and emotionally charged performance of I don’t Know How to Love Him? Why, you get Keith Kilgore to bring the curtain down in a brilliantly staged version of Gethsemane. Awesome.

What is it with opening sequences and this show? Having given a natty version of Hoots Mon by Lord Rockingham’s XI a pre-curtain workout – with McFarlane turning to conduct the audience for the “moose loose aboot the hoose” line – the curtain rises to a version of Rod Stewart’s Do You Think I’m Sexy? that falls between parody and karaoke.

However it is not all bad and the Rod Stewart medley, with the chorus in wonderfully dodgy Seventies outfits, generally lifts the spirit. And finishes with a version of Sailing that succeeds – just – to not descend into sing-along status.

lets the full impact of a chorus show

Andy Johnston is a consummate director of this kind of stage show, and his final pair of sequences go with a real blast. A Sunshine on Leith medley brings the recently released film of the Dundee Rep musical right up into focus.

Ibiyemi Osinaike leads the chorus in Fix You for the finale of Showcase 2013: Musical Diversity. Photo: Mark Cassidy

Ibiyemi Osinaike leads the chorus in Fix You for the finale of Showcase 2013: Musical Diversity. Photo: Mark Cassidy

And the finale itself allows the hugely talented Ibiyemi Osinaike to show off his abilities in Fix You and Seasons of Love, which are all wrapped up in an emotional ball with Perfect Day and He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother.

What transcends even Johnson’s usual prowess, however, is the Happy Birthday to Who sequence that precedes these.

It opens as might be expected with the sound effects of the Tardis landing. But this is no cheesy, sub-panto production. There’ll be no cardboard cut-out Tardis on stage, thank-you very much.

Instead it starts off with a version of the Dr Who Theme Tune. The dancers are all in black with what look like christmas lights, glowing across their tops, and star-cloth on the backdrop of the darkened stage. And from this otherworldly outing, the work of Murray Gold takes over for three numbers that show the company at its best.

Doomsday was written for the scenes when the tenth doctor and Rose Tyler are finally separated. Think what you will of the David Tennant and Billie Piper combination, their parting was an emotional trauma and this big, full-throated chorus number emphasises it perfectly.

The Daleks have to enter into it somehow, and The Dark and Endless Dalek Night allows the horror of the Doctor’s best-loved enemy to be realised musically. If you thought Doomsday let the chorus open their throats, this really lets the full impact of a chorus show. It’s not subtle, but boy is it effective.

And finally a number which demonstrates why Dr Who has become so popular since its 2005 revival. Composed for the Daleks in Manhattan episode of 2007, which is set in a 1930s Broadway theatre, My Angel Put the Devil In Me allows the dancers to get out their ostrich feather fans and choreographer Claire Smith to dust off her Busby Berkeley hat.

It is a fantastic concept which surpases any expectations of naffness or in jokes. Yes, this is a show which doesn’t do every aspect as well as it might, but when it does get it right, it hits the spot with style.

Running time: 2 hours 40 mins.
Chuch Hill Theatre, 33a Morningside Road, Edinburgh, EH10 4DR
Daily, 7.30pm, Sat Mat 2.30pm.
Tickets from:
Ticket hotline: 07728 870857


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