Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga – Netflix

Directed by David Dobkin

Written by Will Ferrel & Andrew Steele

Rating: 3 out of 5.

With 2020 cascading a series of cancellations on major cultural events, none have hit fans as hard than the postponement of The Eurovision Song Contest. Starring Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdamsDavid Dobkin’s musical comedy Eurovision Song Contest: Story of Fire Saga has hit Netflix, and while it’ll scratch the itch, it isn’t quite the same.  Maybe, just maybe, Iceland is in with a shot this year (the irony being their official 2020 participant was a bookies’ favourite). In Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, Lars Erickssong (Ferrell) and best friend/possibly-maybe sister Sigrit (McAdams) have been bothering the locals with their entries to the contest for years. After a horrific boating accident incapacitates the official entry, Fire Saga is the only option left for Iceland to stay in the competition.

Will Ferrell plays Will Ferrell. That’s about all you need to know as far as his dedication to character stretches. Occasionally it works, but more often he swings for the punchline and lands in a puddle of bewildering. There are attempts at a Sacha Barron Cohen mockumentary but he isn’t fully committing. Lars is unfamiliar with other customs, socially awkward and frequently talks about his and other’s genitals, because that’s still funny, right? Fire Saga seems indecisive between a conceptual mockumentary and a parody, the significant issue here is that it hasn’t the wit for the former, and in the case of the latter Eurovision is a parody of itself – and a far more successful one.

Everything seems dire, and then, Dan Stevens enters the fray. Extravagant, delectable, and debonair – Stevens has the capability of saving the film, especially when sharing the screen with Melissanthi Mahut, the Grecian representative. The pair’s raised eyebrows and glittering gowns may seem antagonistic at first, but their sequins and ferocious nature belay a shockingly persuasive background of development. The Russian entry, Stevens’ opulent flamboyance sparks conversations of recent Russian acts displaying a ‘campiness’; Eurovision one of the only acceptable occasions where they can be open without fear of persecution. It’s a small touch, and in the grand scheme of Ferrell’s antics is surprisingly, and touchingly, subtle in its quiet condemnation of Russia’s attitudes towards LGBTQI+ communities.

Steven’s vocally-dubbed performance makes up for his recent stint in Beauty & The Beast, but if Pierce Brosnan thought this would make amends for Mamma Mia!, the jury’s still out on this one. Fulfilling his obligatory role as the disapproving father, Brosnan’s role is as paper-thin as his accent, joining McAdams in ticking all the boxes of a role which could have been played by anyone.

So, what’s Eurovision without the songs? From Lion of Love to Double Trouble, a smattering of the numbers are evidence of Eurotrash homework. We have it all – power ballads, the risqué fleshy routine, disturbing are-they-siblings duets, and to the film’s credit, a sentimental note on countries choosing to forego the English dominance and perform in their regional language. And when succumbing to a jukebox routine inviting a host of whos-who of Eurovision, the resulting cameos will offer an additional joy for fans of the event, and they’re blended enough so non-Eurovision fans won’t have the momentum disturbed.

Not quite Nul Points – this is still trash. Hot Trash. Hot Euro-Trash. Thing is, it’s like the event itself – a hideous idiom – you’ll either enjoy this or won’t get it. With tighter alignment, embracing what it gets right and ditching what was forced and contrived – this could have been an exceptional musical comedy. As it is, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga begins tacky, rises like a phoenix but ends up losing its (bucks) fizz as the runtime stretches, save for the occasional glitter bomb.

Review originally published for The Wee Review:

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is available to stream from Netflix

Our Table – Broadway Records

Composed by David Shire

Lyrics & Book by Adam Gopnik

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Essentially an unabridged performance of the Musical-Comedy, this live concert recording of David Shire’s Our Table is a rising taste sensation across America. The story of a much-beloved New York restaurant which fights for its life during financial uncertainty is painfully relatable across industries right now. Recorded live on a January evening, in the company of fans, friends and Rob Schneider at Manhattan’s sensational new writing and musical venue Feinstein’s/54 Below – this cast recording enables all of those who find themselves without reservations to take a place at the table.

Everyone’s got one, a local restaurant, not a chain, something family-run that doesn’t pander to ‘green’ pizzas, espresso bars and specialised cheeses – yet. TABLE is one such place, run by husband and wife duo chef David and host Claire, with their two kids Bix and Katie. It’s a small-time business, but it’s theirs, and David will do everything he can to maintain this, even at the unknowing cost of his marriage. Desperately seeking aid, David turns to Sergio, a talented chef turned television personality who has placed down his spatula and picked up a marketing gig –the issue is that Sergio only has eyes for reigniting a past romance with Claire.

Adam Gopnik’s lyrics divide the album, composition overarches as an engaging jazz album, with spatters of a traditional musical theatre format. It all sounds marvellous against the 54 Below walls, and the natural tones of vocals may be less than pitch-perfect but have a believability to the unpolished performance. Lyrically this division happens when exposition overcomplicates the narrative. Melissa Errico and Andy Taylor bring a performance element to their vocals as David and Claire, but the script offers little in the way of interaction for the two outside their duet performance Chopping Onions.

Espresso, however, is a pure musical theatre number, expanding on a character and their traits without painting it out by number and verse. Humorous, with nifty lyrics, and a building score which compliments the caffeinated subject matter, while the rest of the cast are having decaf, Mark Nelson is full of vim and vigour. The cast recording capitalises on the liveness of the recording, bouncing off of Shire’s arrangements and excelling at putting the instrumentals to the forefront, greatly accentuating jazz numbers like A Slice of LifeEveryday Dance or Take My Life.

Glaringly, as Our Table looks to the future of small, independent restaurants and family businesses across New York – it inadvertently subverts its primary narrative with a superior one following the love story between Anna and Bix and their ‘green pizzas’. There’s tangible chemistry noted with the pair throughout the album, shifting from the broken, awkward vocals into a powerful rendition of growth in What Do We Do Now. Tyler Jones and Analise Scarpaci have a significant impact, equally as impressive as Errico or Taylor, but the memorability of their numbers and catchier dialogue sequences with Nelson snap the attention quicker. It’s the album’s cardinal sin, and one Gopnik’s writing should have avoided, where our leads numbers become less memorable than the side-tracks.

Serving a full-course for listeners, including two aperitif bonus tracks, the starter, mains and desserts are satisfactory – but the side salads are too much, these additional numbers add little character, suffer from over-saturated writing and bulk out the runtime, bogging down the album and bloating one’s appreciation. With Our Table, you’ll return for second helpings, but it may not quench as much as you thought it would.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub:

Our Table Live at Feinstein’s / 54 Below is available from Broadway Records now

Soft Power – Album Review

Lyrics by David Henry Hwang

Music & Additional Lyrics by Jeanine Tesori

Rating: 3 out of 5.

What is this America?”, a phrase on the lips of the globe. Two years ago, lyricist & writer David Henry Hwang teamed with composer Jeanine Tesori to create Soft Power, a reversal of the perceived status-quo and keeping an eye on democracy in America, from a Chinese perspective and (slight) first-hand account of Hwang’s experiences upon arriving into the States. This mastered cast recording of the production contains all fourteen tracks (overture & instrumentals included), and though capturing moments of Soft Power’s heavier pangs of emotion and satire – it struggles to reflect the quality of the show.

An infusion of American ballads, to a composition considerably of Chinese influence, there’s a sublime marriage in intervals for the album, as Tesori’s overarching score shifts naturally between short interludes, expositional numbers and even a take on a traditional ‘protest’ song in track twelve with The New Silk Road. Vocally, Conrad Ricamora carries the album, with the ensemble bolstering small-scale numbers with witty, semantical lyrics, and holding them higher than the traditional listener might pick-up. Soft Power’s album, like the production, has flaring sparks of undeniable wit, attempting to stand-out against a sea of bland which sadly makes up a bulk of the album.

For the album to strike out on its own, without the necessary visual clues, it doesn’t manage to grasp attention or melody in its own right until track seven and the introduction of Election Night. Here, the narrative takes a turn, and the pieces which have been mulling around come together with clear direction. One of the album’s stand-out numbers, it draws much of its potential from the ensemble, turning Election Night into a slow, steady build with a stark twist, much like the election night of 2016. This and the preceding number I’m With Her, sung by our dear near-president Hillary Clinton are stand-outs, but suspicions lurk that the latter suffers without visual accompaniment.

Clinton is a major role within the show, portrayed in a starkly different manner, or rather a severely satirical incarnation. Alyse Alan Louis has a tremendous voice, which delivers character as well as vocal precision, capturing the humour within I’m With Her, which traditionally is staged in a McDonald’s. Her harmony with Ricamora can be best heard in Happy Enough, a sombre, reflective number highlighting the ludicrous expectations placed on women presidential candidates. The latter half of Soft Power’s recording leans into the issues of race, and the deconstruction of America’s idealistic views, offering richer substance than the first half.

Communicating merit, the album captures Hwang’s themes of racism, cultural appropriation, and expectations, but as a collective, fails to convey a flowing narrative, breaking off or trailing away following a filler song or instrumental segment. As a collective, earlier numbers serve to build a relationship with the audience, particularly Dutiful and Fuxing Park which present a wealth of nostalgia and emotion but provide little in the way of staying power as solitary numbers.

Soft Power enables America to dance to the tune China whistles, a reversal of a state-wide ideology and grinding against the traditional theatrical numbers found within musical royalties Rodger & Hammerstein and The King & I. There’s a ripple of comradery, beneath the unpleasant truth of our reliance on democracy, abjectly dismissing its incredible short-falls, and perhaps this is a key issue with the lyrics – Soft Power’s narrative already benefits from multiple viewings, or an in-depth watch and so the album suffers, unable to forge an authentic representation of the production.

Soft Power Original Cast Album is available from Ghostlight Records now

Review originally published for The Reviews Hub: