Annie – The Playhouse, Edinburgh

Book by Thomas Meehan

Music by Charles StrouseLyrics by Martin Charnin

Directed by Nikolai Foster

Little orphan Annie, the tale of a scrappy, fiercely independent red-head orphan, is a cornerstone of musical theatre. Lyrical, quotable and determined to put a smile on your face, the production resumes touring with a thoroughly talented cast. Escaping the spiteful gaze of Miss Hannigan, Annie sees the gritty truth of the Big Apple. Encountering a few friends along the way, in high places, and one with excess fur, Annie finds herself being taken in by billionaire Warbucks.

Usually, politeness is on hand for younger performers in the role of Annie or fellow orphans. No such modesty is needed, however, as making her professional debut, Ava Smith isn’t emulating Annie – she is Annie. Snarky, friendly yet sharp in delivery, Smith is a firecracker who can belt out the big notes, holding clarity as well as our attention. At first, Smith’s Annie feels older, but she’s portraying a young girl puffing out her feathers to intimidate the world, capturing that brazen young American, hiding a vulnerable young girl.  

We love you Miss Hannigan’, words these unfortunate orphans must recite to the drunkard who is now their carer. Lesley Joseph is certainly a Miss Hannigan to fall for. She doesn’t quite have the fangs others have given the role, Joseph instead provides her honed comedic talents. Exaggeration is everything, Joseph is a veteran of comedy, knowing where to toe the line between over the top, and accessible. From the glugs of her ‘medicine’ to the slight wobble in her movement, she somehow offers a subtlety to a role which is dangerously easy to overplay. Vocally, her numbers reserve themselves for humour and characterisation, delivering a spit-fuelled Little Girls.

Something is fascinating with the music of Annie, beloved staples of the industry; chiefly Tomorrow and It’s a Hard Knock Life, reliving these live on stage is a wholly distinctive experience. These charming ditties – known to most, transform, proving that no matter how superior a cast recording is, nothing can eclipse a live performance. Nothing can capture the expressive nostalgia of N.Y.C quite like a performer’s smile, and certainly, nothing can come close to capturing the antics of Easy Street.

Rooster by name, Rooster by nature – Richard Meek has them snakes hips we envy, strutting around like any rooster in the hen-house. Easy Street casually strolls to the forefront of our enjoyment, firmly planting itself as a favourite. Choreographer Nick Winston, with reinforcement from dance captain Amy West, maintains an upbeat presence throughout Annie. Excelling at this, giving a huge boost to the character, Meek captures the spirit of Rooster, erratic, impulsive and unpredictable.

Framing these larger than life characters is no easy feat, one Colin Richmond readily prepares for. Setting the production in an emerald tinted homage to Rob Howell’s Matilda design, Richmond works in tandem with Ben Cracknell to provide a vibrancy which manages to illuminate the theatre, from the barrel fires of Hooverville to the glitz, gold and shine of Warbucks mansion. 

Bringing the ol’ razzamatazz, Daddy Warbucks himself, Alex Bourne captures an inherent art of classical musical theatre. His performance is paternal, selling the character as a loving father as easily as the businessman. Between his warming chemistry with Smith, the presence of four-footed diva Amber the dog and a wealth of talented young women as Annie’s fellow orphans. It’s a production which goes beyond expectations.

It can be a hard knock life these days, Annie is pure escapism, it’s comforting theatre, welcoming to all with a timeless charm. An already tried and tested piece, what this recent touring does is capitalise on a strong cast who look, act and feel the part. Take a few hours out of the day, breath in that rich, city air and re-live the thriving bundle of playfulness that is Annie.

Production runs at The Edinburgh Playhouse until Saturday October 5th. Tickets available from: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/annie/edinburgh-playhouse/

Club Tropicana – The Playhouse, Edinburgh

Writer: Michael Gyngell

Director: Samuel Holmes & Nick Winston

It’s June, the weather in Scotland is, well, Scottish. So where can you get guaranteed sunshine, sea and Joe McElderry? Club Tropicana: The Musical – that’s where. From the producers of Hairspray, Club Tropicana sets itself in a holiday resort in the 80s, a decade famous for big hair, wide shoulders pads, but more importantly fantastic music.

The inevitable happens in the land of romantic-comedy musicals, someone is left at the altar. Shocking, I know. Encouraged by the single worst ‘friend’ in any show, Lorraine has cold feet before the wedding. Rather than lose out on the honeymoon, Lorraine and her pals travel to Club Tropicana. A great idea so great her ex-fiancé has the same plan. Meanwhile, Club Tropicana is at risk of poor press from a hotel inspector. Misunderstandings occur, hearts are broken and mended, and we have a sea of musical numbers. It’s a cookie-cutter jukebox musical. It’s kitsch, extremely predictable, but it is enjoyable.

Making Your Mind Up, Just Can’t Get Enough and PhysicalClub Tropicana has fab taste in eighties music. Using them to their fullest to get the blood pumping in Edinburgh, so much so that we can forgive weak vocals from cast members. While no one performs poorly, a select few are flatter than would be expected. That though is not the case for Joe McElderry, Cellen Chugg Jones and Kate Robbins. Chugg Jones, playing Olly is the one-dimensional fiancé of all romantic jukebox productions. He does, however, have a charming delivery, and a set of pipes which are hideously underused. His duet of A-Ha’s classic gem Take on Me with Karina Hind is a surprise as he hits the high notes.

On the subject of vocals, McElderry is in his element as usual. His abilities are understandably the strongest in the cast, with one lovely lady belting out ahead on occasion, but more on her later. His charged presence is part of why Club Tropicana works, falling into the danger zone a few times, but McElderry’s bouncing personality keeps the club afloat. Gearing the audience up to dance, sing and laugh along with the show – it is in large part to McElderry that the production works.

Oh Consuela, you wonderful woman you. Kate Robbins completely owns the stage for every moment she appears. We long for it, quite often waiting for her character’s next appearance. The miserable cleaner, bellhop, chef and part-time diva comes equipped with all of Robbins’ tremendous range of talents. Her vocals surpass a number of the performers, her comedic prowess, the best on stage. Her mimicry, physically and vocally for the likes of Dolly Parton and The Iron Lady herself is deserving of praise.

Her praise is deserved, but even Robbins’ is subject to confused writing. At some point, two productions of Club Tropicana were floating around the room. One an above average Jukebox musical, taking risqué jokes and pushing them to the nth degree to tremendous effect. The other is a sub-par romantic comedy with cheap gags. For some reason, writer Michael Gyngell mixes these and we have a show which has toilet humour and predictable plots littering an otherwise enjoyable production.

So, is Club Tropicana bringing anything fresh to the genre? No. Does it move away from tired stereotypes? No… Is it attempting to be something it isn’t? Certainly not. Club Tropicana knows precisely what it is, which is fun with a cheesy, glittery and humongous capital ‘F’. So pop on those socks and sandals, slather on some factor 50, down a few slippery nipples and bask in the ridiculousness that is Club Tropicana.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/club-tropicana-the-playhouse-edinburgh/

Rock of Ages @ The Playhouse

Video Rights:
Rock of Ages

Book: Chris D’Arienzo

Director: Nick Winston

So, let’s dust off the Jukebox musical list: Lovers? Check. Business tycoon antagonist? Check. Glam Rocks’ greatest hits? Check. A flamboyantly fabulous narrator who also doubles as a sassy sound god. You betcha’. Welcome to Rock of Ages, not the usual Jukebox musical.

Set on the glorious Sunset Strip in the late eighties – dreams are lofty for the likes of Drew and Sherrie (Luke Walsh and Jodie Steele). They meet at the famous Bourbon Room owned by Dennis (Kevin Kennedy) and his associate Lonny. True to form, they fall in love – don’t admit it to one another and make mistakes, take gambles and drift apart. All as a sex-starved misogynistic singer robs Sherrie of her early chances and an occasional goose-stepping German buys out the club. It’s quite straight forward really.

Our strutting narr-a-tor Lonny, on paper, should not work. When in reality Lucas Rush carries the character with such fine comedic timing, giving every ounce of energy and charisma that it’s impossible not to find him endearing, hilarious and a highlight of the show. His interactions with the audience break down any barrier reservations, encouraging all to rock out.

Vocally – there are little to no faults with abundant talent and admirable control from our lead performers. Most notably Zoe Birkett, playing Justice, owner of Venus ‘gentleman’s’ club. Nick Winston’s direction knows where and when to utilise Birkett. In closing numbers, we can see how staging is constructed so she delivers the final notes. Her control is sensational. Whilst sharing the stage with the likes of Steele, who herself is vastly talented, the effortless delivery Birkett offers is remarkable.

Rock of Ages breaks the fourth wall, stamps on it and later invites it onstage to take a bow. It’s balanced as both pastiche and parody to sell itself. Whilst skewering the tropes of Andrew Lloyd Sondheim, (or is that Stephen Webber?) by physically announcing its need for a romantic lead it also pays homage to the great glam rock artists from White Snake to Styx, even Phil Collins gets a brief mention. The in-house band do a stellar job supporting the singers, with dynamic choreography supplied by Winston.

Now. As the production breaks the fourth wall it draws attention to a fault many musicals suffer, glancing into the attitudes of the music industry. It treads the line with performers ‘assets’. Raunchy, red-blooded and empowering some audience members may still find the flesh on display bordering on excessive. For the intelligence of the script, it’s part of the productions lampooning as much as it glorifies. For a general crowd, it’s an oversight they can enjoy. The only flaw is that its female stars, whilst written well only come into their own quite late into Act One.

Productions of a similar ilk – take note. This is precisely how to showcase Glam Rock in all of its thrusting, dark denim glory. Rock of Ages does not angle itself to be something it cannot be, it isn’t trying to tackle intense issues of the music empire. It thrives as its own piece, separate from others it (unfairly) will be held against. Whilst other shows may ‘rock you’ Rock of Ages will rock with you.

If at some point your blood isn’t pumping, a leg isn’t itching to dance, or you aren’t laughing – chances are you’d rather spend an evening with the Guardian. From the outset the audience of Rock of Ages are slaves to the beat, surrendering themselves over from quiet theatregoers to gig-screaming fans. If you think you’ve experienced a Jukebox musical – you haven’t until you’ve lived through Rock of Ages.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub:
https://www.thereviewshub.com/rock-of-ages-the-playhouse-edinburgh/

Production Touring:
http://www.rockofagesmusical.co.uk/tour/