Sarah Kerr

The Wizard of Oz

19/07/18

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

It’s a perennial favourite of amateur youth theatre groups the world over. Originally a book by Frank L. Baum, published in 1900, The Wizard of Oz  is of course best known through the 1939 MGM film version starring Judy Garland. This version sticks fairly closely to the movie (although it does reinstate a routine, The Jitterbug, filmed but cut from the original cinematic release). Beyond Broadway’s delightful production is all done with such zeal and vivacity that it makes me wish that there was another word I could use rather than ‘amateur,’ because the standard displayed here rivals many professional shows I’ve seen.

I needn’t bother you with a plot summary – let’s face it, unless you’ve lived in a hole in the ground all your life, the events of the story must be pretty much stamped into your consciousness. Suffice to say that Sarah Kerr is a winsome Dorothy, and Matthew Steel a bumbling delight as the Scarecrow. Jamie Duffy and Matthew Taylor impress as the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion respectively, while special praise should be reserved for Taylor Williams, channeling his inner Matthew McConaughey as the wonderful wizard himself. Oh yes, and I should perhaps mention that in this show, Toto is performed by an actual canine, one so cute, he (or she) has the audience giving a collective ‘awww’ at every appearance.

But this is more a dance extravaganza than anything else, and you have to hand it to the choreographers, who somehow manage to fill the stage of the King’s Theatre with huge numbers of brightly costumed youngsters, who leap and whirl and occasionally even perform somersaults, a real triumph of timing, precision and imaginative interpretation. Anybody who has the slightest involvement in musical theatre will appreciate what a mammoth undertaking this is and how faultless the end product. The depiction of the transformative tornado, created by scores of moving dancers brandishing pieces of material is inspired – and I love the use of younger members of the cast as the Munchkins, skipping repeatedly across a gantry above the stage, holding chunks of a very famous brightly coloured highway in their hands. I have no doubt that in the ranks of this exuberant cast must lurk some major theatrical stars of the future.

So, if you fancy a couple of hours immersion in the wonderful world of Oz, make your way to the King’s Theatre, where this delightful show runs until Saturday.

And how to get there? Just follow the yellow brick road!

4 stars

Philip Caveney 

 

Fame: The Musical

Unknown

21/07/17

Alan Parker’s 1980 movie, Fame, is the film that launched a million star jumps – and, throughout the 1980s, the television series captured the imaginations of countless more viewers. This musical by The Beyond Broadway Experience manages to take the essence of the concept and uncork it spectacularly in the splendid surroundings of the King’s Theatre. I should point out that this is an amateur production but, like many of the community shows here, it makes you want to find a better word than ‘amateur’ to describe what’s happening, because it’s genuinely dazzling.

The musical follows a cohort of successful applicants through their time at the New York High School of Performing Arts (a genuine establishment with incredibly exacting standards). There’s Tyrone (Rory McLeod), strutting and dancing up a storm, but hiding the fact that he’s dyslexic. There’s Carmen (Caitlin Tipping), bold, brassy and struggling to control a fatal fascination with the street drugs that keep her dancer-thin. There’s Nick (Reuben Woolard), already the star of a peanut butter TV commercial, but desperate to prove himself as a genuine actor, and there’s Serena (Melissa McNaught), a shy girl with a huge voice who finds herself a little bit fixated on Nick.

But perhaps it’s unfair to single out individuals – although Mabel (Sarah Kerr)’s singing is so impressive it gives me chills – because the whole company performs with such aplomb. Choreographer Murray Grant has somehow schooled one hundred and sixty (count them!) young actors into giving the performances of their lives – they jump, twirl and pirouette around the crowded stage with perfect precision and during the song  Dancing On The Sidewalk actually burst off the stage and through the audience in a display of infectious enthusiasm that nearly lifts the roof off the theatre. This is a thrilling production and director Gerard Bentall should really take a well-deserved bow for helming this complex piece so expertly.

The show’s only on for one more night at the King’s but, if you can get seats for it, I’d advise you to grab them. If the pizzazz and energy from tonight’s performance could be bottled we’d all live an extra ten years – and with great big smiles on our faces too.

4.8 stars

Philip Caveney