MUSICAL 42nd Street
Edinburgh Festival Theatre, until Sat l7 May at t at at
We're in the land of shiny tan tights, corkscrew perms and dazzling pearly whites. The chorus line is shaking legs and grinding those taps for all it's worth and the orchestra is cooking up a jazzy, slinky, slidey tune from the pit. Is this Broadway — or even MGM - circa 1930? Course not, kid. It's Nicolson Street, Edinburgh, 1997, where the spirit of 42nd Street refuses to die and is still dressing up in beige hotpants and leg-kicking its way through the night.
And why not? This new stage version of the classic Hollywood musical may lack the scale and sheer pageantry of Busby Berkeley’s 1933 original, but it compensates with good, old-fashioned chorus- line charisma. Which is exactly what the director ordered, as anyone who is curled up to watch the film with its tenuous understudy-makes- good plot will know.
The fun begins when Broadway wannabe Peggy Sawyer (Jennifer Williams) arrives late for an audition with top-dog
producer Julian Marsh (James Smillie) for a fictitious
musical starring veteran star Dorothy Brock (Gemma Craven). Showbiz being showbiz, our Peg sneaks into the chorus through the back door and when Dot comes a cropper just 36 hours before opening night, the fresh— faced 21-year-old is the obvious choice for the lead.
The plot was a story of hope in the dark days of the Depression, plucking a no-hoper from the jaws of the
job market to live her own American Dream. Here, it is just a grand excuse for putting on the ritz to the
glorious sound of Warren and Dubin's original 42nd
Street score, a requirement which the cast mostly meet bang on cue.
Craven has the superior voice and dry wit to play scarlet starlet Dorothy, although she plays the character's razor-sharpened nails a little close to her
Unashamed nostalgia: Gemma Craven as Dorothy Brock in 42nd Street
chest. More bitchiness please. Williams, on the other hand, plays Peggy Sawyer just a little too sickly-sweet. Her dancing has just the right mix of easiness and jazzy punch (especially in the title number) and her singing is up to scratch, but with a girly role like this, a touch of 905 irony would go down a treat.
The show's real stars are Glasgow-born James Smillie - who plays a white-haired impressario with enough charm to wipe the smile from Daniel 0' Donnell — and Shirley Jameson, whose show-mum Maggie Jones is like Hyacinth Bucket on acid with the voice of Ella Fitzgerald.
It's unashamed nostalgia of course. And nostalgia that lacks the cast of thousands and studio glamour to make it something to remember. But compared to some of Lloyd-Webber's less inspiring multi-million numbers, it’s a breath of fresh air. (Ellie Carr)
In a different world: Jimmy Chisholm and Iona Carbarns in The Maiden Stone
convention. With a brood of twenty- odd kids, Bidie serves as a professional
Harriet’s daughter Miriam is being a
Village half-Wit is being groomed for the stage. Dreams and handed-down stories, riddled With ghosts, deVils and rose-tinted remembrances, are all the women have got to cushion the bleakness of the present. All the while, Bidie is haunted by an unshakeable ghost from her past.
Chock-a-block With symbolism and ‘* rich poetic. language, Munro’s piece has a wonderful fertility about it which resonates deep in the imagination. It’s
wet-nurse for Harriet's newly-born . baby and keeps everyone together 5 despite death and despair. Meanwhile
brattish teenager, while the orphaned
The Maiden Stone
Edinburgh: Royal Lyceum Theatre, until Sat 17 May ** *
Stories are always better than real life. Playwright Rona Munro acknowledges this in The Maiden Stone, the tale of a disparate bunch thrown together by adversity, With a Vibrant tapestry of folklore at its core The first-ever Winner of the prestigious Peggy Ramsay Award, the piece was given
the bum's rush by marble- moothed London critics — who found Munro's native Doric language ’incomprehensible’ — but two years on, it’s enJOying its premier on Scottish sOil
Set in the bleak backwaters of 19th century rural Aberdeenshire, the piece deals With four wornens’ yearning to escape the shackles of domesticity and the daily grind, Polar oppciSites they might be, but prim travelling actress Harriet and yarn-spinning earth mother Bidie, are united by a fiercely creative spirit and a mutual disregard for
not an easy ride, however, and at times over-embellishments of an already dense piece Wind up loosmg you along the way. But it is lifted by superb acting v— With a powerful rriother-heii-like Bidie from Aiin-LOtiise Ross, and Irene MacDougall turning in a haughty Harriet and played out on a beautifully evocative set adept at conjuring up gorgeous images, but the piece lacks a clear narrative thrust and all in all the play just doesn’t hang well together. (Claire Prentice)
MUSICAL COMEDY Barbra And Shirley
On tour *t-k
What does it take to cheer up a wet Scottish evening? Answer: 50 dirty jokes, ten show tunes, two performers and one visual gag involving a black pudding. Take Two Theatre Company’s Barbra And Shirley is a musical comedy about . . . erm . . . music and comedy, which romps maniacally through a plot in which each song - or thong — is only ever a moment away.
Bobby Dazzler and Brenda Starr are musical lookalikes in a cheap cabaret club. She does Streisand. He does Bassey, with all the femininity of Jimmy Nail on a testosterone diet. These mis- matched wannabes share a dressing- room and a dream of stardom, and when a talent scout visits the club, it looks like their chance for fame.
But things get sticky as Brenda falls for sexually ambiguous Bobby, whose spangly frocks and gravity-defying frightwigs suggest Cruella De Vil playing the lead role in Eraserhead. Lawrie McNicol endows his character with such intense camp that a scout troop could rustle up a sausage sizzle in his slingbacks.
Such histrionics leave little space in the spotlight for Alyson Orr’s Brenda. This is a real shame, as her comic delivery is solid and her performance of 'The Way We Were’ is impeccable. ' Indeed, if you go along just for the tunes you won’t be disappomted. ’Diamonds Are Forever’, ’Hey, Big Spender‘ and ’Don’t Rain On My Parade’ are all present, correct and belted out. And because this show is about cabaret, there is no need for that ’spontaneous’ bursting into song that so often jars.
Ironically, this fabulous, overblown production lets itself down in the one area where it seems to believe less is more: the size of the cast. Plot developments occasionally demand that either Bobby or Brenda is alone on stage. Whenever this happens the play falters -- this show relies on banter for
its sparks. ; So -— even better than the real thing7
Maybe not. But as a ruder Stars In
Their Eyes With the welcome absence
of Matthew Kelly, Barbra And Shir/ey is
a genuine hoot. (Peter Ross)
I For tour dates, see page 66.
Stars and bras: Alyson Orr and Lawrie McNicol in Barbra And Shirley
I STAR RATINGS ; a» t t k * Outstanding l l at a n * Recommended l l at * sir Worth a try 1 it it So-so | it Poor :
1629 May 1997 THELIS‘I’SI