Couch Pumpkin: Sofa Adventures
News and reviews for the big and small screens…where potatoes fear to tread.

Musicals at the fringe- from the sublime to the ridiculous

Being in a musical myself, and with the good fortune to be a performer at ‘Musical Theatre @ George Square’ (which granted me free tickets to everything at the venue), my fringe experience included a large number of musicals, which as the title suggests ranged from the hugely enjoyable to the, well…rubbish.

Murder Mystery Musical – Musical Theatre@George Square (*)

I felt obligated to see this as the cast were absolute sweethearts when I met them. The show also managed to garner some excellent reviews (as many as five stars), and boasted an impressive production team. Sadly, I felt as if this group of experienced professionals had dashed off this show during a boozy lunch meeting.

The musical opens at the funeral of a deceased pop svengali, taking place on his remote tropical island and attended by all of his closest friends/enemies. By a none too shocking twist it turns out that the mourners will be murdered one by one until a single inheritor remains to claim his vast fortune.

Obviously striving to come across as a witty parody of murder mystery conventions, it was actually formulaic and relied on lazy stereotypes for humour. The songs were alright and included some vaguely amusing topical references, but I wonder how fast these would become dated. The performers put in a lot of energy and made the most of the material – ultimately, however, I came away feeling bored and glad that I hadn’t spent money on a ticket.

Bloodbath the Musical – Musical Theatre@ George Square (**)

Ah, Bloodbath. It’s hard to describe this bizarre high school murder mystery/rock musical which is horrifically bad and yet somehow kind of enjoyable. I actually ended up seeing it twice on the recommendation of my castmates, some of whom saw it four times – and I hear some of the other shows went eight times!

The action is set in the American town of Nixonville, where a serial killer known as the ‘Waterman’ is bumping off girls from the high school. A group of incredibly fit cheerleaders form the core of the show, displaying impressive singing voices as well as impressive figures (as they are required to wear Ann Summers outfits, see through dresses and even to undress at various points). Woven in are a selection of comedy characters including jock Bud (played by former Blue member Antony Costa, definitely past his prime but a game performer) and the true star of the show, the head cheerleader’s neurotic mother.

The songs are insanely catchy but comprised of such awful lyrics as ‘the hand up your skirt was Brandy’s Dad’s…Alabama Tygress was your Jihad’, ‘I’ll run to Billy where the sex is free!’ and ‘cat fight! Scratching all day, bitching all night!’. Luckily it’s only on repeat viewing that these words become clear – initially the dialogue and songs were almost impossible for me to make out due to a combination of loud soundtrack and dodgy accents. The plot also contains significant holes and seemingly unfinished scenes that seemed to me go nowhere, making my first Bloodbath a baffling experience. It seems that the producers have big plans to make Bloodbath a cult phenomenon and were cheered by the amount of people who came back for more. I’d like to remind them that we came for free, and to be frank if people are not entertained the first time they will not pay for a second helping.

Wolfboy Musical Theatre@ George Square (**)

Another production with an experienced team and excellent reviews that ultimately disappointed. Wolfboy is a musical adaptation of a Canadian play from the 1980s that originally starred Keanu Reeves (or so wikipedia tells me), following the relationship between two damaged boys in a mental ward, one of whom believes he is a werewolf. As the action unfolds we learn of the horrific abuse undergone by both characters, mainly revealed through the show’s quirky rock/pop score. Which is as weird as that sounds!

I could certainly see potential in the show. I was invested in the boys’ relationship, which became hugely homoerotic in a surprisingly S+M way, and the amount of time the good looking leads spent caressing each other whilst topless was, let’s say, compelling. However, there were some fundamental flaws that let the whole piece down. Firstly, the presence of another ex popstar – Lee Latchford-Evans of Steps -who didn’t sing one right note for the entire performance. The young guys did a little better but were still off at points. Also, the one woman in the show was given no songs and barely any character development – perhaps she could have balanced Lee’s tuneless and rather vacant appearance. One of the strangest things I’ve ever seen.

(On the plus side I laughed about this show with some of my cast mates for days afterward and it provided hours of fun. Ahem. Sorry, wolfboys.)

Ed: The Musical C Studio (****)

I attended this on the advice of my sister, who recently took part in a ‘Notes for the Stage’ workshop where she sang a song from this new work by up and coming composer Michael Bruce. It’s clear that he deserves the buzz that is being generated about this fresh talent.

Ed begins when the eponymous hero, a rather awkward young man, is electrocuted while proposing to his girlfriend. We then see how their relationship developed as well as meeting some of the other characters in hospital with him.

Bruce’s music is lovely and I found myself reminded of Jason Robert Brown’s ‘The Last Five Years’ as well as Sondheim. Unfortunately the narrative needs much more work, as parts were confusing and the hospital drama seemingly redundant. As an antidote to the other new musicals I saw, however, Ed was refreshingly worthwhile and I look forward to seeing more from this exciting composer.

Merrily We Roll Along C Too (****)

This student production from Durham dealt well with a tricky Sondheim musical that follows the story of three artistic friends in reverse, showing them in bitter middle age before working back to their optimistic youth.

Of course, Sondheim’s music is incredible, and although I was previously unfamiliar with ‘Merrily’ I found myself as moved by his beautiful songs as I am by my favourite musicals ‘A Little Night Music’, ‘Sunday in the Park with George’ and ‘Company’. Indeed, ‘Company’ is a good companion piece to ‘Merrily’, and this production seemed to have drawn on the recent Broadway ‘Company’ which used a minimalist aesthetic and incorporated the instruments into the action.

Despite this slightly derivative style, I found the direction superb, utilising the three sides of the stage to great effect. The addition of subtle choreography and some brilliant tap dancing also enhanced the action, particularly in one song where tap was used to mimic the sound of type writer keys. Although the singing was not always perfect, the cast dealt pretty well considering they were amateurs. Overall a great production.

Jerry Springer: The Opera Musical Theatre@ George Square (*****)

Having enjoyed the original production at the National Theatre back in 2003, I was curious to see how a group of students would deal with this opera/musical/comedy fusion piece. It exceeded all my expectations – the cast turned out to be incredibly talented, and I will be keeping an eye out for them in the future as I’m sure they will all go on to success. Combining formidable singing prowess with the ability to play ‘Jerry Springer”s selection of rednecks, transsexuals, pole dancers and, er, Biblical characters, the cast made this production as riotously fun as the original.

Showstopper! Musical Theatre@ George Square (*****)

Showstopper! is a drug. Showstopper! is an addiction. One hit of this improvised musical will leave you craving more. This side splitting show takes audience suggestions and spins them into a fully formed musical extravaganza – resulting in such masterpieces as ‘Dig My Patch’ (a saga of one woman’s struggle to keep her allotment away from her ex-con husband), ‘You’re Going Down’ (polar bears take on the Titanic) and ‘Oh, Rats!’ (a tale of love, loss and courgettes in plague ridden Spitalfields). Amazing.

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