Rose St Basement Theatre, Edinburgh – until 16 December 2018
Guest reviewer: Martin Gray
The Gilded Balloon Basement in the Rose Street Theatre hosts top-tier talent this Christmas as five fabulous female stars tell their stories… via three spookily talented backstage assistants.
“There’s no place like Edinboro… There’s no place like Edinboro… ” And with these words a modest dressing room becomes a showbiz TARDIS, taking us not to other worlds and far-off times, but to the lives of five of the biggest stars of the 20th century.
Judy Garland. Doris Day. Julie Andrews. Liza Minnelli. Dolly Parton. The talent doesn’t come any larger, and these ladies had lives to match, full of larger-than life characters. Pushy mothers, closeted husbands, bullying rivals… these woman faced it all and triumphed.
Well, pretty much. It’s impossible to argue that Judy Garland’s life was a bed of roses, but it is impressive that a young girl made into a drug-dependant mess by greedy studio bosses made as much of her life as she did. Daughter Liza Minnelli has also had more than her fair share of troubles. But she’s hanging in there, bringing joy to generations.
Some of their most iconic tunes, along with those of Day, Andrews and Parton, get an airing in this revue, whose conceit is that it’s the dressers and make-up girls who see the real woman. It’s a paper-thin peg on which to hang a batch of showbiz anecdotes, gags and songs, but when it results in a show this witty, tuneful and life affirming, I’ll take it.
Triple threat talents Gail Watson, Joanne McGuinness and Jenny Hulse play our five heroines, as well as the likes of Doris Day’s domineering mother, Casablanca director Michael Curtiz and Minnelli’s Cabaret co-star Joel Grey.
Their warmth and sparkle wins the audience over immediately, via a seasonally affecting rendition of Snow from White Christmas – presumably absent from the earlier Fringe productions – and the gems just keep on coming.
Gail Watson as Liza Minelli Pic) Leslie Black
The biographical snippets – Garland and Day’s birth names, the less-than-straight hubbies, Parton’s brilliant curation of her character – won’t surprise many in the target audience, but it’s a treat to get them all in one show, like a tin of Quality Street with no toffees.
And really, it’s all about the songs, superbly arranged and accompanied by Hilary Brooks. The Man That Got Away is pinned to five-times-married Garland’s disastrous love life. Money Makes the World Go Around arises from a story about Minnelli and Grey’s reaction to post-war Germany while filming Cabaret. I Will Always Love You is linked to Parton’s business savvy.
At times there’s no narrative motivation for a particular number, and the show has no true through-line beyond ‘here are hugely talented women who made themselves legends in a tough business’. But honestly, why kill this particular frog by dissection? Just enjoy the hilariously foul-mouthed Julie Andrews, the delightfully authentic Dolly Parton and the other fantastic femmes celebrated.
Written and directed by Fringe First winner Morag Fullarton, and produced by Karen Koren, this is a wonderful night of theatre spotlighting a quintet of great stars and showcasing the superb talent Scotland has to offer.
Tis the season to be Dolly. And Judy, Julie, Doris and Liza. Embrace it.
Running Time: Two hours including one interval.
Rose Theatre, 204 Rose Street, EH2 4AZ.
Wednesday 21 November – Sunday 16 December 2018.
Weds-Sat: 7.30pm; Sun: 5pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.
Òran Mór, Top of Byres Road, Glasgow, G12 8QX.
Wednesday 19 – Sunday 30 December 2018.
Weds – Sat: 7.45pm (doors 7pm), Sun: 4.45pm (doors 4pm).
Tickets and details: Book here.