Next Stop Broadway, the new production from A-Team that is touring to various parts of Edinburgh, features a huge and impressive cast, with inventive and accomplished staging.
However, there are some nagging doubts about it that are reinforced rather than resolved by the quality on display. Billed as ‘a brand new production for 2016’, there is a definite hint that this is a show in itself rather than a revue-style collection of songs – and there is a freshness and drive about proceedings from the first number, Something’s Coming from West Side Story, which is performed confidently by Jamie Duffy, who impresses throughout.
The inventive use made here of the auditorium, along with the imaginative way small details such as the ‘ticket collectors’ chime with the Broadway theme, raises hopes that there will be some kind of storyline or linking thread running through the show.
However, this does not come to pass. It becomes clear that the Broadway theme merely means ‘songs that have been in musicals’; there are several that could be set in New York, but the early arrival of Sweeney Todd soon shows that the American setting has been abandoned.
The show has been cleverly constructed to give contrast in pace and mood, and the transitions between songs are deftly handled, but any overarching theme or connections between characters escape the audience.
The series of big show-stopping musical numbers – some very familiar, some less so – certainly gives the cast a chance to play to their strengths, and gives the maximum possible number of them their turn in the spotlight.
There can be no denying the quality of the singing. There are too many impressive performances to namecheck everyone in the 36-strong cast, but there are some who must be mentioned. Naomi Anderson’s rendition of Nobody’s Side from Chess is particularly strong and emotionally charged, while Celia Leng has several noteworthy appearances. Eilidh Murray invests So Much Better from Legally Blonde with gusto and drama, matched by Erin Brown’s rendition of a number from Sister Act.
Romantic duets are often tricky, especially for younger performers, but Kieran Brown and Ailsa Maplesden’s Suddenly Seymour is remarkably touching. Andrew Watson shows a promising stage presence in a couple of numbers – with the equally amusing Ryan Sher in a song from Billy Elliot, and alongside Aidan Cross and Anderson again in a confidently performed Good Morning from Singin’ In The Rain that features some confident tap dancing.
Despite the strong individual performances, it is the ensemble performances that stand out. There are a couple of huge production numbers that demonstrate not only the capabilities of the cast but also the theatrical nous of director Sean Quinn. The first three numbers of the second act, culminating in a breathtaking Baggy Trousers, are an object lesson in how to build pace and marshal large numbers of onstage troops.
The energy built up here, however, is somewhat dissipated in a second half that drags a little, featuring odd song choices and culminating in a dance routine that seems oddly placed at the finale.
Technically, the show is extremely impressive, with the sound balance being largely correct in the face of some loud music. Ian Redpath Sutherland’s musical direction must be congratulated – he, Neil Smith (also responsible for the excellent lighting and clever video design) and Stephen Gillies are also credited with sourcing, arranging and creating the music.
It is a shame that the programme does not credit the individual singers for their performances when there are so many talented vocalists on show. The only thing that could be noted about the singing is the occasional tendency of some to belt everything out – when you are amplified, it simply is not necessary to start at maximum and stay there.
Those singers who use a little light and shade are accordingly more memorable. For example, Joe Gill and Lewis Dalgliesh’s Willy Wonka scene has real impact because it is acted as well as sung.
This hints at the real drawback in the show. Despite the tremendous quality of the performances – and it does feels churlish in the extreme to call this a three-star show given such talent – there is a feeling of being short-changed. ‘Songs from the shows’ productions are most forgivable when there is either a lack of rehearsal time or a lack of resources, and quite plainly neither of these is the case here.
If you feel that musical theatre would be much improved by losing the pesky ‘theatre’ part, this is your ideal show. However crowd-pleasing this production may be, there must still be a suspicion that more opportunities to build character, to act – the less fun stuff, in other words – would have been taken by such a talented cast, and have been more valuable in the long run.
Running time 2 hours (including one interval)
St Bride’s Centre, 10 Orwell Terrace, EH11 2DZ
Tuesday 16 – Wednesday 17 February 2016
South Leith Parish Halls, 6 Henderson Street, EH6 6BS
Thursday 18 February 2016
Nicholson Square Methodist Church, 25 Nicholson Square, EH8 9BX
Friday 18 February 2016
Evenings Tue-Thurs: 7.30pm
Fri: 5pm and 8pm.
Full details and tickets: http://www.a-teamproductions.org