JULY FAVOURITE: Sunshine On Leith

Dubbed as the feel good film of 2013, holder of several four and five star reviews and easily reaching out to audiences of all ages, I mysteriously avoided Sunshine on Leith during its cinema period. When I purchased the DVD earlier this year I realised what a mistake I had made. Sunshine on Leith, directed by Dexter Fletcher, is a delightful and joyous tale with tender heartbreak at its core.

When Davy and Ally return from their duty in Afghanistan they are welcomed home to Leith with open arms. Ally is in a relationship with Davy’s sister Liz; Liz thinks Davy would be the perfect match for her friend Yvonne. Meanwhile, parents Rab and Jean are planning a huge party to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. When an event from Rab’s past looms up in the present, it seems all three couples’ futures may be at risk. This is the story of hope and the power of love told through the music and lyrics of The Proclaimers.

The strong cast is headed by the superb Peter Mullan and the interlacing songs by The Proclaimers are executed with reasonable style and flair.  Although I am a fan of musicals, I feel Sunshine on Leith suffers from spontaneous and therefore cheesy dialogue to song transitions. The best transition is perhaps featured in the upbeat ‘Then I Met You’ performed by the quarrelling young lovers Davy (George MacKay) and Yvonne (Antonia Thomas). Many of the songs are recognisable and catchy; the instrumentals playing throughout dialogue scenes are simply stunning.

Many interior shots were filmed in Glasgow with outdoor scenes featuring the iconic landmarks of Edinburgh. Fletcher has captured a beautiful portrait of the capital city of Scotland and in true style of the title of the film, not one drop of rain is visible in any frame thus creating the ultimate feel good Scottish musical.


APRIL FAVOURITE: Beautiful The Carole King Musical

As a rule I tend to approach jukebox musicals with an air of caution. After all, they’re everywhere. Mamma Mia, We Will Rock You, Rock of Ages, Thriller, Buddy, Jersey Boys, Tonight’s the Night and American Idiot all fall into the jukebox category and it’s increasingly obvious that these are the shows that the general public want to see. Musicals with already-familiar-to-us scores are crowd drawers. With ticket prices soaring, theatregoers seem content to splash the cash on a show that guarantees some recognisable songs for a theatrical sing-along. With Beautiful: The Carole King Musical receiving seven Tony nominations, I wondered if this jukebox musical was a stand out candidate.I believe that theatre shows based on real life events or inspired by the lives of various iconic personas can be incredibly interesting. Evita, Funny Girl and Bonnie and Clyde are amongst my favourite shows, each providing an evening’s entertainment that is engaging, touching and memorable. The latter received mixed to negative reviews during its short Broadway run; Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Stephen Ward flop proves that “real” storylines are not the key to success yet there is still something charming about a plot that rings true with events with which we are already familiar.

In this sense Beautiful is no different. The show details the rise of King’s career from a teenager dreaming of becoming a songwriter all the way to her first performance at Carnegie Hall. In addition, it portrays the meandering nature of her marriage to Gerry Goffin (who was also her writing partner) and her close friendship with her rival songwriters Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. Although providing insight to King’s personal struggles and reluctance to step into the spotlight, I failed to make a strong connection with the plot line or any of the characters presented to me. Drawn in by the polished and witty script by Douglas McGrath, I did not feel any emotional link forming between myself and the stage therefore could not share the joys or sorrows of any characters throughout the show.

In addition to the polished writing, scene changes are well executed and the scenery itself is relatively simple and effective. Through an array of costumes and colour featured in the show, the character of Cynthia Weil enjoys a selection of attractive outfits, contrasting with the motherly wardrobe of King. There is a particularly impressive on stage costume change towards the end of act one as a plainly dressed babysitter transforms into Little Eva and performs The Locomotion. The music featured in the show, as anyone who is familiar with Carole King’s work will already know, is simply stunning. Her melodies are haunting and continue to echo around my mind. Anyone interested in King’s work or this show will benefit from a purchase of the cast recording which ranges from You’ve Got a Friend to On Broadway and Will You Love Me Tomorrow to a clever rewriting of Happy Days Are Here Again.

I wish Beautiful: The Carole King Musical the best of luck for the Tonys 2014. They are true contenders and I hope they receive the recognition they deserve.

REVIEW: Jersey Boys, Piccadilly Theatre

The Jersey Boys. It’s a title the British have grown to acknowledge, mostly due to the prominence of four men in matching red tailored jackets who often appear on our television screens and perform familiar songs from the sixties and seventies. Surprisingly, regardless of this television exposure, many people are still unsure of what Jersey Boys has to offer. Is it merely a tribute act? Is Jersey Boys a concert of Frankie Valli hits? Of course, the answer is no. Whilst Jersey Boys is teeming with hits by The Four Seasons, it also tells the story of the original Four Seasons: Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi, Bob Gaudio and Frankie Valli. The musical premiered at director Des McAnuff’s La Jolla Playhouse in 2005; the London production opened in 2008 and continuously enjoys positive responses from critics and public alike.

Jersey Boys details the journey of The Four Seasons from “four guys under a street lamp” to entering the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Their story is told through the alternating narratives of each member of The Four Seasons echoing Tommy’s early statement: “You ask four guys, you get four different versions.” The personal nature of the narratives mean that band members’ personal achievements and struggles are portrayed in parallel to that of The Four Seasons.

The pre-show set up is a West Side Story affair of open stairs, bridge balconies and cages. Scene changes are consistently slick and effective: a single street lamp; a television studio; a bowling alley complete with girls bowling into the wings. Most scenery alterations are made by cast members pushing items to and from the stage, similar to the set up recently employed in the UK tour of Nine to Five. Although Nine to Five received criticism for such conduct, Jersey Boys‘ changes are executed with such precision that demands respect.

Michael Watson, the alternative Frankie Valli, is a strong performer, delivering with a contagious energy and enthusiasm. His vocals consistently hit the mark. The cast continues with admirable performances from Jon Boydon, Matt Nalton and Edd Post as Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi and Bob Gaudio respectively, the latter’s performance standing out as the most effective. The supporting roles give ensemble members plenty of opportunities to shine – which they do.

Jersey Boys may fall under the often shunned category of ‘jukebox musical’ however no aspect of this show should be ignored. Jersey Boys is a night of history with plenty of great songs that keep your toes tapping and refuse to leave your brain even after you’ve left the theatre.