The Dolly Parton Story is another production from the Night Owl Show team at theSpaceUK, and as always this company seems to know exactly what their Edinburgh Fringe audience wants as this show was another sell out.
Night Owl productions are a tribute to the music of artists, not look alike and sound alike attempts to mimic the artists, so if you are expecting a Dolly Parton clone then this is maybe not the show for you. If you however like the music of Dolly Parton and want to hear a singer who obviously shares your musical taste and has the vocal ability to do these songs justice whilst making them her own, then Hannah Richards aka Dolly Parton for the next 50 minutes or so could be the perfect show for you.
It takes more than just the ability to sing (or play an instrument) to do a Night Owl show as not only are the audience close enough to see and hear any mistakes, but you are also working with songs that are often very special to them and that is a big responsibility to take on. You also need to know how to connect to your audience very quickly, they have to like you for this all to work, and this audience certainly warmed to Hannah Richards on vocals and Alex Beharrell on guitar and some backing vocals.
The story of Dolly Parton herself is now one of almost country music myth and legend. Born January 19, 1946, in a one-room cabin on the banks of the Little Pigeon River in Pittman Center, Tennessee, Dolly grew up one of 12 children in a very poor but full of love family and those early years resonate all throughout her musical career, perhaps none more so than a song about a coat her mother made for her from pieces of rag cloth, “Coat of Many Colours” which Hannah more than brought to life tonight.
With over 100 of her songs charting, there can only be a very small selection of Dolly songs in this show, and many of the songs are the well-known huge sellers, but there are a few surprises, and as the title of the show suggests, we also get a very brief, but informative run-down of Dolly Parton’s life and career.
Many people (even some Dolly Parton fans) are always surprised that she wrote “I Will Always Love You” which was to become a global hit song for Whitney Houston. I have to admit to liking both versions, but they are both very different, and the original (without the vocal gymnastics of the Whitney cover) is simply a beautifully written song full of emotion, and Hannah’s interpretation of this song is worth the price of the ticket alone tonight.
Hannah and Alex have two very contrasting performance styles with Hannah favouring a more laid back style and Alex being very much in the “barn hall dance-raiser” style. On paper this should not work that well, but on stage it actually works perfectly and brings moments of humour and lightness to the show, and one thing (well one other thing) Dolly Parton herself has always been well known for is her sense of humour. Together in The Dolly Parton Show, Hannah and Alex are a very smooth team both working to make sure that their audience has a good time at their show.
REview by Tom King (c)2021
ARTS REVIEWS EDINBURGH
On Your Bike is the new musical from Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society, and I have to admit that the wider theatrical success of one of their earlier shows “Six” played its part in this one being on my review list.
The promotional material for this show really does not do it justice as at first glance a story based around food delivery employees, a chicken shop owner, and a face from the past, just seems to be limited in scope. Having been curious, and having no idea what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this is actually very well written and working on many levels of story telling and music.
As we follow Gemma, Aidan, Felicity and Daisy through a short moment in their lives, some serious questions about the employment conditions of not only the delivery drivers, but the whole “gig economy” start to come into focus and we all have to start to recognise the unsustainability of employment based on these working conditions.
There are also underlying harder story lines to deal with here – a young girl forced to leave her family home and facing potential homelessness, trying to fight a corporate giant, a faceless algorithm, and animal welfare (or woeful lack of it) in the fast food industry. Into all of this mix, we also have a little humour. All of these elements do mean that there is some depth written into our characters, but Gemma in particular needs to see her story expanded. This is perhaps also a problem with the show, maybe too many boxes are trying to be ticked at once and some don’t fit in too well with the overall upbeat theme of the show, and at the moment these darker elements that are in the lyrics of the songs and the script need more emotional interpretation from the cast.
There is an interesting difference of perspectives here too. If you are lucky enough to be as young as the cast here you can relate easily to that hope that light is just around the corner and no matter what the problems may be they can be solved. If you are older looking back in time, you can re-capture a little bit of what that maybe felt like at the time, but also this show makes you realise that even then everything was far from perfect at times.
There are too few musical shows out there at any time that are starting from the beginning and creating new music and songs for the show, and anyone who is doing this needs supported. The music here is covering many styles and the lyrics are well written to their characters and scenes. Although there is nothing revolutionary in the way the building blocks to make a piece of musical theatre are assembled in this show, they are well assembled.
The format of this show could date itself rather quickly though and the barely disguised corporate names could do with a little more imagination to them. Having said that though, I hope that this show gets a chance to expand outside of the Fringe, as with small tweaks here and there it would be interesting to see this one on a limited theatrical tour, even if the title of the show and the subject matter could make it a difficult ticket sale to non-Fringe audiences. The actual potential of the story and the characters is actually far stronger than the main theme here, and the courier delivery aspect of this show could easily be moved into the background to allow the real story of our foursome to reach its full potential.
In the end though, I just hope that the cast/crew of the show are not ordering a courier delivery of food after the show to celebrate their full house tonight…that would be carrying irony a little too far.
Review by Tom King (c)
ARTS REVIEWS EDINBURGH
The Carole King & James Taylor Story is another production from Night Owl Shows, and judging from the full to capacity venue and audience reactions to the show today, Night Owl have obviously chosen their subject material well.
Just where do you start for a selection of songs from these two artists, particularly in the case of Carole King, one of the most successful songwriters and recording artists of all time? The answer obviously is at the beginning and we started off with the song that really launched the songwriting career of Carole King – “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”. This song was written with her then husband (and lyricist on this one) Gerry Goffin when Carole was only 19 years old. Originally recorded by the Shirelles, it was nice to hear this song in its original slower tempo format. It is now hard to believe that this song was originally banned on many US radio stations due to its implications of non-marital sex.
Hannah Richards (Carole King) and Dan Clews (James Taylor) have a relaxed on stage relationship that perfectly suits the laid back feel of many of these songs and that is something that the audience picked up on very easily here with a little encouragement to “sing along”. Hannah Richards has a voice to suit the Carole King songs (not forgetting her keyboard skills) and the relaxed vocals and deceptively “easy looking, but not actually so” guitar style of Dan Clews also matched the music of James Taylor well, and together on stage this just all worked and time passed a little too quickly leaving you wanting one more song.
This show is simply what the promotional material claims it to be, a tribute to not only the enduring music of Carole King and James Taylor, but also to their enduring friendship, and there could only ever be one closing song to this show – “You’ve Got a Friend”.
Review by Tom King (c) 2021
ARTS REVIEWS EDINBURGH
Laurel Canyon Legends is a musical tribute from Night Owl Shows to some of the many classic and timeless songs and songwriters/bands that came out of the Laurel Canyon area of California in the 1960s and 1970s.
Night Owl Shows have become an ever popular feature of the Edinburgh Fringe at the SpaceUK and their talented stable of musicians can often be seen performing in more than one show (as is the case this year too). For this show, Dan Clews, Hannah Richards and Alex Beharrell capture a little bit of the magic of some iconic artists, and the show includes songs made famous by Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, The Mamas & The Papas, Carly Simon, The Carpenters, Jackson Browne and other artists that you will recognise very quickly.
The sheer number of classic songs that these artists wrote does of course present a problem for Night Owl in choosing a tiny selection of their musical creativity for a show like this and for every song that is here, you can bet that you have also missed out someone else’s favourite. What is in Laurel Canyon Legends is, though, a fair selection of some of the best known work by these artists plus a few surprises.
In this show, Night Owl have got that musical balance pretty much right, and all the audience have to do is just turn back time a little, and mellow out to the sounds of Laurel Canyon Legends for fifty minutes or so. What could be better with the indeterminate weather of Edinburgh at the moment?
Review by Tom King (c) 2021
ARTS REVIEWS EDINBURGH
What do two professional musicians do when Covid 19 lockdown starts and they watch everywhere closing down around them, including all the venues that they were booked to play for months ahead? Add into that the problem of somehow making your way home to the Isle of Lewis where you have a house you purchased a few years ago that is
basically a shell of walls that needs pretty much everything done to it to make it habitable. Panic is one word that comes to mind, and I am sure that Elsa Jean McTaggart and her husband Gary did that, but they also did something else, find through their music new ways of communicating via social media with their audience who, like them, could no longer get out to venues.
As the months turned to over a year, and then some, Elsa and Gary not only renovated their home (well re-built it from the ground up), but Elsa began a daily series of Scottish tunes, twice weekly live streamed concerts and a new album written and recorded. That 19 track instrumental album “When The World Stood Still” was created with the innovative approach of letting people sponsor a piece of music to be written not only to their requirements, but on the instrument of their choice. This show of the same name is not only multi-instrumentalist Elsa Jean McTaggart playing a selection of music from the album, but also telling her story and the stories behind these songs.
I have to admit to being a fan of Elsa’s as I was just captivated by her voice the first time I heard her sing at the Edinburgh Fringe some years ago, and this multi-instrumental show without any song vocals is perhaps the oddest and riskiest show that I have seen Elsa bring to the Edinburgh Fringe stage. Of course, like every other show of Elsa’s that I have reviewed it works well, and only someone with that instant likability and connection with an audience that Elsa has could pull this show off. Tell me of any other vocalist/instrumentalist that could get away with being dressed in a red boiler suit whilst playing banjo standing in a wheelbarrow?
During the making of this album, Elsa also made a photographic record of the outstanding scenery on Lewis that inspired much of this music and that is also available as a companion book to the CD.
I mentioned the amazing singing voice of Elsa Jean McTaggart earlier in this review, and sadly that is not to be heard in this show, but you can experience that at her other Fringe show, based on a love of the songs and music of Eva Cassidy. The show is called, not surprisingly, Eva Cassidy and Me.
Elsa Jean McTaggart is one of the constant stars of the Edinburgh Fringe for some very simple reasons – huge talent and the fact that Elsa enjoys being with her audience every bit as much as they enjoy being with her.
Review by Tom Kinng (c) 2021
ARTS REVIEWS EDINBURGH