Sunday, July 30, 2006

Fringe sixpack

If you want to binge on the fringe, Avril Lennox offers up six of the finest musicals

Ben Elton — The Musical, starring Dan Thomas, Green Chicken Curry Productions, Gilded Balloon, Aug 2­-28 (not Aug 15)
Easy targets, we love ’em. What more tempting a soft underbelly to rip into than that of the wet-lipped former scourge of “Thatch” now cosying up to the Establishment and making a mint with his populist West End singalongs? We’re not entirely convinced that Dan Thomas is up to this long-overdue task, with his amiable parody of musicals studded with 1980s pop hits, but if it causes Elton a minor twitch of mortification in his diamond-studded mansion, it’s worth the admission money.

Improbable Frequency, Rough Magic, Traverse Theatre, Aug 4­-27 (not 7, 14, 21)
For years we’ve complained there are no musicals about John Betjeman, Erwin Schrödinger or Flann O’Brien. They force-feed us speeding steam trains, singing felines and the French revolution, when all we wanted were poets, physicists and satirical novelists. Now Dublin’s Rough Magic has answered our prayers with a wartime comedy in which the future poet laureate, the atomic theorist and the political satirist come together in a world of spies, subterfuge and tense Anglo-Irish relations.

Into the Hoods, ZooNation, Udderbelly, Aug 5­-28 (not 15)
Stephen Sondheim, he’s like so 20th century, innit. What da kidz want is summit a bit more urban, nowarramean? So the young dudes at ZooNation have got themselves some cool beats and turned the fairy-tale pastiche of Sondheim’s Into the Woods into an MTV-style hip-hop song-and-dance spectacular that’s really cookin’. Into the Hoods is a family-friendly musical full of wicked old skool, R&B and Motown grooves that’ll leave you spinnin’ on your head.

Three Mo’ Tenors, Assembly St George’s West, Aug 4-­27 (not 8, 15, 22)
Fancy something operatic but not ready to go the whole Pavarotti? How about three African-American tenors in dinner jackets who are just as happy getting their tonsils round jazz, gospel, soul, spirituals, Broadway and the blues as they are the classical canon? Hitting Edinburgh from Chicago, the show gives a black spin on the Three Tenors format, warming you up with Verdi and Donizetti before hits from Les Mis, Five Guys Named Moe and Ragtime plus tributes to Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Waller and Gladys Knight.

(I Am) Nobody’s Lunch, Civilians, Assembly Rooms, Aug 4-­28 (not 14)
Everyone’s doing verbatim theatre this year — lots of angsty stuff about Iraq, prostitution and serial killers based on real-life testaments. Give us a break. What we want is cabaret. Cue the Civilians, a young New York company that has invented a weird offshoot to documentary theatre. They go with tape recorders, quiz the public on the pressing issues of the day and turn the answers into song. Look out for the touching ballad about the abandonment of civil liberties.

End of the Rainbow, Assembly Hall, Aug 4­-28 (not 7, 14, 21)
No doubt there’ll be a score of drag acts doing their take on Judy Garland at the fringe, but the tribute show you’ve got to see is by the singing sensation Caroline O’Connor. The show looks at two sides of Garland as she struggled through a series of performances in 1969 in London. O’Connor, a UK-born Broadway star, had a huge fringe hit with Bombshells two years ago.