venue: Lost Theatre, Wandsworth (prior to Edinburgh Festival Fringe - 33 Pleasance Courtyard)
reviewer/s: Raymond Langford Jones (Sardines review)
Love Birds - rehearsals
If Cats was the first musical to get felines up on their toes, then Love Birds now does the same for the avian population. A delicious, daffy confection it is too - and what a treat for Edinburgh Fringe audiences of all ages when it takes up residence at The Pleasance at lunchtime next Wednesday! It will certainly provide escapist respite from any overkill of new writing and alternative comedy. For Love Birds, set firmly - musically and choreographically - in the vaudeville era of the early 1920s takes us back to the rhythms and, ahem, jokes of a bygone era of musical comedy. The company of nine, mainly young, experienced performers kick up a storm; whilst Gabriella Slade’s magnificent, exotic costumes ensure that the show, almost literally, takes wing!
So here’s the concept. The Loch Ness monster played by John Guerrasio - think Nathan Detroit in a cute dinosaur outfit - is the organiser of … well, a sort of feathery Good Companions troupe comprising The Macaw Sisters (Joanna Sawyer, Anna Stoli and Ruth Betteridge) and four penguins (George Knapper, Jonny Purchase, Rafe Watts and Ryan Willis).
And, of course, there has to be a star. Here’s where the necessary tension and conflict appear, in the shape of the diva-ish Italian parrot Baalthazar (Greg Castiglioni) who continually seeks reasurance: “Who’s a pretty boy?” “You are!” Baalthazar’s temperamental behaviour regularly holds the production to ransom - but help is at hand, and each of the other seven performers demonstrate over the course of the hour their individual specialist talents.
It comes as no surprise to discover that the penguins are - you’ve guessed! - the ones who partnered Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews in, arguably, the most famous family film of all time, when we clock that the creator of the show is none other than Robert J. Sherman, son of one of the Sherman Brothers responsible for the songs for Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang etcetera. And here he proves that he’s inherited his father and uncle’s way with a tune and a rhyme, his clever, largely pastiche score being wittily enhanced in Richard Healey’s lively arrangements.
Without a list of songs, I can’t quote many titles, except to say that the piece runs the gamut of show-song styles from tap, rag and soft-shoe through to acappella and a Gypsy style cod-strip with gorgeous rainbow fans. The Flipper-Flap danced by the penguins - complete with yellow flippers - The Macaw Sisters’ Rickety-Rackety Andrews Sisters routine and the haunting Love Birds title song are the ones that gave me particular pleasure.
Stewart Nicholls’ seamless direction and charming, invigorating choreography enable the individual strengths of his gifted cast to shine through and the show to move along at a cracking pace, making this a polished bijou of musical theatre. And if the premise is slight, some nice political points are made en route, especially about every creature’s right to be themselves and have their moment in the sun. It is especially touching at the denouement when the macaws and penguins finally pair off: boys-to-girls and boy-to-boy.
If I have a criticism it is, not of the considerable talents involved, but of the Edinburgh Festival conveyor-belt system requirement that each production runs no longer than an hour. This may concentrate the minds of people on the creative team, but it is not always kind to a show of this quality, which needs more room for the plot to breathe and give us time to get to know the characters better and their individial stories. I know that this show has had material sliced out of it to make it fit its time-slot. A pity - especially when songs of this calibre are lost. Maybe when it goes to Broadway …?
But go - and enjoy!
July 29th at Lost Theatre, 208 Wandsworth Road SW8 - at 9.00 pm. From August 5th- 31st at the Pleasance, Edinburgh - at 12.35 pm.
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