Edinburgh Fringe 2010
Reel-to-real is a new musical that seeks to blend the songs and original footage of the old Warner and MGM musicals, with live performances of Broadway favourites. If you’re a fan of this old Hollywood style, there is much here to like. However, although it is visually spectacular, the show is not as strong as it should be.
First, let’s get one thing straight. The producers of this show really do mean ‘reel-to-real’. The set consists of two huge white arches, a full white backdrop, and variously shaped white bits of board that are rolled on and off the stage. Onto them is projected the original footage of musicals such as ‘Singing in the Rain’, ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’, and ‘Guys and Dolls’. The effect really is spectacular (although some of their stock animation is very lazily done, and cheapens the effect of the authentic video clips), the visual feast is well worth seeing. Ultimately however, the show as a musical falls flat.
There are several problems, and the first may seem somewhat surprising: there’s too much plot. Now I never thought I’d ask for less of a plot, but in this case I think that would have been a vast improvement. This is partly because of what the given plot was, and also due to what I think people’s expectations are with a show of this nature. So, the plot as a concept took its inspiration from the old Hollywood favourites, but as it played out it felt both labored and tenuous. Twins Jack and Jill (oh yes), are sent on an around the world race to compete for their inheritance due from their billionaire father. In each country they stop off at there’s a song and a dance from a musical, (often with the actors on stage syncing choreography with the original footage), and then off they go until they eventually meet up in China and the verdict is decided. Not only does this make for an extremely artificial storyline, but it’s also doesn’t leave enough room for that many songs – and that’s not what you want from this kind of show. What you want is back-to-back, non-stop, all singing, all dancing, reminiscence. It feels like this show has laid the perfect foundations for a big feel good, high kicking, concert extravaganza, that someone has then ill-advisedly attached a ludicrous plot to.
As well as this in a venue as big as Pleasance Grand, there just aren’t enough people on stage to really have an impact, and it doesn’t help that the vast curtain walls of the venue are swallowing the sound. This combined with some weak arrangements of classics (I’ve no idea what they were thinking when they turned ‘I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair’ into an Easter Island inspired bongo-drum-meets-bossa-nova number). It’s also hard to get behind a cast that are essentially singing along to a backing track – again, the venue is just too big for anything other than a live band – and at one point I’m even sure there was a tap dance with pre-recorded taps.
As a result, the visual element combined with a chance to hear some old favourites was enough to please many in the audience, but the many failings of the show meant that some were certainly left unsatisfied, and even a little bored.