Edinburgh Fringe 2011
An easy hour of piano medleys and a range of ballads, from classical to country and western to rock’n’roll and all the way back again.
I love the dynamics of audiences. Some are easy to pigeon-hole. You can see why they are liking or not liking the wares on display. But sometimes it’s really hard to fathom just why an audience is lapping something up that you are finding akin to magnolia on the living room walls of a suburban semi – perfectly pleasant but bland.
On the face of it, such a description could not be applied to Amy Abler. She’s a full-on diva, all feather boas and sequined costume with a personality every bit as sparkly and vivacious. Bland she ain’t. Although a classically trained pianist, she’s equally at home with jazz, rock’n’roll, rag-time or jamming any combination of the above. Her extensive repertoire also means that no two of her shows are alike which perhaps explains why, even deep into her Fringe run, she seems as fresh as a daisy and almost addicted to banging out the tunes.
But that strength is also a weakness. The performance is a bit one-paced, literally. And whilst there is no doubting her ability to hit all the notes in the right order, there’s a lack of depth and subtlety to parts of her playing and to her programme. There’s nothing wrong with, say, applying jazz rhythms to classical music – Jacques Loussier has made a career out of bending Bach – but when it becomes an unrelated jumble of notes skipping across half a dozen iconic pieces inside a handful of bars, the whole thing becomes more style than substance. And her voice has a rather limited range and is apt to wander off key at interesting moments. In a sense, what she is presenting here is neither fish nor fowl. I was looking for real quality in burlesque showgirl, pianist or voice and found none, but then nothing was really off colour either. Like magnolia I suppose.
But when she explains that she’s spent years entertaining on cruise ships, playing the piano on each of the earth’s continents, all becomes clear. What we’ve got here is just that, cruise ship entertainment, home to a multitude of perfectly adequate performers providing middle-of the-road fare to those wanting to relax with a drink in their hands and to let the music flow around them – they are guaranteed a dose of the familiar and a good time. All of which solves the riddle of why this packed audience is enjoying themselves. It’s full of cruise-agers many of whom are Americans holidaying here in Edinburgh, unable to resist the lure of an hour’s thinking free entertainment.
So, if you’re part of that demographic, this is probably as good a way to spend an hour of your afternoon as any. The audience clearly did enjoy it, joined in when encouraged to do so and were babbling excitedly about their experience in the foyer afterwards. Difficult for this skeptical critic to argue with that.