Reviewed by Natalie Low
The coming-of-age rock musical that won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2007 is sad, confronting, but so important. The Edinburgh Little Theatre has now presented their version of this classic. The proscenium arched theatre is small, and cozy – a perfect setting for this musical. There was no set involved, with the only use of chairs and a handful of props through the play. With the decision to not use a set, there were moments that were not very clear of the setting of the show – particularly if you were not all too familiar with the musical to begin with. The only ability to tell that we are in another scene is through the use of blackouts in between each scene. Without the use of a set, the production did feel a little lacking – especially since the chairs were also not of the time period, but rather hotel conference room chairs, and so it did make the show feel a little out of place.
The best part of the show is perhaps the songs, there hasn’t been much, or if any, change from the original version of the musical and no new interpretation and so the songs remain solid. The performers, though young, have strong voices and each individually stand out but also meld together very nicely. The harmonies sounded good, and they all shone in both the group pieces, along with their solos. The storytelling is solid overall, with most of the actors holding on their own nicely and firmly. Their characters are developed, as in the original and the actors all playing these confused teenagers capture the difficulty of growing up and dealing with all these new issues strongly and confidently.
The standout of the group is the performer playing Melchior, the lead actor. He holds his own, bringing the right amount of confidence, and scared confusion, bringing similar energy to the originating actor of the role – Jonathan Groff. His voice is also very strong, and his accent work is almost rather flawless. His solo moments in the songs are powerful, and he leads the boys almost effortlessly and charmingly.
Another standout of the group is the actor playing Moritz – nervous and anxious about his beginning experiences with erotic dreams. His voice is also strong, and he brings on the perfect amount of anxiousness and longing for answers that naturally draws an audience in to sympathise and cheer him on. You feel for him as he struggles through the show, and it is painful at the end.
One of the best performances through this musical is probably “The Bitch of Living” – which has always been a fun song and the boys have great chemistry amongst each other to carry the song through with the audience noticeably bobbing their heads along. The girls perhaps are not as strong in this performance, with Wendla sometimes struggling to be heard. She has a beautiful voice though, and she balances the difficulty of Wendla figuring out more about herself, and struggling to make sense of conflicting answers she is given about life. The adult roles are all played by 2 adults – and perhaps they do not shine as much as the children. The switch between characters are awkward, and they carry themselves almost a little too stiffly that you do not really feel as connected to them as much as the children.
Choreography through the show is mainly strong – with occasional moments of hesitation from the cast, but mostly they are in sync. The lighting design is simple – with occasional use of all greens, or all reds, and multiple transition blackouts. In one scene, there is a blackout with the boys all using torchlights to move around the stage. That was perhaps the most creative use of lighting through this show.
Overall, it was an enjoyable show, with powerful musical numbers through, however there was nothing special about this performance.