Preview: Edinburgh Gang Show 2012
A decade. That’s how long Andy Johnston has been directing the biggest show to hit The King’s stage each year.
Next week, a 240-strong gang of scouts and guides return to the Leven Street theatre for another week of music and laughter, and Johnston is in reflective mood.
“I would never have believed in 2003, when I first directed Edinburgh Gang Show, that I’d still be here doing the job ten years later.
“At the time it was a very daunting prospect, taking over from Gordon Blackburn, who had been in the job for 16 years,” he says.
“I was very lucky to inherit a musical director and dance director who had great knowledge of the cast and their capabilities and the three of us have worked together ever since.”
For his tenth Gang Show, Johnstone has themed the extravaganza around one word - cool.
For 2012 his now traditional mix of music old and new includes numbers from musicals as diverse as Matilda, Blood Brothers, Rock of Ages and Elf, alongside pop classics from The Proclaimers, McFly, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry.
There are also special tributes to Charles Dickens, James Bond and First Minister Alex Salmond, all framed with up-to-the-minute topical local humour... and lots of jokes about the Cup Final and Hearts finances. Just a typical Johnston show then!
“Since I took over, I think we have moved away from being one of the more traditional Gang Shows in the country and are now unafraid to tackle any aspect of musical theatre,” he says.
“Over my time in charge we have utilised music from shows such as Hairspray, Billy Elliot and Legally Blonde before the shows were even performed in this country.
“At the same time I have worked very hard to bring the show up to date in terms of topicality - we now frequently rewrite scripts during the week of the show to take into account current developments, whereas in the past, scripts were lifted from previous years and performed exactly as they had been before.
“Gang Show has a long and illustrious history and the founder, Ralph Reader, has left us a huge legacy, but I feel to slavishly stick to material written 60, 70 or 80 years ago is not what our audience wants to see.”
So, if by some freak of nature Johnston could meet his younger self, what advice would he give him ahead of that first show all those years ago?
“The main thing would be that no matter what happens, no matter what obstacles appear to be in your way - always trust the talents of the cast.
“In the past a lot of casting within The Gang was done on previous experience and tended to automatically favour the older members. Nowadays, once someone joins The Gang, we hold open auditions where the youngsters choose a song that they think best demonstrates their talents and they have to perform this in front of the rest of the Gang.
“We see an amazing array of talent each year and all solos in the show are now cast 100 per cent based on those auditions. To see kids as young as 10 years old standing up and performing is sometimes awe-inspiring and always inspirational.”
Other highlights over Johnston’s decade in charge include Edinburgh Gang Show working alongside the Manor School of Ballet to take 100 young people to the Festival Theatre where they presented a production of Billy Elliot. All of the principal players in the show were members of the Gang.
With a huge amount of pride Johnston muses, “Hopefully, if I’ve done my job well, my successor as director will already be in The Gang and waiting for their turn to take over.”
Gang Show 2012, King’s Theatre, Leven Street, Tuesday-Saturday, 7pm (2.15pm), £9-£13.50, 0131-529 60000
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