Edinburgh Festival Fringe music, musicals & opera reviews: Lizard Boy | Lighthouse: An Immersive Drinking Musical | Last Night | Julie: The Musical | Flamenco Jazz Sketches
A sci-fi/superhero-themed boutique rock opera and some lively flamenco-jazz fusion can be savoured in our latest round-up of reviews. Words by Rory Ford, Jim Gilchrist, David Pollock and Fiona Shepherd.
Lizard Boy ****
Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose (Venue 9)
There are no shortage of brand new musicals doing the rounds of the Fringe but the loveable Lizard Boy has had a few years to bed in since debuting in Seattle and is now primed to replicate its cult status on this side of the pond with a new UK cast, alternating at the Fringe with the original US cast. The latter were seen for this review, including creator and star Justin Huertas who was originally encouraged to write a musical around his main instrument, the cello.
Lizard Boy has developed into a tight three-hander, adding guitar, piano, ukulele, toy xylophone and kazoo to the lo-fi mix to create a boutique rock opera inspired by Huertas’s love of sci-fi and superhero stories. Huertas plays Trevor, an aspiring rock star who has been self-isolating for twenty years, ever since he was infected with scaly green skin during a dragon attack on his kindergarten – don’t you hate it when that happens?
The locals have since made a party out of a tragedy - Monsterfest is when the town comes out to (cos)play and Trevor can blend into the crowd for one day of the year. Lately, he’s been getting these curious stabbing pains in his back…but what good is sitting alone in his room? Trevor takes the plunge, creates a Grindr profile and meets the sweet (and also musical) Carey (William A. Williams) who seems unperturbed by his dermatological issues. They head out on to the streets and into to a gig by intense an enigmatic goth Siren (Kirsten DeLohr Helland) and the fun begins.
The harmony singing is heavenly, the humour is self-deprecating, sardonic and spot-on, the plot radiates affection for its creature feature and superhero inspirations but also has fun with those conventions and the cast make a virtue of the intimate setting with some silly slo-mo action scenes. You can see the takeaway message of coming out and acceptance approaching from miles off but the joy of Lizard Boy is in getting there. Fiona Shepherd
Until 28 August
Lighthouse: An Immersive Drinking Musical ***
Greenside @ Infirmary Street (Venue 236)
This rowdy and rousing tribute to New York’s bars - many of whom are now shuttered due to enforced lockdown during Covid - is also a celebration of the thing that helped many of us cope during that period: alcohol. Set in a NY Irish pub, The Lighthouse, Jacki Thrapp’s musical plays like a parody of Broadway shows but boasts some voices of real quality. Following the fortunes and love lives of the owner and customers of the pub and the struggles to keep it a going concern after Congress imposes a 10pm curfew.
There’s certainly an Irish energy to songs like “Love Starts With a Pint” and a real lets-put-on-a-show-right-here energy and wit to the whole enterprise. The interactive element isn’t confined to the free shots the cast hand out - if you sit in the front row you might be pulled up on stage to play background bar patrons. While still something of a work-in-progress - the show runs almost 10 minutes longer than advertised - it’s a shame this is only plays the last week of the Fringe as it would be even better after a full run. It’s good-humoured, high-spirited fun and probably even better if you pre-game a couple of pints beforehand. Cheers! Rory Ford
Until 27 August
Last Night ***
theSpace @ Surgeons Hall (Venue 53)
A piece of musical theatre about a drunken snog at a Christmas party might have to do some work to convince us it’s not straight out of the bargain bin of high-concept Fringe ideas, but Leeds-based writing duo James Sidgwick and Robert Sanders have produced a low-key, two-handed show which is sweet, funny, irreverent and, against all the odds, satisfyingly romantic.
Sidgwick is Peter, the quiet man of the office, and Sophie Massa is Emma, who got so drunk the evening before that she kissed a man she can’t even remember. She’s sure it was Peter, although her hangover is so bad it takes her a while to remember there’s no-one in the office named Peter.
Meanwhile David, who is more astonished than anyone that she kissed him, tries to pluck up the courage to say something about it while the pair are the only ones working in the office on Christmas Eve. Yet she just wants him to stop annoying her and go away.
It’s a thoroughly conventional piece of work, yet the leads are likeable and they sing well, and Sidgwick and Sanders’ songs are catchy and rich in comedy. That they turn subjects like Emma’s bleary, memory-fogged hangover, David’s geekish obsession with ‘Gamehammer’ fantasy gaming and his helpful proficiency with Excel spreadsheets into amusing, character-developing songs is an achievement in itself. David Pollock
Until 27 August
Julie: The Musical ***
theSpace at Niddry Street (Venue 9)
Julie Andrews, Julie Walters, Julie Newmar…all celebrated Julies around which one could base a musical. But this Julie: The Musical concerns 17th century French opera singer Julie d’Aubigny, aka La Maupin, a cult historical figure whose supposedly scandalous exploits live on in legend. Just the ticket for an irreverent gender-fluid Fringe musical, written by and starring Abey Bradbury as the songbird of the Seine.
The five-strong cast are resplendent in period pancake make-up, corsetry and feathers plus a soupcon of spangle and bondage, primed to impart what is known of La Maupin’s colourful life – married, separated, lesbian affair, fugitive, exiled to a nunnery while still in her teens. Just everyday life in Restoration comedy, a tradition from which the company borrow in their fast-paced, fast-talking delivery.
The ensemble swap roles and instruments with gleeful abandon. All are strong singers and character actors with Connor Simkins a standout for the dastardly relish with which he attacks his villainous roles and Sophie Coward for her shape-shifting vocals. Their Julie is free, frank and unfettered – at least in spirit, rising above her travails to pursue the love of her life, Madame la Marquise de Florensac. Fiona Shepherd
Until 27 August
Flamenco Jazz Sketches ****
Alba Flamenca (venue 237)
There’s a tucked away corner of Edinburgh’s Southside that is forever España. As well as music, dance and a conveniently adjoining tapas café, Alba Flamenca’s intimate stage hosts the flamenco-jazz fusion of guitarist Philip Adie – a Seville-based Aberdonian clearly steeped in his adopted culture – and double-bassist Luis Salto.
There’s an often fierce improvisational dialogue between the duo’s guitar and bass, sometimes sparring with each other, sometimes snapping into unison, as in their opening number, Paco y Frank (an eclectic reference to musical heroes Paco Peña and Frank Zappa), or in the Cuban-influenced Stone Free Guajiro, the bass sliding in lazily behind the relaxed melody, before more percussive exchanges ensue.
Adie’s solo piece, Entre Naranjos y Olivos, has a similar sense of music in the moment, his dreamy introduction leading on to edgy runs, flurries of notes and snappy chords. Salto re-joins him for “something completely different”, which involves the guitar thrumming with damped strings and following Salto’s bass progression before further guitar fireworks erupt, to subside gently before the final flourish.
As they approach the end of their set, Adie points out that this year marks the centenary of the historic flamenco song contest organised in the Alhambra, Grenada, by Manuel de Falla and the poet Federico García Lorca. Accordingly, they close with their idiosyncratic take on a theme from de Falla’s opera La Vida Breve, its familiar melody sounding out, but with plenty room for inventive spontaneity by both players (de Falla probably didn’t have a walking bass line in mind when he wrote it). Life, as the composer suggests, may be short but mercurial music like this squeezes as much out of it as possible. Jim Gilchrist
Until 28 August