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Michael Across the Festival '12 - Aug 08

Michael Cox reviews Molly Wobbly's Tit Factory, Clinton the Musical, The Blanks' Big Break and Dr Quimpugh's Compendium of Peculiar Afflictions.

With the great variety of shows available at the Fringe, it is easy to overlook the genre of musical theatre, which is strange being that cabaret, dance and music are so prevalent. Yet the venues still carry a few musical theatre productions, albeit with varying degrees of success.

Why doesn't Molly Wobbly's Tit Factory (**) work better? The talent involved is nothing short of stellar. The cast are made up of West End pros who sing brilliantly and are able to play all the smutty gags with a straight face and commendable commitment. As a production it is well presented: the staging, choreography and design are all sharp and effective.

Unfortunately, rather than being an outrageous bit of naughty fun, MWTF falls short. Paul Boyd, who is responsible for the book, music and lyrics, is obviously talented; there are just enough flashes of genius to prove Boyd can serve musical theatre well. But being quirky and a bit dirty isn't enough to make something into a cult hit.

The promos draw comparisons to Rocky Horror and Avenue Q, which are shows known for their cult status. But where those have great songs and interesting characters, MWTF has shallow characters and decent songs that are mostly forgettable. And the plot just doesn't work. Maybe there were cuts to allow a 90-minute Fringe run, but there are just too many character gaps and plot holes to pull it together.

By contrast, Clinton the Musical (****) is a fun piece of political variety. Telling the story of Bill Clinton's presidency, the musical has a blast poking fun at the major high, and lows, of Clinton's time in the Oval Office. The material itself may not be the most revolutionary, and the performances might not be the most polished, but it's all done with such wonderful joie de vivre that any roughness is easily forgiven.

There are many great choices that Paul & Michael Hodge have made in the telling of the story, the biggest one showing the two sides of Bill by splitting him into two. Stephen Arden does an admirable job playing the charismatic, passionate political leader the world came to admire--or not, while John McLarnon plays the childish, party-going, womanising side with relish, but more importantly they complement each other brilliantly. The rest of the company are equally great, playing multiple roles with ease.

It is best that you have a solid understanding of Clinton's eight years in the White House and the people involved in the big moments of that time. If you don't quite know who Kenneth Starr, Dick Morris and Newt Gingrich are, or about Hillary Clinton's admiration for Eleanor Roosevelt, a lot of the jokes are going to leave you cold. But if you're old enough, or politically savvy enough, to know about Whitewater, Paula Jones and the facts concerning a certain dress and a cigar, you'll eat this up.

Fans of the American TV series Scrubs will remember Ted’s a capella group, who are here at the Fringe in The Blanks' Big Break (***), performing their versions of popular culture songs with their unique arrangements.

The show exists around the plotline of the group trying to convince an agent, who happens to be sitting in the audience, to give them a contract in order to realise their dreams. The agent, having seen the show before and hating it, gives the intrepid group a list of things they need to include within their show, which they find ways of doing. It's not much, but it is enough of a hook to justify what happens.

I'll be honest: I was rather surprised how well the show went down, primarily as the majority of their acts are references to obscure American culture, some of which never made it across the Pond. But it does work, though only just. It is consistently charming and earns a smile that stays on your face. No more, no less.

I'm cheating a bit by including Dr Quimpugh's Compendium of Peculiar Afflictions (****) here, only for the reason that it is an opera rather than a musical. But Dr Q (as the staff at Summerhall affectionately call it) does everything right and could teach many things to the musicals currently running on the Fringe.

A renowned doctor, seemingly at the end of his life, scans through his thick casebook, bringing back memories from his most difficult and baffling cases. Performed by a small company (three musicians and three singers), Robert Gildon sings for the doctor while Natalie Raybould and Tamsin Dalley play everything else, and the three of them are wonderful. There is a playfulness to everything, even when the singers are portraying elements that are straight and serious. The result is a rich production that has heart, humour and intelligence.

Molly Wobbly's Tit Factory is at the Assembly Rooms, Clinton the Musical and The Blanks' Big Break are at Gilded Balloon and Dr Quimpugh's Compendium of Peculiar Afflictions is at Summerhall. Consult the programme or website for dates and times.

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