Mustang Sally must be one of the most requested karaoke songs and how many weddings have you been to when drunk uncle harasses the DJ for the record without even knowing the artist? Well soul fans will immediately say Wilson Pickett and it was he who had a chart hit with the song both here and the US in 1966 but even his was a cover version as the writer Mack Rice had already released it a year earlier with little success. However, the song became mainstream when it was featured in the 1991 when featured in the movie The Commitments and sung by Andrew Strong. He was just 16 at the time yet won nominations for both a BAFTA and a Grammy for the soundtrack. Author Roddy Doyle was reluctant at first to produce a stage musical, but his family convinced him to the degree that he scripted the show himself. Opening in the West End in 2013 it ran for two years before a UK and Ireland tour was planned. Interrupted by the pandemic the tour at last comes to Edinburgh this week to the Edinburgh Playhouse (until Saturday) as part of a nine-month tour.
So, when would it appear in the lavish stage show? Almost the last song actually and the audience were now on their feet and rightly so. You can expect twenty soul classics live on stage and they come thick and fast – In the Midnight Hour, Land Of A Thousand Dances, Reach Out I’ll Be There, River Deep Mountain High, Try A Little Tenderness and of course Mustang Sally and some with some new arrangements as the vocals are shared among this talented cast. The show is directed by Andrew Linnie, and he had a part in the original production before going on to play the lead part of Jimmy Rabitte. His character is a young soul fan who places an ad in the music press in order to form a band which he calls The Commitments.
Of course nothing runs smooth as the singer enters Eurovision, the drummer quits, the sax player now wants to play jazz and the backing singers are more interested in dating the horn player. For this tour the part of Da is played by Nigel Pivaro whom many will know from Coronation Street as Terry Duckworth. He joined the cast with a love of Motown music and now finds himself in the middle of it all night after night. Not a huge part but great to see a known face out with the confines of television. All three of the ‘backing singers’ get a chance to shine and are truly wonderful. Imelda was played by Ciara Mackey, Natalie by Eve Kitchingman and Bernie by Sarah Gardiner. By the time we get to Land Of A Thousand Dances and River Deep Mountain High the full cast are in full flow, the stage is filled and the soul spills over to the stomping audience. A memorable night out but why no merchandise? With such a long tour they certainly missed out on the T shirts, pins and fridge magnets not to mention a soundtrack album.
Runs till December 3rd, Tickets HERE
Night Fever, Night Fever
Saturday Night Fever may be just the musical we need at this time as winter approaches. The UK Autumn tour is now underway and plays the Edinburgh Playhouse this week and we can all relate to the wonderful soundtrack with a disco dancing beat throughout. The stage show was of course based on the highly successful 1977 movie and best-selling soundtrack album which opened the doors for John Travolta back in the day. The stage musical took twenty years in the making with a book by Nan Knighton collaborating with Arlene Phillips and Paul Nicholas and music from the Robert Stigwood Organisation. A £4million investment saw the show premiere at the London Palladium and open on Broadway a year later.
The first UK touring production was in November 2000 and after several tours Bill Kenwright brought us a new touring production in 2018 and it is his company that we see in Edinburgh this week. Famed choreographer Bill Deamer looks after the dances and there is a lot of them and in keeping with the 70’s dance scene we remember or can expect. As soon as Tony Manero walks on stage with his paint tins (just like the movie) the swagger of the moves gave a warm glow to the audience. Brilliantly played by Jack Wilcox for this tour he never breaks sweat but takes on all the solo and duo performances with ease. The statuesque Rebekah Bryant plays his preferred dance partner Stephanie Mangano, playing hard to get but with moves like an angel. Plenty back stories too from Tony’s difficult home and work life, relationship with his priest brother and of course the gangs of Brooklyn NYC. Amid all the dancing the dark side of real life such as rape, teen pregnancy and suicide are al present within the disco fest. Musicianship played live is top class led by MD Jeremy Wootton and an inspired Jonathan Thomson on trumpet. Vocalists Al Jenks, Drew Ferry and Oliver Thomson are a convincing Bee Gees taking centre stage on an elevated platform for the big songs as they add Nights On Broadway, Words, Too Much Heaven and Tragedy to our familiar Fever original hits.
More Than A Woman recreates the memorable competition dance all helped by a mirrored background showing both sides of the dancers and our favorite multi-coloured floor, Night Fever has all the immortal moves and Disco Inferno has a full stage of quality energy. Glorious sparkling mirror balls sparkle the room and by the time we get to the closing medley the whole audience were on their feet too and back to the heyday of club disco. As Tony Manero says, ‘Nothing exists outside this room’.
(all photo credits Paul Coltas)
Edinburgh Playhouse till November 5th Tickets HERE