Bohemia: Showchoir – Assembly Roxy

Directed by Katie Slater

Produced by Aisling Anderson

Musical Direction by Falk Mieir

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Come rabble, royalty, nobility and rogue – for a Bohemian celebration which claims the Assembly Roxy as it’s own. Returning with their Showchoir, the Edinburgh University Footlights aim to celebrate their namesake: melody.

A collection of muses, EUFootlights Bohemia Showchoir amasses various showtunes, rock n’ roll hits, and even original pieces to perform to audiences. Draped in twinkling lights, muted tones, and an aura of creative comfort, the vibe of a Bohemian bar has been perfectly captured with Eve Johnstone’s set design and Tom Beazley’s lighting (complete with St. Patrick’s nod).

With an eighteen-strong cast, director Katie Slater has no easy task structuring a showcase with over twenty-five musical numbers (including a few mashups of multiple songs). But the harmonies balance serenely, only occasionally becoming top heavy with one or two powerful voices breaking away from the rest. The troupe do a stellar job aligning the layout, not swooning over musical theatre for too long a stint, and ensuring comedic routines even out the dourer moments. To Slater’s benefit, the adaptable and multi-talents demonstrated by Mimi Boettcher and Scarlett Llyod-Dickinson enable the cast to slip and dip between a wide variety of numbers, from ensemble group belters to ore soft and tranquil emotion-led numbers.

Kicking it all off, Owen Hatch leads the cast in a rousing (and fitting) rendition of La Vie Boheme from RENT, a song that inspite of its moniker isn’t an easy one to open with, being an Act closer, but Hatch’s projection and clarity make it so the intentions clear from the onset: this is going to be as big, as bold, and ambitious as any production ought to be. Joining Hatch in making this point of quality, Sofia Pricolo brings superb professionalism and talent, later performing a touching duet (later quartet with a naturally engaging Nina Harman and twinkle-toe footed Charlie Myszowski) with him in a candid rendition of Once’s Falling Slowly.

Despite the tightness which Slater and the creative crew hold, their cast embrace the bohemian unshackling of convention throughout – occasionally throwing in gags, glances and embracement of one another, never losing sight of the production’s integrity. Such a pair are Rona Johnston and Riley Behrens, who bring moments of glee and pathos to their performances together and apart. Behren’s taking particularly enviable control and mirth in leading the group in a crowd-pleasing rendition of, well, what else? Bohemian Rhapsody.

Away from iconic rock, it’s a relatively illegal practise to conduct a celebration of musical theatre without bowing down to the titans of ABBA and Mackintosh. But even these juggernaut numbers are carried with a spectacular melody and intonation of emotion within the vocals – this isn’t a strict concert, as Do You Hear The People Sing reminds us, many of the performers ensure their pitch and cadence matches the meaning of lyrics, and context of the song within the narrative, even if tonally their voice isn’t the natural fit. Exceptionally gifted Khanyiso Mtwana and Izzie Atkinson command an entire room in their respective solos. It’s a rather clever and tremendously impressive sign of director Slater’s comprehension to place dramatic or comedic performance as high in importance as vocal quality.

A celebration of the rebelliousness – what about the band? The carrier of the music, the obstreperous bunch in the back ensuring the melody is kept, the pacing tight. The Assembly Upstairs is a relatively compact but high-ceilinged venue, and to strike a compromise where the annunciation of every performer is crystalline, even against some tremendously bold and infamously iconic numbers from Fleetwood Mac and Queen is no small task for the four-piece band. But under keyboardist Falk Meier’s musical direction, with assistance from Amelia Brenan, they do a staggeringly impressive job at balancing acoustics without sacrificing volume, comfort, or sound for lyrics. It’s a performance Zain Cruickshank (Bass), Luke Hunter (Guitar) and drummer Ross should be proud of and deserving of their standing ovation.

Had someone suggested that two performances of the irresistible Dr Frank-N-Furter’s Sweet Transvestite would be occurring in Edinburgh, we wouldn’t have been that shocked. But up the road from the 50th anniversary performance at the Playhouse, tucked upstairs in the Assembly Roxy, Joey Lawson (last seen as King Herod in Jesus Christ Superstar) steps out from the ensemble and struts an alluring enchantment as the seductive Frank to a scintillatingly aroused engaged audience. Similarly, but commanding a more intense passion of aggression, Beth Cunningham makes their presence known and plays to the crowd’s cheers and revelry.

But it isn’t all champagne and fishnets, as Bohemia may revel in celebration and the spirits of freedom and enjoyment, Tara Kinney’s sobering voice ensures a mix of the elements which encourage us to celebrate life – including the more glum and harrowing parts. Offering snippets of their choreographed skills, Elham Khosravipour brings an elegance, yet reserved fire to their take on an unexpected, though welcomed performance of Reflections from the 1998 animated feature Mulan.

Bohemia: Showchoir features an original composition from Lauren Green, Venus and Mars, a delightfully creative number which slots in remarkably well to the pacing. It possesses such a mark of quality that many spend their time attempting to place it within a high-budget musical they’ve forgotten before the realisation of it’s premiere within this show. Not done with song-writing, Green shares Jemima Jayne’s ability in often being a central performer– pitched perfect vocalists, able to leap between more profound numbers to comedic parts, strutting out an energetic bombardment of choreography with Allison Lavercombe, another performer equally equipped to raise the roof with excitement, and melloIzziew the mood when performing with a sentimental, but authoritative Ellie Jackson.

All too often, the performance and reverence of music – be it theatrical, pop, original or rock, is unbalanced between integrity and enjoyment. The Edinburgh University Footlight’s Showchoir strikes an exemplary balance of high-quality and that rarity: genuine pleasure. There isn’t a single face on, behind, or watching the stage who isn’t beaming with satisfaction by the final curtain call. For a demonstration of the diversity of range and skillset, there isn’t much better than the EU Footlight’s Bohemia Showchoir – who match any big-budget musicals onstage in Edinburgh on an equal, and occasionally firmer, footing. Play on folks, play on.

Play On Folks, Play On

Bohemia: Showchoir runs at Assembly Roxy until March 18th. Thursday – Saturday at 19.30pm.

Running Time – Two hours including one interval. Suitable for ages 12+

Tickets begin from £6.00, and may be obtained here

Photo Credit – Aisling Anderson


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