October 10, 2008

All Aboard It’s Time to Move It .. Classic Stage Musical Has Toe- Tapping Hits-a-Plenty

By Liam Rudden Arts and

WHAT'S BIG and red and lies in the gutter? A dead London bus. So goes the old, and not very funny, joke.

It is 45 years since Cliff Richard first clambered onboard his converted AEG Regent RT, with his mates from the bus garage, and embarked upon a trip across Europe, yet Summer Holiday remains one of the most popular, and original of contemporary musicals.

That said, the old open-back door buses of the Big Smoke have long captured the imaginations of creatives and tourists alike. An icon of the city they served, the buses survived the post war austerity of the 50s, the flower power of the 60s and the excesses of the 70s, 80s and 90s. Indeed it wasn't until the noughties that they began to lose their cachet, finally disappearing from service in 2005, although a few can still be seen on heritage routes in central London.

In their heyday, the people movers inspired many stories, Kensington folklore even tells of a ghost bus which appeared to motorists at the scene of numerous accidents. When the local authority straightened the dangerous road, the sightings stopped. Or so the tale goes.

On TV in the 70s, millions tuned in to Here Come the Double Deckers, a series about a group of kids using an old London double- decker as their gang hut, still the most famous London bus of all is the one that took Cliff Richard, Una McLean, Melvyn Hayes and The Shadows across Europe in the 1963 movie.

Memories of that blockbuster can be relived at the Church Hill Theatre next week when Capital-based musical society, Allegro, become the first amateur company in Edinburgh to stage the feel- good show. The action follows the adventures of bus mechanic Don Preston and his co-workers on their journey across Europe as they meet up with a trio of singing girls and a mysterious runaway who is more than he seems.

Of course it's not the first time that Edinburgh audiences have been able to join Don and Co on their road trip, the professional tour pulled into the Edinburgh Playhouse a decade ago with Darren Day at the wheel, and returned in 2003 when Stephan Booth was in charge of planning the route across Europe.

This time however, it is 25-year-old Jim Duffy, a trainee solicitor with a leading Edinburgh law firm, who is playing the role made famous by Sir Cliff. He says, "I would be lying if I said I grew up with posters of a young Cliff Richard all over my bedroom wall, but he has enjoyed an incredibly long and successful music career, and I hope I can do the part justice.

"Songs like The Young Ones and Bachelor Boy are timeless, and I'm sure the audiences at the Church Hill Theatre will find them as relevant today as they were in the 60s."

Duffy, who has performed as a singer and guitarist in bars since he was 16, makes his stage debut in the production, and admits he is stunned at having landed the lead role. "I have been on a steep and very exciting learning curve ever since, and I am really looking forward to the first show," he says.

As well as The Young Ones - which wasn't actually in the film version - the all-singing, all-dancing show features hits from the original 1963 film, including Bachelor Boy, Dancing Shoes, and, of course, Summer Holiday, as well as other classic Cliff hits such as Living Doll, The Young Ones, In the Country, On the Beach and Move It.

"One of the big attractions of presenting Summer Holiday was the timeless music," says musical director, Angus Tully, adding, "The music from Summer Holiday paints a vibrant, up-beat musical picture right from the Overture. There are more than 30 toe-tapping numbers that read like a greatest hits of Cliff Richard and The Shadows. All are uncomplicated songs but therein lies their beauty. The music may not be the most inventive ever written, but Summer Holiday cleverly fuses commercial pop with mainstream show and swing numbers and you just cannot fail to be carried along by the pre-Beatles pop music."

The stage musical also differs from the film version in that the route to Athens is via Italy, rather than the original film route via Yugoslavia. The Allegro production - which boasts a cast of 37 ranging from schoolchildren to members in their sixth decade - is all the more poignant, opening as it does on Cliff Richard's 68th birthday. It's also his 50th year in showbusiness.

Allegro president, Rory MacLean notes, "We chose Summer Holiday as our 2008 production because it's a great, fun show for audiences. As 2008 is Cliff Richard's 50th anniversary in the music business and our production opens on his 68th birthday, it seemed to be the perfect choice. Having said that, the show does present its challenges - it's packed with song and dance numbers, so our musical director and choreographer have been kept very busy, and our director has the not-too-small challenge of getting a London bus on the stage of the Church Hill Theatre."

He adds: "With the cold dark nights and all the doom and gloom in the news at the moment, what people need is a bit of good old- fashioned escapism and that is exactly what Summer Holiday provides. Audience members of all ages can just sit back and be entertained by the colour, energy and music, and be transported back to a simpler, less stressful and more innocent era."

Allegro are going on a summer holiday. You could do worse than hop on board for the ride. Ding. Ding.

Summer Holiday, Church Hill Theatre, Morningside Road, Tuesday- Saturday, 7.30pm (Saturday matinee 2.30pm), GBP 10-GBP 12.50, 0131- 220 3234

Originally published by Liam Rudden Arts and Entertainment Editor.

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