Edinburgh Fringe #9 – Hitting All The Right Notes

Hello September! Just two more posts about the Fringe to go and then I will finally be up to date. And it’s just a short one today, so you can all breathe a sigh of relief.

My theme today – in case you hadn’t guessed from the title – is music. Every Fringe I’ve been to, my favourite flyerers are always the ones promoting Baby Wants Candy. Why? Because they walk around with a big bowl of sweets. And while I’ve always enjoyed and taken advantage of this, I’d never actually been to see Baby Wants Candy (proof that marketing gimmicks don’t always work out how you want – I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought ‘ooh lollipop!’ and forgot it was even for a show). That is, until this year, when my friend finally persuaded me to take the plunge and check them out. In case you don’t know, Baby Wants Candy are a hugely successful American comedy group who perform improvised musicals – they’ve performed over 2500 different ones all over the world since their inception. With this reputation, I expected a lot – and they delivered. Their fantastic onstage band plays from the moment you set foot inside the venue, a great way to relax the crowd and get everyone in the mood. That is, until the performers burst on, briefly introduce themselves, and then announce that – just like in every improv show – they need an audience suggestion. In their case, it’s the title of a musical (it’s at this point I wished I’d come prepared with something hilarious to shout – apparently in the past they’ve had ‘Kanye West Side Story.’ How amazing is that??) But instead of waiting around to hear several options, which is sometimes necessary to cut out all the people just shouting ‘PENIS,’ they took the first audible suggestion… Which was ‘Help! My Feet Have Turned Into Space Hoppers!’
And just like that, they were off. I was amazed – you have just seconds to make decisions in improv, and in that time you have to be able to envision how a suggestion is going to work. I personally couldn’t see how that title had any potential for plot or jokes, but I’m not part of Baby Wants Candy. They managed to spin that suggestion into a story that had distinct and memorable characters, great songs, hilarious jokes and a relatively coherent plot. (A group of astronauts are running out of air and must go on a spacewalk to fix their ship – they are saved by a NASA intern with a voice like Ethel Merman on helium, only to be threatened anew by rogue androids and Space Hoppers, evil air-sucking aliens evolved from Jiminy Cricket.) There is a basic formula to all this madness, of course – the show begins and ends with big group numbers, and members take turns leading the intermittent songs – but this pattern can only take you so far. The quality of the improv is outstanding, and even when performers made the occasional mistake of talking over each other or getting song lyrics wrong, I didn’t care. In fact I was glad – it proved they’re only human.

Part of performing in a Fringe venue owned by a chain is seeing other groups who are in your venue family – it’s important to support each other in such a competitive environment, and you usually get to see their shows for free! My sketch group were on at theSpaceUK and one of our earliest, biggest supporters was the a cappella group All The King’s Men, so we grabbed our Space passes and headed over to Symposium Hall to see Spectacappella! and return the favour. The all male King’s College London singing troupe certainly know how to put on a show, delivering a wide variety of songs with beautiful harmonies and tongue-in-cheek dance routines – How Will I Know? has me dancing in my seat, Bare Necessities is played well for laughs and the Spiderman theme tune is a distinctive, jazzy addition at the end. Unfortunately, not all of the soloists’ voices carry over the rest of the group. Maybe it was because I was sat near the back of Symposium Hall, but I was rarely knocked over backwards by the sound – although when certain singers came to the fore, the balance was just right. Even with this criticism, it is impossible not to get swept up in the joy of the show – not just from the music, but from the enthusiasm of the group themselves. Spectacular a cappella, indeed.

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