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Reel-to-Real: The Movies Musical
Published on Sunday, 15 August 2010

5 stars

Pleasance Courtyard (venue website)
Until 30 Aug (not 24), 6:00pm (7:10pm)
Reviewed by Lee Zhuo Zhao

Pleasance Grand: an apt name for one of the largest venues at the Fringe. Grand is also an apt description for Reel-to-Real, which takes hit Broadway numbers and classic Hollywood movie clips and weaves them into an original story.

Firstly, it has a huge budget. And I mean HUGE. Think opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. During the snowstorm scene, actual confetti falls from the ceiling - every night in a place the size of Pleasance Grand. They organised special promotional taxis to ferry VIPs to their opening night; they use a state-of-the-art projector, one of only six in the world, to play movie clips - which of course they've paid all the copyright for. And I haven't even mentioned the lavish set and costumes.

However, most importantly, there are utterly first-rate performances. Cast and crew hit every cue, every note, every step, every beat. Even the line in my native Mandarin wasn't all that bad - I understood it perfectly. (Ironically, there were more issues with the British accents, since the cast are mostly American.)

And the ambitious choreography was a roaring success, synchronising live dancers with a classic film routine projected behind them. This show has the most complex, daring stage cues of any show I've seen on the Fringe. The title Reel-to-Real is no gimmick: they successfully create the illusion of live characters walking in and out of a projected film; the highlight was a Singing in the Rain set piece, which on its own is a must-see. Everything was done so precisely, like clockwork, I had to keep checking if I was still in a Fringe show.

Then there's the story: it's essentially a Cannonball Run between two twins from New York to Beijing. The writers have managed to connect all the Broadway tunes they use into one (actually quite gripping) narrative. The plot development is well done and never feels forced. Also, with an around-the-world theme, there's something for everyone besides the usual Broadway stuff: tap, mime, illusions, rhythmic gymnastics, aboriginal dance, even a Chinese dragon.

By now, you may be wondering where all this money is coming from and why. Well, the clues are all the references to China. The show is partially supported by a state-owned Chinese company - so ultimately the government - and was partly conceived to attract tourism and investment to its permanent home, Huairou District in Beijing. That, for example, is why the programme has no room for biographies for any of their talented stars - or even a synopsis - but it does devote an entire page to why Huairou District is such a lovely place and how the local government is doing great things for the area.

Luckily, the only detraction from the actual musical is that the finale ends with a montage of promotional photos of the area, out of line from the backdrops of the rest of the show. Although I realise the overt sponsorship will put some people off (and the connection to the Chinese government may be controversial), you can see it as a blessing. Since the promoters are more interested in audience numbers than the ticket sales, I've seen many people snap up discounted or even free tickets; not bad for one of the most extravagant, professional and entertaining shows of the whole Fringe, this year if not ever.

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These are archived reviews of shows from the Edinburgh Fringe 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to those we've featured, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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