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Barbershopera II
Published on Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Arguably one the cleverest-named groups performing in the Festival Fringe this year, Barbershopera are back with their eagerly-anticipated sequel to last year's hit. As with all sequels to something excellent, there's a lot to match up to. But armed with a bucket-full of new ideas, and a show with a different flavour to last year's, they have lived up to the hype marvellously!

I'm sure many people will have turned up to this show merely on the strengths of the original Barbershopera. As with last year, I suspect most reviews will emphasise just how roaringly funny the show is... and it really is. But let's not forget that this production is listed as a musical, not a comedy; and I'm a music reviewer. So I should point out that this group are doing something quite rare for a Fringe production:

One-hour of musical theatre without amplification or accompaniment.

Most musical theatre companies here at the Fringe would be lost without their band, soundtrack and amplifiers - but Barbershopera easily manage with only a recorder and a tin whistle to tune to. And have I mentioned they are utterly hilarious at the same time?

Rob Castell and Tom Sadler have done this with a gem of an original script, sharp comic timing and some fine music. Branching out into various styles to keep the production fresh to fans of last year's show, there are moments of salsa, mariachi and even Morris dancing. The sole female cast member, Lara Stubbs, was the vocal star, adding an important dimension with her mezzo soprano sound.

But lovers of barbershop music should fear not - it's still the dominant genre. For all of their original songs and lyrics, the night would not be complete without a smattering of well known tunes, ingeniously arranged for close four part harmony. Oh, and did I mention the laughs? They came in abundance. Indeed, if I were a comedy reviewer, I'd end the review here and give the show five stars.

But, alas, I'm not.

Although Tom Sadler is an accomplished singer, he is more a baritone than bass, and was far more comfortable singing the melody than scatting the bass harmonies. I was also unsure of the bittersweet conclusion. I assume it was a nod to a typical opera ending, since there was precious little else operatic about the show, but it just didn't fit the comical romp that was the rest of the story.

Still, Barbershopera are certainly one of the funniest and most original musical acts around. Together with a script like the one they have this year, it is a true delight to see them perform.

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