‘What the Heart Wants’ (Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose, until AUG 28)

“The onstage chemistry pops and fizzes like kosher champagne from a crystal slipper. It’s the great bromance that never was and possibly could never have been.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars (Outstanding)

One is the classic, the ultimate, crooner of the American songbook. The other is among the most revered and reviled moviemakers in the history of cinema. They are, perhaps, the two greatest icons of New York culture of the last century. Frank Sinatra and Woody Allen, born two decades apart with personas and personalities light years away from one another. Yet they were both married to the same woman. It’s like finding out that Tony Soprano and Frasier Crane have the same mother (Nancy Marchand). What might two such divergent talents have created, had they ever collaborated on a project?

We enter to discover we’re the New York skyline, looking through the window into Allen’s Upper-Lower-East-Westside Manhattan apartment – we’re the Park everyone’s so keen to be looking over. Simon Schatzberger, as Allen, is a confident nebbish, confiding initial concepts for a movie into a dictaphone. The ideas all revolve around a guy who stops loving a girl, falls in love with someone else, only to have the first girl wreak a vengeance so terrible that you might be tempted to observe that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Then comes a loud knocking at the door.

I’m sitting right up at the back. The nesting bats of Patterhoose’s Big Yin have taken me and the techie for one of their own. I hope their coughing doesn’t mean anything too serious. Over my left shoulder is a presence. I glance up and all at once I am Allan Felix in company with the shade of a macho mega-star. Richard Shelton as Sinatra is Sinatra. The same swagger, sophistication, and sorrows. Sinatra’s come to talk to Allen about the woman they once both loved and the allegations she’s making. To emphasise his concerns Sinatra’s bought along a bat, the baseball type.

What follows is a superbly entertaining what-might-have-been. The ups. The downs. The chasing around the apartment. The insecurities. The egos. Writer Bert Tyler-Moore’s pedigree for lampooning luminaries includes ‘Star Stories’ & ‘The Windsors’. Full disclosure I’m a massive fan of both. “Who’s your favourite Beatle?” “Billy! What about shit in bog?!” “‘Aren’t they simply strong, independent women?’ ‘Yeah, witches.’” There are soon-to-be classic zingers aplenty on stage today, but there’s something there that’s missing. Now, I’m not just woke, I got up early, and I reckon what’s missing from this story about… and possibly… is the female perspective. How you get that in a two-hander featuring the two most toxic examples of masculinity is a mystery I don’t care to solve. Me, the bats, and the techie are too busy laughing our asses off.

Both Schatzberger and Shelton have separate EdFringe solo shows showcasing their tributes to Allen and Sinatra. This is a superb collaboration that’s rightly winning plaudits but is yet to draw the punters which is almost certainly about to change. The onstage chemistry pops and fizzes like kosher champagne from a crystal slipper. It’s the great bromance that never was and possibly could never have been. Come for the icons, stay for the magic, leave like you’ve just heard auld blue eyes singing live. Get Your Coats On and go see this now!


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Ft. Encounter With The Karaoke Cabbie

You can hear Brian Mitchell, Edinburgh’s own Karaoke Cabbie, live on the Christmas ’14 edition of Edinburgh Nights. 15:00-16:00, Friday 19th December on Shore Radio. Alternatively you can subscribe to the podcast here.

I tumble into a taxi on Hanover Street, or is this Frederick? I’m never entirely certain, even at the best of times, and it’s been a good night. If I am no longer exactly on the level, here’s hoping the Great Architect of the Universe can keep me straight until I’ve staggered up the wooden hills to Bedfordshire. But this is Edinburgh and you can’t escape unanticipated spectacle so easily.

“Do you like music?” Is there someone else in the cab? Hazily, I remember the first episode of Sherlock, and that there is ALWAYS someone else in a hired hackney. “I don’t mind a tune mate,” I reply to the driver’s enquiry. A pause and then he asks, “You like Barry Manilow pal?” To this I’m …er… less committal. And that is how the conversation started. That’s how I encountered Brian Mitchell, Edinburgh’s very own Karaoke Cabbie.

It’s December. It’s cold and it’s going to get colder. August is a distant memory and yet the spirit of the Fringe moves among us. Turns out I’m the audience at a hopeful’s impromptu show. Brian’s been on Britain’s Got Talent, he’s been on The Voice, and yet he’s still waiting for his break together with the recognition his gigantically gentle stage style deserves.

The backing track comes on as we turn onto Waverley Bridge – not too quiet, not too loud – this is finely tuned improv. Brian’s warms up with classics from the song book of the artist formerly known as Barry Alan Pincus (Did I know Manilow started using his mother’s maiden name after his bar mitzvah?).

I had a guy in the back one time. Said he was a big pal of Manilow’s. Said I was the best tribute act he’d ever heard.

The best lounge crooners don’t just imitate, they resculpt the classics to their own range and unique aesthetic. Listening to Brian sing you come to realise this is a guy familiar with the engineering under the artistry. He appreciates it, respects it. Why does he suppose Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra never meshed on stage? “Very different styles, Dan pal, what you have to understand is…”

We’re bumping over the Royal Mile. People come from all over the world to see this view. I’d never imagined it could be improved until I saw it, long after the midnight hour, bathed in the magic Brian can conjures from In the Wee Small Hours. With the Current Mrs Dan away Christmas shopping in NYC, it brings a lump to my throat. “Give us something more cheerful can’t you Brian?” Of course he can!

If there’s one thing living in Edinburgh has taught me, it’s that great art (high and low) doesn’t just happen. Years of practise are required for each single hour of top quality entertainment, and that punters are just as responsible as producers for finding and celebrating artists. Why would you leave it to the corporate clever clogs behind the Saturday Night talent shows?

Consumption isn’t just consuming only what’s been put in front of us. I needs us to go out, explore, trying something new, take a risk and watch it pay off. Yes, you might have to listen to a bit of Manilow before you get to the Sinatra, but it’ll be so worth it in the end. You might even discover that… actually… you quite like Manilow after all.

By: Dan Lentell (Seen 5 December)

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