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Review: Don't Tell Me Not To Fly (Underbelly, McEwan Hall, Edinburgh Fringe)

The McEwan Hall reopens with this series of leading lady concerts

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Danielle Hope, Claire Sweeney, Ria Jones and Janie Dee star in Don't Tell Me Not To Fly

It's a nice idea to fill the McEwan Hall at teatime each day with a little elegance and songs and stories from some of the leading ladies in musicals.

The format is smart. After we hear an extract from "Don't Rain on My Parade" – Bob Merrill and Jule Styne's anthem from Funny Girl that gives the show its title and sets its mood – a disembodied voice asks a question, accompanied by a little jokey cartoon. The idea is that each performer answers with a song – ten questions, ten songs and a neat little show.

I saw Janie Dee, who provided song choices for questions such as what is your first memory of performing? Which woman do you most admire? What would you tell your 15 year-old self? What male role would you most like to perform? At subsequent performances her role centre stage will be taken by Claire Sweeney, Danielle Hope and Ria Jones and each will bring their personality and their choices to the event, accompanied by music director Lindy Tennent-Brown.

An hour spent in the company of Dee is never wasted. I am deeply fond of her girl next door appeal, her kind of breathy niceness and her lovely voice. The gentleness of her personality meant that her anecdotes were a long way from insightful: stories about the late Gillian Lynne giving her her first break and her daughter sending raffle tickets to the Queen were about as revelatory as it got.

The best moments came when she sang the works of people with whom she has worked most closely. A comic song about being a copy typist at the BBC (written by Alan Ayckbourn) in response to the question "What's Your Super Power?" was perfectly timed and enunciated so each brilliant mistype in the lyrics came over loud and clear. Sondheim's "Children Will Listen" from Into the Woods (rather oddly chosen in response to a query about the gender pay gap) showed her understanding of his music, and there were nice moments from Cabaret and Sunset Boulevard.

Sometimes it seemed to me that in trying to answer the question honestly Dee opted for songs that didn't really soar, but it is a durable format and should provide an enjoyable tea break for Fringe-goers.

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