Atlantic: America and the Great War

There is beautiful music at the heart of Atlantic: America & The Great War. The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland have done an excellent job putting together a show that sounds epic, intimate and touching throughout. The songs are frequently funny, moving and memorable and performed excellently. Both the creators and the performers of this music are to be applauded. It is a shame then that this music is not in service of a higher quality musical, as Atlantic: America & The Great War sounds like a sensational experience but is unfortunately hollow inside.

The performances of this talented cast deserve to be enjoyed

Atlantic ostensibly offers a snapshot of existing in a certain place and a certain time, rather than portraying a significant narrative. Set on the eve of the first World War, it follows the journey of two sisters trying to find their ancestors, then when one of them gets lost, each other. It is a story that relies almost entirely on cliché and moments that echo more effective scenes in other musicals. Every wartime weepie box is checked as one sister bravely searches for the other, meeting colourful characters and learning new things about herself along the way. The show offers nothing new for its audience, instead relying on familiarity to evoke emotion. Members of audience are expected to feel attachment to the characters and the situations simply because of the mass of our ancestors they represent, rather than being interesting and original creations in their own right. This doesn't work and the emotional beats reached for by the musical often fall unfortunately flat.

This is through no fault of the cast, who bring the beautiful music mentioned earlier to life. RCS have some of the finest harmonies heard at the Fringe and they are utilised to their full extent in this show. They are a treat to listen to and if separated from the show they are satisfying simply as a display of musical excellence. Similarly, the performances are consistently entertaining and heartfelt. Abigail Stephenson as leading lady Annabelle handles huge emotional shifts with deft precision and brings a likeable honesty to the role, seeming far more comfortable and skilled here than she does in RCS’s production of Into The Woods at this year’s festival. There are also members of the ensemble that shine without ever stealing too much focus, such as Preston Smith and Lori Flannagan.

Atlantic: America & The Great War is a treat to listen to and the performances of this talented cast deserve to be enjoyed. It is unfortunate then that they are part of a musical which lacks precision in its storytelling. Seeking to evoke a mood rather than tell a story is a respectable and often intriguing premise, but this production relies too much on sentiments that have been played out too many times in musical theatre. With a better book, every performer in this production (including the very talented live band) could produce something truly great. Unfortunately, this is not that production.

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The Blurb

On the eve of WWI, two African American sisters uncover their complicated European ancestry, but when one disappears while tracing their lineage overseas, the other must leave home for the first time to find her. Part two of the exciting collaboration between American Music Theatre Project and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Atlantic: America and the Great War is an ensemble-driven adventure with a rousing folk score that explores the timely uncertainty of what it means to be American.

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