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Written and performed by Jessie Cassin, Sandy Edmonds: Sure to Rise is a show stuck somewhere between a night with Sandy Edmonds and a jukebox musical theatre piece. A star of the New Zealand 60’s music scene, publicity raises the question of “what happened to Sandy and where did she go?” This is a ruse (and a somewhat prolix tautological tagline), as there is no build towards this answer. There is no teasing out of the possibility of why she arrived to the decision she did, as Cassin/Edmonds concludes by telling us she simply wanted to do something other than music. There are fleeting moments that suggest the want of a more simple life, but they are not preceded by any conflict or tension that arise from her celebrity lifestyle.
The narrative interludes shift between present and past tense, and provide no sense of Edmonds’ journey. Every person has a story, and even without the use of dramatic licence its structure can be made theatrically engaging when aided by lyricism and themes, but Cassin has no sense of word economy or semiotics as a writer, and the concept of a through line is non-existent. The radio news voice over, which could have been an excellent narrative device, is used too inconsistently to be one, and provides nothing more than an alternative voice to Cassin’s dialogue to tell the audience where we are in Edmonds’ life. It’s intrusive, but not as much as the applause soundtrack used to induce audience engagement.
Supporting Cassin, Amber-Rose Henshall and Jenifer McManus execute Brigitte Knight’s authentic choreography with an enduring vigour, even though they do occasionally lose their place and sync, and their hair, makeup, and costumes make them look more like modern day rugby cheerleaders than 60’s go-go dancers. The band (Tristan Deck, drums; Moses Sulusi, bass; and Johnny Bernard, guitar) dressed in similarly modern attire, are a tight trio, and while the tonal quality of their backing vocals are not cohesive with Cassin’s sound, they are aided by lighting and sound designer Sam Mence, who balances the acoustics of The Classic mainstage perfectly, so that not a note or lyric is missed.
I knew little about Sandy Edmonds going into this show, and while I thoroughly enjoyed the musical component, I know little more having come out. Cassin is an unarguably incredible singer. Her rich tonal quality and vocal precision is both soothing and engaging to listen to, and her performance looks effortless and natural, but without a seasoned writer, dramaturg, or director, the greater show remains in the early stages of conception. However, with the right script to support Cassin through the moments between performing Edmonds’ (and other’s) songs, there’s no reason why Sandy Edmonds: Sure to Rise couldn’t become a quaint and an iconic New Zealand show of one of our lesser known stories.
Sandy Edmonds: Sure to Rise is presented by Dionysos and played at The Classic until August 6. For details see The Classic.