WHEN Michael Courtney first decided to revive an iconic summer variety show at Ayr’s Gaiety Theatre, he was well aware that comparisons with its predecessors would be made.
“Following in the footsteps of legends can be a daunting experience,” he laughs.
The curtain rises on a two-week run of the All New Gaiety Whirl on Monday, June 24, 2013, reviving a showbiz tradition that dates back to the early 1930s and over the ensuing decades featured household names like Dave Willis, Jack Milroy, Anne Fields, Johnny Beattie and even, in 1949, a young dancer called Lionel Blair.
As producer and star of the show, Michael is well aware that he has a tough act to follow.
“The Gaiety Whirls of the past were known throughout the land. It was entertainment for all the family and reflected the tastes of each generation as the years passed.
“But times and tastes change and this time around we have brought variety into the 21st century, with a stunningly talented cast of entertainers, great music, fabulous costumes, sound and lighting and more than a hint of laughter.
“What we have not deserted, however, is the spirit of the Whirl and our commitment to family entertainment. This is a show that I would be happy to bring my mum to. It’s for all ages, from four to 94!”
Michael’s credentials for the job are impressive. From child actor to all round entertainer, he sings, plays a range of instruments, writes musical arrangements and sketches, produces, directs and even designs lighting systems.
He has worked alongside some of the biggest names in showbusiness, including Harry Connick Jnr, Gene Pitney, Eric Sykes, John Inman and Britt Ekland.
He has produced and directed more than 40 large scale touring shows and pantomimes, including the production of Cinderella that opened the revitalised Gaiety Theatre in December last year.
It was following the panto’s sell-out run that Michael vowed to bring back the Whirl.
“It has been five months of hard work and there’s still a lot to do, but I’m confident that the All New Gaiety Whirl will more than match the shows from its heyday.”
Michael has been busy writing musical arrangements, devising comedy routines, overseeing the production of sets and lighting, casting and rehearsing.
“Music plays a major part in the show and I have been extremely busy writing the arrangements for the various numbers. All the songs will be instantly recognisable.. just not in the style they were originally performed!”
Michael hinted that the audience will be expected to play their part, especially in the finale.
“Depending on their enthusiasm, it could last 15 minutes or half an hour. It really is a great show stopper!”
Joining Michael for the summer fortnight will be internationally renowned illusionists Stuart and Jayne Loughland, better known by their stage name Safire.
Michael enthused: “Safire are truly one of the best magic acts in the world. They are currently touring with the hugely successful Chuckle Brothers and have a number of TV and West End apprearances to their name. They were also personally invited by the kings of magic Siegfied and Roy to appear in their World Magic Show in the US.”
Resident soprano for the Gaiety run will be the incredibly versatile Elizabeth Atkinson.
Michael says: “Elizabeth has performed as a soloist all over the world and has worked with the European Chamber Orchestra, the Armonico Consort and English Opera Singers. She is currently appearing in a production of Phantom of the Opera. She has a truly stunning voice and will bring a wow factor to the Gaiety.”
Michael’s live band will feature three musicians who featured in the Gaiety’s pantomime run in December – Josh Weaver on keys, Corey Hall on drums and Luke Winter on bass and brass.
Joining them will be renowned session musician Rick Bailey – all the way from Florida.
“Rick is one of the most respected guitarists and keyboard players in America and has worked with people like BB King, Ace Moreland and the Detroit Spinners. We worked together many years ago in New Orleans and have been friends ever since. When Rick heard about the Gaiety and the work that went on to reopen the theatre he volunteered to come and play the All New Whirl. All I’m paying is his air fare. How good it that?”
Full rehearsals will begin a couple of weeks before the show opens on June 24 and in between writing, singing and cracking the jokes Michael will oversee the erection of one of the biggest sets the Gaiety Theatre has ever seen.
“It is truly massive and will take two six-hour journeys to transport from England. The lighting system is incredible and has won a production award.”
As opening night draws closer, the nerves will kick in, says Michael.
“It is a huge responsibility to take a show like the Whirl and change it for a modern audience. I hope we can recreate the spirit of the past but with a new energy and direction. The old Whirl is gone. Long live the All New Whirl!”
Michael Courtney’s All New Gaiety Whirl
Main Theatre – Evening performances from Monday June 24 to Sunday June 30 and from Tuesday July 2 to Sunday July 7 at 7.30pm. Matinee performances from Thursday June 27 to Sunday June 30 and from Thursday July 4 to Sunday July 7 at 2.30pm. Tickets £16.50/£15.50 (conc). Special early bird discount of £2 off tickets purchased by May 13.
Call the Box Office on 01292 288235 or book online at www.ayrgaiety.co.uk.
Caption: Michael Courtney, star and producer of the All New Gaiety Whirl.
Issued on behalf of Ayr Gaiety Theatre and Arts Centre, Carrick Street, Ayr, KA7 1 NU by Alistair Nicol PR/Advertisingworks, 55 Newmarket Street, Ayr KA7 1LL.
For further press information telephone Alistair Nicol on 07810673994.
Michael Courtney is available for interview.
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