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It’s some five years since I was first introduced to what is now a highly anticipated annual pilgrimage to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and during this time of the year a walk through the bustling streets of this amazing city is a jaw dropping attack on the senses, nowhere more so than along the Royal Mile where a vast array of performers of every conceivable kind vie for the attention of the constantly flowing sea of awestruck faces.

On that first visit, from somewhere amidst this delightful melee, an operatic voice rang out in the distance and in it’s haunting beauty demanded further attention, so leaving the actors, jugglers, dancers and hosts of other various street performers behind I made my way to the source of this sound and on arrival found a girl as visually stunning as her vocal had suggested. Each successive year no trip would be complete without ensuring that I joined the throng that gathered when Lili La Scala serenaded the crowds, becoming easily one of the most recognizable voices and faces at the Fringe. Classically trained in London, respected and in constant demand on worldwide festival circuits, Lili has continued to treat the Edinburgh streets exclusively as her stage, until recently that is, when a desire to showcase a collection of songs dear to her heart coupled with a wish to overcome the bittersweet irony that scores of transient admirers of her talent might actually be unaware of the name behind the voice has led her to create her own themed shows with the first being 2010’s “War Notes”.

This years show – “Songs To Make You Smile” - casts a broader net in terms of the musical era covered including songs from across the early part of the twentieth century with the common bond that no song can be included unless Lili has first personally uncovered and purchased the sheet music herself making this a true labour of love and emphasizing the ambition that burns within her to make this new direction a meaningful one. Immaculately styled with her hair a blaze of red curls and wearing a classic vintage style dress in a colour that we later agree to call sunset yellow she couldn’t look more dazzling if the roof of the theatre had been removed to allow the afternoon sunshine to pour in!

Her show consists of a collection of songs some of which are established classics that have graced ballrooms and the golden eras of the Silver Screen – songs such as Irving Berlin’s “Cheek To Cheek”, Cole Porter’s “It’s De–Lovely”, Donaldson & Khan’s “Makin’ Whoopee” and a delicious version of Ivor Novello’s “Dark Music”. Alongside these she presents humorous, quirky and more obscure numbers including George Formby’s “Fanlight Fanny”, “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” (made famous by Groucho Marx), and a song that she performs for the first time since it was originally sung by Gracie Fields – the splendidly entitled – “What Can You Give A Nudist For His Birthday?”

The vocal numbers are lovingly embroidered with anecdotes and insights into her efforts to acquire the sheet music, outlining her love for her craft. The appeal for the older members of the audience is there to be seen as the content of the show will stir memories of a personal nature from times when these songs played a part in their past lives. I watched as one elderly gentleman silently mouthed the lyrics in recognition and I could see a glint in his eye as Lili reminded him of nights long past when he stood by the dance floor, straightened his tie and plucked up the courage to ask the best looking girl in the room to take to the floor. For the rest of us it is an opportunity to discover and rediscover songs by a range of artists and writers that would otherwise often be ignored, thus missing out on inventive arrangements and lyrics of love, sadness and at times bizarre wit written during some of the most extraordinary periods of modern history.

For many the voices of the likes of Gracie Fields and George Formby maybe a little too “of their time” for the modern day listener which is where again Lilli’s interpretation widens their appeal as she delivers her renditions in her crystal clear soprano style. Charming, friendly and enthusiastic after the show Lili speaks of this work as clearly not only something that she loves but also as something that she recognizes as a duty to help to preserve lest they should be lost forever. She is honest enough to share that the time that she spent serenading scores of passers-by on the Edinburgh streets were good to her and the fact that staging her own shows are a much bigger gamble. More proof if needed that this is where this young lady’s heart is. [an example of Lili @ Stratford Fringe 2011 'Second Hand Rose']

As I wait my turn to have a word after the show I find myself behind a party containing the aforementioned old gent who happily tells Lili how much he had enjoyed her show and even suggested a song that she might like to add at some future date. To his delight she not only recognized it but gave him a small impromptu rendition there and then. I swear he danced down the stairs of the theatre like Fred Astaire – well almost! “Songs To Make You Smile” and I’m still smiling.

Review/photos by Shay Rowan

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