by Margaret Chrystall
THE Robert Burns musical that began life as a passion project for Michael Jackson and his friend Davd Gest is to be performed in Aviemore before returning to America – via live streaming.
Tish Tindall, co-owner of Lossiemouth’s Rock Academy whose students perform the show, has developed the original concept into a musical fast-forwarding Robert Burns’ life into a contemporary setting.
She is delighted to be bringing the show to the Macdonald Aviemore Resort hotel on Saturday, January 30 after its successful premiere in Aberdeen – with 10-minute standing ovation – last year on Burns night.
And as well as "tweaking" the show, Tish has added a song – and a new character in Robert’s mother – to enhance the family theme specially for the hotel venue setting.
Tish said: "The show has been tweaked enormously since we opened in the the Tivoli Thaetre in Aberdeen last year.
"We went from there to Findhorn, on to Edinburgh, then Kilmarnock.
"And we changed the show, just to explain our story just a little more.
"Also, now that people have got to grips with the fact that it’s not Robert Burns’ words being used in the show, I wanted to make sure that the music stands as musical theatre.
"I’ve also written for Aviemore, Over You, a song to bring in Robert’s mum, who comes into the show just before the end of Act One. "In the story, Robert has to move on from his father’s death and publish his book, but he is at crisis point. And then his mother appears singing ‘I want to walk forward with you, son’.
"The song was written with Macdonald Aviemore Resort in mind – one of their ideals is family."
Sadly, David Gest – newly out of TV show Celebrity Big Brother – hasn’t managed to see the show yet. And in the initial production, filming got in the way of his planned cameo appearance as Tam O’Shanter in the role Tish had specially-created for him at his request, in Robert Burns The Musical.
But Tish pays tribute to the role David played coming to Lossiemouth to work on the original concept of the musical.
"I will always be eternally grateful to have had that few meetings with him where I had a look at what he had produced with Michael Jackson in the ealy 90s.
"The revamp he was looking for is probably not what I did, though David was very excited about the project and still is.
"He said recently that he was delighted that it had grown organically and that was really good of him.
"What he has done is let the project stand on its own two feet."
Scottish Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop endorsed the show when she attended the premiere in Aberdeen last year, and, as well as support from the Michael Jackson Community to get the message out into the world, Tish is thrilled to have the backing of the Robert Burns World Federation.
For Tish, deciding to write the musical, setting it now and not using many of Robert Burns’ own words, took courage.
She explains: "I think it was the scariest five weeks of my life to make those decisions.
"I had met David and then we set auditions for five or six weeks later.
"I knew I had to write and work out the show and people kept saying to me ‘Have you got anything yet?’," laughs Tish.
"But I felt ‘Maybe I should put my head above the parapet and do something different’.
"My idea is not to preach to the converted.
"I know there are many people out there who know far more about Burns than I do.
"What I want to do is either spark – or reignite – interest in Burns in a different way to a different and a wider audience.
"Less than 10 per cent of the show, Robert wrote, but I have married many of his themes – pride in your country, equality and being your best and that you have to look back to see the way forward."
Tish is also a passionate admirer of the Bard.
"It’s also about wanting people to see Robert as a genius and not a laughing stock – people ridicule him because of his drinking and womanising.
"But at the same time as he was writing and working for the Customs & Excise, he was trying to save the family farm and pay the owing back tax.
"He died still owing £10. Yet he is on our £10 note – and Scotland makes £140 million a year from Burns.
"I feel his works need to be recognised for more than just one day a year."
Later this spring, Tish hopes that a live streaming of the show will take the message across the world.
Tish said: "We are talking now about live streaming of the show to coincide with Tartan Week and we have had interest for that to go to New York, Los Angeles, Australia and China!
"China adopted Auld Lang Syne as their friendship song, after an American film in the late 50s was used to teach people how to speak English and in it someone sings sthe song. Since then it’s been adopted as the friendship theme.
"And at the end of our show we say that all over the world Robert Burns he has this number one hit!
"After this show, we are going to focus on our Fringe performance.
"And in October, we want to go to Los Angeles to honour the LA history of the musical – David Gest and Michael Jackson’s part in it.
"We have also been asked to go to Dubai, Australia and Iceland, so it is just raising the funds."
"At the minute, what we are doing is raising our profile and not to forget the concept is a training ground for new talent – that is the bottom line."
Tish also has plans to develop the idea of the Burns’ story and already has plans for another musical in November – Dickens The Musical and, after that, Shakespeare The Musical.
The Rock Academy Performing Arts in Lossiemouth offers SQA-approved HNC and HND full-time courses in musical theatre and professional dance performance.
Tish wants to use the musical idea as part of students’ training – and possibly future careers.
"The concept is called the Informed Performer. We very much believe that we should be training people in apprenticeship-style training, so not only do we hope they get the highest qualifications they can, but that they also become informed enough to do educational outreach projects and to share what they have taken from the project with others."
Tickets for the show, which will start at 8pm on Saturday, January 30 are available through Macdonald Aviemore Resort priced £18 for adults and £15 for children.