The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the biggest arts festival in the world, with nearly 3,500 shows. This year, Playbill is in Edinburgh for the entire month in August for the festival and we’re taking you with us. Follow along as we cover every single aspect of the Fringe, aka our real-life Brigadoon!
As part of our Edinburgh Fringe coverage, Playbill is seeing a whole lotta shows—and we're sharing which ones you absolutely must see if you're only at the Fringe for a short amount of time. Consider these Playbill Picks a friendly, opinionated guide as you try to choose a show at the festival.
Oscar Wilde once said, "Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess." That statement referred to Wilde's hedonistic (for the 1800s) lifestyle, but it could also be applied to the musical Oscar at the Crown, currently running with verve, style, and sky-high vocals at the Edinburgh Fringe.
You might think a musical that bills itself as being about Oscar Wilde would be a stuffy, period affair. But Oscar at the Crown—with a book by Mark Mauriello, music and lyrics by Andrew Barret Cox—is not interested in being a typical bio-musical. It's much more extra than that. There's a show within a show here. The audience enters into a circus tent, where the inside has been transformed into a nightclub, with a gigantic disco ball in the center. On raised platforms, dancers shimmy and twirl to gay anthems by Lady Gaga, Spice Girls, and Katy Perry. Those performers then usher you onto the dance floor, telling you that you will be standing the entire time. And also, feel free to pull out your phones and record the fun.
"Here, we can be fabulous, frivolous, and free," they tell you. Then the music begins, and I dare you not to move to the beat, and marvel at the breath control and vocal talent of the ensemble cast who dance and jump with abandon without a note out of place—while ushering the audience to move forward and back as the dance platforms move around them (think Here Lies Love but with punk and EDM).
If you think this show is all spectacle, think again. It is set in a post-apocalyptic future where those in the LGBTQIA+ community have been exiled, driven underground into a bunker. But instead of bemoaning their circumstances, these fierce queens sing and tell stories, including the story of the life of Oscar Wilde, who to them is an icon as the first gay celebrity who lived his life like he was "the mirrorball in which the whole room dances."
Mauriello himself plays the leader of this coven, and is Oscar in the play within a play. Manic and magnetic, dressed in a long sleeveless trench coat and knee pads with spikes on them, this Oscar is less refined Victorian and more futuristic goth vampire. And he's determined to keep the party going at all cost.
Oscar at the Crown previously played in Brooklyn in 2019 to mixed reviews but positive word-of-mouth from audiences, which is likely what has led it to Edinburgh. The show has been cut down from its 90 minutes when it played in Brooklyn in 2019 to an hour to fit the Fringe's allotted runtime. Yes, this shortened time means the characters are not as developed as you want—for instance, you never know the true name of Mauriello's character or how he has managed to survive and thrive in the apocalypse. And there's a dramatic turn at the end of the show that isn't quite earned.
All of these issues can be fixed with an expansion and deepening of the show. Since 2019, Oscar at the Crown has only grown in power, with its themes of queer members of society being driven from society not just a sci-fi scenario but a very real possibility. That gives the show a relevancy and urgency, especially because it's produced by Neon Coven, a queer theatre company.
But most importantly, Oscar at the Crown has the rarest and most marvelous thing of all: a genuinely ear-worm of a score. It has an 11-o'clock number, "Glimmer of Light," delivered by Elizabeth Chalmers, that inspired the kind of cheers and applause reserved for Broadway divas. By that point, you realize that Oscar at the Crown isn't about Oscar Wilde at all. It's about something even more timeless: songs, storytelling, and how when the world is bleak, the important thing to do is keep dancing.
Oscar at the Crown is currently running until August 27 at Assembly George Square Gardens, in its Spiegeltent Palais Du Variete venue. Read about more Playbill recommended shows at this venue here.
View productions photos of Oscar at the Crown below.