(Seen at the afternoon preview performance on 12th April 2018)
This show pulls no punches Ė literally. Domestic abuse dominates the dramatic
action, and one use of ďthe N-wordĒ provides an even bigger kick, eliciting much
sharp breath intake in the stalls.
These facts alone should be sufficient to raise this ďjukebox biog musicalĒ
above the common herd, giving it a central weight lacking in its more frivolous
next door neighbour from the same director, Phyllida Lloyd. Oddly, however, for
various reasons it fails to capitalise on such gritty stuff.
Perhaps not wishing to alienate those expecting simply a string of classic
hits and a good drunken bop, the whole lands rather uncomfortably nowhere for
much of the time. The first half, particularly the early years, drag, with the
odd song thrown in as a promise of things to come. Thereís a spark with the
early recording of ďRiver Deep, Mountain HighĒ but the show is afraid to truly
unleash at that stage.
It takes until the far looser second half for things to really move up a
gear. From the (admittedly slightly over-heavy on symbolism, light on meaning)
ďPrivate DancerĒ opening, there are increasing hints at the better stuff to
come, and eventually it arrives. Sadly, this is just as the other ďseriousĒ
theme of the show goes out of the window in favour of the expected ďget the
audience up and dancing, which is what they came forĒ ending. The effect is to
torpedo frustratingly rounding off the story some had been working with for the
past two and a half hours.
That isnít to say the show isnít well enough done. The sound design (Nevin
Steinberg) is exceptional, the mixer desk operators outstanding. Mark Thompsonís
revolving and raising wall set is ingenious, the costume details spot on,
Campbell Young Associates wigs appropriately Turner.
The performances are mostly better than good too. Jenny Fitzpatrick as Tina
can belt as required, and comes into her own as a mature lady. Her ďmini-meĒ
Neya-Nyomi Brown does nicely too, with a fun spot of her own. Quick mention
while on the subject for Arianna Duffus as Young Alline Bullock, and
particularly Caelan Edie as abused Young Craig Ė acting beyond his years in a
difficult scene for even a mature performer.
Tom Goodwin is a fun Phil Spector and Terry Britton, Ryan OíDonnell doing
well as Roger Davies. The entire ensemble (the monkey got a real close-up at one
stage) sing and dance a storm against the projections and lights, adding a lot
to the atmosphere.
That it didnít really engage a mature midweek matinee audience is probably
not their fault. It isnít a show that really carries watchers along, more a
series of episodes punctuated by great numbers.
Still, those numbers are great, and itís a decent evening in the main. Worth
a look for those seeking less heavy but still engaging West End fare.