(seen at the afternoon performance on 18th August 2022)
Originally scheduled for the start of the tour in May 2020, the Wimbledon date is instead the last stop of 2022. 24 months is a long time to wait to see a show the monkey missed in the West End and was curious about. Worth the wait? Read on...
Based on the 1984 movie, Chicago boy Ren’s father abandons him and his mom. They are force to move in with his small town uncle. In Bomont the local pastor holds sway – and has banned dancing in memory of four teenagers killed in an accident a half decade ago. Ren seeks to overturn the ban.
The show’s book is as thin as it sounds. It takes the 70-minute first act to set up the situation, 40 minutes of meandering followed by 20 quite impactful minutes to end the tale. The show is very much saved by two scenes - a revelation, and a deep conversation.
Two hit songs, the title number and “Holding Out For A Hero” shore up an otherwise less than memorable score. Luckily, they stand the repetition they need, and there is amusement noting that they comprise much of the final “Megamix.”
Luckily, this tour has a fine cast. As can be expected in the final days of a very long run, they all took a little time to warm up – voices and dance muscles loosening noticably as the show went on.
The monkey was most surprised to find that leading lady Lucy Munden (preacher’s daughter Ariel Moore) is appearing in her first show after graduating. A formidable talent in every area, handling equally strongly the demands of sweet church girl and rebel dying to escape.
In her first challenge, father the Rev. Shaw Moore sees Darren Day in full pastor mode. Breathing life into some pallid lyrics, he demonstrates a surprising acting range, a key confession scene having verisimilitude and humility.
Sharing that scene, rebel Ren (Joshua Hawkins - Ariel's second challenge), allows Hawkins to demonstrate the intermittent emotions of teenage life with conviction. Like his girlfriend, he is required to flip between sulky and submissive almost mid-line. Much to his credit, he is able to make it less incongruous than the script reads, and he even manages a little comedy roller-skating.
Best of the real comedy is from Aston Merrygold as Willard Hewitt. Neither brain nor body co-ordinate, but when he finally gets his Rusty (Oonagh Cox) the audience sighs with satisfaction.
Part of a trio with Urleen (Samantha Richards) and Wendy-Jo (Jess Barker) this little chorus lend a little colour and movement to the action.
For the boys, Tom Mussell is a violent Chuck without redemption, Mussell managing to escape audience rejection somehow with his solid stage presence.
Equally strong Holly Ashton (Vi Moore / Principal Clark) and Wendy Paver (Ethal McCormack / Betty / Coach) impress tackling multiple roles. Ashton as Vi is particularly sympathetic, an excellent counterbalance to a repetitive husband character.
Chris Davey has his work cut out lighting a very curious grey metal and painted wall set from Sara Perks. The neon cross is almost the brightest thing on it, as youth is given an industrial atmosphere as if “Footloose” has been mistaken for “Flashdance.”
Matt Cole luckily finds some period dance steps and the ladies, in particular, seem to relish working the kicks. Director Racky Plews finds a way to smooth the generation gaps emotionally even if having to fill gaps between scenes with some walk-on moments peculiar on the vast Wimbledon stage.
A close-knit and versatile company, it would be good if they were allowed the opportunity to play a stronger musical together. This one is nowhere near the standard of other movie-to-stage adaptations in script or music, but has a cast worth seeing and final message worth hearing about the joy of relaxing attitudes and preconceptions. So see this without them and you should have a pretty fine time.
Photo credit: Mark Senior. Used by kind permission.