Although it is only eight months since I last saw this show, I am here again because it is advertised as a brand new version for 2012 and 2013. I wondered if it was possible, in a short summer break, to completely rework a three-hour show, replace almost all of the songs, create new comedy sketches – and still produce a product that is as slick and professional as its predecessor. Well, it is!
The theatre audience is still made up predominantly of the usual suspects for a nostalgic jukebox musical like this one – people for whom the bus-pass is either in their pocket or in the post! All of them are, like me, waiting to bathe in nostalgia. As Trevor Payne, the creator of the show, wanders onto the stage to encourage the audience to sing along to “Que sera sera” – waves of the stuff start pouring over us.
The set is simple; microphones on stands for the singers, a five-piece band behind and, at the back of the stage, a huge screen on which we see a montage of appropriately dated images, TV commercials and the occasional comedy sketch. For this is not just a 50s to 70s concert-style show. It is a fascinating combination of concert, Stars in Their Eyes style visual and vocal impressions and quite old-fashioned comedy.
Payne and his sidekick Gary Anderson still perform all of the comedy in the show but, unlike in the previous version, they now seem to take a more backseat role when it comes to the singing. The rest of the singers and musicians, in a cast of ten people, continue to change places with frightening regularity, but take to each new instrument, or vocal harmony, like a duck to water.
Payne’s impression of Mick Jagger, is still the highlight of the second half and, together with Anderson, the reworking of Bill and Ben as drunks brought the house down in the middle of Act One.
There are also two female singers who not only provide backing vocals but play many characters of their own. Julia Greenham gives an absolutely flawless version of Cilla Black’s “You’re my world” and Nikki Renee Hechavarria, backed by images of the medal-winning athletes from the London 2012 Olympics, belts out the late Whitney Houston’s “One moment in time” to rapturous applause from the delighted crowd.
The band is composed of supremely talented musicians whose skills are by no means restricted to one instrument. Special mention has to go to Ollie Gray who proves to be not only a skilled singer and guitarist, but also a very accomplished drummer. His drum duet “Wipeout” with Mark Street, is the one major song that remains from the previous year’s show.
Quite often when a show runs for year after year it can become tired, old and even somewhat moribund but, having completed its annual check-up, this production is most definitely alive and kicking.