Two West End trends come into lumbering, cumbersomely contrived view in Jailhouse Rock: the stage version of a well-known film and the jukebox compilation show that recycles a pre-existing selection of pop favourites into a new format. Luckily for this one, though, the last two examples of each - respectively When Harry Met Sally and Tonight's the Night - are so poor that they've created very low expectations to meet, so I wasn't exactly expecting much.
Nor indeed, with director Rob Bettinson at the helm and a script co-written by him and Alan Janes - collaborators on both the long-running Buddy and the rather shorter-lived 125th Street - was there going to be much in the way of surprises, either: they've virtually invented a formula for this kind of thing now.
As it celebrates the cult of amateur performers made big, you can virtually cue the recreation of the live television gig that will introduce them to a wider public; expect variously touching scenes of domestic life behind the showbiz curtain; a conflict or two that are feebly resolved; and then a big, blow-out curtain call that has the audience on their feet and dancing to a final succession of hits.
So it proves with this behind-the-jailhouse-doors plot of a young rebel Vince Everett, who has a serious anger-management problem that he should get some therapy for. After a conviction for manslaughter for which he gets off lightly with just a year in the clink, he discovers the liberating joys of music by his redneck country-and-western singing cellmate, and is propelled to stardom via a live telecast from the prison.
Along the way, there are some powerful renditions of popular pop standards, from “Good Rockin' Tonight” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” (both of which have coincidentally become the titles for other compilation/biomusicals) to “Blue Suede Shoes” that Elvis Presley, who originally played Vince in the film, made famous.
Mario Kombou, the tall, stocky and quiffed stand-in for Elvis as Vince, makes a credible enough impersonation, and Bettinson's production harnesses an impressive youthful cast to rachet up the musical energy.
The show flags noticeably, however, in some of the interminable book scenes; and the fact that designer Adrian Rees's two rows of cells on either side of the stage can't be removed once our hero has been, means that the staging has to take on an absurdly Brechtian air, with the prisoners still in there having to watch the second act that unfolds elsewhere from its gantries.
But I can't get myself too worked up over such deficiencies. The only important question is: Does Jailhouse rock? And the answer is that it does - except not, ironically, to “Jailhouse Rock”: the title song is missing since the rights couldn't be secured.
- Mark Shenton