Following repeated delays, Boney M musical Daddy Cool at last received its world premiere last night (21 September 2006, previews from 15 August) at the West End’s Shaftesbury Theatre, where it was originally due to open last May (See News, 7 Jul 2006). In March, producers explained that the initial four-month postponement would allow the team “to spend more time in pre-production in order to achieve the technical and creative possibilities of the show”.
The musical – in which EastEnders’ Michelle Collins, pop star Javine and So Solid Crew’s Harvey lead a 35-strong cast - features the hits of Seventies disco group Boney M, reinterpreted with contemporary influences and set alongside a modern London story loosely based on Romeo and Juliet (See News, 19 Jan 2006). Daddy Cool has a book by Amani Naphtali. It’s directed by Andy Goldberg and designed by Jon Morrell.
Overnight critics were entirely divided over the musical, either loathing it or – if not exactly loving it – being quite complimentary, with one even suggesting it could be a much-needed hit for the Shaftesbury. Perhaps Daddy Cool is a Marmite musical?
Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com – “This just-a-bit-better-than-mediocre rap/reggae re-write of Romeo and Juliet… just about staggers to a West Side Story-style showdown under the Paddington Westway between the rival so solid crews and then expires almost completely in the second act: the musical crew contest ends in violence, Sunny takes the wrong rap and picks up a jail sentence; he is released and the rival ‘mothers’ kiss and make up. The music becomes stale and dreary…. The presiding vamp, Ma Baker, is played by Michelle Collins (forever known as Cindy Beale in EastEnders) with a remarkably low wattage and her big song, ‘Got a Man on My Mind’, is both feebly composed and feebly delivered.” Coveney did, however, concede: “For all my complaints, I can see that if the right audience finds its way to the Shaftesbury, the show could be a surprise hit.... Dwayne Wint is a likeable, dread-locked Sunny and the two main girls, Rose, his ‘Juliet’ from the rival crew, and the club singer Asia Blue, are impressively taken by Camilla Beeeput and Javine, both products of TV pop shows but both obviously talented, with big careers in front of them.”
Rhoda Koenig in the Independent - “The latest attempt to cash in on a back catalogue, this musical uses the songs of Boney M as plot points or characterisations. But these impersonal numbers have neither raw passion nor easy confidence; the performers squall and the bass thumps relentlessly, as monotonous as Michelle Collins' attempts to act…. Her hand welded to her hip, her chin tilted forward, Collins emits various half-hearted taunts in a manner that makes one understand the unusually frank, if cruel description of her in the programme: ‘She was originally booked for 11 episodes of EastEnders and overstayed her welcome by 10 years’.… Though it took two writers to concoct the book, their hearts do not seem to have been in it.”
Benedict Nightingale in The Times - “If I thought anything was certain, it was that I could never enjoy anything in a theatre that had first forced me to walk along a red carpet and through a load of performers dressed as birds, mainly chickens, before entering the auditorium. That I found yet another fowl, perhaps an overgrown parrot, dangling high above my head as I sat down only confirmed my resistance.” However, Nightingale gave the show three stars, saying: “True, the show is packed with young men strutting around like roosters while delivering testosterone-packed chords to their human hens. And, true, the story is pretty silly…. Yet the casts’ energy is as impressive as its choreographic discipline…. Oh yes, and there’s the inevitable visit to the Notting Hill Carnival. But that event, spectacular though it was, was outdone last night by the celebratory West Indian parade, complete with inexplicable pharaohs and dancers in peacock feathers, that ended the evening. The parrot descended from the ceiling and the actors in bird costumes again began to writhe and jitter, this time in the aisles. And did I mind? No, not at all.”
Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph - Spencer found himself dancing in the aisles: “Has there ever been a naffer band than this pop-disco outfit of the 1970s manufactured by a mysterious German producer called Frank Farian?... So I arrived at the Shaftesbury Theatre prepared to sneer, only to find that I'd stayed to cheer. Not three cheers certainly, indeed not quite two, but at least one and three-quarters – which is a pretty good strike rate for a new British musical. Say what you like about Boney M, no one can deny that their tunes are as adhesive as a lump of chewing gum on the sole of your shoe. Once heard, their biggest hits are never forgotten, however strenuously you wish you could get the things out of your head. So the sing-along factor is guaranteed. The show, with a book by Stephen Plaice and Amani Naphtali and given a raw, energetic production by Andy Goldberg, also boasts a soupçon of wit, a hint of a heart and lashings of energy…. The narrative certainly packs more dramatic punch than the average pop compilation musical. There are, it has to be said, some moments of pure bathos when fraught drama gives way to disco kitsch, but hey, who said every musical had to be great art? Better yet, the cast, who sound like rejects from Celebrity Big Brother, all deliver the goods.”
Nicholas de Jongh in the Evening Standard - “The greatest raiser of temperatures last night was the inadequate air-cooling system, not the song and wild dance on stage, or the hurling of insults. Hot stuff this is not…. The plot involves Michelle Collins, firing familiar shots of malice as the barking, bitchy Ma Baker, East End club-owner and mother of a wild-boy son. It is ludicrously untangled at the end as if just a knot in a lady's knitting. Miss Collins, incidentally lays on the nastiness in spades, when a smaller, less blunt implement would do. Peace, justice and a happy ending are glibly imposed out of the blue. It could hardly be less like murderous, complex real life. I admire Daddy Cool for seeking to appeal to a constituency of black youngsters who would rarely be found within West End theatres.
I do not believe, though, such a musical should offer soothing cosmetic treatment for the ugly face of crime.” However, de Jongh also awarded three stars to the musical: “Andy Goldberg's spectacular production, with its spectacular, sometimes vulgar sets and Sean Cheesman's choreography are notable for their dynamism. Their creative teamwork ensures Daddy Cool seems in its own fashion as much a fairy tale musical as, say, The Sound of Music.”
Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail - "Call me Fanny Craddock, here is a recipe for popular tastes, retro-trendy West End dance hit for the under 30s…. Boney M were like Turkey Twizzlers. You knew they were artificial, with little true nourishment. You knew your friends would say 'yeurch!' if you admitted you liked them. Yet something made you go back for more…. The music goes with a zing, the cast is charming and, at the preview I saw on Tuesday, the audience seemed moderately happy…. The plot is as flimsy as balsa wood but all it needs to do is fill in the bits between the songs and a few (too few) moments of exhilarating dance…. It's pretty good nonsense…. If you're looking for blameless entertainment, you could do a lot worse."
- by Caroline Ansdell