On the face of it, Leader of the Pack has all the makings to join the list, but the script, by Gerald Armin and Peter Rowe, is nicely constructed, and the performance of Nicola Dawn as Ellie Greenwich, a staff writer for hit-makers Lieber and Stoller churning out hits for the girl groups of the early Sixties, is a joy.
We watch her forge a stunning career writing for such groups as The Crystals, The Dixie Cups, The Shangri-Las and, most famously, Phil Spector's Ronettes, while losing the love of her life - and her writing partner, Jeff Barry (Craig Purnell).
Hits like "I Can Hear Music", "Then He Kissed Me", "Da Doo Ron Ron", and "River Deep, Mountain High" have become standards, but it is two of the little-known songs, released under her own name and beautifully performed by Dawn; "You Don't Know" and "I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine", that are the musical highlights of the night.
Like earlier Wolsey Theatre productions - this time in association with Clywd Theatr Cymru - the entire cast doubles as the band, each playing a different instrument. You have to keep you wits about you to spot who is playing drums or horns for the latest number. Is that Jerry Lieber (Charles Baker) on trombone?
Peter Rowe's direction provides an economy of scale which lets the audience see the best of every cast member and the intimacy of Judith Croft's set is perfect for the close confines of the Wolsey Theatre. Not an inch is wasted.
Despite the dazzling Dawn this is very much an ensemble production with every character contributing to the whole. Watch out for Dineen as the hyperactive Spector and Diana Croft as Lieber's secretary Nancy, although, as I've said, these characters are only part of their overall contribution.
Principal singers Angeline Bell, Natalie Tapper and Julianna all have their starring moments as the various girl-groups, as does Hayley-Jayne Langwith in the dual roles of Laura and singer Lesley Gore.
Leader of the Pack is great fun and a great night out.
- John Lawson (reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich)