What do you get if you ask the entire cast of The Big Bang Theory – and gay hairdresser Bobby from The Only Way Is Essex – to dress up for a night out in Dalston and then punctuate an extended medley of Sixties hits with some vague semblance of a storyline about an ambitious Liverpudlian musician? Carnaby Street, apparently.
If you enjoy singing along to Sixties hits, you should dig out your old LPs. If you enjoy singing along to live covers of Sixties hits, you should go to a sing-along show. If you enjoy singing along to very articulate, carefully enunciated covers of Sixties hits and sitting through overacted, but simultaneously sleep-inducing, dialogue between each hit, you should go to Carnaby Street.
This should never have been a musical. Following Liverpudlian musician Jude (Matthew Wycliffe) as he makes the move to London, gets signed by Arnold (Hugo Harold-Harrison) and forgets girlfriend Jane (Tricia Adele-Turner) as soon as he makes it big, just isn’t exciting. And while the newspaper seller (Gregory Clarke) is mildly entertaining – in a strictly nostalgia-inducing way – as he reminds the audience of breaking news stories from the Sixties (even I chuckled when he announced that coffee shops were now selling coffee at the sky-high price of… 10p), it soon becomes a rather tired way to link scenes.
The main problems, I suppose, are the tenuous lead-ins to Sixties songs. If it wasn’t camp stylist Lily the Pink (Paul Hazel) singing Dusty Springfield’s "Son Of A Preacher Man", it was Jack asking his long-suffering girlfriend "Do You Love Me?" à la The Contours. Not innovative, not exciting and not very funny.
It’s telling that the last 20 minutes of Carnaby Street are by far the most entertaining. By then, you see, the storyline is abandoned and the entire cast takes to the stage to perform a mash-up of hits by The Beatles, The Kinks, Manfred Mann et al. Including the character who dies exactly half an hour prior to the finale. But, as confusing as the appearance of a man whose funeral we’ve just seen is, this is where the show works best. No one goes to Carnaby Street to for the story; they go for the music.
The costumes are lovely, the set has been beautifully designed and the actors are good singers. Unfortunately they’re let down by a script that simply hasn’t tried hard enough. Expect to sing along, but not laugh along.