Last things first: I must record that the audience went absolutely wild at the end of 125th Street, standing to hoot and holler and cheer and whistle, with some of them dancing in the aisles and almost all of them clapping along.
You would think I'd just seen a five star show - but I've only given it two stars, and those are only due to the soulful efforts of a spirited cast and sprightly band. In every other respect, this is a scrappy show, lazily thrown together with the cheapest of sets and the cheesiest of scripts. It asks us to believe that we're in New York's legendary (and still functioning) Apollo Theatre on 125th Street in Harlem - a venue that launched Ella and Sarah (Fitzgerald and Vaughan, respectively 15 and 16 when they first appeared on its stage on amateur night), Gladys Knight, Dionne Warwick and even Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five.
But on the night that this West End concoction is perfunctorily set on, n 1969, there's no one remotely so famous in the preparations underway for a live telecast of Tony Sorrento's Big Night Out. In fact, the bill is so empty that only one member of The Four Seasons has turned up (summer, anyone?) and the flailing TV presenter (Domenick Allen) is forced to draw on the stage staff to fill out the bill, like Ray Shell's dresser Gracie (happiest in a dress), Julian Littman's theatre manager Mo Finkle, and Peter Dalton's stuttering stagehand Bish Bosh.
Then there are the real-life members of the public. For a part of the show entitled 'America Search for a Star', the public have been invited to audition for the chance to appear as finalists. At the performance I saw, it was an English stockbroker called John Barr who strutted his quiff-haired stuff, while, at another flailing moment, a couple of audience members are invited for their karaoke moment to sing whatever they want to on a West End stage - at which juncture, the show abandons all hope of maintaining context or credibility.
Why, in that case, are audiences embracing it so fondly? Partly, it's a question of familiarity breeding content. This is another in the burgeoning genre of jukebox shows that strings together songs you already know to supposedly guarantee a lively night out. But you could have an equally lively (and considerably cheaper) one in if you just spin a 1960s collection on your CD player at home.
The musical is directed by Rob Bettinson and scripted by him and Alan Janes; this is the same team who brought the Buddy to the world. But though 125th Street seeks to repeat the formula, of marrying well-known songs to a story, unlike its long-running predecessor, it misses the craft entirely as it drives towards the concert finale.