What's New Pussycat? review – Tom Jones musical is an irresistible tonic
The show has opened at the Birmingham Rep
When 18th-century novelist Henry Fielding penned his novel Tom Jones, he could never have imagined its reincarnation in this eye-popping musical. What's New Pussycat? takes Fielding's story, shakes it up, moves it to London in the 1960s, adds a splash of colour, injects plenty of humour and sets it to a string of hit songs made famous by Sir Tom Jones.
And the result is truly wonderful. What's New Pussycat? is bursting at the seams with memorable characters, witty dialogue, stylish costumes, fabulous dancing – and of course, plenty of much-loved tunes.
Written by Joe DiPietro (Memphis) and directed by Luke Sheppard (& Juliet), the show doesn't let up for a moment and takes the audience with it, buoying us up with its good humour and zest for life.
Dominic Andersen plays a sex bomb of a Tom Jones – whether dressed in his louche country gear or his snappy London togs, he oozes attraction as he wiggles his hips and launches into song. It's no wonder all the girls fall for him.
Bronté Barbé is his fiery love interest Mary Western. A woman of the 60s, Mary is keen to love but not at the expense of her own identity and new fashion career launching the mini skirt. Barbé, whose credits have included playing Carole King in Beautiful, has a stunning voice that is capable of dripping emotion when she believes her hopes are crushed.
Harry Kershaw provides bucketloads of humour as William Blifil, the rich suitor of Mary. Kershaw is dogged and daft, pronouncing some wickedly funny lines with perfect comic timing and attitude. Kelly Price vamps it up as the older seductress Lady Bellaston, determined to have Tom and send Mary packing back to the country.
All of the cast can belt out a tune and have plenty of opportunities to do so with Matthew Brind's music delivering hit after hit including "Green, Green Grass of Home", "Mama Told Me Not To Come", "Thunderball", "It's Not Unusual", "Leave Your Hat On" and "She's a Lady". But it is Lemuel Knights as prisoner Big Mickey who has the show-stopping moment with his highly melodramatic "Delilah" in which he even gets his own encore.
Arlene Phillips' 60s-inspired choreography is playful but demands synchronicity across the cast while Strictly Come Dancing fans will have spotted a few ballroom and Latin references – not to mention the odd lift. The costumes, designed by Janet Bird, bring the period to life with Mary Quan- style minidresses, snazzy trouser suits and brightly coloured rain macs.
Jon Bausor has given his imagination room to roam on the sets, while Akhila Krishnan's video design provides fun recreations of train journeys, prison cells and weddings. There's a pop art, almost cartoon, element to Krishnan's designs with giant hearts, multicoloured targets and pulsating sunbeams.
What's New Pussycat? is just what theatre needs right now – its irresistible energy is hard to fault and audiences are rapidly on their feet and singing when given the opportunity. Premiered in Birmingham, I'd be willing to bet the rumours of a West End transfer will soon be more than rumours.