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Review Round-up: Jukebox Show to Shout! About?

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Hi-de-Hi’s Su Pollard has returned to the West End in the 1960s jukebox musical Shout!, which opened on 29 April 2009 (previews from 17 April) at the Arts Theatre, where it’s booking for a limited season to 28 June (See 1st Night Photos, 1 May 2009).

In Shout!, five gorgeous women and one lucky man twist and shout, shimmy and shake as they embark on a journey through the Swinging Sixties and more than 30 hits from the era including “Downtown”, “Son of a Preacher Man”, “I Only Wanna Be With You”, “To Sir With Love” and “These Boots Are Made for Walking”.

Shout! is based on an original idea by Phillip George and David Lowenstein and adapted for UK audiences by Julie Balloo. It’s directed and choreographed by Bill Deamer. First seen in this country at London’s Jermyn Street Theatre in 2001, when it was nominated for a Whatsonstage.com Award, it launched a major regional tour last year.

Pollard, who plays the girls’ mentor Vonnie, is joined in the cast by Marissa Dunlop, Tiffany Graves, Shona White, John Jack, Jessica Kirton and Francesca Newitt. The production is designed by Morgan Large.

Critical views on the latest jukebox musical to hit the West End ran the gamut from one to four stars, with judgements seemingly largely dependent on the age of the reviewer in question and their nostalgia quotient for the Swinging Sixties. However, whether they ultimately enjoyed the evening’s entertainment or not, most agreed that, even if the book is “Twiggy” thin, the music of “belted-out ballads” is “delightful” and performed by a “strong and confident”, with particular praise for Su Pollard, Marisa Dunlop and Tiffany Graves.

  • Theo Bosanquet on Whatsonstage.com (two stars) – “As jukebox musicals go, Shout! has a bigger record collection than most. Almost 40 songs are featured (some only in part) during the course of a show not so much dripping with nostalgia as drowning in it. What there is of a storyline is atom-thin … The book, adapted by Julie Balloo from the American original, is dire. Tepid gags are fired out with machine-gun rapidity … as excuses to shoe-horn in the hits … But though Shout! may have quite literally lost the plot, its plethora of toe-tappers is served up by a talented cast whose palpable energy … Su Pollard does sterling work as 'wacky' aunt Yvonne … Shout! is a two-hour sprint down memory lane … The music is often delightful … and if you're willing to look past the by-numbers creative approach there's a good night out to be had.”
  • Fiona Mountford in the Evening Standard (one star) – “You can almost follow the producers’ recession-era train of thought. Blend 30-odd easy-access tunes from the Sixties, add in a sliver of storyline about three young women from the North moving downtown (I sense a song coming on) to London and top with Su Pollard saying ‘Flipping heck’. How could this not be a world-beating musical? Let me count the ways. It’s unclear who, if anyone, actually wrote Shout! …The choreography looks like something my goddaughter cooks up with her friends on a Saturday afternoon, and the amplification in Bill Deamer’s production means you could probably hear the entire thing by standing in Leicester Square. Pollard is loud and the others are game but with this sort of material there aren’t a whole lot of options.”
  • Sam Marlowe in The Times (two stars) – “Shout! retreads songs made famous by the likes of Petula Clark, Dusty Springfield and Lulu. There are some great tunes here, from the smoky ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ to a glittering handful of Bacharach gems, but their rendition, in director/choreographer Bill Deamer’s production, is so ear-splittingly over-amplified, so shrill and so often off-key that to enjoy them you’d need to have dropped some acid or at least sunk serious quantities of chardonnay. The skeletal story concerns three Northern lasses chasing their dreams in swinging London … It’s all very bright, brash and noisy. The dialogue is unashamedly contrived … The musical wears its shallowness on its psychedelic sleeve: politics or world events never prick the Day-Glo bubble of nostalgia, and any brief emotional crisis serves only as a cue for a song. If that’s all you require from an evening’s entertainment, then it’s just possible you’ll have a groovy time. But expect any more from this brainless, soulless show and you might find those boots were made for walking - towards the exit.”
  • Paul Callan in the Daily Express (four stars) – “Nearly 50 years on, the Sixties are a hazy memory of miniskirts, white leather boots, Carnaby Street, girls with Marty Quant-type fringes - and those four cheeky lads from Liverpool. If you are a certain age (like this critic) you'll remember the good times …This show sweeps us back to that cultural explosion with an evening of belted-out ballads … It is also a compelling reminder of what high-quality songs were written in a decade that also witnessed immense social change …The plot is as thin as Twiggy at the time … Su Pollard can belt out a song like Marie Lloyd and rightly received several loud ovations. Marissa Dunlop (and) Tiffany Graves … both possess strong, confident voices, perfectly suited to a high-energy show such as Shout!. My only quibble is their occasionally clumsy dancing … This delightful evening is awash with nostalgia and everyone joins in the finale. I went home humming ‘Those Were the Days’ and wondering whatever happened to my old zip Chelsea Boots. Grooy, man.”
  • Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph - “Shout! is a cheap and cheerful jukebox musical …The script – and no one seems prepared to own up to writing it – is a stinker of lame jokes, vestigial plotting and inaccurate historical narrative. The songs however, once immortalised by Dusty Springfield, Cilla Black, Lulu and Petula Clark, are performed with brio, and sound as fresh and engaging as ever. Su Pollard plays a garrulous hairdresser with her usual over-the-top glee, while Marissa Dunlop lends a touch of real class to this somewhat tacky show as the sexiest new arrival in the smoke. You would, however, enjoy a far more authentic Sixties experience by buying a decent compilation album along with DVDs of Michael Caine in Alfie and Rita Tushingham in The Knack.”

- by Terri Paddock


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