Riding the nostalgia highway

Carnaby Street

Malvern Theatres

****

Based on producer Carl Leighton-Pope’s own memories and experiences of the 1960s London music scene, Carnaby Street is a jukebox musical featuring almost forty hits of the time.

With co-writer Robert Johns, Leighton-Pope aims to recreate the mood and colour of the Swinging 60s, basing characters on people he met in his years working at The Marquee Club before opening his own recording studio and moving into management.

With a full live band, sassy sashaying brass section, fabulous lighting and an exceedingly talented cast, I’d say Leighton-Pope has achieved what he set out to do, and the cast and audience had a thoroughly enjoyable night, as did Leighton-Pope, who chatted to audience members in the interval and stood at the exit at the end of the evening to shake hands and share others’ reminiscences of that same era.

The show begins by inviting the audience to sing or clap along to any of the songs, and a lively opening number promises to take us back to the 60s and all of its variety. Matthew Wright’s set is spot on and his costumes are fabulous, with mod fashions recreated and suits, mini-skirts and knee length boots all the rage. Even the souvenir program has been lovingly created in the guise of a vinyl album inside its sleeve.

Directed by Bob Tomson (Dreamboats and Petticoats), Carnaby Street follows two young Liverpudlians, Jude and Penny, hoping to make their way and earn their fortune on the gold-paved streets of Soho.

Jude (Jonny Bower) is soon tipped to be a huge star and puts in some fine performances but for me the loyal and unassuming Penny is the one deserving of any manager’s backing. Aimee Atkinson plays Jude’s side-lined and lovelorn friend in an understated and endearing manner, which makes her excellent vocal performances all the more striking.

Some of my favourite numbers from the show were performed by Penny, from her melancholy Go Now to the fun and catty Poison Ivy, sung with flamboyant stylist to the stars, Lil (played marvellously by Paul Hazel).

The other star of the show for me was Tricia Adele-Turner who played the upper class and at first not particularly likeable Jane. Again, she put in some fantastic vocal performances, and whereas numbers such as I Only Want To Be With You were fun, feel-good tunes, other songs like Anyone Who Had A Heart were performed with more than a touch of real emotion.

Tricia Adele-Turner as the up-market, girl about town and seemingly self-centred Jane

There is always the danger with jukebox musicals that plots are forced around the songs that are to be included, and Carnaby Street does not escape from this entirely, although there are humorous nods to this where the writers seem to appropriately acknowledge this factor and then merrily carry on regardless. There are for example a couple of instances where we can clearly see what tune is coming but when the on-stage band picks up the obvious intro, characters leave the stage or tell the band to stop. So although at times contrived and not the deepest or most original plot line, I don’t imagine audiences come to a production like this expecting great depths and insight into the human condition.

There are many characters in this production, perhaps too many for us to get to know them well enough. Mark Pearce plays the Jim Morrisson-esque Wild Thing and adds a slightly darker tone with his addictions and rock attitude, and Aaron Sidwell puts in a charming performance as manager and narrator Jack.

Jack belts out a few good numbers, as does Hugo Harold-Harrison’s Arnold, although I felt that Harold-Harrison’s talents may not have been as appreciated as much as they should have been because of the unpleasantness of his music mogul character. Incredibly hackneyed at times, but regular appearances of newspaper vendor Al (Gregory Clarke) added to the flavour of the 60s, with bad jokes and headlines from the times. He reminded us of the hopes of Vietnam troops that they’d be home by Christmas, and of the assassination of Malcolm X.

Overall this show delivers what it promises to. The entire cast seem to have great acting, dancing and musical ability and Carole Todd’s choreography adds much to the production. I particularly like the scene where three security guards are trying to keep three enthusiastic female fans away from Jude, and the girls try all kinds of moves to get past the minders. All of this is amusingly portrayed in dance.

Not my era, but a marvellous trip down memory lane for some. Lil had everyone clapping along to Summertime Blues and the finale had the entire audience on their feet, singing and jigging along. Penny’s rendition of Shout, performed as an encore, was brilliant, and I hope that Aimee Atkinson goes a long way.  To 23-11-13

Amy Rainbow

Home  Malvern  Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre