Tag Archives: Jon Conway

Party On!

Stage Experience: BOOGIE NIGHTS

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Thursday 23rd August, 2018

 

Every summer about a hundred young people flock to Birmingham and just a fortnight later, they’re performing to packed houses.  It’s the Alex’s annual Stage Experience project, a highlight of the theatre’s calendar.  Previous shows include 42nd Street, Footloose, and West Side Story.  This year the choice is Boogie Nights, a jukebox musical of 1970s hits with a plot so shallow it makes Dreamboats & Petticoats seem like The Cherry Orchard.   This is Saturday Night Fever lite, with characters living for their nights out at the local nightclub, and there’s a party atmosphere long before the performance begins with cast members in the aisles encouraging the audience to get up and dance.

The miracle worker, as ever, is the indefatigable Pollyann Tanner who directs and choreographs her huge cast of youngsters with an assured hand.  It can’t be easy managing such a troupe but the enthusiasm of every member shines through – this lot clearly don’t need cattle-prods to get them to cooperate!  I can’t list them all, so forgive me, chorus, for focussing on the main players.

Leading the cast is Elliot Gooch as Roddy, our narrator.  Gooch has presence and a twinkle in his eye, but Roddy is written in such a way, we can’t be charmed by his throwaway sexism and his selfishness.  Gooch works hard to sell the character to us, but ultimately Roddy is an obnoxious plonker.  As Roddy’s long-term girlfriend Debs, Isabella Kibble positively shines in a flawless performance.  She can handle the London-ish accent superbly and sings like a dream.  Furthermore, she brings credibility to the part and is the emotional centre of the piece.  Kibble is supported by Melissa Huband as best friend Trish, who also sings well and displays spot-on comic timing.

Grace Williams also makes a strong impression as night-club singer Lorraine.  Her duet with Debs (No More Tears/Enough is Enough) is a definite highlight.

Among a colourful array of Seventies costumes, Gibsa Bah looks marvellous as Spencer, strutting on huge platforms with an afro like a black cloud over his head, whose chauvinistic attitudes remind us that the period was not just great pop music and big collars.  Thomas Parkinson adds humour as Roddy’s mate Terry, while handsome Jonah Sercombe has the best male singing voice of the lot – it’s a shame we don’t get to hear more from him – but I would advise him not to rush his dialogue, and please, someone get him a wig to hide his on-fleek 2018 hairdo!  There is an excellent performance from Liam Huband as Roddy’s Elvis-worshipping father, Eamon – a strong characterisation, Eamon gets most of the best lines (even if Jon Conway’s script strings together as many old jokes as old songs).

The songs keep coming (and coming) along with gratuitous period references to crank up the nostalgia factor.  A tight ensemble led by Musical Director Chris Newton provides a great sound, and you can’t resist the energy coming off the stage.  More of a party than a play, this show’s delights come from seeing young people giving it their all, rather than getting their teeth into a meatier piece of musical theatre.

boogie

 

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Let’s Call The Whole Thing Hoff

LAST NIGHT A DJ SAVED MY LIFE

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 17th November, 2015

 

Yet another jukebox musical is doing the rounds. This one cobbles together tunes from the 80s and early 90s. The setting is the party island of Ibiza and the plot, such as it is, concerns young Penny from Wales, flying out to spend time with her estranged father who runs a club. On the way she meets and falls for a club rep – Daddy doesn’t approve of their relationship, even though he is now seeing a woman half his age. Add to this a storyline about the drugs scene – the wide-boy bouncer is selling ecstasy in the club – and, well, that’s about it.

It’s a loud, brash, colourful affair and all a bit too holiday-camp for my liking, where importuning people to clap along means you’re giving them a good time. We are encouraged to take selfies to be projected on screen during the interval. No, thank you.

The big draw of the show is David Hoff (he doesn’t want the Hassel anymore) as club owner, Ross. Never one to take himself too seriously, there are lots of in-jokes and direct references to his earlier career, including an obligatory Baywatch routine. It just seems a little tired. He gives us a passable rendition of Barry Manilow’s Even Now but later songs have him just yelling. The comic timing is there, especially in scenes with Tam Ryan as Spanish barman Jose (who must be the grandson of Andrew Sachs’s Manuel). The presence of the Hoff is not enough to keep me enthused, in this almost relentless barrage of light and noise.

Tam Ryan is an asset – with his ad libs and juggling – and Barry Bloxham’s drug-pushing Ebenezer (what else?!) makes you want to boo him for all the right reasons.  There’s a bizarre scene when the Hoff unwittingly drops an E that has to be seen to be disbelieved.

Like other shows of its kind, there is a bid to cram in as many songs as possible, never mind how tenuous the relevance. It’s a nostalgia fest, basically. But unlike shows which celebrate other eras in popular music, here the genres covered tend not to allow for emotive singing. There is something dispassionate about it, which doesn’t help us to engage or the characters to grow. Penny (a likeable Stephanie Webber) alone with club rep paramour Rik (Shane Richie Junior) at last, bursts forth with a hi-energy rendition of Tiffany’s I Think We’re Alone Now. It’s the crack-your-nuts-with-a-sledgehammer approach. By the end of the show I feel like I’ve been beaten about the head with the entire collection of House Anthems and Now That’s What I Call Music.

Director Jon Conway’s script has an affable quality to it – I like corny jokes – but this is barely a step away from panto for grown-ups. There is enough colour and energy coming from the cast to make you want to like it: the costumes by Linda Lusardi and Lucy Kane scream ‘Fun!’, and the chorus hurl themselves through Chris Baldock’s in-period choreography with boundless enthusiasm. But it’s just not doing it for me. The wafer-thin subplots with their facile resolutions, the forced nature of the audience participation, and the fact that I didn’t particularly like the music the first time around, all serve to put me off. Undemanding, I don’t mind. Uninvolving, is a waste of time.

Plenty of people were having a great time, though. If you’re looking for light and unchallenging fare, a trip down Memory Lane on the Vengabus, this might be the show for you. It’s just not my cup of tea.

Hoff

The Hoff during one of the show’s rare quiet moments (Photo: Linda Lusardi)