Stick a fork in the jukebox-musical genre, it's done, would have been my answer this time last week. The bottom line of them all is that the songs are too good, but the performers, book, set, direction and production are never good enough. They clinch awards galore for their Emperor's New Clothes sensations, and I was so over it. Mamma Mia: Sublime Abba tunes, stupid storyline. Beautiful: The Carole King story, sort of. Let It Be can hardly be described as a 'musical' about the Beatles, it being your basic tribute act. Not a bad one, but by the end I was still hungry. The Commitments,Thriller, Sinatra: no comment. Jersey Boys at least tries with the Frankie Valli story. We Will Rock You? Thank God it's off. Ben Elton also wrote the Rod Stewart night out, Tonight's the Night, didn't he. Didn't last long, did it. I hear you: they are laughing all the way to Coutts and I am not.
Wild nags wouldn't normally have conveyed me to Sunny Afternoon. A few friends persuaded me to dip a toe. And you know what, as Cowell would say: a revelation. I take some of it back.
I was curious as to why Ray Davies, the classic complicated bugger, would have given such a venture his blessing in the first place. Because he has always been, and will always be, cool; and it's the antithesis of cool, a jukebox musical. Or is it? Has the genre turned a corner at last, with this?
The Harold Pinter Theatre on London's Panton Street lends itself well to the style of the piece. They've transformed the auditorium into a cute little cocktail club. Braver theatre-goers sit bang among the action, and get sprayed-on. The stage is wall-to-wall amps, literally. Every member of the band can play instruments and sing, more than convincingly. This factor alone gives it the five stars: there are few things worse than watching passable actors faking virtuosity on a guitar.
Nor does the storyline shy from the cold, hard facts of the Davies brothers' compromised childhood. Little wonder that Ray enveloped in on himself, moulding and remoulding his troubled thoughts and inner struggles into songs until they R & B'd right out of him: his primary, punky-mod theme being ordinary working class people and their quintessentially British little lives. Consequent management wrangles, their bust-ups with the AFM in the US which prevented the Kinks from working in America during the very height of the British Invasion, Ray's mental and physical breakdown, their dalliance with rottweiler Allan Klein, are all confronted head-on. It's a brutally honest piece which serves to offset the nostalgic vibe of Swinging London and Carnaby Street Days, while reminding us that it was all about the music.
Waterloo Sunset. Days. Lola. Dedicated Follower of Fashion. You Really Got Me: Sounds of the Sixties? Not really. As this show reminds us, brilliantly, they remain the sounds of now.