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Boogie on down for a good night at Richmond



Review by David Munro

BOOGIE Nights has a long history of touring and a West End Production.

Opening at Bromley in November 1997, and making its first West End appearance at the Savoy Theatre in October 1998, the 70's Musical, as it describes itself, relies heavily on the nostalgia of an audience whom, if they were in their first youth in that era, must be now well on their way to crusty-hood.

This theory was well justified by the audience at Richmond Theatre last night. White heads dominated the auditorium and when they got up at the end of the evening, as they did, to wave their arms and undulate to the music, it looked as though the wind was blowing through a crop of dandelions in a field.

This phenomenon convinced me, if I needed convincing, that a good show needs no period: Waltz, Charleston or Boogie, these dance rhythms appeal to all ages, if presented with talent and taste, as was the case with this excellent production.

A young cast (with one exception) sang and danced their way through a two and a half hour selection of Seventies pop songs, only drawing breath to allow what passed for the plot to raise its head.

The said plot concerned a young man with an ambition to make his way in the pop world, who loves a girl and loses her through his ambition, combined with his feckless nature.

At least that what I took the story line to be, although it didn't matter as the verve and zest with which the cast put over their numbers was so overwhelming that any dramatic relationship between the characters was superfluous to one's enjoyment.

Comparisons are odious, I know, but I am afraid that you are going to have to put up with a fair amount of odium during the course of this review, if I am to explain to you why I feel you must catch this show.

Sam Kane, whom I had already seen and appreciated as the staid and sober brother in Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, proved himself to be a superlative comedian and dancer, as well as a talented singer, with a lovely voice ,and reminded me of Michael Crawford and Jim Dale in their heyday.

He is that all-too-rare being, a talented all-rounder. One hopes that this talent will convince someone to showcase him in a show which does justice to his talents.

He has the ability to step out of character and address the audience in a manner which neither jars, nor is embarrassing. Given the slightly pantomimic flavour of the evening - vulgar jokes and audience participation being the order of the day - this ability was used to its full and added greatly to the buoyancy of the proceedings, and the audience's enjoyment.

Another outstanding performer was Kev Orkian, although of a quite different genre.

As well as being a first class comedian, with the ability to make smutty jokes and behaviour acceptable and extremely funny, he is a strong singer and dancer.

He and Hayley Tamaddon recreated to me the great comedian and soubrette routines, which enhanced and were so popular in the pre-war musical comedies and operettas.

Were we in that era, he would be starring in his own show, tailored for his talents, but whether for good or ill, that style of musical is seldom seen today - not since the revival of Me and My Girl has a comedian-orientated musical show really succeeded.

One hopes that he will be able to reverse that trend and that we may see him in the West End receiving the acclaim normally reserved for a Danny Kaye or Phil Silvers.

His girlfriend in the plot, Hayley Tamaddon, is clearly a comedienne to watch, apart from displaying a zany sense of humour, she too sings and dances up a storm and I wish her well in her future career.

Stephanie Charles, as a band "chanteuse", is yet another name to watch. She is cast in the mould of the great coloured musical stars with the wonderful voices - Ethel Waters, Lena Horne, Muriel Smith, Diahann Carroll - but she is no carbon copy and stands out in her own right as another very capable and talented performer.

In Boogie Nights she is not given a real opportunity to shine, but she brings to her part an extra something which indicates that, given the right opportunities, there is a new black star on the horizon.

Sophie Lawrence, in the 'Sandra Dee' role of the ignored, yet pregnant, girlfriend made the most of a thankless role and sang and danced with gusto, as did Matt Slack in the 'best-friend-who-gets-the-girl' part. He also (at least I think it was him) did a very efficient warm-up job before the show.

The third billed artist, Jonny Regan, did not have a lot to do and I wondered why he had been given such prominence, in view of the fact that there were others in the cast who, if not given top billing, should at least have been featured.

Does the fact that he had appeared in Big Brother really justify such prominence when the part does not? I leave you to work that one out.

It is unfair, possibly, to single these artists out for mention, as all the cast performed well and in the ensembles produced some of the most riveting dancing and singing that I can remember seeing for a long time.

Every cast member, Don Crann, as the Irish Father, Joe Speare, as the rock star, and all the rest too numerous to name individually, but none the less worthy of a mention, made the evening, under the capable and dynamic direction of the co-author Jon Conway, a memorable one.

For one who went through the seventies Boogie scene with my eyes averted and ears closed, this was a rude, if pleasant, awakening as to what those tunes could be in the hands of a really talented group of performers.

I came to scoff but I stayed to cheer and for that I have (despite the admonition of the song) to blame it on the Boogie! and would happily spend all my boogie nights in the company of this cast who opened my eyes: as they will yours, if you give them their well-deserved chance to do so.

Boogie Nights by Jon Conway with Shane Ritchie & Terry Morrison, Directed by Jon Conway, Music & Lyrics - Popular songs of the 1970s, Musical Director Simon Coles, Choreographer Alan Harding, Set Design Andy Walmsley, Costumes designed by Wynne Shearme, Bill Butler, Rachel Keverne-Rath and Jane Dixon, Lighting Design by Shaun Cornell, Sound Design by Arran Culpan. WITH: Sam Kane, Sophie Lawrence, Jonny Regan, Stephanie Charles, Joe Speare, Don Crann, Kev Orkian, James Welsh, Chris Gosling, Hayley Tamaddon, Matt Slack, Eve Blanco, Paulina Doncel, Jaqui Lemmens, Amy Jenkins, Scott Ryan Vickers, Paul Rafferty. Presented at Richmond Theatre and on tour. Richmond Theatre, The Little Green, Richmond. Tickets: 8940 0088

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