Michael Rose Ltd and Ambassador Theatre Group
Opera House, Manchester
From 30 March 2012 to 14 April 2012
Review by David Chadderton
This latest big show in the "jukebox musical" format takes the songs of The Monkees and one or two others from the period and opens at the Opera House as part of ATG's "Manchester Gets It First" scheme to open major productions in this city.
The premise starts with a forerunner of the now-ubiquitous "tribute act" in 1968, four boys who dress and sing as The Monkees, pretending to play while the music is supplied by unseen musicians. An unscrupulous theatrical manager, Joey Finkelstein, picks them up for a major world tour, telling them that they are replacing the real Monkees who are too busy to tour but no one will know the difference when they are on stage. Of course it is a scam and the Monkees know nothing about it.
Added to this are various sub plots including a Russian spy with some vague plot to kill them, a girl who follows Mike around the world but who keeps getting rejected by him, some nuns that they keep running into and plenty more.
The script is pretty poor, with a plot with huge holes in it and jokes that would have been old in 1968, plus lots of self-referential gags referring to the fact that they're in a musical that quickly become tedious. The ending tries to go for the so-unbelievably-complex-it's-funny plot conclusion like The Importance of Being Earnest, but it just goes on and on so it's difficult to really care what's going on. The way the songs are incorporated into the show is often contrived—although there can in some pleasure in shows like this in predicting what song is coming up—and there doesn't appear to have been any attempt to fix lyrics that don't make sense with the plot, such as it is.
David Taylor's direction carries through this self-conscious style, with stylised movement and cardboard characters who rarely talk to one another, only straight out front to the audience, but there are some talented performers battling the poor material. The four boys—Stephen Kirwan, Ben Evans, Tom Parsons and Oliver Savile—look like a boy band and sound pretty decent, despite a lot of late mic cues from the sound operator. Linal Haft as Finkelstein certainly knows how to deliver a funny line and does his best to make these dire jokes sound funny. There are some good minor characters from a hard-working ensemble, all playing multiple roles.
But when it comes down to it, this is an adult panto but without the spectacle, with a weaker plot and with poorer jokes. So not even a good panto. One or two of the jokes raise a titter and there are some good, lively musical numbers to get the audience going, but it's not enough to make a decent show.