BWW Review: RIP IT UP - THE 60s, Garrick Theatre
On The Strip in Vegas, there are any number of shows that present familiar faces doing familiar stuff with plenty of unapologetic pizzazz - and the punters lap them up. Pay huge money and you get the actual person behind the face (Elton, Britney or Celine perhaps), but there are plenty of talented performers who pay tribute to the greats as they belt out songs surrounded by dancers in tight sparkling costumes.
There's nothing to rival those Vegas mega-shows in the UK (or anywhere really), but one can find something akin in Blackpool, on cruise ships or in provincial houses around the country. And there's the long-running Thriller on Shaftesbury Avenue too.
Rip It Up - The 60s at the Garrick Theatre fills a piece of that gap in the market with a show that's got more than a touch of Vegas about it. It also has some famous faces - with plenty of the name-recognition clout that clings to Strictly alumni, even if they're not quite Robbie or Gary. It's a lot of fun!
Cavin Cornwall, with a rich Isaac Hayes roll to his voice, is our guide to a variety of segments that loosely piece together pop culture (and the culture of pop) in the 60s. Lulu, Roger Daltrey, Zandra Rhodes, Tony Blackburn and Dionne Warwick pop up on video for 30 seconds at a time in a way that's so familiar that we're almost disappointed not to see Jimmy Carr and Denise Van Outen also chipping in.
Okay, nobody's expecting a Jonathan Meades-like piercing analysis of the legacy of the decade in question, but nobody cares either, because they're there for the songs and the stars.
Somewhat to my surprise, those songs and those stars are largely kept somewhat apart. Most of the singing is done by Jill Marie Cooper and Ant Brant, who, unsurprisingly given the long list of numbers, struggle with their range on occasion (The Beach Boys' segment was a wave too far...). And it is a little frustrating too, as it grates to be so rationed in our exposure to the boys' voices.
Louis Smith reveals (and there's lots that the boys reveal, over and over and over again) a serviceable singing voice and a shy charisma - and if he's not quite right on all the steps (the kindest thing I can say about the dancing is that it's never difficult to pick out the pros on stage), all that gymnastics work did not just bring forth medals, it also allowed him to command a space with his movement.
Harry Judd is a Davy Jones figure in this bunch of monkees, older and, in the slightly awkward interview segment, pretty clearly aware of that. It's not that he doesn't want to be there, it's just that you get the feeling that he doesn't want to be there in five years' time.
Jay McGuiness sings very well, but not often enough, and delivers a killer ad lib that seemed to surprise everyone - well said Sir, and I hope the line stays in.
Aston Merrygold is on the mic more than the others and shows that he is a fine vocalist, albeit in a pop rather than West End style. It's crystal clear how he would have passed any audition for a boyband and it's never less than delightful when he takes on a classic.
As is the way for these shows, nothing is still for very long. When Lulu isn't telling us about John, Paul, George and Ringo, the screen behind the stage floods with kaleidoscopic kaftanish colours and everyone changes costume every five minutes or so, the dancers as speedy backstage as they are lively on stage.
Maybe that pace overwhelmed me, because every number also felt too fast to my ear, the tempo quicker and quicker and quicker. For a show that insistently tells us how great the 60s were for music, they don't let the songs breathe much.
Despite some suggestions from the stage to stand up and dance (they should come down and have a look at the space between the rows), few did. That said, nobody is under any illusions about what these shows are about - escapist entertainment, with some favourite tunes sprinkled with a dash of glamour and a soupçon of celebrity. On its own terms, the show succeeds - even if the stars might be advised to sing a little more and dance a little less.