All together now...“I’ll have a ‘p’ please Bob”. What? Oh...not THAT Blockbuster (gameshow much beloved of students back in the 80s). Nope, it’s jukebox musical time again and this show travels back to the 70’s ...quite literally...for its material including The Sweet’s extraordinary hit single which provides the title. Described as Grease meets Back To The Future by producer/director/star Paul Nicholas the plot, as with pretty much every jukebox musical, is basically there to introduce the songs so at one point we have Paul living next door to a woman called Alice, setting things up nicely for Smokie’s hit Living Next Door To Alice. See what they did there? This track, like all the others songs in the show, was written by Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, a sort of Stock Aitkin and Waterman of their day. I’m not sure who are today’s Stock Aitkin and Waterman...probably some bedroom producer called Davy TwitFace or Bllcks (what is it with bands/producers omitting vowels these days? Tssrs). Anyway Chinn and Chapman had an impressive 19 Top 40 hits and 5 number ones in the UK between 1973 and 1974 alone and, being born in 1970 (I know, I wear it well) I grew up with this stuff. In fact Mud’s Tiger Feet may well be one of my earliest musical memories.
Serendipitously enough it’s this song that kicks off the show too and provides one of the evening’s best moments as Aaron Sidwell busks on the London Underground, gradually being joined by a number of alarmingly well choreographed commuters. Sidwell’s got form in the music biz, having been in bands and knocked around with Professor Green...and quite possibly Colonel Mustard...in the library...with the lead pipe. He can strum a guitar pretty well enabling him to start off several songs on his own before being joined by the main band, often hidden Wizard of Oz like behind a curtain at the back of the stage.
It’s probably fair to say that the likes of The Sweet, Mud, Racey and Smokie aren’t perhaps the coolest names in pop but you can’t deny the catchiness of the tunes and Bockbuster certainly breathes new life into them. Any song involving Sidwell and Aimie Atkinson (who plays Teresa, the object of his affections) comes across particularly well and there really does seem to be some genuine chemistry between the pair. Willy, played by the gloriously named Lee Honey-Jones, delivers a fine rendition of Little Willy...ahem...and Mickey (a smash hit for Toni Basil in 1982 but originally written for Racey back in the 70s) will get you digging out your cheerleader’s outfit as soon as you get home. Or maybe that’s just me...
Personally I’d ditch the whole Living Next Door To Alice bit. For me, and I’m guessing most of the audience, it’s forever associated with that Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown version...and no one wants to be reminded of Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown when you’re dealing with a love story. Nicholas is great as Crazy Max but a little beige as Paul and the plot between him and Alice (Louise English) perhaps slows the glam action up. That being said English does a fine Suzi Quatro on Can The Can and seems more at home with the rockier stuff than Suzanne Shaw who has the unenviable task of tackling Devil Gate Drive.
What often adds the extra zing to the show is the snappy choreography by Rebecca Howell who’s been behind some of the more recent Pet Shop Boys shows. Getting Willy to adjust his imaginary cuffs during his routine might not be the most sophisticated moment in dance but the evening’s littered with neat little touches like this and the cast throw themselves enthusiastically into it all. It’s still early days for this show (I believe this is only the second week it’s played) and a lot of these songs have been lying in the great record box in the sky for decades so there may be a few adjustments still to make. Racey’s Some Girls is surely due a slot if they’re looking to make some tweaks in the future and just one vocalist should take the line “We just haven’t got a clue what to do” in the title track itself (come on now, that’s the best bit!) but Blockbuster undoubtedly shines a long awaited glitterball on a period of pop that was the very antithesis of the grey strike ridden post boom decade that spawned it.
Blockbuster The Musical is on at The New Alexandra Theatre until Saturday 27th September, tickets right here.