Thanks to a combination of the Mamma Mia effect (which promotes the idea of a fun, feelgood night where you know all the words in advance) and the credit crunch (which promotes caution), shows based on pre-existing films or musical back-catalogues can be found dotted all over the West End at the moment.
Entering the crowded market place following a UK tour this week is Shout!, a musical worked around some of the biggest pop anthems of the 1960s, originally performed by the likes of Lulu (hence the title), Cilla Black, Petula Clark and Dusty Springfield. Lots of Dusty in fact - seven of the musical numbers in the show were made famous by her, including Wishin’ and Hoping, Son of a Preacher Man, Little By Little, and You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me.
The songs are the key here, of course - no-one has come for the story or character development, and that, to be honest, is a good thing. There is some semblance of a plot – three Northern girls head to the bright lights of London in 1960 to make a new life for themselves, with Su Pollard’s slightly batty Aunt Yvonne as their protector and guide. Betty is the sensible one who therefore inevitably finds herself in the most trouble, Georgina wants to be a movie star, and Ruby... well, she just likes men.
The acting scenes are really little more than stopgaps between the songs, however, and on more than one occasion the convoluted segues used to shoe-horn in a particular track prompted audible groans from the audience. But that is to take nothing away from the strength of the songs – these are all classics for a reason - or from the performances put in by the three main girls.
Marissa Dunlop as Ruby especially shone; her rich voice suits a lot of the big numbers, and as such she performs some great renditions of Dusty belters including I Close My Eyes and Count To Ten. Su Pollard’s voice is well worth a mention, too, however – despite being the main comedy character, she is also given a couple of the more tender numbers such as You’re My World and Yesterday When I Was Young which she performs with passion and warmth.
But while there is nothing terribly wrong with this production, it is full of little niggles which overall tend to outweigh the positives. Some of the gags are just embarrassingly bad, and even the songs, wonderful as they are, only give the narrowest of snapshots of the groundbreaking music which came out in the 1960s. And while the musical is supposed to take us through the whole decade, the passing of time is only superficially alluded to through the odd reference here and there to, say, the first Beatles record or hippie culture to denote 1967’s Summer of Love.
Shout! is a glossy, rather stereotyped look at the 1960s which makes you yearn for bit of Rolling Stones grit, and while the high-energy, classic songs and great voices ensure you will be singing along at some point or another, it simply doesn’t add up to all that much.