Writer: Peter Benedict
Music: The Monkees
Director: David Taylor
Reviewer: John Roberts
Just over a year ago, ATG and the Opera House in Manchester launched their first production (The phenomenal Ghost the Musical )as part of an ongoing campaign to support new writing “Manchester Gets It First.” A much welcomed and critically applauded decision, however their latest production Monkee Business lacks almost every element that made Ghost the Musical the box office success it was.
Jukebox musicals are now unfortunately ten-a-penny. No doubt fans of Davy Jones et all will have applauded the decision to create a show based around the songs of 1960s manufactured pop group The Monkees, but unlike previous big-hitters of the genre; Mama Mia and We Will Rock You – Monkee Business has a little to endear it past its short limited 3 stop tour. In fact judging by those taking the seats in the second half, it had little to endear it to the obvious amount of leavers too.
The show is billed as ‘A zany Austin Powers-esque comedy musical” and the plot certainly has the ability to eventually become that with its spy based sub plot running throughout – however in order for this to happen, a new writer needs to come on board and quickly. Peter Benedict’s script is laden with Jokes so old and so bad that all too often they fall flat, and the plot is so thin it is almost transparent. A group of look-a-likes are tasked with replacing the original band on a world tour due to the group’s heavy filming schedule, which sees them on a whistle stop tour of the world, almost so whistle stop that if you blink you may just miss them.
Director David Taylor does little to fill or indeed engage his audience, the show’s direction is messy and ideas are over used, which would be fine if they actually worked. Instead Taylor allows his quite obviously talented cast to go on a mugging fest, trying to squeeze what little bit of humour is found in the script almost to its last breath, and sprinkle that with self referential looking to the past or is that future or present? It just exposes the scripts weak points and indeed confuse the audience. Add to the mix lacklustre choreography by David Morgan, which is in need of serious tightening up – sloppy lines and out of time dancers have no excuse for a show less than a week old, and leaves little in the show to be desired.
However it must be said, that the music is the shows strength, the assembled leads really lifting the show. Ben Evans (Chuck posing as Davy), Stephen Kirwan (Andy posing as Micky), Tom Parsons (Mark posing as Mike) and Oliver Savile (posing as Peter) do a fantastic job of recreating the sound of the Monkees but the show is stolen by Cassie Compton, whose rendition of ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’ brings the house down, and Lee Honey-Jones who ignites the theatre with a comic and touching rendition of ‘I Wanna Be Free.’
Despite the strength of the cast and the stylised 60s inspired set by Morgan Large, there is nothing redeeming about this damp squib of a show, which is a crying shame as it shows real promise but for now I’m just not a believer.