Twist and Shout: The British Invasion Performed by cast of 14 Written & Directed by Alex Mustakas Grand Theatre Production Grand Theatre, London April 15 to May 11, 2008
Live! On Stage! Review by Mary Alderson
If you were glued to the family TV set on that fateful night in February 1964, and watched the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show as they flickered across a snowy black and white screen, then you’ll love Twist and Shout: The British Invasion now playing at London’s Grand Theatre. This show is aimed at the demographics of our times. Statistics tell us that the baby-boomer population is now in the 45 to 55 age range. If the theatre’s goal is to put “bums in seats”, then it makes perfect sense to put on a show that will appeal to the bulk of the population. Twist and Shout: The British Invasion will not only attract the populace, but it is a crowd pleaser, as well. In fact, you’d better order your tickets early, as it’s sure to sell out. The show was conceived and written by Alex Mustakas, the artistic director of Drayton Entertainment. It debuted three years ago at Huron Country Playhouse in Grand Bend. Mustakas designed it to take baby boomers on a nostalgia trip and show them a good time. And he succeeded – it quickly sold out at the various Drayton Entertainment venues. In some areas, the Grand has improved on Mustaka’s success – flashier costumes with all the bright colours and sparkles of the sixties. But they were also careful to hang on to what made the show so good: they kept the two key voices. Danny Williams and Christine Glen were the show stoppers three years ago, and clearly demonstrated they still hold that position in the Grand’s version. The audience is taken back to a mid-sixties TV studio, complete with microphones on booms and old TV cameras. Two high large-screen televisions show the action on stage in living black and white. Watchers are treated to some 1960’s commercials – a Heinz pickle ad is particularly entertaining. A five-piece band under musical director Mike Lerner plays in a loft above the stage, recreating the early rock and roll sounds. A cast of 14 fills the various roles as required, transporting us back to those heady days. Mustakas, with the help of his historical consultant Michael Bignell, has done excellent work in pulling together a wide variety from those British Invasion years. They educate as well as entertain – trivia concerning the different acts flashes on the TV screens. For example, did you know that Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits was a child star on the British soap Coronation Street? As well as the Beatles and all their familiar tunes, we see Dave Clark Five (Glad All Over), The Searchers (Needles and Pins), Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders (Game of Love), Donavon (Mellow Yellow – and he still appears to be suffering from that early drug bust), Gerry and the Pacemakers (Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying), Freddy and Dreamers (I’m Telling You Now), Swinging Blue Jeans (Hippy Hippy Shake), Spencer Davis Group (Gimme Some Lovin’), Herman’s Hermits (Henry the Eighth sing along version), The Hollies (Carrie Anne, Bus Stop, ) and more groups with many more familiar songs. I admit that I didn’t know all the groups – and even when I knew some of the bands, I didn’t know that they were part of the British Invasion. Frankly, I was surprised (and embarrassed) to learn that many groups I thought were American were indeed British. But I did know every song, and I loved them all. And while all the early rock groups are covered, there is good representation of the female singers: Lulu with To Sir, With Love, Petula Clark’s Downtown and I Know a Place, Mary Hopkins, (Those Were the Days), and the late great Dusty Springfield with fantastic songs like You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me and You Don’t Own Me. The showstopper is Danny Williams, first when he sings The Animals’ House of the Rising Sun, then Procul Harum’s A Whiter Shade of Pale, and also He Ain’t Heavy; He’s my Brother, which is better than the original. Next he brings the house down when he does his Mick Jagger imitation for Honky Tonk Woman, Let’s Spend the Night Together and Satisfaction. Similarly, Christine Glen’s powerful voice rocks the house with Dusty Springfield’s Son of a Preacher Man. The musical numbers are interspersed with Robin Ward as TV host Roy Solomon telling background stories on the various singers. Ward gives a decent Ed Sullivan impression. Also remarkable are the dancers – Dance captain Michelle DiGioacchino is outstanding, as is Michel LeFleche. Kudos to choreographer Gino Berti who intersperses some Fosse moves with the sixties dance. After a long winter, this show is guaranteed to put you in the mood for some hot summer weather. This is good entertainment from a talented cast of strong singers and dancers with amazing energy. Twist and Shout: The British Invasion continues at the Grand Theatre in London until May 11. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593.
Mary Alderson offers her view of area theatre in this column on a regular basis. As well as being a fan of live theatre, she is a former journalist who is currently employed with the Ontario Association of Community Futures Development Corporations.