REVIEW: Carnaby Street, The Mayflower, Southampton, until Saturday.
It might not yet be the finished article, but the new 60s-pop inspired musical Carnaby Street packs an increasingly-enjoyable punch as its builds towards its energetic conclusion.
Loosely based on its creator Carl Leighton-Pope’s own memories of the era, the show is the tale of Jude (Jonny Bower), a working-class boy from Liverpool who heads south to London armed with nothing but his guitar and his dreams of fame and fortune.
It’s not long before he meets all kinds of frustrations – friction within the band, failure to get a record deal, increasing estrangement from fellow Liverpudlian Penny (Aimie Atkinson) and plenty of misunderstandings with his posh new girlfriend Jane (Tricia Adele-Turner).
And to illustrate the point, at every turn they’re just a moment away from breaking into song, beautifully delivering an impressive catalogue of 60s hits.
The trouble is that the start is all a bit laboured; the newspaper-seller character becomes more and more irritating, as does the character Lily; and a good deal of the dialogue is fairly thudding.
In short, the first half doesn’t offer much that Dreamboats doesn’t do rather better.
But in the second half, at last it takes off, picking up momentum in a tale of dilemmas and lost integrity which really drags you in, thanks to performances which grow and grow.
Jude realises just what he’s losing on his way to stardom, and Jonny Bower is impressive indeed in the role; Tricia Adele-Turner offers real dignity as Jane; and Mark Pearce serves up fun and poignancy as the doomed Wild Thing.
But really the show belongs to Aimie Atkinson as Penny... or at least, it ought to. Her superb vocals should be rewarded with a bit of hasty rewriting to give her much more to sing.
Hers is the most appealing character, the decent girl retaining her decency as those around her lose theirs; but every time she sings, she lights up the stage.
Give Penny a few more numbers, particularly early on, and that first half will instantly get much of the lift it needs.