Tuesday 31st July 2018 at The Grand Theatre and Opera House, Leeds.
Based on the 1963 hit film of the same name, Summer Holiday (the Musical) offers up a classic old-time teen bopping musical. Four girls meet four guys on their way for a Summer Holiday and swiftly pair up, there are obstacles thrown in in the shape of a pushy stage mother with questionable ethics, a couple of unreliable vehicles and mistaken identity – at heart though, this is an all-dancing, all-singing narrative which celebrates its status as a classic musical but steers clear of depth; romances are instant or near enough and minds are made up and changed in the blink of an eye, but let’s face it, that’s often the way of musicals and the centre-stones of musical theatre are intact here: great music and great musical performances from a strong, multi-talented cast.
Directed and choreographed by David King with Musical direction from Rob Wick, the show is a slow burner with an uncomfortably drab opener followed by lots of high energy to deliver a feel-good show which had the audience pretty chipper by the bows. Musical numbers include classic ditties like I Could Easily Fall in Love with You, Bachelor Boy, Living Doll and of course, the title number. The musical sequences are mostly well conceived, with a few strange interludes which lack the wow factor, but King’s Choreography is increasingly lively across the production, with some very impressive high-energy and turbo-charged pace to really challenge the dancing prowess of the cast. Lead Ray Quinn takes on the teen heart-throb role originated by Cliff Richard in the film, and he certainly fits the bill if the enthusiastic hollering and squeals during the curtain call are anything to go by. Quinn is a talented vocalist and often catches the ear with Michael Buble similarities, crooning with a mellow voice full of texture which handles the boppier numbers just as well as the ballads. Sophie Matthew’s Barbara is a perfect ‘Living Doll’ playing Don’s love interest; her primary role is just that, but there’s a nice little sub-narrative about coming of age, standing on your own two feet and exploring the world which her sweet and sincere characterisation delivers very well. As manic American stage mom Stella, Taryn Sudding is a central source of comedy. Sidekick Jerry feels the overblown wrath of Stella’s hysteria with great patience and Wayne Smith’s performance gels well with Sudding, even if his character is the victim of a naff cross-dressing motif.
Joe Goldie is another wonderful source of comedy as Edwin, an awkward young lad with all the physical grace of a Llama – Goldie has a flair for physical comedy and gets some of the biggest laughs to be had. If Goldie steals the limelight for physicality and Quinn for vocals, then Rory Maguire takes the crown for excellence in dialogue with some very impressive scenes as the lively Jack-the-Lad type Cyril. Billy Roberts completes the guy squad as Steve, a fella with deep confidence and a cockney charm through whom some brief modernisations are thrown in – a few crotch thrusts and sexual innuendo you wouldn’t find original Cliff with permission to do on film, offering a combination of original and contemporary. The last of the comic notables is ensemble member William Beckerleg who takes turns as various characters, each with their own spark.
As the girl squad we have Gabby Antrobus as Mimsie, Alice Baker as Alma and Laura Marie Benson as Angie, the demanding, tightly-wound lead singer of the girl group Do Re Me. The guy squad are all awakening lust with twinkles in their eyes and manly advances while the girl squad fare far less well, particularly in a contemporary context. They’re like Grease’s Pink Ladies…if the Pink Ladies had swallowed all the sugar in Athens and grown up in a fairy palace with glitter-maned unicorn servants. Their feet hardly land on the ground, as their physicality is all tippy-toes and limp wrists while dialogue is bouncy and high, just like their bubbly, girly personalities. In a musical context, this isn’t unusual I know, but to have all three take up this ‘Dolly’ characterisation with none of them offering departure from the ideal 60’s sweetheart, it’s a little sickly sweet. That said, the three are all excellent dancers and strong vocalists, with Antrobus being a stand out on both counts.
Visually, Summer Holiday is significantly flawed. Costuming perfectly sets the era with babydoll dresses adding that cutesyness desired of the women in shows like this, and the big red double decker certainly makes a statement in scale and stature even if it isn’t used particularly imaginatively. But set (Steve Howell) is sparse throughout, and the production allows the action to be framed by a black void in its decision to use no backdrops at all. A few placards fly in from above around 10 minutes in to offer very welcome colour and visual variety after a dim, shadowy opener but there’s little else in the way of musical visuals via set, with only a few pieces of furniture brought on for some scenes.
The show is also a perfect example of how taken for granted lighting designers are – when it’s done well, it glides subtly throughout, manipulating emotions and tones at will, but when it misses its mark, it’s pretty glaring… It took me a while to figure out what was off during the decidedly dull first five minutes or so – I was expecting a bright and shiny sunny-side-up musical with lots of colour, energy and a bouncy opening number – it is called Summer Holiday after all. But Tim Deiling’s overcast lighting felt more like a film noir opening and the lack of set, excepting a few chairs and tables, meant that the action centre stage was flanked by emptiness. Lighting was also odd at intervals throughout, with misplaced spotlights and limited lighting leaving cast members completely unlit or wasted in shadows – it felt a little like the production lost a few bulbs at the last venue…
Thankfully, there’s much to praise following this awkward opener and technical, visual issues, namely the talents of the lead and the cast as a whole, who handle complex, super-speed choreography very well, with hardly a beat off pace. Also impressive are the vocals which carry the score along very nicely with harmonies put to great use to really take us back in time to those sixties girl group sounds which fill an auditorium so beautifully. If you’re after a simple musical which finds success in the most important areas but lacks some of the cherries on the cake of great musical theatre, then this is worth seeing, but if you’re after all-out musical spectacle which delivers on every front, Summer Holiday might be a miss.
Summer Holiday is presented by David King and Summer Holiday Theatre LTD and plays at The Grand Theatre and Opera House, Leeds until 4th August and you can find tickets here. following this stop, the show continues its UK tour until 3rd November and you can find tickets here.