Monday 18th March 2019 at the Grand Theatre and Opera House, York.
If you were stumped today by the general lack of cheese in local cafes and supermarkets then I have news for you: it’s all in this show. Michael Gyngell’s Club Tropicana The Musical basks in its cheesiness like a drag queen in a diamond vault and the production’s self-awareness on this front means that there’s little to do but sit back and let the pop culture of the 80s wash over you.
The show has a suitably quirky central plot consisting of skittish lovers Lorraine (Karina Hind) and Olly (Cellen Chugg Jones) heading off on a break with pals…only to discover themselves staying at the same hotel – doh! At the hotel we meet would-be star employee and general dog’s body Garry, a flouncing prancing twirling spectacle played by a grinning Joe McElderry. He carries the show with impressive and boundless energy.
We also meet the outrageously uninhibited maid Consuela (Kate Robbins) who is our primary source of whacky comedy. The hotel is run by long time pals Serena (Amelie Berrabah) and Robert (Neil McDermott) whose relationship hits the ice upon arrival of the scheming Christine (Emily Tierney). Barrabah offers the production rare glimpses of depth and sincerity with a lovelorn performance and a beautiful ballad to complete the picture which is a definite highlight of the show.
Robbins undoubtedly steals the show in a performance devoid of vanity and excelling in the grotesque manners of the character. Her role in this is pivotal and despite the clowning, she gets the opportunity to demonstrate genuine vocal talent (though ability to sustain one accent throughout is not quite so accomplished!).
There’s also comedy to be found in the exchanges between the heartbroken Lorraine and her gal pals the no-nonsense Andrea (Tara Verloop) and the shameless drunken Tracey (Rebecca Mendoza). Mendoza gives a very comic glimpse of ‘drunken bird with no boundaries’ which builds very nicely over the course of a scene. Emily Tierney is also very entertaining as the resident firecracker villain and manages to make a terrible Geordie accent genuinely funny.
However…the 80s setting has clearly let the script run wild with material which wouldn’t make it past the first edit in a contemporary production. It’s all here – the cheapening of a gay connection with a behind joke, a cheap shot of the drunk lass desperate for a snog and the throwaway quip from a female character about growing up as a boy (not to mention the walking feather boa characterisation of Garry).
It’s an ‘anything goes’ approach which stashes the questionable content within general cheeky sexual references so while it’s clearly designed to be benign, and the show was clearly never aiming for classy, it really does diminish what would otherwise be silly care-free fun with a few rudey moments thrown in. There’s enough great comedy fodder in the physical performances to make amends but in terms of the script, it’s too often a lazy shot.
It seems that with every winning feature, there is often a drawback in this production. Take the music for instance – it’s lovely to see a show brave enough to use sections of classic songs in place of dialogue rather than shoehorning in excessive big musical numbers. That said, the show feels lacking in big musical moments – in fact, the best two musical numbers are curtain call fodder with the full ensemble whipping up the audience to send them out of the auditorium on a high rather than providing high octane entertainment within the show itself.
Perhaps the next best thing about the production aside from vocals and Robbins is Nick Winston’s brilliant choreography which captures the decade and its trends in all wide-eyed, grinning glory. The moves are pacy and do well to embody the sense of fun and flair the show is clearly aiming for. Diego Pitarch’s designs on the other hand have mixed results; underwhelming set leaves much to be desired while costume designs are on the money (wigs in particular are great) – especially the reveal with the lads in Act 2.
This show is all about big hair, big smiles and BIG ACTING. The only problem is that despite all the supersizing, something feels decidedly muted about the whole thing. Perhaps the music wasn’t big enough to balance out the gaudy line deliveries? Maybe the hair and the smiles were just too big and bright on a set of pastel shades and shaky joinery? I’m still not quite sure, but I’m puzzled that something featuring 20 or so 80s bangers including Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Addicted to Love, Temptation, Take on Me, Jump (for my love) and even The Lion Sleeps Tonight…could feel even a little jaded, but it does. Stumped I tell you!
Essentially, Club Tropicana The Musical wants to entertain, bring the laughs and be easy viewing for excitable audiences eager to re-live the hits and the general vibe of the 80s. It definitively delivers on each of those fronts. At face value, it’s a fun night out, but as a production, it’s wet behind the ears. Looking for laughs and nostalgia? Book. Looking for an awe-inspiring big time musical? Head back to the search engine.
Club Tropicana is Directed by Samuel Holmes and Nick Winston and presented by Mark Goucher and Gavin Kalin. It plays at the Grand Theatre and Opera House, York until March 23rd 2019 and you can find tickets here. Following this stop, the tour continues until August 2019 and you can find information about venues and tickets here.