Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Review of Dartford First Night Performance

REVIEW How Manilow fans warmed to Chesney Hawkes

Chesney Hawkes

Can't Smile Without You.Orchard Theatre, Dartford, until September 13Box Office 01322 220000

It would be fair to say that Barry Manilow fans do have a certain image and many of them had made their way to Dartford’s Orchard Theatre last night (September 8). They were accompanied by husbands who looked resigned to the fact that they had been dragged along to yet another concert.However, this time they were not actually going to see their hero in the flesh but a musical constructed from his well known hits.Can’t Smile Without You is a production which started its life at Bromley’s Churchill Theatre. The star of the show is former pop star Chesney Hawkes, who I have to say does have a passing resemblance to the great big nosed musical legend.

He was supported by a young cast that included two former stars of recent Andrew Lloyd Webber TV talent quest shows. Siobhan Dillon, from BBC1’s How Do You Solve a problem like Maria?, played the main love interest and Francesca Jackson, from the Beeb’s follow up talent scout show I’d Do Anything, played the other woman in the love triangle.

On the face of it would seem that Manilow’s back catalogue is fertile ground from which to create a musical. However, the success of the show depends on whether it can appeal to a wider audience than the dedicated Manilow fan. The plot of the show is convoluted, but it has to be to fit in all of Manilow’s well known hits into the narrative. I know that plots in musicals are rarely sophisticated but this was a weak point. It’s a boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy also loses his memory and former fiancĂ©e, has massive pop success and then finds girl again tale. (I said it was complicated.)

The performances from the cast were excellent. They had to be good all rounders for the show that required many of them to play instruments as well as sing. Chesney Hawkes’ more laid back pop singer style made an interesting contrast compared to the belt them out approach of his two female co-stars.

Siobhan Dillon does have a fantastic voice and Manilow’s songs gave her a chance to show it off to its full potential. All of the hits were in the show even Coco Cabana which added some up tempo glitz to the proceedings. Although the cast could not be faulted on their performances, I think this production did highlight the problems that come with this kind of musical.

The script lacked enough decent jokes and because they feel obliged to put in every well known Manilow song at times it felt that we were just ticking them off a list. However, if you are a Manilow fan, I am sure you will love it. The audience was swaying away to the tunes by the end and there is plenty to attract you, even if you are not a fan.It’s just a shame that at the moment, it seems that genuine new musicals, written just for that purpose are few and far between.

On the horizon is a David Essex musical. Who is next on the list-Nick Kershaw?Can’t Smile Without You is at The Orchard Theatre until September 13 for more info go to www.orchardtheatre.co.uk

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