Reviewed by Kym Clayton
Debut director Steve Rudd and his team have produced a high quality rockin’-and-rollin’ walk down memory lane for NLTC’s first production of the year. Another in the ever growing list of so-called ‘juke box musicals’, Leader of the Pack is the story of the life of 50-60s song-writer Ellie Greenwich’s and features many of her hit songs, including Do Wah Diddy Diddy, And then he kissed me”, Chapel of Love, I can hear music and of course Leader of the Pack. All of these, and others, feature in a musically jam-packed show.
Like many musicals of this genre, the plot is tissue thin and it is really a vehicle for the songs and fashions of the period. The text doesn’t give cast members much scope for building rich characters, but Michelle Brow and Dominic Hodges are sound in the lead roles of Ellie Greenwich and her husband Jeff Barry, and they both sing well. Brow’s rendition of Rock of Rages was quite emotional. They were well supported by Paul Briske as Gus Sharkey and Lisa Simonetti as Ellie’s mother and, late in Act II, as Ellie in later life. They are supported by no fewer than twenty others in the ensemble who play various roles. Melanie Smith is notable as Darlene Love, the lead singer of the trio The Crystals, and the quality of her voice shone through in Not Too Young (To Get Married). Bravo! Kate Dempsey also shone in the role of Annie Golden – the lead of The Ronettes. Dirk Strachan was entertaining as Andy Warhol and stood out as a dancer in the ensemble.
The production looked excellent. Kristen Webb and Steve Rudd’s set comprised a gigantic juke box with the orchestra set at its centre. The lighting design was colourful and evoked the disco feel of the 60s, but additional and more accurate follow-spotting was needed down stage — at times the action was under lit. The lighting for Do Wah Diddy was superb.
The costumes were spectacular and Kristen Webb and Mardi Peal are to be soundly congratulated on their colour and fabric choices, and on the way they matched and contrasted various sections of the ensemble. The variety seemed endless. Kerreane Sarti’s choreography was true to the ‘go go’ style of the period and was well executed by the cast. Congratulations to the dance captains – no weak links at all.
Kim Clark’s orchestra was well balanced, and Brody Green’s drumming was clean and clear and gave clear direction in all musical numbers. The brass section in particular was a standout. At times Darren Sheldon’s sound mixing allowed the orchestra to dominate the vocals and lead singers were sometimes difficult to hear. Radio mikes were used throughout the show and sometimes were slow to be turned on.
Rudd’s direction was sound. He injected an amount of comedy into many of the musical numbers—some of it quite risqué. Because the show has so many musical numbers, the segues become important and Rudd allowed some of them to be too long, but others were too short and there were clumsy silences. The Christmas gift giving scene was cute, but too long and probably unnecessary.
The whole evening was an event. Two fabulous motor bikes stood at the entrance to the Shedley Theatre complex and gave patrons a feel for what was soon to come, and images of the cast in the style of Andy Warhol paintings adorned the noticeboards. At the interval patrons were entertained by a 60s jive demonstration in the foyers.
Congratulations to all concerned. This was a fun and most enjoyable production and NLTC have set a high standard for other musical companies to follow.