I love musical theatre and I love going to see new musical theatre, because I think we lack a lot in comparison to Broadway. Realistically, apart from Matilda the Musical, we have had few recent exports. I know that organisations like Musical Theatre Network are trying to change this, but I had extremely high hopes for Jackie as it has a strong team behind it.
You know those cheesy films where someone develops a subconscious who helps them learn something about themselves? Or 13 Going On 30, when she turns into her 30-year-old self? Well, it’s like that. Jackie, a typical 54-year-old woman who used to love Jackie magazine (so-called because it was a typical girls name at the time), finds her old copies and out of them comes her younger 70s era ‘Jackie conscience’. Older Jackie is going through her divorce, and struggling. Her friend Jill is helping her through: she goes on a blind date and ends up with a married man and her ex-husband both declaring their love for her. Jackie decides she’ll be okay in the end.
The star of the show for me is Young Jackie (played by Daisy Steere), who manages to bring a sense of realness to an unreal character. She is extremely genuine and plays the comedy well, a true leading lady whom I’m sure we can look forward to seeing more of. Similar to Princess Giselle in Enchanted, she interacts with the modern day with hilarious innocence. Other strong female comic performances come from Gemma (Tricia Adele-Turner) and Jill (Lori Haley Fox), who are excellently cast in their parts (by casting director Debbie O’Brien). One particular moment, in which Gemma is meticulously snipping a bonsai tree whilst begrudgingly talking to her newfound fiancé, is extremely well played by Adele-Turner.
There are also good performances from Michael Hamway (playing Jackie’s son David) and Bob Harms (club owner Frankie). Each have a stunning pop-rock sound and bring strength to their cheesy characters. The rest of the ensemble have a great energy, and do particularly well in portraying the classic songs.
With songs such as ‘Crazy Horses’, ‘Love is in the Air’ and ‘Tiger Feet’, by the second half everyone is singing along to the well-known hits. The energy on stage is infectious and feels more like a sing-a-long concert than a musical. There are other moments that I assume are jokes relating to Jackie magazine, such as speech and thought bubbles and absurd beauty tips. This does an interesting thing by excluding anybody under 40, but also hitting its target audience right between the eyes.
The book is extremely flimsy and barely manages to hold together the plethora of catchy 70s tunes. There are also moments that just don’t make sense, as characters have English accents but use American phrases. Choreography by Arlene Phillips is much as to be expected: she uses the otherwise useless ensemble to inject mad amounts of energy and give an added wow factor. She amps up the camp in all the numbers, giving us the fun feel we so desire. Yet the costume and stage design (Tim Shortall) leave a lot to be desired. The stage could easily be utilised more and costumes are the wrong side of garish retro. As the timeline flips between the present day and 70s heyday, I quickly became lost.
Unfortunately for me, I’m not a big fan of (yet another) jukebox musicals, and what could be an extremely well-developed idea turns into something that is just trying to cash in on our nostalgia. And even more unfortunately, it could have been done better. It comes off as more of a concert than an engaging piece of musical theatre. It doesn’t even find a place between full-out camp and real drama. Honestly, I feel that mums and daughters could be engaged in something that is a real piece of theatre and speaks to both age groups. They manage to miss out on that and just focus on placing something on stage.
At a time when we are striving to keep musical theatre alive, I was disappointed at best. I guess because when we write new songs we’re taking a chance to tell a story, here Jackie is used as a thinly-veiled thread in order to hear the songs they know the audience will love, regardless. Similar to Xanadu at the Southwark Playhouse recently, I understand that people will still love it. People enjoy theatre because of the escapism it brings, and Jackie does that thoroughly.
It’s feel-good, it’s frivolous and it’s fab for the over forties: a great sing-along for your mum to go to.
Jackie The Musical played at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley until 26 March before continuing on a UK tour. For more information and tickets, see the Jackie the Musical website.