TODAY’S fiftysomething women may not be short of problems, from divorce and money worries to roller-coaster relationships with grown-up children.
Jackie The Musical | Rating: **** | King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
Guys And Dolls | Rating: *** | Playhouse, Edinburgh
To judge by the waves of joyful energy pulsing through the King’s Theatre this week, though, they’re about as glad to be alive as any generation that ever lived, enjoying a freedom of which their grandmothers could only have dreamed. And if there’s one cultural phenomenon that helped to define that generation in Britain, during their early teens, it’s the wonderful Jackie magazine, published weekly by DC Thomson of Dundee from 1964 to 1993, and now the inspiration for this explosively upbeat but often tremendously touching 1970s tribute musical, written by Mike James.
First seen in Dundee in 2013, and now revived for a UK tour, Jackie The Musical tells the present-day story of 54-year-old Jackie, gorgeously played by a down-to-earth Janet Dibley, who is moving house after her divorce, and finds an old box of 1970s Jackie magazines in the loft.
Cue the entrance of Jackie’s teenage self, a sweet and militantly self-respecting Daisy Steere, who – with the help of famous agony aunts Cathy and Claire – tries to guide Jackie through the perils of the mid-life dating game; and in no time we’re belting our way through a fantastic playlist of Seventies hits, from Could It Be Forever to Crazy Horses, all more or less integrated into the story.
The best friend of Jackie The Musical could not describe the show as subtle; the music roars out at ear-splitting volume, the 70s clothes are terrifying, the design aims at the decade with scattergun vagueness. Yet the energy and poignancy of the story is huge; and with a company of 20 on stage, body-popping in tremendous Pan’s People style to choreography by Arlene Phillips, the show emerges as a huge theatrical hit, and a great night out for everyone who loves music, loves pop culture, and loves life.
The current touring production of Frank Loesser’s mighty Guys And Dolls, by contrast, rolls into the Playhouse looking a little subdued. There’s certainly plenty to enjoy in Gordon Greenberg’s thoughtful Chichester Festival Theatre production, including its highly demanding and almost over-elaborate choreography by Carlos Acosta, well delivered by the 25-strong cast.
Yet somehow, this production seems to have lost touch with the vital, surging energy of mid-20th century New York, the force that powers every element of this drama. Peter McKintosh’s tunnel-like set misses the upbeat, vertical energy of New York’s great skyline. The music is often delivered at a fast, light-footed pace that does no justice to Loesser’s great lyrics and powerful rhythms. And in that large cast, only two performers – Louise Dearman as Miss Adelaide, and Jack Edwards as Nicely-Nicely Johnson – have the kind of brash, outward-looking energy that really brings Loesser’s great songs to life. Nice try, in other words; but if the mind and body of Guys And Dolls is present and correct at the Playhouse this week, the heart and soul often seem to have gone missing, lost in translation.
• Jackie The Musical at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, final performances today; and in Inverness, Aberdeen and Glasgow in July. Guys And Dolls at the Playhouse, Edinburgh, final performances today; and at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow, 7-11 June.