Listen up if you taught yourself how to kiss by practising on your own arm. Jackie, the iconic teenage magazine of the 1970s, has inspired a musical.
The production from Dundee’s Gardyne Theatre uses the bible of flares, floppy hats, David Cassidy and Donny Osmond to reunite a miserable, divorced woman in her 50s with her carefree, Jackie-reading 15-year-old self.
“It’s about the spirit of the magazine rather than the actual product,” said producer Alan Dear. “About the people who read it rather than the people who worked on the magazine.”
Whirled back to the decade that style forgot, the show’s heroine, who is also called Jackie, takes advice on how to get a man from the magazine’s experts. “The challenges facing relationships in the 1970s were just the same,” said Dear. “It’s just that they were dealt with in a very different way.”
Does Jackie find love or just rediscover David Essex? Is chatting to cute boys at bus stops more successful than signing up to match.com? Does she embrace the innocent days of Coke-flavoured lipgloss and dates at the Wimpy bar or come rushing back to Twitter, twerking and the 21st century, as fast as her platform boots will carry her? Dear is cagey about revealing too much but promises a show that is “life-affirming”.
Some of the cheesiest tunes of the era – the Stylistics’ Sad Sweet Dreamer, Tina Charles’s I Love to Love – are played live by actor-musicians who have arrived at the Broughty Ferry theatre, part of Dundee College’s creative campus, via West End shows such as Footloose, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and We Will Rock You. Jackie The Musical is not, Dear insisted, a jukebox mishmash with the songs “plonked in”, the music, directed by another West End veteran, Ben Goddard, is part of the narrative.
The show, which has been developed in conjunction with DC Thompson, is part of the Dundee-based publisher’s wider plan to make the most of its back catalogue. There are already Jackie greetings cards and T-shirts with a choice of Adam Ant, David Essex, Duran Duran or Donny Osmond, as well as Beano, Dandy, Hotspur and People’s Friend memorabilia and a growing range of Ma Broon cookery books. Tim Collins, head of brands (consumer entertainment), said: “The iconic teen magazine brand Jackie celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2014. In advance of this, following Jackie The Musical, in October the anniversary book is published together with a compilation CD from Universal Music.”
For those who yearn for the tabards, culottes and clogs of yesteryear, there’s more. Collins added: “Next year we are planning to launch an exciting fashion project with a top designer.”
Jackie is the first production to come from the Gardyne Theatre, which reopened in 2011 after a £2.7 million refurbishment. Built in 1974 as part of Dundee College of Education, it was closed for eight years at the start of the 2000s. When Dundee College took over the campus, it made a commitment to preserve the theatre which is now run as a separate company with freedom to run its own programme. Dear, who was originally head of performing arts at Dundee College, has been manager since it reopened.
So will the Jackie generation – middle-aged women who have now got the hang of Facebook and can text with the best of them – give him a hit? Scotland on Sunday’s theatre critic Mark Fisher believes they might.
“The first trick to achieve a commercially successful musical is to click with your target market,” he said. “If you were reading Jackie at the height of its popularity in the mid-1970s, you’ll be a female around the age of 50. That’s a good sign, because 50-year-old women are among the keenest theatre-goers.”
The broad nostalgic appeal of the magazine – which catered to both Donny and David’s fans and later embraced the new romantics in their eyeliner and frilly shirts – is also, said Fisher, in its favour.
“The producers need to have a target market that’s big enough to fill a theatre night after night. That other Dundee-made musical, Sunshine on Leith, fared better in Scotland, where there are many hardcore fans of the Proclaimers, than it did in England, where there are fewer.
“Given Jackie sold more than half a million copies every week in its heyday, there should be a lot of former readers all across the UK willing to buy tickets today, so the omens are good.”
Fisher added: “You have to put on a good show. Without that, people won’t tell their friends and no-one will come back for more.”