**** Rock musical gets appetisingly close to the real thing
The 1986 movie was originally intended as a stage musical, and, with songwriting legend Bob Gaudio, its writers have made it work as one.
The story of the middle-aged, estranged wife who travels back in time to her high-school days in 1960 could easily have been turned into a sub-Grease affair of playful camp. Writers Arlene Sarner and Jerry Leichtling didn't want to take that path, and they avoid it partly due to the collaboration of Bob Gaudio: as songwriter for The Four Seasons, Gaudio is not trying to recreate a style, he is the original. The songs go awry only when either lyricist Leichtling sets out to be clever, or Gaudio or arranger Gary Hind strays too far from basic rock and roll into modern stage-musical pomp... although even the latter works on one level, symbolising the wisdom and complexity of the older Peggy Sue amid all the teen frenzy.
As staged by Kelly Robinson, the show is a vehicle for musical queen Ruthie Henshall. In terms of performance, Henshall is a supreme technician who also has the skill to conceal her precision behind a façade of apparent naturalness; the combination works a treat. Some of the supporting characters are a touch off-beam, but this is far superior to most attempts at rock musicals.
Written for divento.com
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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