Life was very different in 1968. There was no internet, no mobile phones and The Monkees was staple Saturday night TV.
Thank goodness we’re not back there again, as the new musical, Monkee Business constantly reminds us. It’s a joke that is over stretched, like much of the show. However, with three weeks to bed in before its West End run, there is time to tighten it up.
The show opens with a concert staging inside a huge square frame, mimicking a TV effect – hey, hey, it’s the Monkees. Only it isn’t the Monkees, it’s four young guys pretending to be the band for a world tour, because we’re told the real Monkees are too busy with the TV show and the venues they’ll be playing will see them so far from their fans no-one will know the difference. Unfortunately we do. The band needs a lot more energy behind it if it is going to sustain this show.
It is a new show premiering in Manchester, and it is clear that there is a still a lot of tightening up to do in the first act, which appears to be little more than a vehicle for 60s songs such as ‘Last Train to Clarksville’ and ‘Back in the USSR’. The sets are purposefully two-dimensional, but in the first act, almost everything about this production is lack-lustre. Thankfully it redeems itself in the second act. We see the boys jet-set around the world from Moscow to Madrid, Tokyo, Paris and ending up in London. The Austin Powers mystery theme becomes more prominent, and makes for much so bad it’s good humour. The whole show becomes much more tongue-in-cheek, and as a result much more fun.
Diminutive Cassandra Compton fills the theatre as deceptive Secret Agent, Mary, blasting out, ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’, with three nuns as backing singers appearing through the dressing room mirrors. Roxanne Palmer stands out, and steals much of the laughs as air hostess/nun/M15 agent, as does Lee Honey-Jones as the Telegram Boy. Linal Haft (East Enders’ Harry Gold) gives good support as the band’s corrupt manager, Joey Finkelstein. However, while the Monkees themselves are OK, the four young actors will need to up their game, if they are to make the show any kind of fitting tribute to the late Davy Jones, to whom they dedicate the Manchester run.
Monkee Business The Musical is at the Opera House, Manchester from 30 March 2012 to 14 April 2012.