Forget the sixties, the eighties was the decade of revolutionary music for me. I started the decade in secondary school and left it with a degree, a husband and a headful of music-anthemed memories; first single bought, first album (on cassette), first school dance snog song, end of exams songs, first summer holidays with friends-not-parents songs, leaving home song … which have stayed with me for life. These were formative years, not just for me, but so many of the bands and the iconic songs they created. Although many didn’t see it through the end of the decade, their legacy has remained, and happily, led to many of the old bands reforming in recent years, albeit a bit more jowly and portly than in their heyday, but then, so are their faithful old fans. But interestingly, they have attracted new audiences, and I am often bemused when my kids tell me, ‘I love this! It’s brilliant!’, of a classic eighties toon.
Madness, The Specials, Blondie, The Jam, Madonna, Ultravox, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, ABC, Duran Duran, Haircut 100, Culture Club, The Eurythmics, Spandau Ballet, Bronski Beat, Wham … Sunday evenings spent carefully recording the Top 20 hits, while clunkily editing out Peter Powell or Dave Lee Travis from talking over the end of the song. It was the decade of the synth, sexy sax, and girls on top pop. It wasn’t just the music, it was the style that prompted long conversations with friends deciding whether to have hair like Bonnie Tyler, make up like Debbie Harry or dress like Madonna.
So, can Club Tropicana – The Musical capture the diversity, excitement and backcombed hair of the eighties? Billed as ‘the hilarious new feel-good show’, this new musical by the producers of Hairspray, promotes itself with a sparkling, colourful webpage, promising ‘80s smash hit after smash hit’. It could be a long night then, as I have dusty boxes of cassettes full of them.
If you are expecting a nostalgic tribute to the eighties, with a sizzling George Michael lookalike banging out Wham hits, then you will be disappointed. There are no Wham songs in there. The reference to Club Tropicana relates to the plot, which is centred around a hotel in Spain, possibly in the eighties. Think Benidorm, the musical/pantomime, where eighties themed songs are used to tie the plot together. And yes, there is a story. A young, cold-footed bride jilts her husband-to-be at the altar, but is persuaded by her two friends to take advantage of the honeymoon hotel booking. The friends of the dumped groom have the same idea, and they all find themselves at Club Tropicana, where only the first drink is free. They are welcomed by the owners, who are expecting the arrival of an inspector (yes, reminiscent of the stage show Benidorm), and the eccentric but surprisingly talented Spanish maid, Consuela (I know, not very original if you have seen Family Guy). Obviously, chaos, innuendoed hilarity and clichéd slapstick humour ensues.
The TV star-studded cast are certainly enthusiastic in their performances. Song and dance numbers are energetically choreographed, despite rather noticeably ill-fitting costumes. Joe McElderry (X-Factor winner) leads the characters and ensemble, in strong voice. Consuela, played by Kate Robbins, steals all her scenes and delights the audience at every appearance. The music is quite loud and sometimes overpowering, but it’s good to feel the rhythm pounding through the seats. The audience certainly seemed to enjoy themselves on the opening night. There was plenty of shoulder wiggling, standing and clapping as the songs kept coming. The finale was much appreciated and had everyone on their feet, clapping and singing along.
I was a bit disheartened that a new musical production with the incredible backdrop of eighties music relied on clichés, smutty gags and a stock storyline. Contrasting with the classic Rocky Horror Show that recently performed at Woking, it was starkly clear that no risks have been taken with originality or authenticity. However, it is certainly fun, frivolous, inoffensive entertainment. As long as you don’t try and overthink it, you will find it quite enjoyable.
[Amanda Briggs, April 2019]
Club Tropicana – The Musical is playing at the New Victoria theatre, Woking, from 1-6 April