Tweetingit: 3* Three boy band members and an Olympic gymnast team up to re-imagine a 60s pop music show. Think Strictly Come Dancing meets the Rock ‘n’ Roll Years. A muddled concept just about works with competant staging; but is still great fun.
I really wasn’t sure what to make of the publicity shots for Rip it up. The stars of the show, ex boy band members Aston Merrygold, Harry Judd and Jay McGuiness are joined by Olympic gymnast Louis Smith. All were dressed in matching powder blue suits; the impression gained is one of a 60s close harmony vocal group. But hold on Aston and Jay sing; but doesn’t Harry only plays drums while Louis will be good for the odd somersault or two? But then the scales drop, they were all on Strictly Come Dancing! There were so many references to ‘Strictly’ during the show I thought Len Goodman was bound to turn up at some point.
The show begins with the premise of a 1960s pop music show – Ready Steady Go! more than TOTP as velvet toned emcee Cavin Cornwall took the stage. The boys emerge with an excellent company of dancers in support. They open with a solid medley of hits subtitled Bubblegum Britain. Vocal duties are mainly filled by Jill Marie Cooper and guitarist Ant Bryant; who are the unsung heroes of this production. They carry the weight on the majority of vocals while the boys concentrate on the dance sequences. Nine more segments followed, each concentrating on a particular aspect of 1960s music.
Curiously each segment was preceded by a video insert. Interviews featuring Lulu, Roger Daltrey, Dionne Warwick, Zandra Rhodes and Tony Blackburn were interspersed with archive film and newsreel commentary. It was reminiscent of BBC programme the Rock ‘n’ Roll Years which followed a similar format. But it just wasn’t needed and felt like unnecessary padding. Interviews with the boys seemed equally superfluous and another excuse to mention ‘Strictly’. A neat medley of Beach Boys hits was followed by a tribute to the summer of love. A strangely awkward sequence, as Soul bossa nova and Green onions were played in homage to the Austin Powers movies.
Act II opened with a couple of Mod songs, and then the Beatles tribute and highlight of the show; a brilliantly executed mash-up of the Fab Four in their psychedelic phase. Strawberry Fields forever, I am the walrus and Come together were complemented by stunning visuals and choreography. But any pretence of a TV pop show disappeared with Strictly Romantic, a shameless plug for that show again. This included interviews with the boys and four very good routines, which could have come straight out of Saturday night TV. It featured the strangest version of Can’t take my eyes off you; half way through it changed tempo and turned into a quickstep (totally bonkers). A medley of Motown hits provided a sensible but barnstorming finale.
The four boys on the poster worked hard and did a sterling job; particularly Louis Smith who bravely took the mic and delivered a highly credible version of Let’s twist again. For all its emphasis on entertainment, the show was conceptually flawed and poorly researched. Rip it up is taken from a Little Richard song recorded in 1957; Act I featured Nutbush city limits, a hit for Ike and Tina Turner in 1973; I could go on but nobody likes a smart ass. Maybe I’m looking for faults and most punters wouldn’t notice it anyway. But if the show purports to be an historic document (i.e. popular culture in the 1960s) it should be accurate. The TV pop show format was pretty cool with its wandering onstage camera but frequently abandoned for no apparent reason. Yes, they got a lot wrong but they also got a lot right; I think we can call it quits.
Director and Choreographer: Gareth Walker
Musical Director: Barnaby Dickinson
Producer: Steven Howard for the TCB Group
Box Office: 0330 333 4811
Booking Link: https://www.nimaxtheatres.com/shows/rip-it-up/
Booking Until: 2 June 2019