Between a pair of live performances within 10 days of each other (cross-reference below), it seemed a good time to revisit the London revival CD of Willy Russell’s cautionary tale of separated-at-birth twins.
Under Rod Edwards’ capable direction, the cast, chorus and musicians serve up a beautifully balanced account of the musical highlights (even the synthesized strings sound fine).
At the centre of it all is Kiki Dee as Mrs. Johnstone—the Dancing Queen of a decidedly non-ABBA sort. Dee’s voice improves as the three helpings of “Marilyn Monroe” gain poignancy and compelling darkness. The few harmonisations in the duets (e.g., “Light Romance”) aren’t always secure and seamless, but the emotional power grows convincingly with the characterization and deadly circumstances.
As the soothsaying Narrator, Warwick Evans has just the right tenor and tone to reveal the drama and move the timelines magically forward (especially “Summer Sequence,” where guitarist Terry Johnston shines and Russell’s deft use of contrasting styles helps the years slip by).
Of the ill-fated twins, Mickey (Con O’Neill) has the musical edge over Eddie (Robert Locke is either a tad shy of the top or pushes too hard into the climax of “I’m not Saying a Word”). When they’re together (“That Guy”), the duo offers an impassioned account of their perceived shortcomings with spot-on pitch.
Jeffrey Gear is a capable Mr. Lyons (“Take a Letter Miss Jones” with its “global slump” and the “price of gas” being reasons cited for Mrs. Johnstone’s faux dismissal ringing just as true in 2009!) and Terry Melia is an appropriately rebellious Sammy.
As simplistic in construction and heart-tugging mode-shifts as the score is, it works remarkably well even as the hopes and dreams of those who “want to go dancing” are so completely dashed. JWR