REVIEW: Leader Of The Pack, Waterloo East Theatre ✭✭✭

Leader Of The Pack at Waterloo East Theatre
Matthew Quinn and Abi Finley in Leader Of The Pack.

Leader Of The Pack
Waterloo East Theatre
13th October 2015
3 Stars
Book Tickets

Leader Of The Pack – The Ellie Greenwich Musical is as the title suggests a jukebox musical based around the musical career of prolific pop songwriter Ellie Greenwich. It takes place from 1959 with her first meeting with Jeff Barry, the man who would become her husband and song-writing partner, through to several years after to dissolution of their marriage in 1991.

Greenwich’s story is remarkable given that she co-wrote the hits of a generation, including the show’s title song, Be My Baby, Baby – I Love You, Then He Kissed Me, Da Doo Ron Ron, Christmas (Baby Please Come Home), Do Wah Diddy Diddy, Maybe I Know, Look Of Love, Chapel Of Love, I Can Hear Music, and River Deep-Mountain High.

Long before Beautiful – The Carole King Musical was on the scene, Leader Of The Pack was first produced at the Bottom Line in Greenwich Village, and proved so popular that it has been performed by theatre groups around the world ever since.

Adopting a simple formula that places the relevant songs in a timeline associated with Greenwich’s life, Leader Of The Pack becomes a song – scene – song formulaic musical very quickly.

Sophia Mackay (Darlene), Lottie-Daisy Francis (Ronnie) and Melissa Park (Barbara) carry much of the music for the first act of the show. I didn’t realise that Spector revolved girls around creating new groups as members of other groups fell by the wayside. This talented trio kept my toe tapping as they delivered hit after hit.

Leader Of The Pack at Waterloo East Theatre
Lottie-Daisy Francis, Melissa Park and Sophia Mackay in Leader Of The Pack.

Perry Meadowcraft brought a hint of the mania that was Phil Spector to the role of The Producer. Spector was an enormous part of Greenwich and Barry’s success being one of the pioneers of the 1960’s girl group sound. Meadowcraft also plays drums for most of the musical selections in the show and proves himself an essential part of this ensemble. His brief latter scene with Barry was moving but all too brief.

John Sandberg takes on the small but important role of Jerry Leiber of singwriting duo Leiber and Stoller fame. It would be Leiber, who gave Greenwich her first job in the Brill Building after he mistook her for Carole King. Theirs was a relationship that developed into a much larger producing and publishing partnership with Barry and Greenwich. Sandberg gives a solid performance, which helps to anchor down the central conflict between Greenwich and Barry.

Emma Fraser provides some wonderful comic moments as Nancy, the Brill Building’s receptionist that keep some of the show’s transitions moving.

Leader Of The Pack at Waterloo East Theatre
Abi Finley and Perry Meadowcroft in Leader Of The Pack.

Matthew Quinn plays Jeff Barry, writing partner and husband of Ellie Greenwich. Quinn’s early scenes with Abi Finley as Ellie Greenwich are a delight. There’s humour and a real chemistry between the two. In Act Two, Quinn is left with little support from the show’s book, but that said, he makes a first class effort in holding together a credible character placed in a difficult situation.

Abi Finley is a sensational Ellie Greenwich. She perfectly captures a woman whose artistic output perfectly meshed with the demands of the pop audience at the time. There are some terrific moments, particularly those with Leiber that really allow Finlay to show some light and shade in what could be a very shallow character. It’s a performance with real warmth, depth and spirit.

Where Leader Of The Pack comes unstuck is with its book scenes. Awkward changes between songs and scenes aside, the relationship between Greenwich and Barry could be better scripted so that Barry’s estrangement from Greenwich had more dramatic credibility. As it stands, the audience is witness to a marriage collapse without much explanation as to why. Barry’s desire for a family seems to be hammered as a cause again and again, but doesn’t seem to fully explain what is happening on stage.

Actor/Musician shows are a tricky beast and for the most part Leader Of The Pack pulls of the magic together to deliver just over two hours of non stop hits culminating in a sensational version of River Deep Mountain High featuring the entire cast. With a paired down band the show works really well, but I couldn’t help but wonder what the show might have been like had Spector’s Wall Of Sound been in play on some of the numbers.

Leader Of The Pack is a great evenings entertainment. I certainly made by way home to re-listen to some of those classic albums now knowing their common link – the incredibly remarkable Ellie Greenwich.

Leader Of The Pack runs at the Waterloo East Theatre until 31 October 2015

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