Writer: Michael Gyngell
Directors: Samuel Holmes and Nick Winston
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
According to the song by 1980s band Wham!, Club Tropicana has it all. Free drinks. Fun and sunshine enough for everyone. All that’s missing, George and Andrew sing, is the sea. But this ‘80s jukebox musical of the same name is missing more than the sea. It also lacks an interesting plot. Exciting choreography. Creative sets. The list could go on. But despite these disappointments, the cast and crew manage to salvage a certain silliness that just about saves this show.
Much of the rescue is down to the talent and charisma of Club Tropicana’s lead star Joe McElderry, who is, surprisingly, a revelation here. Since winning The X-Factor in 2009, and then being dropped by Simon Cowell, McElderry has never stopped working, finding a niche for himself in touring musicals. It’s been a bumpy ride and his technicolored Joseph was the most wooden since Jason Donovan’s. Of course, McElderry can sing but he seemed awkward and shy when his roles required him to act. As blind, deaf and dumb Tommy in The Who’s musical McElderry perhaps was more comfortable, although this 2015 revival never transferred from Blackpool. But with practice (and who knows, some acting lessons?) McElderry is now a confident performer camping it up like never before. A nascent Julian Clary, he’s full of dirty innuendo, and he entirely embraces his role as gay Garry who works at the hotel in Spain.
Also cobbling things together is Kate Robbins who once starred in Crossroads, but is now more recognised as an impressionist. She plays Club Tropicana’s maid, Consuela who is –you guessed it! – also a dab-hand at impressions. And she gives us many: Mrs Thatcher, Tina Turner, and, so randomly, Bullseye’s Jim Bowen. McElderry and Robbins get plenty of laughs and they really do save the show.
The plot of Club Tropicana is fairly inconsequential. Lorraine dumps Olly at the altar, but unbeknownst to each other, they both go with their pals to the hotel they’d reserved for their honeymoon. How long will it take before they bump into each other over cocktails at the bar? The hotel has its own problems as an inspector is due any minute, meaning Club Tropicana may not win the title of the best hotel in the area. These threads provide the story, but the songs are meant to be the pull here, and there are 20 of them. To name a few: Take On Me, I Just Can’t Get Enough, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, and even, strangely, Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.
These tracks may be classics but the live band make every song sound the same turning synth standards into elevator muzak, and turning rock numbers like Robert Palmer’s Addicted to Love into anodyne ditties. Nick Winston’s choreography, while evoking some 1980s moves, quickly, too, becomes dull with every song being danced in the same way, and never does the dancing advance the story. The background for these song and dance numbers is the foyer of the hotel, so everyone has plenty of room, but Diego Pitarch’s set does little else to conjure up a Spanish package holiday.
Knowing what to expect, the second half is better than the first, and its silliness ultimately wins through, and, despite your best intentions, you find yourself clapping along to Joe singing Relax, draining the lyrics of all controversy. People seemed happy as they left the theatre, but Wimbledon is the closest Club Tropicana will ever come to London’s West End.
Runs until 27 April 2019 and continues to tour. | Image: Contributed