MusicalNorth East & YorkshireReview

Jackie the Musical – Alhambra Theatre, Bradford

Writer: Mike James

Director: Anna Linstrum

Musical Director: Dan de Cruz

Choreographer: Arlene Phillips

Reviewer: Janet Jepson

If you are female, grew up in the sixties, seventies or eighties and lived for boys and pop music, then chances are, you were a Jackie fan. Jackie was the magazine to read, and two complete generations of teenage girls thrived on its advice on everything from being a good friend, creating the perfect hairstyle, being the girl boys want to know, to simply applying foundation correctly. There were quizzes to discover how close you were to a wallflower, how sexy you were, and surreally, if you were sweet or sour. The Dear Doctor column aired sensitive topics such as menstruation, sexual intercourse and even pregnancy. Then, of course, there was the weekly pin-up poster of your favourite pop star of the moment –usually David Cassidy or that nice Donny Osmond – to drool over in your bedroom, while you practised your kissing technique (no tongues please) on your teddy bear, as advised by agony aunts Cathy and Claire. In actual fact, Cathy and Claire never existed, it was simply a team of journalists, but every one of the 400-odd problem letters that were sent in every week by anguished teens was replied to with sensible, helpful advice so maybe that never mattered.

Jackie the Musical perfectly captures the nostalgia and idealism of the whole unique Jackie culture. The magazine was unparalleled, but the stage version adds another dimension, sort of a grown-up “what happened next” sequel. Jackie is now 54; has a caring son David (coincidence, or teenage crush?) who makes her comfort toast and lives for 70s music, and she’s looking at imminent divorce from John through a pile of cardboard boxes. Via the old teenage magazines she unearths from the boxes, and with help from best friend Jill and local bar owner Frankie, Jackie negotiates a new life dating again. The problems have changed – it’s all online, the men have baggage, sons don’t always warm to a new man at the breakfast table, and then there’s the ex-flaunting his horsey girlfriend in the background – but it’s still all about insecurity in life and love. Her young self, all smiles, curls and idealistic bounce, is there to offer advice straight from the Jackie magazine, but ultimately a strong middle-aged lady emerges from her confusion declaring “I can see clearly now the rain has gone”, and pledging to live her own life.

Janet Dibley in the lead role is perfect, just scatty enough to capture the essence of the character, while her younger alter-ego, played by Daisy Steere, is pure unspoilt innocence who’s clearly horrified at how her life turns out. Michael Hamway as David is very good – he looks like a regular 70s heartthrob with his guitar and bouncy curls. Graham Bickley (John) and Nicholas Bailey (Max) as the men in Jackie’s life are regular 50-something guys, who come over as loveable but problematic. Bob Harms makes a wonderful, sexy, singing bartender. The lead roles are brilliantly supported by an ensemble of wonderful characters, all of whom shine in their own right and dance beautifully.

The set is very seventies with a live band at the back, plenty of coloured light, square furniture, and steps offering different levels to work on. However, one of the best aspects of the production is the costumes. They are pure sixties/seventies, but not at all tacky. There are beautiful dresses with sweetheart necklines, subtle tank tops, figure-hugging flared trousers and denim, both floppy and baker’s hats, and psychedelic –patterned shirts, worn with chain belts and ankle-strap platforms. Most of the audience are quick to declare “ooh, I had one like that”.

The music is all comprised of well-known hits from the Jackie era. The story moves along to the agonised lyrics of greats such as What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?, Could it be Forever?, Sad Sweet Dreamer and When Will I See You Again? Then it culminates in powerful declarations from the likes of I Beg your Pardon (I Never Promised you a Rose Garden), Enough is Enough and Crazy Horses.

This musical is a great evening out. Relive the pure innocence of youth, commiserate on how wrong things sometimes turn out, but, all in all, celebrate how strong girls coached by Jackie live through it anyway and emerge the other side. The nostalgia is wonderful, the singing isn’t always, but no one minds a jot, especially when they’re all on their feet singing along to the hits. Jackie the magazine might have ceased production in 1993, unable to compete with the racier, brasher glossies, but Jackie the icon will live forever in female hearts.

Touring Nationwide | Image: Pamela Raith

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Forever A Teen

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