Sunny Afternoon never really made the list of must-see musicals when it was on in London and I wasn’t sure about context or music – and there is always the curse of the trend for thrown-together jukebox musicals. I need not have worried, as this is classy stuff: a slick, tuneful, emotional and exhilarating experience on a par with Jersey Boys and Beautiful as far as production values, story, chosen music, plot and setting are concerned.
I had little knowledge of the Kinks’ origins, knowing only vaguely of explosive sibling rivalry to match the Gallagher brothers in Ray and Dave Davis. The songs I liked, but I much preferred the muted tones of the later years when they went very British. Davis’s natural empathy for good lyrical observation shine through on songs such as ‘Sunny afternoon’ and ‘Days’, but there are others here, populating the second half particularly with emotional ballad heaven. The a capella barbershop version of ‘Days’ (led by Joseph Richardson) is just beautiful, as is ‘I go to sleep’, sung by the lonely wife of Davis during the group’s notoriously difficult tour of America that subsequently saw them banned. It is very wise to concentrate on a particular period as this show does, covering 1963 through to 1967 and ending with the 1970 hit, ‘Lola’, when they returned to America and played Madison Square Garden.
Ryan O’Donnell looks so like Ray Davis that you are immediately transported back in time. His singing is perfect in intonation and style. He is suitably matched by his cohort band. The dress-wearing and fun-loving brother, Dave, who is never far from drink, drugs and women, is warmly played by Mark Newnham, the brother interaction being particularly animated and affectionate despite their differences. Garmon Rhys is excellent as the best friend, Pete Quaife, matched by an energetic Andrew Gallo as the drummer, Mick Avory. Lisa Wright is on considerable vocal and acting form as Rasa, the girl friend then wife of Davis, who I didn’t realise sang on the Kinks’ records as backing vocals. They all seemed to age very smoothly.
The ensemble switch roles as if by magic, becoming one moment a dentist, father, mother, groupie, sly music right holders and managers. This makes the scene changes very slick, using a set of speakers covered in the American flag motif for the tour: desks, chairs, reception halls, chandeliers etc fly in and out and use of the whole front stage and a pier extension into the audience makes the whole piece feel very intimate. The guitars are very reverently handled, as are the band as a whole, each cast member also joining in with trombones and percussion where required.
No ‘Waterloo sunset’ here, just very sunny days indeed: go see!
Future performances: 7, 8 and 10 December at 2.00 and 7.30, 9 December at 7.30.