Based on the music of Boney M and Frank Farian, 'Daddy Cool' is a musical with a ready-made market. Not only were Boney M's numbers hummable and memorable, they were also immensely popular. So much so that I was surrounded by ardent devotees. But the show doesn't simply pander to Boney M fans. The producers have aimed to bring the music up-to-date by setting it in the 1990's, and including modern dance and musical genres that will appeal to a wide cross-section of theatre-goers, and hopefully entice some new blood into the West End.
But for much of the show, the response, from an audience desperate to hear those tunes that could send spine-tingling shivers of nostalgia oozing down their spines, was rather muted. Only after the curtain call did the show manage to shift into full gear, and bring the entire audience to their feet. In a sense, it showed that the storyline had little impact, because only when it was over could the audience and cast really start to enjoy themselves.
It's always a difficult task to take a collection of disparate songs or tunes and turn them into a show with coherence and a believable plot which can carry it through a running time of over 2 hours. In the case of 'Dancing In The Streets', a storyline was eschewed in favour of a narrator, and that might have been a much better approach in this case too. Because the problem with 'Daddy Cool' lies in a rather contrived story which is based on the idea of rival gangs and a pair of 'star-crossed' lovers who come from either side of the gang divide. It's an idea purloined from 'West Side Story' (which, in turn, 'borrowed' the idea from Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet'). Even though the plot has been given a make-over here, the script is simply not powerful or interesting enough, and some of the dialogue is rather ordinary, if not corny.
Essentially, the story is about 'Sunny' whose mother has sent for him from England, and we follow the young boy from his Grandmother's home in the West Indies, through his arrival in England, to the time when his love of music has led him to be a member of a 'crew' called 'The Subsonics', who face intense rivalry from another crew called 'The Blade Squad'. It's pretty obvious from the start that Sunny will end up in hot water, and sure enough, he's set-up for a shooting he didn't commit. In a sub-plot, Sunny's mother has to confront her own rival and deal with her feelings about Sunny's father, the real 'Daddy Cool'.
Michelle Collins takes the lead in the role of Ma Baker, a club-owning, tyrannical matriarch. Except Collins isn't nearly nasty enough to be really convincing, and though she had a spell as a backing singer with Mari Wilson during the 80's, her voice just isn't powerful enough to make a vocally strong impression. Still, other members of the cast made up for it. The best reception of the performance came for a soulful rendition of 'I Can't Stand The Rain' by Melanie La Barrie, and Donovan F. Blackwood came up trumps with an evocative and moving version of 'Blame It On The Rain'. Javine also stirred the emotions with 'Sweet Dreams/ Be My Lover' in a dynamic club scene which significantly lifted the show, as did Harvey's impressive MCing.
Frequent set changes and effective lighting help to create suitable atmosphere - though a giant parrot seemed unnecessarily extravagant, and it didn't even squawk! But all the best-loved tunes are in the show - 'Brown Girl In The Ring', 'Mary's Boy Child', 'Rasputin' et al - and they're all still capable of bringing back the heady days of the 70's and 80's. The overall standard of the show, however, is a little patchy, varying from the rather ordinary, to the near exceptional. For example, the choreography at the start of the show, and in several intermediate scenes, was bland. But those scenes contrasted sharply with others - particularly in the club scenes - which were powerful, atmospheric, and began to get the electricity flowing.
'Daddy Cool' is worth a visit if only to renew acquaintance with some brilliant songs. But the show itself isn't really all that great, and leaves one with a nagging feeling that it could have been electrifying if only a more suitable vehicle could have been found.
What the popular press had to say.....
CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "A raw, energetic production by Andy Goldberg, also boasts a soupcon of wit, a hint of a heart and lashings of energy...The Shaftesbury, for so long a graveyard of dreadful musicals, might just have a hit on its hands for once." RHODA KOENIG for THE INDEPENDENT says, "One can't feel affection for anyone here, for the music isn't out to charm us or gain our sympathy, merely impress us with a series of song-and-dance numbers." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "The casts’ energy is as impressive as its choreographic discipline." NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Daddy Cool, a thoroughly modern metropolitan musical, reliant upon hits from that best-selling band Boney M, left me little more than medium-warm...Andy Goldberg's spectacular production, with its spectacular, sometimes vulgar sets and Sean Cheesman's choreography are notable for their dynamism." LYN GARDNER for THE GUARDIAN says, "If only somebody had taken the time and trouble to sort out the book, which is short on craft and never finds a way to integrate the back story, this could be an evening with real zing."