In the mid 1960s, Ellie Greenwich was one of the songwriters behind many of the tunes playing on the radio. She wrote for well known groups such as The Shangri-Las and The Crystals and several of her songs have gone on to be re-released by new groups, right up to today. ‘Leader of the Pack’, named for her 1964 hit, is the story of her partnership – both professional and personal – with co-writer Jeff Barry; though it serves more as a showcase for some of their best known and most loved songs than as an engrossing character exploration.
The stage is built to resemble a jukebox, with the band inserted where you would once have found a “45”. While this is effective on some levels, having the band in such a position means that the stage can never be truly blacked out during scene changes and this ability to see what was happening, coupled with the length of some of these interludes, distracted somewhat from the flow of the piece. The band itself however, under the musical direction of Kim Clark, was a joy to listen to, providing tight and peppy backup to the singers.
As has come to be expected from Northern Light, the performers were all highly competent, with pleasant voices and energetic characterisations. Steve Rudd’s direction was suitable, and enjoyable choreography (Kerreane Sarti) added some panache to the musical numbers and made use of the multiple stage levels available. The costuming (Kristen Webb, Mardi Peal), while appropriate to the time period, seemed a little drab for the majority of the show and only in the later big ensemble numbers did it come together to add another vibrant aspect to the production.
Michelle Brow performed well as Young Ellie, however it was not until her final solo piece ‘Rock of Ages’ that we got to experience her true vocal ability. As Darlene Love, Melanie Smith gave a solid performance and managed to channel a young Cher during several numbers. Ultimately though, the highlight of the show was Kate Dempsey as Annie Golden, whose voice has just the right pitch for the songs of this era and who carried them off with style and feeling.
This was an enjoyable production. While lighter on plot than most musicals, it provided an opportunity to hear Greenwich’s hit songs performed live and gave a little insight into the woman behind the music.
Kryztoff Rating: 3.5K
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