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Saturday 29th March 2003
Leader of the Pack
leader of the pack
Leader of the Pack is recreates the sounds of the the 60s.
Spencer Leigh reviews the new rock’n’roll musical at Theatre Clwyd
Theatre Clwyd Website
Spencer Leigh Website

Interview with Ellie Greenwich

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‘Leader Of The Pack’ sounds like it may be a musical about that tough girl group of the 60s, the Shangrilas, but it is about one of its songwriters, Ellie Greenwich. This Brill Building musical has been on Broadway and is now presented in a joint production by the Theatre Clwyd in Mold and the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich. I saw it at Theatre Clwyd in March 2003 and the odds are that it will tour for much of the year. I hope so because it is an excellent production and the life of such a great songwriter deserves to be celebrated.

Most of Ellie’s hits were written with Jeff Barry (‘Then He Kissed Me’, ‘Be My Baby’, ‘Chapel Of Love’, ‘I Can Hear Music’) and the play tells the story of their troubled marriage, the central problem being that Ellie was totally committed to music and Jeff wanted to start a family. "I want to produce records and you want me to produce babies," she says at one point. After the marriage collapses, Phil Spector encourages them to write again and they come up the outstanding ‘River Deep - Mountain High’ for Tina Turner, played here by Julianna. Another factor for their fall from grace was British beat groups writing their own songs although it was intriguing to note that one of Ellie Greenwich’s early songs, ‘What A Guy’, included ‘yeah, yeah, yeahs’.

The play reveals Ellie, played by Nicola Dawn, to be the driven one in the partnership and Jeff’s contributions are often limited to "da doo ron rons" or "do wah diddy diddys", albeit absolutely crucial da doo ron rons. The multi-talented cast play many instruments and recreate many 60s stars (Crystals, Ronettes, Dixie Cups, Shangrilas, Tina Turner, Darlene Love, Lesley Gore). Much attention has been paid to detail - who can forget the Ronettes with their enormous beehives and their slinky turquoise and gold dresses with slit legs? Angeline Bell as Ronnie conveys both her sassiness and her sexiness. The songs and the action come so quickly in ‘Leader Of The Pack’ that there must been frantic activity backstage as the cast changed costumes. There is much humour in the production particularly when Ellie and Jeff’s demo of ‘What A Guy’ is released and they form a group at short notice, featuring Ellie, Jeff (Craig Purnell) and Ellie’s sister, Laura (Hayley-Jayne Langwith).

The promoters have respected Phil Spector’s wishes and not mentioned his surname. This is ridiculous and effectively rewriting history as the character (played by Matt Dineen) couldn’t be anyone else but Phil Spector. The way Spector reacts to the songs he likes is hilarious, but maybe this parade of his eccentricities wouldn’t help his court appearance.

It is good to report that the songs are performed in full rather than in medleys and it was interesting to note how often the songs reflected the turmoil in the songwriters’ own lives such as ‘People Say’ and ‘You Don’t Know’. Gerald Armin and Peter Rowe have written a very good, episodic script and Peter Rowe’s direction ensures that the production zips along at a cracking pace. This is definitely a leader of the pack as far as rock’n’roll musicials are concerned. Hopefully, it will go on tour and end up in the West End.

Click here for Spencer Leigh's interview with Ellie Greenwich

Leader of the Pack
Wed 19 Mar 03 - Sat 5 Apr 03
Theatre Clwyd, Cymru - 0845 330 3565

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