29th March 2003
Leader of the Pack
of the Pack is recreates the sounds of the the 60s.
Leigh reviews the new rock’n’roll musical at Theatre Clwyd
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
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.
here for Spencer Leigh's interview with Ellie Greenwich
Leader of the Pack
Wed 19 Mar 03 - Sat 5 Apr 03
Clwyd, Cymru - 0845 330 3565