Breaking Up is Hard to Do continues at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, London.
Star rating: three stars ★ ★ ★ ✩ ✩
The real joy of 1960s music – and the secret of its lasting popularity – is that the melody almost always sits at the top of the texture, unlike so much of the bass-driven stuff which has come since. The lyrics were clearly articulated too. Add to the mix those wonderful full circle skirts supported by layers of stiff gauzy petticoats and you’ve created a crowd-pleaser, if nothing else.
Neil Sedaka was an astonishingly prolific songwriter in the early 60s and this vehicle for his music provides plenty of those early songs, along with some later numbers. And the presence of a fine four-piece band (led by MD Oliver Hance on keyboards) ensures that every one of them comes off with chirpy panache.
It’s a pity about the feeble, unconvincing linking story about an exploitative singer (Damien Walsh) aiming for fame and fortune via a venue called Esther’s Paradise. Book writers Erik Jackson and Ben H Winters have done their best, but the resulting narrative is lacklustre – a problem in many musicals that fall into this format.
The cast of eight is generally strong. Walsh sings well and looks good as Del, breaking hearts as he strives for a lucky break.
Jonny Muir sings with warm lyricism as Gabe and both Robyn Miller (Lois) and Lauren Cocoracchio (Marge) are notably powerful singers.
There’s strong acting from Katie Paine as the delightfully Jewish Esther; while Andrew Bradley is a bit hammy in the first half, but comes movingly into his own in Act II with a rather stunning blues number.
Alyssa Noble’s attractive choreography makes sensible use of the small space and has the cast of eight cheerfully swirling, stepping and finger-snapping in front of that accomplished band.
Any show which sends its audience away smiling and humming at the end is getting a lot right. The flaws aren’t what most of them will remember. Jordan Murphy directs.