Spend Spend Spend, performed by students from the London School of Musical Theatre at the Bridewell Theatre, London, continues until 3 May.
Spend Spend Spend ran for nearly ten months in the West End in 1999-2000, the true life story of how Yorkshire lass Viv Nicholson blew the biggest ever football pools cheque of £152,319 in an orgy of hedonism and bad-choice husbands in the 1960s.
It is ironic that Steve Brown, who wrote the music as well as, with Justin Greene, the book and lyrics, should see his Evening Standard Best Musical award winner being revived by the LSMT just as his latest offering, I Can’t Sing!, is being wound down at the Palladium. But he can be proud of what director Lotte Wakeham and the big cast have done with his show.
Compared with Les Mis and Phantom, ten months doesn’t seem much but, oh, what wouldn’t I Can’t Sing!, Stephen Ward and From Here to Eternity have given for such a run.
Spend was a lively, often-underrated show then and remains a grand evening’s entertainment, although it lacks that memorable, killer song, like ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’ or ‘I Know Him So Well’, that turns a decent show into a big hit.
The closest it comes is with ‘Who’s Gonna Love Me?’, the powerful and moving duet between the two Vivs, young and old, after Keith, the only husband she really loved, dies in a car crash on the way home from Wetherby races.
Here we see Corrine Priest, who acts as narrator, and her younger embodiment, Rose Elliott, at their best, and it is not difficult to understand why Priest is a finalist in this month’s prestigious Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year. Not only does she age well in a curly peroxide wig, she acts with a wonderful stillness, sings with great clarity and for a Somerset girl her Yorkshire accent is flawless.
Hailing from Hull, the accent is meat and drink to Elliott who has the sexier, showier role and makes the most of it. Both work together well with the larger-than-life character of Viv whom I met at the 1999 premiere at the Piccadilly Theatre but is now too poorly to attend. Her son will represent her at the show on Saturday.
Emotionally and physically scarred by her dissolute miner father and pregnant after the first of many sexual escapades at 16, Viv’s rags-to-riches-and-back-to-rags story was lapped up by the tabloids, especially when she memorably replied “I’m going to spend, spend, spend” to a young Bruce Forsyth asking her at the presentation ceremony what she was going to do with it all.
Which is exactly what she did, getting through five husbands, numerous flashy sports cars, trips to exotic parts, fur coats and battles with alcohol and bankruptcy at a rate of knots until the money was all but gone and she was forced to return to a semi-normal life as a hairdresser.
Spend Spend Spend is an excellent choice for the students on the one-year diploma course because it gives acting opportunities to 26 of them, many multi-tasking with three and four cameos apiece. With the other 15 taking part in the little-known American musical Violet at the same venue the week before, it meant that all 41 on the current course were given their chance to shine at the Bridewell fringe theatre just off Fleet Street.
There is much to enjoy. Tim Phelps, as Viv’s drunken father, demonstrates a rich, multi-layered voice in ‘I’ll Take Care Of Thee’ and ‘Two Rooms’, Ruari Kelsey, as husband No. 2 Keith, sings ‘Canary in a Cage’ plaintively, and Lucas Meredith gives us a witty turn as a granny pleading poverty, one of so many on the look-out for a hand-out. One of four roles he is tasked with, he also has to don short trousers as Viv’s son.
And the title song, performed at the lavish ceremony while the blown-up Littlewoods cheque is being handed over by Brucie (a nice piece of impersonation by Nick Brittain, another charged with four very different minor roles, a fine test of his versatility), is a terrific ensemble piece imaginatively staged by choreographer Tim Jackson and set/costume designer Lee Newby.
So too is the party scene when Viv cast aside her roots and moves to posh Garforth, where as nouveau riches she and her family are of course treated with barely-concealed disdain by those who have actually had to work for their money.
MD Neil MacDonald presides over his hard-working band of seven on an evening that particularly resonated with me because I am old enough to remember the excitement Viv caused as if it was yesterday.
And if 152 grand doesn’t sound much these days, to give you some idea of the magnitude of it, I started out as a cub reporter on a weekly paper that year, 1961, on the princely salary of £600, and you could buy a decent house in Viv’s home town of Castleford for £2,000. These days you don’t get owt for that, even in Yorkshire.
Readers may also be interested in:
Violet – London School of Musical Theatre – Bridewell Theatre – Review