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Monkee Business Review

Kevin Bourke likes the real Monkees story but sadly this ain’t it

Written by . Published on April 4th 2012.


Monkee Business Review

THE idea for Monkee Business - The Musical came to writer Peter Benedict, he claims, when, in order to liven up a lengthy car journey with a bunch of theatricals, he randomly purchased a Monkees compilation CD and was surprised to find that "everyone, young and old, knew those songs". So a show built around said songs couldn't go wrong, right?

Well, wrong actually, in this case. Jukebox musicals are a pretty desperate proposition anyway, so far as this punter is concerned, but I'm prepared to grudgingly admit they can be fun if you really love the songs and simply want to sing along to a bunch of other people singing them.

This particular show seems especially clumsy when the real Monkees story is so remarkable that you couldn't make it up.

Tribute bands make their living from that and, astonishingly, several of them can fill arenas these days. When it comes to The Monkees, though, while people might well know and even love some of the songs much of the rest of their output isn't necessarily that familiar, as demonstrated by the slightly puzzled reactions at the world premiere night to the likes of ‘The Girl I Knew Somewhere’ and ‘What Am I Doing Hangin' Around.’

The fact these songs are shoehorned into a plot that treads a fine line between nonsensical and non-existent doesn't help either. After  apparently miming to 'The Monkees Theme' to open the show and warm up the crowd (which I'd thought was a decent post-modernist gag, only to be sternly informed that the band really do sing live throughout!), Chuck (Ben Evans) Andy (Stephen Kirwan), Mark (Tom Parsons) and William (Oliver Saville) are improbably, and peremptorily, hoodwinked by not-at-all-stereotypical manager Joey Finkelstein (Linal Haft) into embarking on a world tour pretending to be original boy-band The Monkees, themselves a bunch of actors put together for a TV show. 

Monkee Business

All they have to do to pull this off, apparently, is to put on the outfits and make sure they stay a long way away from adoring fans, who, after all, would get to see the real Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork all the time on TV. So our good-hearted but apparently dim-witted heroes set off on a train from Clarksville, arriving at Pleasant Valley on a Sunday - you get the idea, I'm sure.

Later on, too much later on, there's even a jesting reference to this sort of crassness but, by then, the damage has been done, especially as by that time they've even resorted to nicking other bands' tunes, including The Beatles' ‘Back In The USSR’, when the band fly to Russia for some highly unlikely plot reason. This strikes me as a pretty expensive - and weak - gag, given how notoriously litigious Apple are. Or have I grossly underestimated the production and this is actually a convoluted Chuck Berry joke? 

Somehow, I suspect not when the cartoonish Russian femme-fatale spy is dubbed Nikita Smirnoff (played with some relish by Michelle Bishop). Actually the supporting cast are all rather good, even when called upon to ignominiously play singing nuns (who really thought that squeezing Dominique into the plot was a hilarious idea, or that the younger audience members would recognise it anyway?) or lollipop ladies (ditto ‘My Boy Lollipop’).

Monkee Business

There's nothing necessarily wrong with a musical's plotline being silly and anachronistic - just look at Hairspray. But the constant nudges and winks that these are innocent kids in those crazy Sixties, quickly gets tiresome here especially when we actually seem to be stuck in a Sixties that owes more than a little to the revisionist, and also not very funny, Austin Powers.

I don't want to get all music nerd here, and I understand that licensing rights would almost certainly put paid to any such thing, but this particular show seems especially clumsy when the real Monkees story is so remarkable that you couldn't make it up.

Put together at auditions in Los Angeles for a TV show designed to cash in on the huge US success of the Beatles (does this concept sound at all familiar?), Jones, the former star of Oliver; Mike Nesmith, the Texan bohemian;  child-star Mickey Dolenz: and Peter Tork, the proto-hippie, turned into a bona-fide phenomenon, with an enormously successful TV show and huge hit records crafted by the finest songwriters and musicians money could buy.

Stephen Stills was just one of the many hopefuls turned down at that audition although, contrary to popular mythology, mass murderer Charles Manson wasn't. They toured with Jimi Hendrix, who was ignored by the screaming girls who just wanted to see The Monkees, then, famously, insisted on playing on their own records, and made Head, one of the druggiest films of all time.

 

Monkee Business

 

Sounds like a great film or even stage show, doesn't it?  But Monkee Business is not that show, says Benedict.

"This isn't about The Monkees, it's not the TV show extended to two hours and it's not the life story of the Monkees or their various members. This is about the music. I did actually start writing that Monkees story until I realised that it just wasn't a musical - it's very complicated and there'd be too much downbeat stuff in it," he admits.

"If people want the story of The Monkees they can read the various books. I'm writing a musical which has a story with the fun in it that you can't have if you're telling the real story."

Well, he's entitled to believe that and, to be fair, things do pick up in the second half, opening with a multinational medley of ‘The Monkees Theme’ and relying less on the songs to advance the plot.

This is the third show under the ‘Manchester Gets It First’ banner, after the hugely successful Ghost and Zach Braff's All New People. Obviously, it's a commendable initiative, and it was touching to dedicate the show to the late Davy Jones, especially with some of his family in the audience. But sorry guys, ‘Manchester Gets it First’ isn't and shouldn't mean simply a glorified dress rehearsal for a show that needs as much tightening, and livening up as does Monkee Business. 

Monkee Business - The Musical is at the Opera House, Quay Street, until Saturday 14 April.

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17 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousApril 4th 2012.

I realllllllllly disagree. It is fantastic the work that went into the display was comprehensive to say the least as this showed in the delivery. Truly outstanding. Could not disagree with this review more

Fsdbds DfbdfApril 4th 2012.

Dreadful show - and i had free tickets so thank god i didn't pay a penny!
Terrible story, poor set (or lack of), not a patch on similar musicals such as jersey boys and to be honest i thought i would have related to the monkees better but this is an awful show.
Don't go!!!
Previous poster must have gone for drunken karaoke.

Sue JohnsonApril 4th 2012.

fantastic show, went to see it with 3 of my friends & we all loved it, really funny, very zany (which is the point) & a well written interesting script with great singers & cast
sue johnson, london

Charlie CookApril 4th 2012.

I disagree with the review. There are areas that need tightening up, and I wasn't convinced that the use of non-Monkees songs was a good idea, but overall I had a tremendous evening. Act two raced along, and the humour was very much in line with that in the original series.

SmittyApril 5th 2012.

Oh, Kevin, you big grump. You could open a cheese shop on the stage, but I couldn't help but love it.

AnonymousApril 5th 2012.

Couldn't disagree more. We had a whale of a time and so did most of the people around us. What were you expecting? It's a cheesy, fun, OTT night out and it never promised anything else. Have you ever seen the Monkees TV show? It wasn't exactly Brechtian was it!! I get the feeling this review is either 'sour grapes' or a serious misunderstanding of what the show was intended to do. Either that or you take life waaaaaay too seriously.

Perhaps 'stuffy theatre reviewer' wasn't part of the intended audience....?!

JimApril 5th 2012.

A fair review. Songs were good, performers were good, but the show didn't work

suebroApril 5th 2012.

loved it..would go again in a heartbeat.It was madcap comedy just what the Monkees did...a show that gets the majority of the audience up and dancing in their seats must be doing something right.

NicApril 5th 2012.

Loved this show,It was a toe tapping funny show just what the monkees t.v series was about!!!
Kevin Bourke is reading too much into this!!
This is what the monkees were all about fun and daftness
If you want a good night out listening to great songs and great singers this is worth the money

FifiApril 7th 2012.

I agree somewhat with the reviewer, the show was the weakest musical I've ever seen, however all the performers were really strong and need more credit. Sadly the lack of plot and loose links to songs really let them down. I wanted it to be like Mamma Mia, a musical that bizarrely does work seemlessly, but it was way too far off the mark. Glad some people seemed to enjoy it though!

Yoz GeeApril 7th 2012.

I've been to see lots of shows and this has to be one of the worse I've ever seen. It lacks energy from start to finish with poor gags, which were poorly delivered, a poor set and to top it off a poor storyline preformed by a less than mediocre cast.

The 4 lead guys 'The Monkees' however did work well together and were good singers, however they need to work on their comic timing, as they were at times upstaged by other cast members, namely the Stewardess and Telegram boy, which to me were two of the highlights of the show and even managed more than just a polite applause.

The choreography was weak as were the dancers who weren't together, lacked timing, and at times were not even on the same beat. The male dancers were very weak and lacked any strength in their movements. I was hoping for some big dance routines but they never materialised which is a shame as this would have given the show the desperately needed energy it lacked.

In general this show is anything but professional and is more akin to something you'd expect to see at an all-inclusive resort in Turkey, Spain or Greece.

In it's present format I can't see it doing it's rounds again, which is a shame as it has the potential to be a great show. "London here we come" NOT!

gazzathom40April 10th 2012.

Fully agree with review - felt sorry for a talented cast flogging a dead horse of a script

John MorsonApril 10th 2012.

thankfully I have never been all inclusive in turkey or spain so bow to the writers greater knowledge of that. as far as this show goes could not disagree more we went last week and can honestly say from the rest of the audiences applause we all thoroughly enjoyed it it was light hearted fun maybe he expected too much from it

AnonymousApril 10th 2012.

If you have done quite a few musicals in your time, like myself, then don't bother seeing this as you'll be disappointed. I found it dull and almost left at the interval but my partner enjoyed it and wanted to stay. The supporting cast had better voices than the main monkees.

Peter MarcusApril 15th 2012.

The 2nd half may have been better than the first, but we shall never know. We were, by then, far, far away, having taking the long-awaited interval as our cue to gather our belongings and flee. Never mind the actors, who were doing their very best. The concept and script is shockingly weak, and the direction is the poorest I've ever seen. I've never seen actors so obviously embarrassed by the mess they had found themselves in, but they were right to be. This was mindless and banal, and the review is, if anything, over kind.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Barry ShallcroftApril 17th 2012.

Concept and script shockingly weak - yup!
Direction poor - can't argue!
Embarrassed cast - hmmm, just about give you that.
Mindless and banal - quite so!
To be honest, all those descriptions could have been/were applied to The Monkees shows - and were just as valid then.
Seems that the reviewer and most posters have missed the point. This show was just like a modern day Monkees show. Stayed the course and when we left the theatre, the other half said "It was so bad, it was good", and I had to agree. We wandered back to St Peter's Square with daft grins on our faces humming the songs. Would we go to see it again? Nope! Are we glad we saw it?
Too right!

Jack WatersApril 20th 2012.

What are people moaning about ? If they don't like corny gags and ridiculous plotlines what the hell were they doing buying tickets for a Monkees musical ? Were they expecting Waiting for Godot set to music ? It was hilarious and actually much funnier than the original shows. If these people had a sense of humour they would have noticed all the clever one liners that the TV show never had. I loved the one about the changing room looking like the place where they shot the tsar and the French song with Micky singing Je ne regrette rien to the tune of Hey Hey We're The Monkees.

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