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Review: Sunny Afternoon at Sunderland Empire

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Rock N Roll Musical Hits Sunderland

Sunny Afternoon
Until Saturday 8th October 2016

Photo Kevin Cummins
British band The Kinks have a wonderful back catalogue thanks to their songwriter Ray Davies. He combined the world he lived in with memorable music to produce great hits such as All Day And All Of The Night, You Really Got Me, Waterloo Sunset, Lola andDedicated Follower of Fashion. The musical Sunny Afternoon has all of those hits wrapped up in a story of a band that refused to compromise. The resultant show is delicious evening of entertainment.

Photo Kevin Cummins
Jukebox musicals either follow a random story that vaguely links the songs together like Our House, Mamma Mia or Dreamboats and Petticoats, or they tell the story of the band like in Jersey Boys. Sunny Afternoon follows the latter model and looks at the rise in fame of The Kinks. From a band which considered themselves lucky to get a gig at a birthday party to a band playing the likes of Madison Square Gardens. The book by Joe Penhall, based upon Ray Davies original story, shows the trouble the band often faced as  it stuck to its socialist principles.

Photo Kevin Cummins
The show runs for 2 ¾ hours partly down to the lack of compromise of which songs to cover. Indeed, unlike many jukebox musicals, there is little mashing up of lesser hits in to medlies – here we get decent length versions of the hits. Lets face it, with this back catalogue – you should flaunt it.  The musicians are on stage with musical director Barney Ashworth and guitarist Andy Gammon. The lines between a musical and a gig are sometimes blurred but that’s just the nature of the beast.

Photo Kevin Cummins
The story begins in Muswell Hill as 4 lads try to be successful and make a living out of their music. Drummer Mick (Andrew Gallo) and bassist Pete (Garmon Rhys) were often out of the limelight behind the Davies brothers. Ray Davies (Ryan O’Donnell) goes through live writing songs about his experiences when his brother Dave (Mark Newham) comes up with a distorted, loud power chord. After a flew flops they now had a number one hit on their hands.

Photo Kevin Cummins
The story shows how they, like many bands, signed contracts that ensured the money went to many other people rather than the band. Ray falls in love with Rasa (Lisa Wright) and having a young family adds additional pressure to the band dynamic. The Kinks were also pioneering in taking on the USA and they quickly faced now problems on the huge tours of the States.

Photo Kevin Cummins
There is the natural humour that comes from the behaviour of the brothers but there’s also some tongue in cheek humour in the references to John Lennon, Keith Richards, Paul McCartney and others.  There is also some swearing but it isn’t over the top.

Photo Kevin Cummins
The action takes place on a fab set, designed by Miriam Buether, which is made up of 3 walls of speaker cabinets. The performance space has a catwalk which extends over the orchestra pit and into the stalls.  The sound is often loud, as suits the music, thanks to Matt McKenzie’s design and the lighting design by Rick Fisher adds to the gig like atmosphere.

Photo Kevin Cummins
The music in the show is great. Fabulous musicians coupled with great singing talent help replicate that Kinks sound. No wonder the audience were up on their feet at the end during Lola.  The story works as it feels honest. Ray is a talented songwriter and described the world as he saw it well. It is as if he was writing for a musical back in the 60s. The story shows Dave as a young loose cannon, whilst Pete and Mick get fed up with the proceedings. You feel that ultimately the band is going to struggle to stay as a unit due to the pressure cooker environment it finds itself in.

Photo Kevin Cummins
Sunny Afternoon is a celebration of one of the great 60s British bands that captured the spirit of the times. Great songs and faithful storyline add together to create a musical to cherish.

This review was written by Stephen Oliver the North East Theatre Guide – follow Stephen at @panic_c_button

Photo Kevin Cummins
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Tickets available in person at the Box Office on High Street West, from the Ticket Centre on 0844 871 3022* or online at*
*Calls cost up to 7p per minute plus your standard network charge. Booking fees may apply to telephone and online bookings

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