More tribute concert than theatre, Be Bop A Lula nevertheless is a rambunctious, fun-filled show, perfectly pitched at its audience of rock ‘n’ roll lovers.
The play opens with Spencer Envoy flipping idly through a book before grabbing the microphone and launching into a grandiose (and very simplified!) history of rock ‘n’ roll since the Stone Age. The play is framed within the format of a live radio show, enabling DJ Envoy to link between performances, keeping the show flowing smoothly – and even occasionally joining in on the saxophone!
Both Lars Young and Gavin Stanley have excellent voices, crooning effortlessly through a medley of hits, Young displaying a particularly impressive falsetto as Roy Orbison. They are ably assisted by backing band The Wild Caps, who also provide linking music and songs between the main acts.
Young does an especially good job of differentiating between the rock stars, with a slinking, animalistic turn as Gene Vincent. However, the real show-stealer is Peter Gill as Jerry Jee Lewis, s surprise addition whose wild rendition of ‘Great Balls of Fire’ leaves the audience in stitches as he amps up the camp, kicking over stools and sitting on piano keys.
To those who are not rock ‘n’ roll aficionados, the names celebrated in the show may be unfamiliar, and a moving tribute to Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and JP Richardson, the victims of the 1959 plane crash, ensures the great names are not brushed aside. However, Bebop A Lula is all about reviving the stars of Billy Fury, Roy Orbison, Gene Vincent and Eddie Chochran, and it certainly makes a great case for doing so.
From the moment the curtain rises the audience are hooked, clapping and jigging along in their seats. Some even took to dancing in the aisles – and here lies the main problem. Be Bop A Lula seems unsuited to a theatre performance, better fitted to the music halls where it is has been performed before – somewhere the audience can really let loose and dance along, as so many clearly wanted to do.