My Very Own British Invasion
A musical fable of Rock N’Love
By Rick Elice
Based on an idea by Peter Noone
Through Sunday, March 3
Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn
By GWEN OREL
“My Very Own British Invasion” has cracked a jukebox musical problem.
Use the lyrics as if they’re part of the plot, and you get David Bowie’s cool but confusing “Lazarus.”
Be literal and you get “Trip of Love,” in which “Up, Up and Away” was sung with a big air balloon in the background.
A show that uses the songs as a score, like the bizarre, wonderful “Head Over Heels,” which used Go-Go’s songs to retell Edmund Spenser’s “The Faerie Queen” is a different kind of jukebox musical altogether (More like “An American in Paris,” really.)
Bio-dramas can feel rushed.
“British Invasion” succeeds.
The Paper Mill show ought to head on to Broadway too.
It’s hella fun.
It’s got a good beat, you can dance to it.
Sure, the plot is silly. But it’s not “and then I wrote.” It has just enough remember-when.
You get to sing. And listen.
And what songs: “For Your Love.” “I Only Want to Be with You.” “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” “Time of the Season.” “She Loves You.”
You know them from versions by Yardbirds, Dusty Springfield, the Rolling Stones, the Zombies, and yes, the Beatles.
Harmonies and orchestrations are delightful and sometimes surprising (credit to Francisco Centeno, Clint De Ganon, Lon Hoyt and John Putnam for orchestrations; Lon Hoyt for music arrangements).
The final chord in “Go Now” took my breath away.
Rick Elice, who wrote “The Cher Show,” now playing on Broadway, wrote the witty book.
“British Invasion” is based on a concept by Peter Noone, whom Boomers and most Gen X-ers will know as “Herman” of “Herman’s Hermits.”
A star at “not quite 16,” Peter (Jonny Amies), who also narrates, gets into the “Bag O’Nails” club with help from John Lennon, who buys him a drink.
The Bag O’Nails is owned by African American expat Geno (Kyle Taylor Parker), whose crooning of Motown gorgeously cuts the Herman’s Hermits sugar pop.
In the club we meet Mary Quant (Gemma Baird), the Beatles (Douglas Goodheart as John), and other teens. Most of the stars of the British Invasion were 20 or younger.
A love triangle involves Peter; Marianne Faithfull lookalike Pamela (Erika Olson); and seeming Mick-inspired bad boy Trip (Conor Ryan). She tours in America and both lads follow.
It’s a pity the whole show couldn’t stay in London with the fascinating swinging scene.
In America, when Peter stops singing the silly “Henry the Eighth” and goes into “We Gotta Get Out of this Place” instead, it feels like a fantasy for both character and audience. A guitar line (a line of actors all holding guitars!) actually thrills as it opens Act Two. Olson belting “House of the Rising Sun” will make your hair curl.
True fans will know some of the chronology doesn’t work (“Born to Be Wild” really doesn’t overlap with “There’s a Kind of Hush”).
But never mind.
Andrew Lazaro’s gorgeous projections sometimes set the scene, sometimes the emotion, and always amaze.
Amies, making his American debut, holds the show together: he’s adorable, with a sweet and strong voice; he’s actually playing that guitar; and he even looks like a teenager. Keep an eye on this lad! Well done to director Jerry Mitchell, who choreographed, for paying attention to each performance: Travis Artz as Ed Sullivan dances hilariously; John Sanders’ manager Fallon radiates smarm with originality, and Ryan’s egotistical Trip gives us charisma, vanity, humor and great pipes when he performs. It’s a tour de force. And to the credit of Elice and Noone, Trip is not just the Antagonist, but a multilayered character.
And a note on the merchandising: the gear, is gear, as they (used to) say.
Earrings made out of the 45 lp inserts? Check. Tote-bags from “Yellow Submarine?” Gorgeous. CDs of “Herman’s Hermits?”
Sure, the songs are silly, but they are catchy and lovable, too.