MY VERY OWN BRITISH INVASION – Paper Mill Playhouse

MY VERY OWN BRITISH INVASION, experiencing a world premiere at the Paper Mill Playhouse, is the penultimate cut-and-paste jukebox musical. Take a story suggested by Peter Noone, based on himself as lead singer of the 1960s British pop group Herman’s Hermits and glue-in 27 pop ditties (plus 4 reprises), including all of the Hermits hits plus some chart-toppers from the Animals, and (very early) Beatles, Stones , etc.

The repetitive nature of the musical format is as mind-numbing as the book. In a London rock club in 1964, the young Peter, boyish in appearance and stature but a hit with the ladies, vies for the attention of the slightly older, sexy, mini-skirted singer Pamela, more-or-less steady girlfriend of bad-ass, libidinous rocker Trip. To get Pamela away from the Peter’s charms, Trip conspires to put her on an American tour, which is her road to perdition. Peter, on his own US gig, rescues her, and brings her back home only to lose her to the low-life and Trip, but Peter emerges wiser for it.

Figures like Beatles manager Brian Epstein and fashionista Mary Quant wander in and out of the London scene but celebrity provides no relief in this A-to-B-and-back-to-A book by Rick Elice, who with this and and his award-winning JERSEY BOYS has penned both the worst and best jukebox musicals ever. Director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell, responsible for the kick-ass KINKY BOOTS knows better, too.

The cast goes through its paces, hits its marks, and delivers the songs but nothing connects with the audience. Conor Ryan as rocker Trip channels Mick Jagger but presents more Joe Cocker. Kyle Taylor Parker as Geno, the rock club emcee, inspired perhaps by Smokey Robinson, reminded me more of Luther Vandross, who has no context here. Pamela, I suppose, might recall Marianne Faithful …. oh, forget it. It doesn’t matter.

The one consistently appealing feature of MY VERY OWN BRITISH INVASION is Jonny Aimes, a recent drama grad from London, who makes his professional theatre debut as Peter. He’s totally charming, with genuine presence. The kid’s got a future.

As for the relentless, non-stop Sixties Top10 trip down memory lane, MY VERY OWN BRITISH INVASION reminds us most of the songs really weren’t that great then and they’re certainly not any better now.

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