Chris Eldon Lee reviews Club Tropicana, which is at Wolverhampton Grand until Saturday 4th of May.
I’m not sure if ‘Club Tropicana’ is best described as frothy nonsense, or nonsensical froth. Probably a bit of both. But, actually, it is musically wonderful and disgracefully funny.
Last night’s audience was clapping along within five seconds of the start (two seconds faster than the season’s fastest Premiership goal) and howling with laughter within ten seconds at Joe McElderry’s ever-so-camp Holiday Rep stand-up routine. His “Ray of Sunshine from the Tyne” act naughtily sets us up for a show with no shame.
There’s also practically no plot. What passes for Michael Gyngell’s storyline appears to be cobbled together from John Cleese’s “Fawlty Towers Hotel Inspector” and Noel Coward’s “Private Lives”… probably early drafts of both, found in a waste paper basket.
He also introduces, not one, but two, on-off love stories. Panicky Lorraine (feistily portrayed by Karina Hind), backs out of her wedding to Cellen Chugg Jones’ Olly (a bright, shiny Teflon character). But they both end up at the same Spanish hotel where the managers, Serena (played rather mumsily by Amelle Beerrabah) and smooth-talking Robert (Neil McDermott), should be making up more than just the guests’ beds. Oh dear! Will they ever get together? Give them a couple of hours and there’s bound to be two pantomime weddings.
But the plot matters not. This is a bouncing, bountiful show with scores of 1980s hit songs, intercut with witty one-liners, some fabulously funny dialogue, and danced with so much gusto even the Grand Circle was breathless.
The entire show is, however, completely upstaged by Kate Robbins. In her calf-length stockings (half-masting below her bri-nylon house coat) and her extremely dodgy Spanish accent, she creates a character that might easily be the love child of Manuel and Mrs. Overall.
She staggers arthritically around the stage like a donkey in labour. The show is shamelessly slewed (they throw in a fancy-dress talent contest) to give her space to display her amazing mimicry – from Tina Turner to Margaret Thatcher via Cilla Black. He leads the onslaught … as a succession of 80s icons are bulldozed to dust. “Blind Date” is demolished. Three quarters of The Village People are ridiculed, and the Buck’s Fizz Eurovision Song Contest ripping routine is mercilessly reversed, to the howling delight of every woman in the audience. A rather hackneyed knife-throwing routine is given a new twist when placed in an equally hackneyed flamenco show; which only goes to prove that two old set pieces are better than one.
The immaculate five-piece band roars through the repertoire of smash hits – and medleys of smash hits – as if there is no tomorrow; from Haircut One Hundred’s “Fantastic Day”, though Diana Ross’s “Physical” (cue Kate Robbins’ aerobics) to Aha’s “Take On Me”. Remarkably, the songs really do fit the storyline; even – bizarrely – “Weema-weh”. The one song that’s missing is, ironically, “Club Tropicana”. Perhaps Wham’s management thought better of it.
Meanwhile, Nick Winston’s choreography also has a decidedly 80s feel – an era when dance acts were having to out-cavort each other (often ungainly, I always thought) to break new ground on “Top of the Pops”.
All in all, it is a hugely infectious, laugh-a-minute, song-a-second show. As a semi-serious reviewer, I arrived expecting not to love it. Instead, I loved it so much, my theatrical credibility is now in ruins.
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