The 60’s music generating from London and the young musicians that hung out at The Bag O’Nails club in London, are at the forefront of My Very Own British Invasion, which opened last night at Paper Mill Playhouse.Opening Night video by Magda Katz
Based on an idea by Peter Noone, the front man for Herman’s Hermits, we see versions of what seem like Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull and Noone himself. Behind this Broadway bound musical are director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell and Rick Elice who wrote the book. The infectious sound track, is the music of the era.
We follow Peter (newcomer and soon to be star Jonny Amies) as the underage wanna be who gets befriended by John Lennon (Bryan Fenkart) and enters the club. There he spots rocker chick Pamela (a terrific Erika Olsen), who he instantly crushes on. Pamela dates bad boy fellow rocker Trip (Conner Ryan) and sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll ensue.
Pamela stands up for what she wants, even though for the most part it is self destructive. Pamela and Peter are from two different worlds and in the end her love for Peter is shown by staying away from him. First love when lost is always painful.
Through this all we get the soulful sounds of Herman’s Hermits hits, such as “I’m Into Something Good,” “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter,” “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat,” “There’s a Kind of Hush,” and “I’m Henry the Eighth, I Am”. Interlaced are hits by The Beatles, Dave Clark Five, The Animals, Rolling Stones, Dusty Springfield, Steppenwolf, The Yardbirds and others, wonderfully arranged by Lon Hoyt and orchestrated by Hoyt, Francisco Centeno, Clint de Ganon, and John Putnam.
The problem here for the most part is the book, which needs to be honed and kept in the era. You could not buy things off the TV in 1964 – 1966. We also need to understand the relationship between Trip and Pamela. Seeing them when they were first starting out, young and innocent would be a start. Trip needs to be as important as Peter, so that characters can be fleshed out instead of one-dimensional. This may be the British music invasion, but this should also be an invasion of the heart. Everyone can relate to that.
Jonny Amies as Peter, is a star on the rise. Just out of drama school in Britain, Amies brings youth, innocence and the “it” factor to the stage in spades. When he sings the heartbreaking “She’s Not There” we hurt for him, even though we know he was saved a lifetime of heartache. As the girl who two boys love, Erika Olsen brings a sexiness to the self-destructing Pamela. She is the embodiment of the woman who wanted their rights heard and also brings a little bit of Dusty Springfield to mind. As the self obsessed rocker Trip, Conor Ryan (Desperate Measures) has all the right moves, but we never believe that he loves Pamela except for the dialogue and the confessional “You’re My World”. We need to see more of the conflict between bad boy and the person in love.
Kyle Taylor Parker (Smokey Joe’s Cafe) steals the show as Geno, but unless you really know music, you will not know that he is playing the American singer Geno Washington, who is also Noone’s brother-in-law. This is kind of important, as back then black singers in Britain were not the norm as they were in America. Parker’s vocals are pure bliss and he is a stand out as is Trista Dollison when she is given tidbits to sing.
John Sanders has a fabulous rock voice, but his character as the manipulative manager Fallon, needs re-writing. Jen Perry gets a few nice moments as Peter’s Mum, but again the character needs some better moments. Daniel Stewart Sherman as the goon Hammer, is believable, but we need to know why he gets Pamela hooked on drugs. Bryan Fenkart, is a chameleon and the smaller roles he takes on are each distinct. Kudos to this ensemble, who is multi talented as they play guitar, sing in lush harmony and add the energy of the era to their gyrating dancing skills.
Jerry Mitchell has directed this with aplomb and I can see this show coming to Broadway with some rewriting and becoming a hit. The music is compelling, the era missed and the innocents of the time longed for.
Peter Noone has a vast amount of fans who fawned over the still handsome singer. If you miss this show, you can catch Noone live as he sings the songs he made famous with Herman’s Hermits.
My Very Own British Invasion: Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ. Through March 3rd.