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SPECTOR with The BeatGirls and special guest Jason Chasland
Devised / Choreographed by Andrea Sanders with help from the cast
Presented by The BeatGirls

at Circa One, Wellington
From 14 Jul 2012 to 28 Jul 2012

Reviewed by Virginia Kennard, 15 Jul 2012

Split into two Acts, Spector is a biographical trip through the life and music of Phil Spector: record producer, songwriter, Rock and Roll's legendary madman. For opening night, guests were invited to dress up in all things 1960s-70s, in celebration of the songs to be performed – a range of vocal treats produced, written or inspired by Spector – though none of the audience's costumes could live up to the fabulous rainbow dresses that adorn the BeatGirls at the beginning of Act II.

Spector is an impressive range of some 21 well-known hits that showcase the incredible vocal range and talents of the BeatGirls: Andrea Sanders, Caroline McLaughlin and Kali Kopae.

Opening with ‘To Know Him Is To Love Him', Act I is heavily scripted, with fact-laden and initially cringe-worthy text introducing each song. It is a relief when the three performers let loose on more songs, such as ‘Da Doo Ron Ron' and ‘Then He Kissed Me' and visibly relax into their script.

By ‘Baby I Love You', the BeatGirls establish their characters within their dance styles: Maureen (Caroline) the composed and feminine, Doreen (Kali) the kook, and Chlorine (Andrea) the leader. Chlorine engages well: staged trips to the audience feel the most connected from her.

It would be advantageous to the slickness of their choreography to allow the characters to emerge later. Opening night fumbles are well-recovered from in Act II but the dancing could be tighter Act I. The volume in the mikes finally increases so thankfully all their voices can be heard over the backing tracks. Certainly the ad-libbing and fun at their own expense keeps Act II exciting and fresh without the tension of the opening Act.

The arrival on-stage of honorary BeatGirl Jason Chasland ups the energy levels, the BeatGirls demonstrating their prowess as back-up dancers during ‘Pretty Little Angel Eyes' then sublimely pulling back focus with ‘Spanish Harlem', ‘That Loving Feeling', ‘Don't Worry Baby' and ‘I Can Hear Music'.

Jason is easily a limelight-stealer with his spectacular charisma and universe-filling voice, not least with Ray Charles' ‘What I'd Say' in which The Beatgirls' choreography is well-crafted and Jason's superb waddling physicality a crowd favourite. 

Launching with ‘Power to the People', Act II is The Righteous Brothers and John (“Brother”) Lennon-themed, with a more playful script – less fact-based and more story-like.  The songs swing from ‘Give Peace a Chance' and ‘Instant Karma', along ‘The Long and Winding Road' to ‘Let It Be' and (Just Like) ‘Starting Over'.

The arrangement of ‘Imagine' is the only song flop of the night, the original's moving quality lost in the overly dramatic warbling and performance. The renditions of ‘Come Together' and ‘Get Back' are much more enjoyable, with the dance-lyrical talents of Caroline, Kali and Andrea and the unbridled power of Andrea's voice a joy.

The pop ballad ‘Unchained Melody' then ‘River Deep and Mountain High' bring, from all performers, powerful closure to the night, after the well-produced songs of Act I and humorous antics of Act II.

Overall: a superb Spector-inspired spectacle. 
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.

See also reviews by:
 Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] (The Dominion Post);
 Michael Boyes (The Lumiere Reader);


John Smythe posted 15 Jul 2012, 12:58 PM

The visual design elements of Spector deserve special mention, I feel, from one who was there (in the 60s and 70s, I mean, as well as at the show last night).

Rose Kirkup's circular white rostra in a black space abundantly hung with round white paper-lantern lampshades is perfectly complemented by the black-and-white circle prints on the BeatGirls' mini-frocks. Their large black beehive and long-locked hairdos (upon which Amy Winehouse based her retro look), and long black leather boots, complete this authentic evocation of the Mary Quantesque 1960s beautifully.

Then in Act II costume designers Paul Jenden, Anne Scott and Andrea Sanders drape the girls in flowing psychedelic rainbow tones and Jennifer Lal's impeccable lighting also erupts with colour.

They revert to pale blue minis, blonde wigs and white boots for the final segment, which finally acknowledges the dark side of the Spector story, via his girl group The Crystals' non-hit, ‘He Hit Me (and it felt like a kiss). Having recoiled, in the first half, at the BeatGirls' making light of Spector's being in jail for murder – linking it to Gene Pitney's ‘He's A Rebel' – I am pleased to see it confronted seriously, not least because it takes the show beyond the ‘concert' mode and gives it dramatic structure.

While I could do without the gratuitously mean-spirited put-downs of the likes of Cher and Barry Manilow, I love the stoned humour of the second half and the way it blends into their sublime arrangement of John Lennon's ‘Imagine'.

The fabulous musicality and harmonies of the BeatGirls keep me constantly amazed that they are producing this sound ‘live', before our very eyes, and sound designer James Woods must share credit for how it comes over (when the voice /backing-track balance is right). And Jason Chasland's outrageous humour almost upstages his extraordinary vocal range and musical versatility.

By the way, this show is only on for two weeks (until Sat 28 July).  

John Smythe posted 15 Jul 2012, 04:11 PM

Also meant to say that the wittily rhymed interpolations that punctuate the otherwise hypnotic ‘Power to the People' (John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band) are a welcome way of revitalising some of that 70s social revolutionary feel. Right on!