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Could it be magic? Maybe with a little more cheese

PUBLISHED: 13:44 11 September 2008 | UPDATED: 17:23 16 August 2010

STARS: Chesney Hawkes, Francesca Jackson and Siobhan Dillon.

STARS: Chesney Hawkes, Francesca Jackson and Siobhan Dillon.

FANS of cheesy Cliff Richard films – especially Summer Holiday – should feel right at home with the new Barry Manilow musical

FANS of cheesy Cliff Richard films - especially Summer Holiday - should feel right at home with the new Barry Manilow musical Can't Smile Without You, performed last week at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley, writes Mark Campbell.

Could it be magic? Well, it certainly seemed that way to the predominantly middle-aged female audience on press night.

One-hit-wonder Chesney Hawkes is wannabe rock star Tony Lowiman, trying to make it big in America. Unfortunately, a jealous fan punches him in the head and he loses his memory - along with the love of sexy PA Mandy (Siobhan Dillon).

The plots of these so-called 'Jukebox Musicals' are notoriously crass, but this one is worse than most. Timothy Prager's story makes little sense, switching randomly from place to place (while, confusingly, retaining the same London cyclorama) and avoiding any attempt at consistent characterization.

And with 27 musical numbers to squeeze in, it's much, much too long. That said, Hawkes does deliver the setpiece songs with panache, although the less said about his acting the better. Former Maria contestant Siobhan Dillon is fabulous as the initially ice-cool Mandy, her clear, emotionally charged voice echoing the late, great Karen Carpenter. Francesca Jackson is strong too as rock chick Lucy, while Howard Samuels shamelessly hogs the stage as the diminutive 'New Yoik' music manager Jeff. Although billed as a Barry Manilow musical, the only reference to the singer is a coy joke about 'Lowiman' being an anagram, and the occasional wink to the audience when a familiar song title is mentioned.

But when virtually every one of these songs incorporates a Eurovision-style key change (sometimes two), Can't Smile Without You makes the fatal mistake of taking itself too seriously.

I can't help thinking that if had been more cheesy, it would have been a lot more fun.

Then again, some of Manilow's songs are really rather good. The rising chords of Could It Be Magic? are hauntingly evocative, while the heartfelt drive of his first hit Mandy is uncompromisingly irresistible.

And for sheer camp spectacle, the showstopping 'Copacabana' - here presented as Act Two's big dance number - is hard to beat.

* Can't Smile Without You is showing at the Orchard (01322 220 000) until September 13. The Churchill's next production is All the Fun of the Fair with David Essex, starting on September 12. Tickets: 0870 060 6620.

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