Review: Rhinestone Mondays – Mercury Theatre, Colchester

All that glistens isn’t gold and, in the case of flamboyant line dancing costumes, it could easily be Rhinestone. Sadly, with new musical comedy Rhinestone Mondays the promise of sparkle also turns out to be equally hollow.

Over five Monday evenings, a line dancing club desperately try and get their cowboy boots synchronised ahead of a major line dancing convention in Bognor Regis. It doesn’t bode well that this mixed bag of dancers have little in common with each other and even less coordination.

The group are desperate to invoke the American Dream but this isn’t some Texan Rodeo, instead a dingy social club bar, desperate to cling onto the handful of remaining customers it has.

Against the battle of the tasselled boots and rhinestone jackets, class teacher Annie and local karaoke singer Tom are locked in their own romantic scuffle. And that’s about the sole level of emotional understanding we get about any of the characters. Writer Joe Graham has created a series of stock comedy stereotypes rather than any three dimensional characters. A comedy grandmother, a nervous slipper-clad singleton, a camp tap dancing Welshman, an obsessive film fan, and a predatory cougar. We never get to understand what drives any of the characters, what draws them to this odd assembly, or even what message we are supposed to take away at the end of the night.

At the heart of the piece there is a workable stage comedy but, oddly, for a billed musical it would work so much better if the songs were ditched and more time spent on developing character and plot.

The musical numbers aren’t helped by the karaoke backing track arrangements that the cast valiantly sing along to, nor the musical staging that sees many of the numbers performed in a fixed solo spotlight, that somehow manages to cut off many of the performances.

For a successful ‘jukebox’ musical, the numbers need to seamlessly integrate into the action and either drive the narrative forward or provide commentary on the drama, apart from a couple of brief moments here (renditions of John Denver’s Annie’s Song and Tammy Wynette’s standard Stand By Your Man) the musical arrangements are so mismatched that all they supply is a leaden weight to the piece.

There is a – literally – show-stealing performance from Shaun Williamson as barman Brian, while Faye Tozer and Anthony Topham are vocally strong and try their best with the limited material as lovers Annie and Tom. There are also strong vocal performances from former New Seeker Lyn Paul and Tozer’s fellow Steps bandmate Ian H Watkins, though neither manage to flesh out any depth to their paper thin characters.

The cast do try valiantly and a spirited finale coaxes the audience out of their seats for an obligatory line dance but the lingering feeling here is that the show could have been so much more but needs considerable work if its lengthy UK tour is to be a success.

In Rhinestone Cowboy, Glen Campbell sings about offers coming over the phone; sadly that phone isn’t likely to be ringing with bookings, and on this showing, this is one line dance you won’t want to get in the queue for.

Photo: Ian H Watkins in Rhinestone Mondays. Photo by Robert Day

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