Jackie The Musical review at Churchill Theatre, Bromley – ‘cheerfully retro’
“Older women rule!”, says the placard that a young man holds aloft at the finale of Jackie The Musical. He’s already proved his own credentials in that department by falling in unrequited love for the best friend of his mum, which may be a bit of wish-fulfillment for the target audience – predominantly female and over 50 – of this cheerfully retro musical.
Built around the most popular girls’ teen magazine of its time, now fondly boxed up in an attic, the plot revolves around their owner, a 54-year-old newly single woman called Jackie who has been dumped by her husband of 30 years for a younger woman. The show wears its heart on its (record) sleeve, as it provides parallel portraits of her now and as a teenager to the accompaniment of a pop soundtrack. As with Mamma Mia!, this is a jukebox musical about female empowerment, but instead of exploring a mother and daughter relationship here the central one is between two versions of the same woman, both facing uncertain futures at different times of life. Both she and the audience are anchored by the familiarity of the pop score, which ranges from standards like Hold Me Close and I Love to Love (But My Baby Loves to Dance) to Love is in the Air and Enough is Enough, all set to pitch-perfect period choreography by Arlene Phillips.
Book writer Mike James shoe-horns in the songs with some clunky gear changes, but the show survives thanks to the sincerity and goodwill shown towards it on both sides of the footlights. Janet Dibley is a delight as Jackie, trying to rebuild her life against the odds, and Graham Bickley, as the affably lost deserting husband, is ideal casting both vocally and physically, while Michael Hamway is also a charmer as their son and Lori Haley Fox a strong presence as Jackie’s best friend.