“Will they still be playing it in 30 years’ time?”, asks Ray Davies of his song Sunny Afternoon when it is first released in 1966. Not only are they still playing it nearly 50 years later, it is also now the title track for a joyous new jukebox musical, first premiered at Hampstead Theatre in May and now a welcome addition to the West End roster.
Beside the composite jukeboxes made up of the songs of many artists like the Commitments or the tribute shows like Thriller Live, this does a lot more: it chronicles a biographical tale of the early career of the British band the Kinks and their front man and songwriter Davies, much in the way that Jersey Boys does for Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.
Swapping the latter show’s New Jersey for the Kinks’s Muswell Hill gives it more local resonance. But there’s also something hearteningly British about it, too, from the 60s fashions it wears to its references. It has been lovingly assembled with a wittily impressionistic, occasionally impassioned, book by Joe Penhall, that brings the band’s internal and external struggles to full-bodied, three-dimensional life.
Edward Hall’s production has more room to breathe on the West End stage, with the action spilling happily beyond it into the stalls via a ramp that bisects the front rows. There is also some cabaret seating at the front and back of the stalls to add to the atmosphere.
Most of the Hampstead cast remain, led as before by the superb John Dagleish as Davies and George Maguire as his brother Dave.