Last week I got to see the musical Sunny Afternoon which is based on the story of the Kinks and features their music. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve visited the theatre (and have a couple of fingers to spare) and I found it to be a very novel experience.
The show is based on the fortunes of the Kinks from their early days as the Ravens to the summer of 1966 where the show climaxes with the comingling of the band’s musical success and some sort of sporting event that happened that year…
I went to see Sunny Afternoon because one of my students, Ben Caplan, is a member of the cast, playing publisher Eddie Kastner. Ben does a spot of drumming on the show as well as acting and singing; his propulsive groove is on about seven of the songs (unfortunately, I can’t take any credit for his playing on the show). I really enjoyed the show and the music was especially good. The actors playing the four Kinks were all very good musicians and they captured the Kinks’ feel authentically. The rest of the cast members were all involved in the music as well as the acting so there was constant movement on stage as musicians swapped places with each other and became actors and vice versa.
Obviously, all of the songs were great. Apparently Ray Davies is closely involved with the production and with the cast recording of the show’s songs. All of the big hits are there and a few less familiar songs, not to mention a couple of Pretenders songs which turned out to be Kinks songs (as a quick Googling in the intermission confirmed). The story blended with the band’s songs perfectly and the cast was able to move effortlessly from acting scenes to uptempo rock ‘n’ roll to slow numbers to acapella and back again.
I was very impressed with how all of the cast members fulfilled several different roles throughout the play. One moment someone would be managing the band or would be a groupie fawning over Dave Davies then the lighting would change and the manager would be at the back of the stage playing bass on a number in a different shirt and hat and the groupie would be singing backing vocals in a recording scene. This sort of performance looks incredibly challenging to me and I’m amazed at how smoothly everything flowed together.
The atmosphere in the theatre was great and the show’s climax had everyone on their feet. If you like musicals, I’m sure you’d love seeing Sunny Afternoon, I highly recommend it.