I’d never heard of Ellie Greenwich, but I was intrigued to see Leader of the Pack, a jukebox musical about the songwriter. Greenwich wrote or co-wrote numerous hits: Be My Baby, Then He Kissed Me, Da Doo Ron Ron, Christmas (Baby Please Come Home), Chapel of Love, River Deep Mountain High, and of course the title track. With such an impressive list of pop hits to her name, I was looking forward to the show.
The musical tells the story of Greenwich’s rise from a schoolgirl wannabe songwriter to well-known hitmaker. As her professional career goes from strength to strength, all is not well with her personal life, as her happy marriage with her songwriting partner Jeff Barry turns sour. I thought this sounded a bit too similar to Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, currently playing in the West End, but in fact Leader of the Pack was first produced long before Beautiful, originally playing at the Bottom Line in Greenwich Village.
In many ways the show is formulaic, a simple life story told with appropriately-placed songs one after the other, some performed by Ellie and her friends, others by the groups they were written for. However, the talented cast really lifted the show for me. The trio of Sophia Mackay (Darlene), Lottie-Daisy Francis (Ronnie) and Melissa Park (Barbara) performed superbly and managed to differentiate their numerous characters during their performances, as well as showing great chemistry with their fellow performers. Perry Meadowcraft was very good as famous producer Phil Spector, while John Sandberg was also strong as Jerry Leiber and Matthew Quinn excellent as Jeff Barry. One of my favourite characters was Nancy, the Brill Building’s receptionist: played by Emma Fraser, she provided some fantastic humorous moments. Abi Finley was marvellous as Ellie herself, a superb singer and excellent actress, capturing her character’s despair when her life gets her down as well as her talent, enthusiasm and determination in the recording studio.
The story itself isn’t the most riveting, and the book is slightly dull. Nevertheless, the other elements of the show made up for this. The enthusiasm of the cast is infectious and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.