JOYCE MCMILLAN on JACKIE THE MUSICAL at the Gardyne Theatre, Dundee, for The Scotsman 24.9.13.
3 stars ***
JAM, JUTE, JOURNALISM; and now a jukebox musical based on one of Dundee’s iconic journalistic products. Jackie magazine was launched in 1964, just as a new wave of home-grown pop music began to transform British youth culture for ever, and survived until 1993. And writer Mike James’s new show Jackie The Musical – sponsored by Dundee’s Gardyne Theatre and the Jackie’s publisher D.C. Thomson – looks back at the magazine’s 1970’s heyday, when the show’s lovely heroine Jackie, now in her early 50’s, was a teenage schoolgirl, avid not only for the magazine’s famous celebrity posters and picture-stories, but for the advice on everything from kissing to homework offered by the legendary agony aunts, Cathy and Claire.
There’s nothing subtle or surprising about the approach adopted by Mike James, with musical director Ben Goddard and director Geinor Styles. In a show that deftly brings together the successful genres of tribute musical and girls’-night-out show, James’s script shows us middle-aged Jackie trying to survive a heartbreaking divorce with the help of her Jackie-reading younger self, full of authentic 1970’s love tips; while the band – deftly formed by a shifting team of male cast members – leads the company through a sure-fire playlist of Seventies hits, from What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted to Hold Me Close.
If the storyline is pure cliche, though, Maggie Rawlinson’s choreography is terrific, full of classic Pan’s People moves. The 15-strong ensemble fizz with energy and skill, James’s script is deft, witty and throroughly theatrical. And in the central role of middle-aged Jackie, Karen Ascoe gives a delightful performance, so heartfelt, elegant and funny that the show becomes irresistible; not because it tells us anything we don’t already know about the perils of middle-aged love, but because it mines a rich seam of female popular culture neglected for too long, and does it with enthusiasm, respect and love.