Spector with the Beatgirls

ARTS, Music, Theatre & Performing Arts

Written and directed by Andrea Sanders
Circa Theatre | July 14-28

Phil Spector, the man who straddled the music industry and lived to tell the tale, has proven to be a veritable gold mine in the excessively capable hands of New Zealand’s favourite girl group, the Beatgirls.

The biography of Spector’s enviably varied career of pop-music production provides the framework for 90 minutes of toe-tapping tribute. Musical visionary/collaborator extraordinaire/madman of fame and fortune, his accolades include the virtual creation of the ’60s girl group (The Crystals, The Ronettes, and The Chiffons are all given due mention), the development of his “wall of sound” recording technique, and collaborative recordings with many of pop’s greats (The Righteous Brothers, The Ramones, The Beatles, John Lennon, and Tina Turner were all touched by our Midas).

For anyone who may find the idea of non-stop pop renditions demanding, never fear for the songs are interspersed with Spector’s bio, complete with anecdotes both loveable and morbid.  With his eventual fall in popularity, a history of severe neuroticism, and the 2003 murder of actress Lana Clarkson (later unsuccessfully contested by Spector in court), the narrative is almost as glamorous as the music that accommodates it, artfully devised by Andrea Sanders and the collective.

The Beatgirls (Sanders, Caroline McLaughlin, Kali Kopae) excel in every particular; voices are crisp and clear, and can grow and diminish in intensity with ease. Even more impressive is each member’s capacity to perform lead and back-up vocals, to the credit of their skill, professionalism and dedication. Spector’s own ‘To Know Him Is To Love Him’ had me on the precarious edge of my seat. The choreography is nuanced with all the finger clicking and head bopping the ’60s can afford, with a marked difference as the eras move forward (Lennon’s ‘Give Peace A Chance’ is at times so sway-heavy I was sure any one of them were to topple over. Thankfully, I was wrong.) Beyond their considerable vocal accomplishments, the Beatgirls are thoroughly engaging storytellers, who seem to enjoy telling Spector’s story as much as those who receive it.

I would be greatly at fault not to mention the brilliant Jason Chasland, who for the duration of the show has been dubbed an honorary Beatgirl. A voice of remarkable scale and breadth, any attempt at description seems more infomercial than observation; he croons a lullaby one moment and discharges a power ballad the next. His impersonations are hilarious for their accuracy and comic timing, whilst his natural stage persona is staggeringly confident. B.E. King’s ‘Spanish Harlem’ is an all-time personal favourite and I am pleased to say Chasland did not disappoint. There is a small question of his Ray Charles that verged on poor taste, and a slight tendency to lose clarity, but for the most part he was a crowd favourite and justifiably so.

Beneath a canopy of white paper lanterns, three circular daises occupy a grid of white floor stickers. On an otherwise entirely black background, this sparse geometric scheme resembles precisely what one would expect from the swingin’ ’60s, an effect rather brilliantly reversed by the Beatgirls’ polka-dotted costumes, their subsequent changes always eliciting a joyous response (set by Rose Kirkup, costumes by Paul Jenden, Anne Scott and Andrea Sanders, respectively).

This is a good night out, quite frankly. Quirky, fun, upbeat. So if you feel like a sing-a-long, or maybe just have a hankering for nostalgia, pop along and enjoy the ride.