Songs from Comrade Rockstar – based on the life of Dean Reed – Review
Is there room for another new rock musical? Some new British musicals seem to have veered away from the rock and roll beats of a previous generation. There's still a market for it, with the continuing popularity of School of Rock The Musical, for instance. And let's not forget the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, putting on a revival of Jesus Christ Superstar as its summer musical for the second year in a row. Now Comrade Rockstar, despite its title, turns out not to be a rock musical in the first place. Though set in the days of the Cold War, it is not a jukebox musical of Dean Reed's previous material either, leaving its creatives to tell an original story without having to fit it around existing narratives in existing songs.
The 'I wish' or 'I want' song, usually a few songs into a musical (think 'Wouldn't It Be Loverly?' from My Fair Lady or 'The Wizard and I' from Wicked), is the opening number here. 'Driving Ambition' is pretty self-explanatory, and a suitably upbeat opener. But the next two numbers only underline the same dream about wanting to get away from the status quo and hit the big time. At least Dean Reed (Tim Howar) has actually "packed his bags" in 'Smallville, Colorado', and he's quite certain he's 'Gonna Be' "a star". Does this show really need three songs to make just one point? The words 'sledgehammer' and 'nut' come to mind, although I am conscious that in the full version of the musical, there may be more of a smoother arc in the narrative than the cast recording puts across.
Either way, the storyline fortunately picks up from there. Howar is suitably cast in the lead role; his fans and followers will be aware of his own track record with the chart music group Mike + The Mechanics. Of the supporting roles, I very much enjoyed Lucy Schaufer's strong vocals in the role of Ruth, Dean Reed's mother, and Caroline Sheen as Patti, Reed's first wife. Elsewhere, some good tunes that might as well have been from Dean Reed's era grant some authenticity to the show, including 'My First Love', and 'Before Goodbye', the latter quite a traditional musical theatre soaring melody. For the most part, though, it's tunes like 'Minnesota' and 'Wonderful Girls', soft and pleasant tunes, that form the most prevalent musical style. It's far from the song-and-dance extravaganza of the upbeat musicals of our time, but it fits the plotline perfectly.
Just as I thought there may be too many tunes that sound similar, along comes the title track, which closes Act One, adopting its summary-to-date approach in an optimistic manner. There's a good amount of variation in the style and tempo of the last few numbers, too. The ending of the show, however, is hardly going to send its audience out on a high, and I daresay it's a bold move to have such a dark conclusion as this. Yes, Miss Saigon ends in tragedy too, but at least it is for the apparent benefit of the heroine's son. Comrade Rockstar is true to life, though, insofar as we don't always get what we want.
I have some admiration for Dean Reed (or at least this version of him - the musical makes no claims to be historically accurate) in standing up for his beliefs and principles, even if I don't personally share very many of them. In a similar fashion, the creative team behind this show should be applauded for putting out a surprisingly visceral and inviting cast recording. I would be interested in seeing a full-scale production in the future.
Review by Chris Omaweng
On Monday 15th May 2017, SimG Records, the leading independent British label devoted to new musical theatre writers and artists, is to release COMRADE ROCKSTAR.
Comrade Rockstar is a new rock musical based on the life of Dean Reed, the Soviet Elvis, with book and lyrics by Julian Woolford and music by Richard John. Reed was an American who defected to the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War to become the biggest star behind the Iron Curtain, only to see his life and dreams collapse as Perestroika crumbled the Eastern Bloc.
A glorious collection of West End vocalists were assembled to record 'Songs From Comrade Rockstar'; starring Tim Howar (Rock Of Ages) as Dean Read, with Kim Ismay (Mamma Mia), Caroline Sheen (Les Mis, Mary Poppins), Andy Conaghan (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), Lucy Schaufer, Yvette Robinson, Orla Gormley and Katy Secombe (Les Mis).
A concert was presented in 2015, and was met with great response; 'Comrade Rockstar represents
an excellent contribution to new musical theatre'
Musical Theatre Review