New York boasted of Studio 54, Manchester The Hacienda, but Dublin still has Copper Face Jacks. One of the city’s most recognised nightclubs, Copper Face Jacks has been the catalyst for countless nights of passion, endless walks of shame, and hundreds upon hundreds of happy ever afters. Yet, as is often the case with gettin’ the ride, the course of true love never runs smooth. In Paul Howard’s deliriously funny “Copper Face Jacks: The Musical,” a modern day Romeo and Juliet, with their attendant Montagues and Capulets, must fight for love amidst the inbred racism, dance floor anthems, and abundance of alcohol that infuse this most revered, and reviled, of Dublin institutions. With its bad dancing, great music, and lovable characters, “Copper Face Jacks: The Musical” pays fitting tribute to the spirit of Ireland’s most inclusive night club. Where teachers and nurses, GAA stars and Gardai, Cultchies and Jackeens alike, dance the night away in search of fun, frolics, and a drunken shift, if you’re lucky enough to pull.
In Howard’s punchy tale, Kerry girl, Noeleen Nic Gearailt, abandoning Cahirciveen for the dangers of Dublin, is just a small town girl living in a lonely world. One where her vibrator, and her ideal job in the VHI, might just open up new experiences beyond those her non-orgasm-giving fiancé, Mossy, could possibly offer her. Strolling into Copper Face Jacks one fateful night, she meets bad, bad Gino Wildes. A Dublin Clamper, with so much swagger, even Conor McGregor wants to be like him, having obviously modelled his look, walk, and even his irresistible confidence on the irrepressible Gino. Dublin’s GAA team captain, Gino hates cultchies, and Fungi the dolphin, with a vengeance. Until, one enchanted evening, he sees a stranger across a crowded, Copper Face floor. As Berlin take their breathe away, their respective friends disapprove of their interracial shenanigans. Will the course of true love win out, especially with an All Ireland final looming between Kerry and Dublin? Will, Mossy, upon discovering the star crossed lovers in flagrante, demand retribution? Will a ghost from Gino's past bring him more than he bargained for? How can you avoid murder on the dance floor, or a duel to the death, where all might be decided on the turn of a final shot glass?
Like a rave off-broadway production “Copper Face Jacks: the Musical,” from an original concept by Darren Smith and Paul Howard, unapologetically goes where others fear to thread and is all the better for it. Resting firmly in the musical territory of Book Of Mormon, it offers a wild, whimsical satire on stereotypes that makes as much fun of the musical as it does its own themes. Themes of identity, be they cultural or sexual, of integration, and inter-culturalism, are embedded in the laughter yet still remain potent. Throughout, directer Karl Harpur channels something of the old music hall's energy and pace into the bawdiness, irreverent humour, and memorable musical numbers that set the night alight, with choreographer, Debbie Kiernan, delightfully reminding us we don’t always look good on the dance floor.
Poor sound at times, a car crash of a set that suggests Harcourt Street The Musical, and some bumpy transitions risk detracting from the overall experience. And yet, in an odd way, like an atrocious pick-up line, even these work on this occasion, contributing to the overall sense of endearing tackiness. Yet where “Copper Face Jacks: The Musical” really shines is in Howard's hilarious script, and Dave McCune and Paul Woodfull’s delicious songs, with lyrics also by Howard. Show tunes like VHI, and the show stopping Bastards…(make great lovers), or the razor edged, I’m Gay, I’m GAA, lodge firmly in the brain as all good show tunes should.
Performances, also, lodge easily in the memory, with a scene stealing Stephen O’Leary as the self righteous Mossy being thunderously good fun. As are a delightful Tom Moran, and an impressive Shane Fallon, as Gino's Dublin Garda sidekicks. A magnificent Eoin Cannon as a gay Garda and Noeleen’s ribbon twirling mother, proves to be an absolute delight. As is Mark Fitzgerald who, along with Cannon, features as Mossy’s right hand men. Michele McGrath as the men hating, bastard loving Gretchen is simply terrific. As indeed are an impressive Rachel O’Connell and a memorable Kelly-Marie Ní Cheallaigh as Noeleen’s friends, with Ní Cheallaigh enhancing her reputation as a rising star of the musical theatre scene.
Yet the night ultimately belongs to the lovers, and Roseanna Purcell, as the good girl in love with a bad man, is near perfection, whether singing or performing. Johnny Ward as the lovable lothario, Gino is simply out of this world, delivering a spectacularly memorable and perfectly pitched performance. Indeed, the connection between Purcell and Ward isn't so much a case of chemistry as of alchemy, and the result is pure comic gold.
When, all too often, the received bad wisdom is to rehash, or recycle, another tried and tested movie, “Copper Face Jacks: The Musical” takes the brave, and refreshing approach of daring to tell a funny, simple, and recognisible tale packed to the rafters with laughter. One that leaves many pale movie imitators drowning in its impressive wake. Sure, it channels Shakespeare, but it defines itself more by its freshness than by its influences. There’s an energy and immediacy about this bawdy good time that’s simply infectious and irresistible. Forget the heatwave. The real heat is to be found in this joyous delight that will have you on your feet, wondering where you can buy the soundtrack and hoping it’s not sold out. Because, like the famous haunt itself, you might well want to enjoy “Copper Face Jacks: The Musical” again and again, even if you tell yourself you don’t want to. Delivering the best in tawdry, tacky, bawdy good fun, “Copper Face Jacks: The Musical” is an unadulterated joy. Simply the most fun you can possibly have without getting arrested. Don’t miss it.
“Copper Face Jacks: The Musical” by Paul Howard, produced by Kite Entertainment and Verdant Productions in association with the Olympia Theatre, runs at The Olympia Theatre until August 12
For more information, visit The Olympia Theatre or Verdant Productions