REVIEW: Jingles the Musical (The Basement)

Review by James Wenley

Jessie Lawrence

[Take me back to the Rainbow]

Perhaps you, like I was, are skeptical about a musical making a plot entirely around advertising jingles. You resent the marketing inception, you loathe the Pavlovian ear-worms that had burrowed deeper and deeper during endless commercial breaks, the very sound of which will have you craving McDonalds for breakfast, or make you smash your car window just so Novus can fill your crack in. (If these references have set off your own involuntary internal soundtrack I apologise, but the point has been made.)

I was, however, immediately distracted by these thoughts when the producer offered me, and the rest of the crowd, a Fruju as we took our seats. A Fruju! In winter! Oooh! Aaah! Oooh! Pondering the poverty of my adult existence and when was the last time I had even eaten a Fruju, I bit down and savoured the cold blast of nostalgia.

And as the show began its opening medley of classic ad bangers, I realised I didn’t hate these jingles after all. I loved them all along! It was the sweet blast from the past that I hadn’t realised that I missed. Nor did it seem that I was alone. The rest of the audience shook off any Kiwi reticence, and, uninvited, joined in for a sing-along. McD’s. The Lotto theme. Tux. The real greats in the Kiwi songbook.

Jingles shamelessly follows the worst traditions of the jukebox musical, in which pre-existing hits are inelegantly shoehorned into the plot. For example, a line about mopping the floors to make them look tip-top, leads into that song about ice-cream.

Jessie Lawrence’s Wella (you know which jingle to expect later) lives in rural Rainbows End (cough) but dreams of making it as a weather presenter in the big smoke, where her birth mother, incidentally, runs MediaWorks.

Writer and Director Dean Hewison’s formula is to take a jingle and place it in an incongruous and surprising narrative context. They wring all of the heart-breaking pathos from the Cadbury Flake song, turn the Rainbow’s End theme into an 11 O’Clock musical showstopper, and then there’s their choice of jingle to punctuate a rather raunchy sex scene…

Lawrence winningly plays up Wella’s wide-eyed naivety. Taking a number of roles, Paul Williams proves he has musical chops to match his comedic smarts. Carrie Green is a riot in all of her multiple appearances, including legendary news presenter Coca Cola. All three smash their harmonies, and their performance of Brigid Costello’s choreography is cheesier than Chesdale Cheese’s finest cheddar.

Jingles goes to town on bad-taste humour, playing against the inoffensive family friendly context of the original jingle hooks. This leads to some questionable choices in the pursuit of gags (their ableism is particularly unnecessary).

Pushing the nostalgia button on the TV remote, Jingles is a laugh-a-minute repackaging of these tunes, best enjoyed by those who grew up on a diet of NZ TV. It’s a rather curious history capsule from another marketing age, and an affectionate tribute to the composers behind these televisual anthems (many featured of those featured in the show were composed by Murray Grindlay).

What contemporary auditory treats have I been missing in my quest to fast-forward the ads? What hope is there for the Netflix generation? Jingles keeps the memories alive.

Jingles plays until 17 June. Details see The Basement

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