REVIEW: Sunny Afternoon, Sunderland Empire, until Saturday (Oct 8)

Ryan O'Donnell as Ray Davies in Sunny Afternoon.
Ryan O'Donnell as Ray Davies in Sunny Afternoon.

The '60s were tumultuous times in the music industry, epitomised by the story of British rockers The Kinks.

This thrilling musical charts the rise of the iconic band from the roots of two brothers in Muswell Hill, London, through numerous huge hits on both sides of the Atlantic, to becoming one of the most influential rock acts of all time.

The band's line-up in the musical Sunny Afternoon.

The band's line-up in the musical Sunny Afternoon.

The core of the group were Ray and Dave Davies - the Noel and Liam Gallagher of their day - whose love-hate relationship was central to the Kinks success and ultimate demise.

Ryan O'Donnell played Ray to perfection, capturing the tortured, creative mind of the singer-songwriter, while playing guitar and singing with passion and energy, yet incredible tenderness at times. His melodic tones brought the catalogue of incredible music back to life.

And in Mark Newnham as Dave, he had an ideal ally, his magnificent guitar skills and raucous voice adding grit and wit to the production. The pair combined to produce some lovely harmonies and some feisty rows.

To complete the line-up, hugely talented drummer Andrew Gallo played Mick Avory and Garmon Rhys shone in the role of bassist Pete Quaife. Gallo's drum solo was worth the ticket price on its own.

Mark Newnham swinging in the '60s as Dave Davies.

Mark Newnham swinging in the '60s as Dave Davies.

They all had to act, sing and play musical instruments, and they did it with considerable aplomb, breezing through many of the band's hits, including You Really Got Me, Dedicated Follower of Fashion, All Day and All of the Night, Sunny Afternoon, Waterloo Sunset and Lola.

Amid all the rock 'n' roll antics, the mayhem, the onstage bust-up during a gig at Cardiff in 1965, the ban from touring the US by the American Federation of Musicians and the breakdowns, there were also some quite touching moments.

The duets between the brothers, then Ray and his wife Rasa, played beautifully by Lisa Wright, were spellbinding. And an a cappella version of Days by several male members of the cast was simply magical.

Not all biopic musicals work - some try too hard to manufacture a story around the lyrics of a collection of unrelated songs. As many of the Kinks' numbers were about themselves, so Sunny Afternoon is the consummate blend of great storyline and relevant music.

By the end, the entire audience was on their feet dancing to Lola and a reprise of All Day and All of the Night and You Really Got Me - it was a fitting climax to a rocking good night. I am now a dedicated follower of this wonderful musical.

• Sunny Afternoon is at Sunderland Empire until Saturday (October 8). Tickets available at the Empire box office on High Street West, from the ticket centre on 0844 871 3022 or online at www.ATGtickets.com/Sunderland. Calls cost up to 7p per minute plus your standard network charge. Booking fees may apply to telephone and online bookings.