David West Read, featuring the music of Roy Orbison
Leeds Playhouse production
July 3–August 5, 2023; 2 hrs 30mins
Tricky beast, the jukebox musical. Will it work if you’re not a die-hard fan of the band or singer in question? Should the songs already tell a story? And what if there’s not enough variety of style for them to carry a musical?
All questions we pondered ahead of the opening of Luke Shepherd's production of In Dreams, the much-anticipated new musical featuring the songs of Roy Orbison, at Leeds Playhouse.
And the answers? Well frankly, it’s a triumph. Love, death, memories and music: a heady, powerful mix which this storming cast drives along with passion and joy.
The big heartache Orbison numbers are all there, but so too are the Travelling Wilburys (Dylan, Orbison, Petty, Lynne and Harrison).
Grammy and Golden Globe-winning writer David West Read has TV’s Schitt’s Creek and Broadway hit &Juliet to his credit, and the writing is consequently whip-smart, tight and never schmaltzy. He collaborated with director Luke Shepherd from the start, workshopping the musical through the pandemic and involving some members of the current team. The care and depth of this process shine through.
The action takes place on the Mexican Dia de Muertos (November 2, if you're interested), a day to celebrate the departed. And for a show with so much uplifting music, there’s a lot of death – one husband, two wives, two parents and a terminal cancer diagnosis. Conventional musical material, this is not.
Rock legend turned less-successful solo artist Kenna (Tony award-winner Lena Hall) washes up at a Mexican restaurant advertising itself as a venue for celebrating the departed. She wants to host a “going away” party, inviting her former bandmates to the celebration. The restaurant’s matriarch contrives to also invite her former partner Ramsey (Oliver Tompsett, who has a string of West End musicals under his truly terrible stage hat), thus putting all the elements in place for a masterful tapestry of emotional connections and those greatest hits.
The family restaurant (Felices Suenos - "sweet dreams") is the main set, and designer Arnulfo Maldonado has created a warm, welcoming, living and constantly moving space that radiates joy and hope even at the saddest points.
Culturally it is spot on; we know this not just because it feels so right, but because Gabriela Garcia, who plays restaurant owner Nicole, is Mexican and also the show’s cultural expert. She grew up celebrating Dia de Muertos, with its marigolds and memories and music, and that is reflected here.
The cast members are all superb, offering wit, comedy, pathos, music and dance at a speed that is, at times, breathtaking.
For the finale, a stunning desert sunrise fills the back of the stage. As a commitment to friendship and love, Orbison’s You Got It is hard to beat, and a joyful exit towards the sun is really the only way to end this fabulous new show. I’m off to dig out my rock chick jacket…
More info and tickets here