The latest in a conga line of music bio-dramas is a valentine from Seven to our Livvy.
Olivia Newton-John: Hopelessly Devoted to You stars our Delta in the titular role, a match-made in pop princess heaven, from her mid-20s onwards.
Part I also features Morgan Griffin as schoolgirl Olivia, from her TV talent show appearances to her early years in London, under the guardianship of her German mother Irene (Robyn Malcolm). Griffin is a stand-out as the effervescent teen songstress, flashing million dollar Livvy smiles and exuding bucketloads of sweetness and sincerity, without ever feeling fake.
Together with gal pal Pat Carroll (Georgia Flood), they work the London clubs trying to make their mark on the British pop scene in the late 1960s. Theirs would become a lifelong friendship, while Carroll’s boyfriend muso & gifted songwriter John Farrar (Ben Shumann) would become a significant career relationship.
But a romance with Shadows’ guitarist Bruce Welch (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) would not last, causing Olivia to remain wary of mixing business with pleasure. She would later meet film producer Lee Kramer (Todd Lasance) whilst finding success in the US, where such doubts return in the script by writers Elizabeth Coleman and Keith Thompson.
Delta Goodrem assumes the role halfway through Part I after Morgan Griffin sets the scene (in some points we see Griffin lip-syncing Delta mimicking Olivia). Goodrem suits the crooning style of Olivia very well, and both share personal traits including pop success and facing cancer battles.
Other cast includes George Xanthis in the very difficult role of John Travolta, Kate Jenkinson as Pat Carroll from 22, Lucy Honigman as a young Helen Reddy and David James as producer Alan Carr. Watch out for Diana Glenn, Alison Bell, Jeremy Stanford and more to come in Part II.
The musical recreations are well-staged if reliant on Melbourne locations doubling for London and the US (observers can play spot the location). Crowd scenes are too stretched by the obvious budget limitations, but digitally inserting Goodrem / Griffin into TV clips with Cliff Richard and Johnny Carson are rather fun. However devices to indicate time and travel passages are very dependent on stock footage, maps and montages.
But Part I lacks enough drama to match recent biographies devoted to INXS, Peter Allen, Molly or The Easybeats. Whilst Part II doubtless has plenty of personal hurdles -cancer, business bankruptcy, missing partner, wild child daughter- the opening episode is as Sandra Dee as Livvy herself. The script doesn’t identify enough flaws or inner conflict to work without the musical numbers. There’s no sign of sex, drugs & rock and roll in this very broad pitch, presenting Olivia / Delta (they are practically interchangeable) as saccharine as their public images when it had an opportunity to show the real woman behind the evergreen melodies.
Taking a nod from its title, this valentine is indeed devoted to its star and could do with a little bit more stepping out in tight black lycra and leather jacket to find the drama. Given the passion of the first instalment I’m optimistic that’s coming in Part II.
Olivia Newton-John: Hopeless Devoted to You begins 8:30pm Sunday on Seven.