Dreamboats and Petticoats continues at the Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury until 25 February and then tours until 2 September.
Star rating: three stars ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Nostalgia for the ‘good old days’ played a rather influential role in the UK’s decision to tick the yes-to-Brexit box last year. The debate about whether those memories of post-war Britain are somewhat selective is likely to continue, but there’s no doubt the 1950s and 60s rock’n’roll music showcased in touring favourite Dreamboats and Petticoats stands up pretty well against the test of time.
There is a good reason that this jukebox musical is the gift that keeps on giving for producers Bill Kenwright and Laurie Mansfield. It delivers exactly what it says on the tin: a constant stream of hits which conjure up special reminiscences of a golden musical era to those who were there (you only have to catch a glimpse of the grey-haired ladies and gents on the front row boogieing during the show’s finale to see evidence of that). And that’s without mentioning the new generation of followers who are discovering these perfect pop songs for the very first time.
Such a format where Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran’s relatively slight, though often quite amusing, book (this time focusing on the love, loss and loneliness felt by teenagers who attend a local youth club) plays host to a conveyor belt of musical numbers, is easy to dismiss. But to pull off such a project is just as easy to do badly as it is to do well.
Fortunately, that is not the case here as director Bob Tomson and choreographer Carole Todd ensure the action races along at quite a pace with the focus being on the most important element of all: the music.
With all the tracks being played and sung live onstage, perhaps it is not surprising that there are occasional incidents when lyrics get drowned out or some of the movement appears a little awkward, but on the whole the talented cast members present number after number with style and enthusiasm.
Production values are limited but designer Sean Cavanagh has done enough with the colourful panels peppered with movie posters, adverts and album covers to provide the perfect backdrop to all the locations where the teenagers hang out.
There’s not really a duff performance to speak off, but a number of the protagonists deserve a special mention. Even with limited dialogue to work from, these actors manage to make the story engaging.
Alastair Hill makes quite an impression as bad boy rock’n’roller Norman, exuding confidence in the musical numbers and demonstrating great onstage chemistry with popular girl Sue (eye-catching Laura Darton).
David Luke is extremely likeable as Ray, plus he proves to have quite the voice too in standout numbers like the a cappella ‘Donna’ in Act II (what a coincidence that several of the characters have names that pop up in song titles; in this case it’s the charms of Gracie Johnson’s Donna that win him over).
Best of all are the central couple: Alistair Higgins as Bobby and, on this occasion, Chloe Edwards-Wood as Laura. While we know these insecure teenagers, who bond over their songwriting, will end up finding their happy ending, it’s rather charming watching them reach that conclusion (even if one suffers from song overload by the end of the second half).
It’s worth remembering that the numbers featured are popular music classics and yet these performers offer spot-on renditions, one after the other.
Last but not least, it’s good to see Jimmy Johnston as youth club leader and Bobby’s dad. Always a class act, he is not really onstage enough, but always proves a class act when given a chance to strut his stuff.
Inspired by the Dreamboats and Petticoats multi-million selling albums which continue to enjoy success ten years on, this musical is not by any means a classic, but its magic touring formula doesn’t seem to be running out of steam quite yet.