Save the Last Dance For Me continues at Blackpool Opera House until 4 June and tours until 8 October.
Rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
Remember when it was considered fair game to snigger at rows of 1950s and 60s theatregoers of a certain age singing along merrily to old time music hall songs from the early 20th century?
‘It’s time tunnel stuff’, we’d scoff, and turn our record player volume up a notch or two to enjoy the latest two or three minute vignette of young love which our parents dismissed as temporary trash that all sounded the same.
Well, half a century or more later it’s our turn to singalong to blasts from the past as one jukebox musical after another does the rounds and grows in popularity with each successive tour.
Take a pot pourri of hits from the self-same 50s and 60s, add a plot which would fit on a postage stamp, and hand it over to a cast more familiar with mp3s than 45rpms and, hey voila, another feelgood musical is ready to roll around the country for a good few years.
Unlike the fairly similar Dreamboats and Petticoats and more recently Dreamboats and Miniskirts, this Bill Kenwright and Laurie Mansfield creation (book by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran) drops the scattershield grab-any-hit and make it fit approach to concentrate largely on the music of one writing partnership.
Alright Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman didn’t actually pen ‘Please Mr Postman’, but much of the rest of this thick-and-fast score is their work and it’s always fun trying to remember who did the original versions of ‘Way Down Yonder in New Orleans’, ‘Can’t Get Used to Losing You’ and even Sweets for My Sweet (no, it wasn’t The Searchers).
The plot? If you insist. It’s 1963 and two teenage sisters spend their first holiday away from their parents in a caravan in Lowestoft – just a handful of miles away from a US Air Force base. Throw in young love, a race card, the British climate and the deadline of a holiday week, and songs such as ‘Rhythm of the Rain’, ‘A Teenager in Love’ and ‘His Latest Flame’ fit like a glove.
It helps that the live band is excellent and the performances are strong. Alright, an older Antony Costa no longer arrives on stage to the rave reception (or even recognition) he received as a member of boy band Blue, but as his last time at this theatre (in Tommy) revealed, he’s developing as a more than adequate musical theatre performer.
Elizabeth Carter has fast become a Bill Kenwright Limited stalwart – having grown up as Laura in both Petticoats musicals, and now second time around as the oh-so-pretty smiling Marie, even dusting down her school uniform again. At times her voice is a little too shrill for comfort, but she fits the role perfectly.
X Factor veteran Lola Saunders makes the most of her stage debut. A powerful voice and plenty of promise.
But it’s down to Jason Denton as Curtis and Sackie Osakonor as the shirt-stripping Rufus to steal the show with their soulful vocals.
Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman would be proud – and more than a little surprised by what has become of their songs. Though what they would have made of the now inevitable mega mix and cliffhanger ending is another matter.