Book: Laurence Marks & Maurice Gran
Director: Bill Kenwright
Dreamboats and Petticoats, Bill Kenwright’s jukebox franchise based on the bestselling compilation album is certainly “Bringing back the good times” just as the title promises, with its third instalment of the musical series at Manchester’s Palace theatre this week.
This sequel reunites the characters some may have seen before, following sweethearts Laura (the chart-topping TV star taking up a glamorous summer season residency at the Torquay Palace) and Bobby (who’s been offered a summer gig with his boyish bandmates at Butlins, Bognor Regis) as they venture through the early days of their long-distance summer romance. No wonder it all feels like a homage to Hi-de-Hi!
Kenwright’s direction allows this piece to feel wonderfully reminiscent for its target audience – taking them on a trip down memory lane via a plethora of lovable characters singing and dancing their way through rollicking rock n roll hits. Carole Todd’s choreography fizzes with energy and captures the essence of the 50’s and 60’s dance hall, a highlight being Shirley Ellis’ Clapping Song.
Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran’s sitcom style book never takes itself too seriously, embracing its own flaws; most of the dialogue is written with the aim of shoehorning in another song and as soon as any real drama begins to develop it’s brushed over… but no-one is complaining! We all recognise it’s an attempt to keep this night at the theatre a barrel of laughs and fun-time nostalgia that your nan will love.
It’s the impressive live music and jukebox score that take priority in this piece and leads David Ribi as Bobby and Elizabeth Carter as Laura are a sweet pairing, both executing their numbers with crystal clear tones that are well suited to the poppy score. They create some moments of real chemistry, exuding teenage heartache that we can all relate to, especially when they longingly sing Baby, now that I’ve found you over the telephone to one another. Carter radiates teen idol presence and Ribi, a great vocalist, makes his Bobby a sensitive and cautious romanticist.
David Luke as Ray shines in his musical numbers – the standout number of the night being his take on The Marcels hit Blue Moon. Luke puts this song over with all the authenticity and style of a real doo-wop star and throughout the show his portrayal of Ray is much loved by the audience, thanks to his excellently timed quick-witted quips and Essex-boy charm. Alistair Hill is another stand out performance, his boisterous characterisation of the overly flirtatious ladies’ man Norman is exuberant throughout, paired with some stellar vocals and playful comedy. These two performers capture the essence of the era and its score best, pitching their vocal performances seemingly effortlessly so that they never seem oversung.
Mike Lloyd makes a fantastic turn as flamboyantly militant, Carry on Camping-esque holiday manager Percy. But perhaps the stand out 5 minutes of the whole show is David Benson, when he cameos as a very convincing Kenneth Williams presenting Eurovision. His rendition of William’s famous musical sketch Ma crepe suzette has the audience in stitches and his performance really adds to the show’s quintessential old school British variety show humour, reminiscent of Saturday Night at the London Palladium. A true talent!
The musicians onstage add an extra impressive layer to the piece. Kudos to the on-stage actor-muso’s, especially the very watchable pairing Chloe Edwards Wood and Lauren Chinery, who executed Todd’s choreography with gusto and high energy even with their large saxes in hand! Joe Sterling and Alan Howell who featured in the band, also had some great duets that provided show-stopping moments. The whole cast really shone in the acapella numbers which were a lovely touch.
Sean Cavanagh’s set is a collage scrapbook of old school concert hall posters and tickets, providing the backdrop for the narrative and musical splendour, all the while allowing the band to feature throughout by plonking them on a bandstand centre stage, letting the principal cast take the main playing space as their own playground. The floating neon set pieces add some nice depth to the visual, alerting us of the various locations we are taken to. Alexandra Stewart’s costumes capture the era well, providing colour and sparkle in abundance.
Due to its effervescent score and sitcom-style book this show would go down a storm on a glamorous over 60’s luxury cruise ship voyage. At times it felt so “cruise ship” (in the best way possible) that it wouldn’t have come as much of a surprise if Jane McDonald burst through the auditorium fire exit doors with a camera crew in toe. Congratulations to cast and crew for pulling off a truly feel-good show – the band and cast are a class act of talented individuals! Bravo.
Runs until 19th March 2022 and continues on UK Tour,