Dreamboats and Petticoats – Churchill Theatre, London

Reviewer: Chris Lilly

Writers: Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran

Director: Bill Kenwright

Most jukebox musicals attempt to tell a story which is illustrated by a selection of songs, usually quite well-known songs, that refer to moments in the story or speak to the feelings of characters that have been developed to a greater or lesser extent. And then there’s Dreamboats and Petticoats.

Returning to the Churchill Theatre in Bromley, the venue from whence it ventured out into the world in 2009, this is a jukebox musical that pretty much dispenses with plot or character or incident, in favour of crowbarring in another song. Its running time is a bit over two hours, and it manages to cram in 34 songs from the far-off days of the mid 60s, and additionally features a trio of pastiche songs for Europe, a Kenneth Williams tribute act, and 60’s singing star Mark Wynter reprising his greatest hits. Small wonder that if there are three lines of dialogue between the songs, it’s because the third line is an ‘oh my goodness that’s the name of a song!’ cue.

Laura and Bobby had a shot at the big time with a song they had written together, but Bobby had a panic attack at the London Palladium in front of the Queen Mother. Now Laura is a TV star on the Mike and Bernie Winters Show, and Bobby plays rhythm guitar with a bunch of his mates in a youth club. Laura persuades her lecherous old manager to book the band into a residency at Butlin’s while she goes off to sing in Torquay. Changes of locale are indicated by different neon light constructions flying in, but the band generally stays on the risers at the back and the principals sing and jive on the forestage. Two separate spots of light show the unbridgeable gulf between the lovers, and the tension in the story is the waiting for that gulf to be crossed. It isn’t a difficult plot to follow.

What the audience feeds on is a competent covers band working through a slew of mostly 1960s hits, some fairly rudimentary but enthusiastic choreography, and an easy-listening, singalong, good time atmosphere, which they get by the bucketfull. No-one cares that the story is cobweb thin or that the characters are barely sketched in. It’s a comfortable night out with a lot of hummable tunes.

Mark Wynter, who had a couple of hits in the early 60s, plays Larry the manager as an homage to Larry Parnes, and gets to sing a medley of his hits. David Benson does a very long, very accurate, very funny impression of Kenneth Williams for no very good reason, but does include a rendition of William’s famous musical sketchMa Crepe Suzette, and is by some margin the best thing to happen on stage. Jacob Fowler and Chloe Edwards-Wood (standing in very creditably at the last minute for a Covid stricken principal) are engaging as Bobby and Laura.

It’s an undemanding, feel-good, pleasant evening in the theatre, listening to a bunch of half-remembered songs, and it probably encourages its audience to buy one of the many compilation albums it has birthed to re-create the joy at home, but it never pretends to be anything other than what it is; it does that thing very efficiently, and the audience leave feeling happy. Job done.

Runs until 16 July 2022 and then continues to tour

The Reviews Hub Score

Jovial, juke-boxy, generic.

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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