Writers: Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran
Director: Bill Kenwright
These days there are probably more jukebox musicals than actual jukeboxes in the world. The profusion of shows that feature collections of existing songs is understandable: the well-known songs provide the hook for pulling in the audiences. Most are based on the catalogue of a single artist or group, whereas Dreamboats & Petticoats is inspired by a massively popular string of compilation CDs. While this seems rather an odd place to find inspiration, it actually works in the show’s favour by offering a much larger pot from which to pluck hits. The hook here is not a specific artist, but instead a specific time period, and judging by the packed house at Darlington Hippodrome, the ‘60s sells.
Due to some rather unclear marketing, it isn’t immediately apparent that this is actually a sequel to the original Dreamboats: the third in a trilogy in fact. The strangely unwieldy Bringing on Back the Good Times seems like a slogan on the advertising material when it is actually the subtitle of a new chapter that follows the original gang as they embark on further adventures, although “adventures” may be a stretch as the plot offers little in the way of drama or character development.
The formula here is simple:
- Perform a familiar song from the 1960s.
- Have a short piece of script that advances the slim plot a little and contains at least two references to ‘60s pop culture (Tizer, Mike and Bernie Winters, pre-decimal currency etc.) and a joke or two straight out of Pantoland.
- Repeat for two hours.
In fact this musical has a lot in common with panto, in the direction and cartoonish performances as well as the gags. However this isn’t a criticism. Writers Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran and director Bill Kenwright know their audience: references to thing such as Ford’s Dagenham plant, Professor Jimmy Edwards and “johnny machines in the toilets” are greeted with appreciative laughs, as are the Carry On-style end of pier jokes. The whole thing is as corny as Kansas in August including the most on-the-nose segue ways into songs you have ever heard, but it is all delivered with such enthusiasm and charm that it is hard to resist.
Of course nobody comes to these shows for the jokes, and it’s the choice and performances of the songs that truly makes this a fun night out. The audience are largely of a certain age and have come to the theatre to relive their glory days, something they seem to do without problem or inhibitions. As the show delivers hit after hit, the audience sings, bops and dances along, freely encouraged to do so by the cast. The performers are all very good vocalists with standouts including a lovely a capella rendition of Blue Moon, a fun cover of the ridiculously catchy The Clapping Song (“Three, six, nine, the goose drank wine / The monkey chewed tobacco on the streetcar line”) and of course the inevitable Megamix finale.
As is common these days, many of the talented cast also make up the orchestra which mostly works well here since many of the numbers are presented as actual band performances. The lighting, sound and set are all fine, although the show never delivers anything completely visually striking and feels quite small scale throughout.
The old saying is that if you remember the 1960s, you weren’t there. However if you do indeed remember the ’60s, you will almost certainly love this show. Similarly if you have an appreciation of that era’s music (and obviously you would be mad not to), there is still a lot to enjoy even if you don’t know who Two Tonne Tessie is. This show is not ambitious nor particularly original, but when it comes to delivering the nostalgia that its audience wants, it does so in spades.
Runs until 20th August 2022.