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Dreamboats & Petticoats

The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

****

This is the ultimate jukebox musical, the latest in the Dreamboat series which has always embraced the idea of a real jukebox, live on stage.

Imagine a smoky pub in the 1960s, chrome Wurlitzer with seductive soft lights in the corner, and Jim Cartwright like, the lovelorn, broken-hearted, the lonely, sad, happy patrons come up one by one and feed in their tanners and two bobs (ask granddad), emotions selected from the catalogue of 45s (granddad again), the true definition of mood music.

And that is Dreamcoats, random 60’s hits that put together tell a tale, not that this is Shakespeare or Chekov mind. If you are looking for story or character development then it’s not so much that that ship has sailed, it’s more that that ship has never arrived and never will; let’s just say the plot is paper thin . . . tissue paper thin.

But deep intellectual drama is not what people are there for . . . Dreamboats and Petticoats is fun, a whole, entertaining, forget your troubles and just get happy, night of it, and, for those of a certain age, a night of pure nostalalgia, the music and memories of youth.

You could see the years roll off a couple of . . . more mature . . . ladies near me, arms waving, happily swaying to the hits and having the time of their life. The show might be lightweight, but their memories and happiness certainly weren’t.

For those veterans of the original Dreamcoats & Petticoats (2009) and then Dreamcoats and Miniskirts the characters, and indeed some of the cast, are still the same, starting with Laura, played by Elizabeth Carter – remember to tell her we love her (couldn’t resist that). She has made the role her own and has a lovely voice, her You Don’t Own Me showing it off well.

torquay

Laura the reluctant star with Frankie Howard in Torquay

She’s Bobby’s girl (just can’t help it) with Bobby played by Channel 5’s Milkshake! presenter David Ribi. They are still together except she is a big star, in the Mike and Bernie Winter’s Show on TV and now in summer season with Frankie Howard in Torquay. That’s the price she has had to pay to get Bobby’s group, The Conquests, a summer season at Butlin’s Bognor Regis.

Then we have Norman, the would be love god, played in all three incarnations by Alastair Hill, chasing any bit of skirt, old habits dying hard. He shows some lovely comic touches, is a good mover and has a great voice with songs such as Dream Baby and the tongue-in-cheek Make it easy on Yourself

He’s now a dad and married to Sue, Lauren Anderson-Oakley who gave us a fine I just don’t know what to do with myself.

Then there is David Luke as Ray, another veteran of the Dreamboats trio, still a hairdresser, still manager of The Conquests pop group and with a fine voice, giving us a memorable Blue Moon.

He is with Donna, played by Samara Clarke and the pair gave us Concrete and Clay, with Donna, the camp’s new fitness and dance instructor, weighing in with The Clapping Song.

noman and sue

Norman fearing a break-up with Sue, with a baffled Ray looking on

As ever the home turf is St Mungo’s Youth Club in Essex where Bobby’s dad David Benson runs things, he also pops up at a passable Kenneth Williams in the Eurovision song selection contest – I won’t spoil it to tell you who won . . .

He manages to throw in a clever song all in French, or at least Francais a la Del Boy, mangetout s’il vous plage.

Then we have Mike Lloyd, the club cleaner, sacked in the opening scene, who pops up again as Percy Churchill, no relation, the holiday camp manager and tops that off by playing a mean trombone.

That seems to be a prerequisite for being in this show with an onstage band under musical director Sheridan Lloyd once more on keyboard and as well as the band, Alan Howell, another regular,  and Joe Stirling on guitars, Daniel Kofi Wealthyland on drums, Benji Lord on bass, there are Rob Gathercole, assistant MD again on trumpet, Lauren Chinery on the less common baritone sax and Chloe Edwards-Wood on tenor sax.

mark and band

The open mouths of The Conquests when told by Mark Wynter's Larry they have a summer season at Butlins.

Chloe’s professional career started with Dreamboats and Petticoats and she, and her sax, have been there ever since.

This third instalment also brings in its own Jukebox icon, Mark Wynter, whose biggest hit, Venus in Blue Jeans, took the charts by storm back in 1962.

Here he plays Larry, super agent and fixer, who knows everyone and can make any act with talent stars. The former pop star drifted into theatre and has a wealth of experience in plays (38) and musicals (23) behind him, but here combines both careers with a medley of his own hits – and he can still show the lightness of foot and a fine voice that bely his age – it would be unkind to say what that is, so, let’s just say he is fast approaching twenty years of free bus travel!

Larry helps Laura become a star and then helps her and Bobby enter Eurovision, while Norman and the band resolves their differences. And that’s about it as far as plot goes, but who cares, people are there for the music and the glitz with a set (Sean Cavanagh) covered in 60’s posters, enhanced by Nick Richings lighting and Chris Whybrow’s well balanced sound. The result is the most sophisticated by far of the Dreamboats’ trilogy.

There is some wonderful close harmony numbers, notably The Association’s Never My Love and, less complex, The Fleetwood’s Come Softly to Me and amid the more than 30 songs in the show there are some gems such as the much underrated The Box Tops’ song The Letter.

The book is once more by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran (Birds of a Feather) while it is produced and directed, as always by Bill Kenwright. Dreamboats will not tax the brain, there is not a lot to follow, it is a night to just let the music and the memories flow over you. It s night of fun and nostalgia with feelgood in spades, and who can complain about that.  Dreamboats will be Bringing on back the good times to 26-03-22.

Roger Clarke

21-03-22  

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