Dance offering familiar steps

Save the Last Dance for Me

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton

***

FRESH on heels of their current touring hit Dreamboats and Petticoats, writers Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran have another bout of nostalgia doing the rounds.

Save The Last Dance For Me takes the same format as its, frankly, better predecessor and delivers what the audience have come to see and hear - those rose coloured snapshots of a time they used to know against a backdrop of sugar sweet hits of the era.

In effect, it's a concert with a loose story line thrown in to link it all together. Done well, there's nothing wrong with that and there's no reason why that shouldn't result in a winning, feel good evening. Sadly though, this is not the case here.

The reason this fails where Dreamboats succeeded lies in its rather haphazard storyline and it's lack of charm. Far too often, it fails to hit the spot or properly engage an audience who, to be fair, were there for the taking.

At the very least, a show relying so much on recognisable hits should contain songs that are precisely that. We are even told by the pre-show announcer that we will know these songs and should feel free to join in. I would have loved too - had I have heard of half of them.

In amongst the obscurity are some out and out classics like Then He Kissed Me, Suspicion , Sweets for my Sweet and A Teenager in love' and as recognition kicked, the audience came alive.

The placement of songs is at times a little random. Tender, romantic moments of dialogue are often followed by big, upbeat numbers which immediately loses the mood just established and potentially sweet moments are lost.

In a story of young love lost and found, there is plenty of scope for a bit of heart rending but too often the beat was stepped up in a desire to keep the energy high.

There is a attempt to feature some social commentary about attitudes towards mixed race relationships.

Megan Jones as Marie and Jason Denton as Curtis

The central black character is teased about the colour of his skin in a distinctly ‘ Carry On' style.

Whilst the intention is presumably to highlight the ignorance of xenophobic whites in the early 1960's , tackling this kind of issue in such a candy floss show seems a little awkward at times.  

On a more positive note, there are some fine performances and a solid ensemble.

 Hannah Frederick shines as the worldly wise big sister, Jennifer - beautifully expressive and pin point stage presence Graham Weaver as Carlo mostly nails a Black Country accent and possesses a wonderful falsetto. Megan Jones as Marie is suitably wide eyed and innocent as Marie - staying on the right side of cutesy.

For those who love their nostalgia , this is a perfectly good way of bathing in it. It doesn't set the world on fire but it will give you a glow for a couple of hours at least. To 02-06-12

Tom Roberts

Meanwhile waiting for the Gay Gordons . . .

****

THE conflicts that occurred when an innocent white teenage girl fell in love with a handsome black American airman in the early 1960s are explored in this new musical by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, who wrote the hit show Dreamboats and Petticoats.

Performed to a string of popular songs from that era, it works well, and a more enlightened first night audience cheered enthusiastically when the young couple who appear to be drifting apart, are re-united in the lively finale.

A strong cast, including musicians from the excellent on-stage band, tell the story in a gentle but completely convincing style, as 17-year-old Marie and he older sister Jennifer go for a summer holiday in Lowestoft and are invited to meet 'Elvis' at the American airforce base...only to discover he is the band's drummer.

While there Marie, perfectly played by Megan Jones meets airman Curtis, shrugging off any prejudices inside and outside the base as she finds herself attracted to him, and Curtis is in turn, is completely genuine in his affection for her.

Jason Denton excels as Curtis, and there are fine performances from Hannah Frederick (Marie's sister), Tosh Wanogho-Maud (military policeman Rufus) and A.J.Dean (airman Milton).

Hits songs in the show include A Teenager in Love (the first night audience immediately joined in), Viva Las Vegas, Sweets for my Sweet, Can't Get Used to Losing You and, of course, Save the Last Dance for Me.

Directed by Bill Kenwright, the musical runs to Saturday 02.06.12

Paul Marston 

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