save the last dance top

Save the last dance for me

The New Alexandra Theatre

****

YOU know what sort of evening you are in for when the audience singalong starts in the overture before the curtain has even risen.

This is an audience who are there to stir a night of memories with songs that give them a chance to be young again for a couple of hours.

It is no Les Miserables, or West Side Story, but then it never sets out to be, it has no pretentions to be anything than what it is, a jukebox musical, cramming in as many 60’s tracks as possible, 36 in this case, into its two hours all wrapped around its back of an envelope storyline.

It is a simple formula developed by writers Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran in what is becoming a regular event with a new one along every couple of years. First there was Dreamboats and Petticoats, then Dreamboats and Miniskirts and now it has gone international with Save the last dance for me set around a US Air Force base near Lowestoft.

The story is simple, way back in 1963, two sisters from Luton, Jenifer and Marie, head off to Suffolk and a caravan site on their first holiday without parents.

There they meet Carlo the Italian ice cream man, Mr Woopsie our kid, from Wolverhampton as well as Curtis and Milton from the USAF base who see single girls on holiday as a sort of weekly production line of romance aka lust – this is until Curtis falls for Marie.

The only problem is that Curtis is black which bring in racial overtones. He is full of angst fearing that a mixed race union will only bring Marie trouble both here and in the US so, nobly, drops her, she Jennifer and Mariemeanwhile is determined to show him she doesn’t care and that we are all the same under the skin.

A simple message which is not really developed and never goes deeper or wider than that but, let’s be honest, this is an audience that is hardly here for the telling drama of a Miller or a Tennessee Williams, it’s a night of nostalgia with the story just something to hand the songs on.

Listening to the rhythm of the falling rain, or the British summer as it is known, Jennifer, played by Lola Saunders and Marie, played by Elizabeth Carter

Thus when Marie asks Curtis if he can take her to the USA the band suggest they should head for New Orleans, which is merely a cue for Way down yonder in New Orleans, a hit for surf duo Jan and Dean in 1963. Perhaps not the best choice mind. I was there in the 1970s and ran into a huge Ku Klux Klan parade, so good luck with that Curtis.

Antony Costa from boy band Blue is a convincing Milton, with a consistent accent and pleasant voice while Jason Denton is suitably brooding as Curtis, although his volume could be racked up a notch on the sound desk in his solo numbers.

Elizabeth Carter who played Marie is an old hand, having been in Petticoats and Miniskirts making this the full set. She has a delightful voice and a good stage presence as does Lola Saunders as Jennifer.

This is her stage debut, not that you would have known if you had not been told. She has been in plenty of shows since appearing in X-Factor in 2014 though and with a decent alto voice shows plenty of promise of making a living in musical theatre.

Alan Howell as Carlo is another returnee after a stint in petticoats and revealed a lovely voice in Hushabye, one of two beautifully sung a capella songs performed by the whole company, the other being Sweets for my sweet. Keyboard player Sheridan Lloyd was a stand-out with a fabulous, clear, deep and resonant bass voice.

As in all three of the series so far, the onstage band have to double as actors and Howell is a skilled guitarist in the excellent eight-piece band. They really were good and although they were listed as their characters in the programme they really deserved a separate listing as musicians under musical director Michael Kantola.

A mention to for Sackie Osakonor who added a fine singing voice to his role as Sergeant Rufus.

The set from Mark Bailey is centred around the dance hall at the USAF base with a huge LP image decorating the floor (younger readers try Googling vinyl) with other scenes, such as a caravan, prom shelter or Luton kitchen created with minimal props or drops from the flies which makes for seamless, fast scene changes.

There are plenty of references to the 1960s thrown in, four bob a gallon for petrol for example – but please get some real 1960’s Corona bottles . . . try ebay. Fanta just does not cut it.

The show is about the music though and, although there were a few less familiar tunes, there were plenty to stir the memories with a a third or so from the prolific duo of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman including, A Teenager in Love; Sweets for my Sweet; Turn Me Loose; Here I Go Again; Viva Las Vegas; Little Sister; His Latest Flame; Suspicion; Hushabye, Can’t Get Used to Losing You and the title song Save the Last Dance For Me – a huge hit for The Drifters with Ben E King on lead vocals – as the finale.

This is perhaps the best of the three in the series so far, the most accomplished in terms of plot, thin as it is, with a more realistic storyline and it also has a bit more humour – even delving into risqué at times.

Directed by Bill Kenwright, the show does exactly what it sets out to do, send out wave after wave of nostalgia for an audience to lose themselves among the songs, stirring memories of people and places or just a time that has passed with a medley of songs to get people on their feet at the end.

Like I said, It’s not Shakespeare or Sondheim, but the feel good factor was infectious, everyone left happy, in good humour and with a smile on their face – Save the last dance had done everything it set out to do and you can’t ask for more than that. To 21-05-16

Roger Clarke

16-05-16

 

And another view

AFTER the success of jukebox musical Dreamboats and Petticoats, sitcom writers Lawrence Marks and Maurice Gran have delivered another tale of teenage love set to hits from the 60s.

It’s a fairly lightweight story, touching rather gently on racial issues when a young white girl – still at school – falls for a handsome black American serviceman, with briefly seen disapproval of her parents.

The problem is never developed to any great extent, though, and doesn’t affect the impact of some 30 very enjoyable songs.

In the show programme we are reminded that ‘oversexed, overpaid and over here’ was a well-known phrase applied to American forces stationed in Britain during World War II. In this production you could add ‘overweight’, glancing at certain waistlines stretching those smart uniforms.

The story opens with teenage Luton sisters Jennifer and Marie arriving in Lowestoft for the first holiday without their parents, and being invited by a friendly GI to attend a dance at the nearby US airbase.

Marie, the youngest of the pair, promptly goes starry-eyed for airman Curtis, a black man well experienced in racial tensions, and the magnetic feeling is mutual.

Elizabeth Carter, surely a rising star who has appeared in the Dreamboat musicals, plays Marie and has the ideal voice for the hit songs, while Jason Denton acts and sings impressively as the sensitive Curtis who realises the impact their budding relationship can have.

The big name in the cast is Antony Costa of the boy band, Blue, fame. He has many opportunities to sparkle as the other amorous airman, Milton, in hits like 1,2.3, Sweet for My Sweet and Tell Her.

Making her stage debut in this show, Lola Saunders is perfect as the older sister, Jennifer, Sackie Osakonor reveals a fine voice as Rufus, and the on-stage band of actor-musicians make a huge contribution to a show which had a large section of the opening night audience on their feet for the powerful finale.

To 21.05.16

Paul Marston 

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