Dancing into nostalgia

Save The Last Dance For Me

Malvern Festival Theatre


LOWESTOFT, 1963, and teenage sisters Marie (Elizabeth Carter) and Jennifer (Verity Jones) experience a rare taste of freedom on their first ever caravan holiday without their parents.

Save The Last Dance For Me charts their week of adventure and romance as they are charmed by handsome young Americans from the nearby U.S. air base (the sweet-talking Milton played by Lee Honey-Jones and suave Curtis played by Kieran McGinn), as well as chirpy Italian Brummie ice cream seller Carlo (played fabulously for laughs by Alan Howell).

Hearts are aflutter and love is well and truly in the Lowestoft sea air, but of course the path of true love, even in the swinging 60s, never does run smooth.

This jukebox musical from Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran (the writers of Dreamboats and Petticoats) promised to be a crowd-pleaser even before curtain-up. As the house lights dimmed, a friendly voice invited the audience to sing along to any numbers we recognised, of which there proved to be many.

Focussing on the songs of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, the show features almost thirty popular numbers from the 60s, such as Viva Las Vegas, Little Sister, Teenager In Love and Please Mr Postman.

The songs are cleverly woven into the story and performed by the exceptionally talented cast, often with a full live band on stage, completely in character at all times. Other songs are performed a capella which shows off the cast's singing skills brilliantly. On top of that, Bill Deamer's high octane choreography recreates the crazes of the 60s dancehall and the girls' swirling-skirted dresses were wonderful to behold.

Nostalgic yet fresh, this is a feel-good production which also touches on the issues of racism and segregation and how they affected people's lives in 1960s Britain and America.

The character of Curtis faces prejudice from Marie's parents (Sally Peerless and Alex Hammond) as well as local lads including the otherwise likeable Carlo. McGinn and Carter carry their leading roles with seeming ease and the chemistry between their characters is a delight. When Curtis sings Sweets For My Sweet to the transfixed Marie it is enough to make any girl swoon.

Performances, singing, dancing and musical ability are excellent in every member of the cast but for me Elizabeth Carter's clear voice and sheer exuberance mark her out for special mention. Jay Perry as Rufus was also outstanding in his vocal performance and it is a shame that we didn't hear him more.

Amusing references to 60s culture, and confusions caused by the variations in language usage between the Americans and English, made for plenty of laughs throughout the show, and I was smiling all the way through. I was not the only one with a tear in my eye when towards the end of the evening we discovered whether true love would find a way to blossom or be crushed forever by the girls' interfering mum.

Ingeniously staged and beautifully lit, the whole production was a treat from start to end. Scene changes were seamless, with a damp seafront bench scene instantly transforming into a Vegas-style U.S. bar complete with stage, jukebox and flashing lights.

With audience participation welcome, this youthful and multi-talented cast delivers a wonderful evening's entertainment, whilst obviously enjoying themselves thoroughly. For me the musical highlights were a split-stage performance of Can't Get Used To Losing You sung by Curtis and Marie, topped only by the fabulous finale which had the whole audience clapping and singing along.

Save The Last Dance For Me b is touring throughout the spring and summer. Don't miss it! To 04-05-13. 

Amy Rainbow

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