Dreamboats and Petticoats

Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran
Bill Kenwright and Laurie Mansfield in association with Universal Music
Sunderland Empire

I first saw (and reviewed) Dreamboats and Petticoats in 2009 and thoroughly enjoyed it because, of course, it's about my teenage years. It's set in 1961, when I was 18, and it brought back all those teenage highs and lows, so the opportunity to see it again, almost five years on, was too good to pass up.

It is unashamedly a nostalgia-fest. Although there were younger people present, the first-night audience was predominantly over-fifties and they loved it. But that, of course, is only to be expected because Dreamboats and Petticoats is one of the most cleverly constructed jukebox musicals, not because it's subtle or has unexpected twists and turns but because it ticks all the right nostalgia boxes.

It's an Everyman - or rather, Everyboy and Everygirl - story, dealing with all the problems of teenage years from being accepted to finding the right girl or boy, from jealousy through despair to joy, and set in the familiar teenage haunt, the church youth club (and it's annual "trip"), and told through the music of the time.

And that music ranges from The Platters to the Everly Brothers, from Roy Orbison to Chubby Checker, from The Crystals to Danny and the Juniors, not forgetting the delightfully named Conway Twitty!

It doesn't take itself too seriously. There are knowing references to now - Bobby (our hero) thinks he might become a banker because "everyone looks up to bankers" - and there is the odd throw-away comment which certainly has resonance for the older generation, as when the barber asks, "Something for the weekend, sir?" and the customer (our hero's dad) replies, "Chance would be a fine thing."

Yes, it's written to a formula but that's part of the pleasure. We know what's going to happen: our nerdy heroine only has to take off her glasses and let her hair down to be revealed as beautiful; all the boys get the girls that are right for them (and vice-versa); our hero and heroine win the song-writing contest, having just got together at the last minute to create the winning song, and everyone (well, our hero at any rate) lives happily ever after - and we know that because he's telling the story to his grand-daughter.

It's been on tour fairly continuously since 2009 and inevitably the cast has changed almost as frequently. The West End cast (at the Savoy in 2009) included a number of "names" - an X-Factor winner, some from Emmerdale and Hollyoaks - but the current cast are all trained musical theatre performers, some making their professional debut, so they are there because of their talent rather than their status - and it shows. They can act and singing and dancing are almost second nature to them. They have energy and commitment, and are obviously thoroughly enjoying themselves with an enthusiasm which is infectious.

This is pure entertainment for a specific audience and there's nothing wrong with that. Les Mis it isn't; it's an undemanding fun night out.

To finish on a crotchety old man note, modern teenagers can learn a lot from it: not just that their grandparents were just like them but also what makes a great pop song.

(Subsides into armchair, lighting pipe and muttering about the youth of today...)

Reviewer: Peter Lathan

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