[Review] Dreamboats and Petticoats at the New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

02/05/2017

Based on the hugely popular compilation album released in 2007, Dreamboats and Petticoats the musical boasts a nostalgic soundtrack of over forty rock ‘n’ roll singles (from Let’s Dance to Let’s Twist Again) but it isn’t just another jukebox musical that churns out hits at the expense of a narrative, the performance bounces along nicely with a charming flashback to a young lad who nearly made it into a band, tried it as a songwriter, and chased a girl or two.

Yes, the characters are walking clichés but they’re also witty, energetic, and immensely talented. The bold and bullish personalities of Norman (Alistair Hill) and Sue (Laura Darton), with their unrelenting hair slicking and annoying cackling, offer the perfect contrast to Bobby (Alistair Higgins) and Laura (Elizabeth Carter), the naïve childhood sweethearts at the heart of the story. Ray (David Luke) is the ultimate cheeky chappy, and the straight-talking, hair-swishing Donna (Gracie Johnson) is the girl we all want to be best-friends with.

 

the straight-talking, hair-swishing Donna (Gracie Johnson) is the girl we all want to be best-friends with.

 

Even Mike Lloyd, who flits on and off the stage in bit-parts (including that of a janitor, a boxer, and the compère) is a formidable presence, bagging the most laughs. This is all in addition to the fact that every cast member has an incredible voice, especially Elizabeth Carter whose pitch perfect notes make her the gal’ everyone’s routing for.

The audience are taken from the musical battleground of the youth club to the Big Dipper in Southend, and the songs filter into the narrative through a series of auditions, daydreams, and opportunities for youthful pining. At times, they are even used in jest, There Goes my Baby, Bobby sings while pushing Sue out of a window, and ‘Since she left me, I’ve never been the same’, Ray whines, when his girlfriend leaves him to go to the toilet for a few minutes. The writers, Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, manage to depict the awkwardness and playfulness of teenagers in the sexual revolution, and effectively recreate the spirit of the swinging sixties, with youngster’s being liberated through music and dancing.

 

The writers, Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, manage to depict the awkwardness and playfulness of teenagers in the sexual revolution, and effectively recreate the spirit of the swinging sixties, with youngster’s being liberated through music and dancing.

Despite what the arrogant frontman Norman might say, the band are the real stars of this show, playing each number live and with infectious exuberance that has everyone swaying in their seats. Everyone, on stage and off stage, seems to be having a great time. An efficient stage design means that, even when the audience are a fly on the wall of young Bobby’s bedroom, the band are still in view – a reminder that music is defining this performance in the same way that it defined the childhoods of this era. Edwards-Wood and Lauren Chinery deserve a special mention, bopping around the stage with their brassy saxophones in a way that gets everyone’s toes tapping.

The musical builds to the typical ‘show within a show’ ending that has come to be expected from a performance with a popular musical score, and it is an energetic and dynamic compilation of songs that is quite overwhelming in its execution. By the end, the audience aren’t going to refuse Norman’s offer to join in the celebrations, C’mon Everybody he sings, encouraging everyone to stand up in their seats and dance in the aisles – and boy, do they.

            Dreamboats and Petticoats is a whimsical tale of youthful love narrated through the lyrics of popular rock ‘n’ roll songs. It features more than big skirts and cute boys, even spots, periods, Wagon Wheels, Jubbly’s, hoola-hoops, Coronation Street, ping-pong tables and Hitchcock’s Psycho get a mention. The play is wonderful and witty, the cast are devoted and talented, the singing is sensational, and the dancing is, ultimately, unavoidable – an excellent night out.

Dreamboats and Petticoats is on at the New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham from Tuesday 2nd May to Saturday 6th May before moving on to other venues.

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