Inspired by last year’s best-selling compilation CD of the same name, Dreamboats and Petticoats is the latest in a long line of jukebox musicals designed to capitalise on our seemingly endless appetite for nostalgia in general, and the 1960s in particular. And Bill Kenwright’s large scale touring production certainly pulls no punches, delivering a superb and energetic cast of actor/musicians, a song-book containing over 40 hits from the likes of Roy Orbison, The Shadows and Chuck Berry, and a script by distinguished writing team Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran (Goodnight Sweetheart, Birds of a Feather, Shine on Harvey Moon).
The programme proudly boasts that all the music and singing is live, which is sadly becoming a rarity in regional productions these days, and there is no doubting that this is where this show wins over other nostalgia pieces doing the rounds. The band are not only onstage throughout, but are also fully integrated into the show playing various roles – the saxophonist girls (Francesca Loren and Emily O'Keeffe) are breath-taking with their ability to play mean sax, whilst twisting and jiving along with the rest of the cast!
Marks and Gran’s story, such as it is, is set at St Mungo’s Youth Club ‘somewhere in Essex’ in 1961, at a time when youth were breaking away from the constraints of their parents and discovering rock-and-roll along with themselves at the local hop. Young Bobby (David Ribi) yearns for an electric guitar, to become singer for the local band, and to go out with youth club siren Sue (Katie Birtill) – his dreams ever thwarted by ultra-cocky newcomer, the ‘Presleyesque’ Norman (Ben James-Ellis). All the while specky song-writing school-girl Laura (Samantha Dorrance) worships Bobby from afar, and waits while he finds himself. After a traumatic youth club day trip to Southend-on-sea, where hormones rage and emotions run high, their love begins to blossom.
However the show does not trouble itself with too much plot, many of the lines act just to link one smash hit song to the next.
The central performances, especially those of David Ribbi and Samantha Dorrance, are exceptional. Both have fantastic, powerful singing voices, well suited to the early 60s sound. They are ably supported by James-Ellis, Katie Birtall, Josh Little (as Laura’s brother Ray) and Anna Campkin (Donna), along with a young and talented ensemble.
The affectionate and evocative setting, effected expertly by designer Sean Cavanagh, perfectly frames the nostalgia-fest, and the Southend sea front setting, complete with bumper cars / dreamboats, is inspired. Carole Todd’s energetic and authentic choreography also compliments.
But the real star of the show - and what most people must come for - is the sensational 60s music, which is lapped up by a like-minded audience. With hit after hit, including “Bobby’s Girl”, “Do You Wanna Dance?”, “Dream Lover”, “Runaround Sue”, “Only Sixteen”, “Teenager in Love”, “Let’s Twist Again” and “At the Hop”, you can barely catch breath between numbers.
In Bournemouth, as I am sure is replayed in theatres up and down the land, ladies of a certain age - who are surely old enough to know better - jig along impatiently in their seats throughout until the finale, when they are at last allowed to get up and twist in the aisles, with scarcely a thought for the inevitable slipped disks and fractured hips that will result!