Although generally aware of new touring musicals, Save The Last Dance For Me must have slipped through the net, as I wasn’t aware of this new Bill Kenwright offering. Unfortunately there does seem to be a stigma surrounding jukebox musicals which often surprises me due to the success of Mamma Mia, Jersey Boys etc.
Save The Last Dance For Me is “full of rock ‘n’ roll classics” and features the hits of Pomus and Shuman plus many others. Glancing through the musical numbers in the programme before the show, I probably recognised about half a dozen in a thirty seven strong repertoire. Clearly I was not the target audience for this production as the beautiful Wolverhampton Grand was filled mostly with those over sixty - and they certainly embraced it, knowing every word to every song!
With the clever use of actor/musicians, this production really did surprise me. Not without fault but a thoroughly enjoyable evening at the theatre. The story is set primarily in Lowesoft in the summer of 1963 and centres around a budding romance between an American GI, Curtis (Jason Denton) and seventeen year old Marie (Megan Jones).
The piece is very well directed by the producer himself, Bill Kenwright and Keith Strachan who also provided musical supervision and arranged the music. When the curtain rose to show the first set, I did get the impression that it was going to be a little cheap and cheerful. However, I was pleasantly proven wrong when it was flown out to reveal a fantastic American style bar venue, designed by Mark Bailey. Lighting Designer, Mark Howett, was able to bring out the best in the sets/costumes and in the many musical numbers, gave a real 1960’s kitsch feel to the show.
Possibly the stand out element for me was the choreography. Having worked with and seen many of his productions before, this show equally screamed Bill Deamer. He puts such a stamp on anything he works on and I really believe he is at the forefront of British choreographers at present. His assistant, Kylie Anne Cruickshanks also needs to be applauded as the way they work together to create the final product is quite extraordinary.
Bill Kenwright has really found talents in Megan Jones playing Marie and Hannah Frederick playing Jennifer. Jones has one of the purest vocal tones I’ve heard for a while and was equally strong in her dancing and acting abilities. Frederick’s energy was infectious and it was so clear that she was loving every minute, as were the rest of the company. Another “magic moment” for me was Graham Weaver’s (Carlo) rendition of ‘Hushabye’ - such an amazing falsetto voice.
The vocals overall were stunning and a considerable amount was sung accapella - so well done. My only real quibble about this production was that I felt perhaps too many musical numbers were crammed in. All were executed brilliantly but it could have done with a few less to give the book a chance to shine more.
Save The Last Dance For Me is on at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until Saturday June 2.