Hard on the heels of Dreamboats and Petticoats we now have another musical concoction based around songs of the late 50s and early 60s. Nostalgia is the key factor – nostalgia for the early days of rock'n'roll, for sexual innocence, when girls of 17 were sweet and coy and dressed like their mothers, and for a time when hardship was beginning to give way to a new prosperity.
One can count on the fingers of one hand the jukebox musicals that successfully weave a believable story between a string of (mostly) recognisable songs that have some kind of relevance to the invented characters and their predicament.
In this instance, those wily old hands Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran contrive a fairly lame and predictable plot about a young girl on holiday in Lowestoft who falls for an American airman and decides she loves him only to lose him, and then almost win him back, almost lose him again and then finally win him back again.
Frankly, the wily old hands could have come up with something a little more interesting. It doesn't help that the two young lovers seem strangely ill-matched and ill-at-ease with each other. Few sparks seem to fly in this whirlwind romance.
It also doesn't help that the figures of authority – the girl's parents and the American Sergeant – are, in the case of the parents, cartoon characters with about as much threat as a pair of rice puddings, and, in the case of the Sergeant, required to be stern and commanding one moment and then to fling himself into a loose-limbed, high-stepping dance routine a moment later.
Okay, this is not meant to be "reality" – it's an affectionate musical with theatrical tricks – but the tricks can't help but dilute any semblance of belief in the characters, which is surely what is being aimed for when inventing a storyline in the first place.
What happens then is what happens in most jukebox musicals – you just wait for the next big number, and often find some creaking dialogue that cues it. For instance, the young airman, Curtis (Kieran McGinn), says to his girl, Marie (Elizabeth Carter), "I'll take you anywhere you want to go!" To which his buddy says "Take her to New Orleans!" And the band strikes up ‘'Way Down Yonder in New Orleans''.
But enough carping. It's easy to knock a formulaic piece like this (and it doesn't come much more formulaic). It is also true to say that the young cast perform with great zest: they sing, dance and play in the band with equal agility, and the show is bright, breezy and captivating.
There is real talent on display. The production (by Bill Kenwright himself) is slick in the extreme, the choreography (Bill Deamer) sharp and snappy, and Mark Bailey provides some wryly humorous period design.
I just wish the hapless parents didn't have to be handed saxophones for the next number in the middle of doing their parental best to be shocked and outraged by youthful carryings-on. But there I go again…
- Giles Cole