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Dreamboats and Petticoats (Tour - High Wycombe)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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Although the title makes you want to gag, this musical is actually a much better experience than its title suggests. Born of the million selling eponymous music compilation series, Dreamboats and Petticoats, the ‘ultimate British rock and roll musical’, aims to recapture the spirit of the rock and roll era of the early 1960s. It accomplishes this not just by offering over forty hits from the time, but perhaps even more effectively by establishing an innocent cheerfulness, reminiscent of a time when authority was respected and even the teasing of ancillary staff was done with good humour and a base-line acknowledgement of their status. The stage rings with great energy for the full two hours of this show, with near-faultless performances from the cast. Plot is not this musical’s strongest suit, indeed the story is loosely constructed around the song-titles, but the acting is affectionate and sincere, and the songs themselves are delivered with great gusto and verve. Both halves commence with a somewhat extraneous contemporary moment as Daisy (Sophie Byrne) and her grandfather (David Cardy) unearth some records and an electric guitar from his attic. But as soon as the time rolls back to 1961 and the place unfolds to become St. Mungo’s Youth Club, the show establishes its authentic rhythm and energy. Taking its cue from the dominant themes of unrequited love, dancing and dreaming from the song titles, the storyline was always set to be candy-coloured. The Youth Club band is auditioning for a lead singer, and the two contenders, Bobby, played by Scott Bruton from the X Factor, and Norman, played by Ben Freeman from Emmerdale, are also competitors in love for the heart of (Runaround) Sue, feistily played by Jennifer Biddall. Meanwhile Laura, played by Daisy Wood-Davis, a gauche sixteen year-old, longs to be a successful songwriter and for her heart-throb Bobby to take his eyes off Sue long enough to notice her. Wood-Davis brings to the role the fresh simplicity it merits, and her voice when she sings her solo numbers is surprisingly powerful given her rather mild character. Like AJ Dean, who makes his theatrical debut playing Ray, one can’t help but feeling that had the script been less clichéd they would have enjoyed playing more subtle editions of themselves. Dean for instance offers us a perfectly pitched mimicry of Mick Jagger, and plays his role as the Laura’s brother with real conviction. Emma Hatton, playing Donna, has a gutsy growl to her singing that is very engaging. That their abilities shine through the weak script, thanks to the strength of songs such as To Know Him is to Love Him, It’s My Party, Bobby’s Girl and Poetry in Motion, speaks of their genuine stage presence and talent. What also lends this show particular colour and energy is the fact that the members of the company are so musically versatile, playing tenor saxophone and flute (Sophie Byrne and Wendy Paver) violin and percussion (Deborah Hewitt), lead guitar (Michael Kantola), trombone and flute (Mike Lloyd) alto saxophone (Derek Burbridge) drums (Robin Johnson), piano (Emma Hatton, Ben Freeman and Daisy Wood-Davis) guitar (Scott Bruton, AJ Dean, David Cardy, Stuart Ward) bass (Sam Palladio), trumpet and keyboard (Andrew Venning) and keyboard (Adam Welsh). The second half of the show is even more vibrant than the first with members of the audience getting to their feet and dancing along to classic songs by Roy Orbison, The Shadows, and Chuck Berry. The pace never falters and the show builds up a fantastic feel-good momentum to the finale, which saw the audience singing along and dancing in the aisles. Whatever its minor weaknesses this show has sufficient strengths to triumph and get everyone celebrating the rock and roll era. - Claire Steele

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