As someone old enough to remember the Sixties and the days of youth clubs and rock ‘n’ roll dances, Milton Keynes Theatre’s latest airing of Dreamboats and Petticoats really is a nostalgia trip.
Ok, it’s a very cheesy jukebox-style musical based on a string of unrelated top ten hits, but it doesn’t really matter as it’s a fun night out and most of the music is still as popular today as it was then.
Dreamboats is actually based on a hit compilation album of the same name and is the brainchild of BAFTA-award winning comedy script writers Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran who brought Birds of a Feather and Goodnight Sweetheart to our television screens.
It’s set in the 1960s – the era when pop music really took off – and it features a group of Essex youth club teenagers who hope to win a national songwriting competition.
Stephen Rolley plays Bobby, who hopes to become the lead singer in the St Mungo’s Youth Club group but he looks like losing out to his nemesis Norman (Matthew Colhart), a leather jacketed bad boy who also vies for the affections of local blonde bombshell Sue played by Louise Olley.
Bobby is smitten with the bubbly blonde but she doesn’t care for ‘boys’ and wants a ‘man’ and she throws herself at the over-confident Norman who is happy to have the band named The Conquests. Get it, Norman and the Conquests!
Meanwhile Bobby’s best friend Ray (Will Finlason) has a sweet yet gawky 15-year-old sister Laura (Hannah Boyce) who wants nothing more than to get Bobby to co-write a hit song with her. She also sees his disappointment at losing Sue as an opportunity and, despite her teeth braces and glasses, she attempts to step in and win that particular competition!
As expected the show is packed with over 40 pop hits from the period – unsurprisingly ‘Bobby’s Girl’, ‘Tell Laura I Love Her’ and ‘Runaround Sue’ are among them – while the young and enthusiastic cast all have great voices … and that without exception.
There’s plenty of starry-eyed passion as first Sue and Norman and then Bobby and Laura gaze lovingly at one another while most of the laughs come from Ray and his own particular beau, Donna played by Laura Sillett.
With half the cast making their professional debuts after leaving theatre school, the only ‘name’ recognisable to most of the audience is likely to be 1960s heath-throb Mark Wynter.
He plays Bobby’s dad Phil (and the older Bobby) but he gets to sing a medley of his hits including ‘Venus in Blue Jeans’, ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’ and ‘Go Away Little Girl’ at the end of the show.
In his heyday Mark was extremely popular with the ladies and he couldn’t resist cuddling up and singing to one female member in the front row. I remember seeing him performing at Bedford’s old Granada cinema while my wife also recalls him playing football in a celebrity match for the Showbiz XI against Ampthill Town FC in the mid-sixtes.
With all the music played and sung live on stage, it really is a feel good show. Matthew Colhart is brilliant as Norman and looks as though he’s just stepped off the set of Grease as he combs his John Travolta-style locks. His voice was superb as was Bobby’s although you couldn’t help notice Stephen Rolley’s lack of animation as he always sang with his arms seemingly locked tight to his sides.
There is one particular clever sequence when the youth club travel to Southend for an outing. Bobby and Laura leave the rest of the youngsters at the Kursaal Fun Fair while they walk along the pier with him singing Del Shannon’s ‘Runaway’ at the same time as she sings Connie Francis’ ‘Who’s Sorry Now’. It’s quite brilliant!
A couple of dodgem cars – pushed by two Elvis look-a-likes – grace the stage among the well choreographed dance routines while there are several references to Tizer, Jubbleys and Maltesers in the youth club tuck shop.
Ray sings a great acapella version of ‘Donna’ accompanied by the whole cast while Norman’s ‘Great Pretender’ was a show stopper as was sexy Sue’s version of Helen Shapiro’s ‘You Don’t Know’. She was also great in ‘Let’s Twist Again’ and ‘Shakin’ All Over’ in which she duetted with Norman while wearing her slinky outfit.
There’s a comical moment when Sue falls out of Bobby’s bedroom window only for him to launch into ‘Bye Bye Baby’ – and that had the audience in fits of laughter.
Piano playing Laura had a string of great songs throughout and as expected, at her 16th birthday party – ‘Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen’ and ‘Only Sixteen’ – she was transformed into a real beauty which predictable meant she ends up with Bobby. The pair also won the song writing contest with their catchy number ‘Dreamboats and Petticoats’.
Full marks to Chloe Edwards-Wood (Daisy) and Charlotte Peak (Babs) who played saxophones quite brilliantly as they danced energetically while Michael Park (Jeremy) and Mike Lloyds (Frank and ‘Slugger’ in the Southend boxing booth) were also excellent trumpet and trombone players respectively.
Playing over 40 musical numbers, the band under the leadership of Sheridan Lloyd (keyboards), comprised Robert Dalton (lead guitar), David Jay Douglas (bass), David Luke (acoustic guitar) and Damien Walsh (drums) who performed impeccably throughout while the colourful costumes, superb lighting and great choreography makes for a feel good spectacular evening out.
As for the story, well it’s hardly life-changing. In fact it’s Cliff Richard’s ‘The Young Ones’ all over again with the accent very much on fun and nostalgia.
Dreamboats and Petticoats plays at Milton Keynes Theatre until this Saturday (August 17) and you can book by calling the box office on 08448 717652 or go online at www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes