Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Theatre Review: Dreamboats and Petticoats

Image Source: British Theatre
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Format: Musical
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Date: July 31 2017
Location: Liverpool Empire Theatre

The summer is well and truly upon us, and for the older generation, there will be plenty of memories flooding back from summers gone by, whether it be having fun at the seaside, outings with friends, first loves or even the unforgettable music of the time.

Dreamboats and Petticoats provides all of these and more through a fun, nostalgic musical which has several familiar story arcs, along with a plethora of classic songs from the swinging 60s. For those who can remember the heydays of such acts as Cliff Richard and The Shadows, the music alone makes this a worthwhile show to see, but the production as a whole makes this one of the more enjoyable shows around.

Dreamboats and Petticoats is largely focused on Bobby (Alistair Higgins), whose desire to become a singer/songwriter is second only to his fantasies about love. The girl who he fancies is Sue (Laura Darton), but her reputation is not the greatest; however, she is a real looker, so she receives male attention from almost every guy she encounters. Ironically, the one man whose affections for her appear to be nonexistent, and who Sue really wants to be with, is Norman (Alastair Hill), who believes that his advanced age and suave charisma, mixed with musical talent and sex appeal, essentially makes him the most irresistible guy in town. Certainly, his outspoken nature makes an impression on Bobby's friends, who start utilising his musical skills for an upcoming song-writing contest as opposed to those of the more distracted yet undeniably clever and talented Bobby.

Lost in all of this is the case of Laura (Elizabeth Carter). Laura is the younger sister of Ray (David Luke), who just happens to be Bobby's best friend. Unbeknownst to Bobby, Laura (who is soon to turn 16) really likes him and wants to be with him; however, whilst Bobby acknowledges their friendship via their agreement to write a song together for the upcoming show, his eyes are really fixated on Sue. At various points, he seems to get his wish, only for Norman to intervene first time around and for his own flaws to be problematic second time. While all this is happening, Laura is desperately trying to impress Bobby whilst also feeling angry and jealous at his attempts to woo Sue. Eventually, the various plot strands come together around the time of Laura's 16th birthday party, and just in time for the big song-writing contest. There are other characters who pop up at various points, some having more of an impact on the story than others.

The tone is definitely romantic comedy, and whilst there are a fair few double entendres, there is nothing in the way of offensive material (though some references and gestures may cause the children in attendance to ask some awkward questions when they get home). The humour is mostly family-friendly, and the show as a whole feels akin to the likes of Cliff Richard's Summer Holiday movie from back in the day. There aren't too many proper laugh-out-loud moments, but there are plenty of amusing scenes, and the acting is believable enough that you rally behind Bobby and Laura through their different yet intertwining journeys.

Oh, and then there's the music. This is the real draw for Dreamboats and Petticoats, and if you're a fan of the classic sixties hits, then you'll love the soundtrack for this production. Just some of the hits covered include Let's Dance, The Wanderer, Shakin' All Over, Bobby's Girl (the character names were picked very carefully for this production), Runaround Sue (ditto), Runaway, Great Pretender, Teenager In Love, Da Do Run Run, Let's Twist Again, Happy Birthday Sweet 16 and loads more including, of course, the song written specifically for this show, Dreamboats and Petticoats.

There are many songs, so there are few scenes with no musical interludes. Being that they are sixties hits, the songs are mostly 2-3 minutes long, so if you don't enjoy one song, another will come along shortly. They are mostly performed excellently, and whilst it's hard to pick out standout songs, I can note that Elizabeth Carter, who plays Laura, is an outstanding singer, and her vocal skills, acting talents and knack of timing for comic effect are the highlight of the show from a performance standpoint. That being said, the performances are strong across the board, especially when it comes to the singing, though a few characters occasionally struggled to hit the high notes.

Elsewhere, the settings were kept simple but are effectively represented by props such as old-school LED lighting at the likes of Southend Carnival, and the bumper cars/dodgems used by a few characters which roam around stage during such scenes. The only real downside, but it's a minor one, is that the storylines are a bit predictable, so you have a good idea of how the show will end long before its climax. From a personal standpoint, I found it particularly frustrating that a number of attendees were desperate to become part of the show, whether that be by cat-calling or by unsuccessfully trying to lead others into a clapping rhythm during the very early stages of the show. But those couldn't spoil a very enjoyable show and an entertaining evening at the Empire.

Summing this show up, Dreamboats and Petticoats is a feel-good trip down memory lane with some humorous moments, an easy-to-follow story and some great songs, with several strong performances ensuring that this is a fine option for those looking for a summer show to indulge in.

Overall Rating: 8/10 - Very Good