Review – Save the Last Dance for me

January 31, 2012 | By More

* * *

Megan Jones' blooming English rose, Marie, in Save the Last Dance for Me

Edinburgh Playhouse

Review by Thom Dibdin

Romance and teen angst are given unbridled rein in this new jukebox musical, which uses Pomus and Shuman‘s classy back catalogue of early sixties Elvis and Drifters classics as its starting point.

It’s 1963, and Jennifer is taking a week’s holiday from counting hubcaps in the car factory with her 17 year-old sister Marie along for company.

In no time at all they are experiencing the dubious delights of the rhythm of the rain on the Lowestoft sea-front. Any regrets are quickly dispelled, with the arrival of silver-tongued band leader, Milton, who invites them to a dance at the American air base a few miles outside town.

The promise of a thousand or so red-blooded young Yanks is hard to turn down.

Hannah Frederick’s sassy Jennifer and Megan Jones’ blooming English rose, Marie, are soon jiving away – or “blocking” as the latest dance craze in Luton has it – to the American flyers’ dance band. It’s not Milton who quick-witted but naive Marie has her eye on, however. That’s reserved for Jason Denton’s earnest singer, Curtis – when he takes his own eyes off her big sister.

Driven by the irresistible ear-candy of two-and-a-half minute pop songs, this is enthusiastic stuff. The book by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran – responsible for Dreamcoats and Petticoats –  skips from one tune to the next with hardly a pause for breath between.

There is enough time to work up a bit of a plot, though. The angst of a 17 year-old, on holiday and getting her first taste of love, is only amplified by the fact that Marie is white and Curtis is black.

While innocent Marie is colour-blind to the realities of interracial love in the early sixties – this is the time when segregation still existed in the Southern states of America don’t forget – they are all too apparent to Curtis and all those around them.

A large young cast give this an added oomph. There’s a live seven-piece band on stage, all ready to drop into the action as a character, and a cast of ten more to keep the stage alive – and join the band on the podium for a turn when needed.

It’s the songs which count
Young love - a scene from Save the Last Dance For Me

Jason Denton and Megan Jones share a kiss in Save the Last Dance For Me. Unremarkable now, but a taboo-buster back in '63

When this is bubbling along it is great to watch and the tunes give it top ranking in the sing-along stakes. Producer and director Bill Kenwright is savvy enough to know that it is the songs which count. He is quite happy for the Marie’s mum and dad to pick up their saxophones, and Jennifer to drop into the girlie backing trio, as Marie takes the solo for Please Mr Postman.

Hannah Frederick is fantastic as the older sister who thought she was going to be having the good time but ends up being her young sister’s gooseberry. It’s a performance that sizzles with light-hearted comedy and fairly bursts into life when her own beau comes along in the shape of Graham Weaver as ice-cream seller Carlo.

To be fair, there are strong performances all over the show. Tosh Wanagho-Maud has all the moves as Military Policeman Rufus, ready to drop a word of advice into Curtis’ ear, step up to replace him on vocals or step out onto the dance floor to wow the girls. While Laura Emmit is all sneering and aloofness as both Della ad Doris, girls snubbed by Curtis in favour of Marie.

So what then of the central pairing? Individually Jones and Denton put an authoritative stamp on proceedings. But while they make a nice-enough couple, they hardly even make first base in terms of believability. Those moments where the twists in the plot should put tears of happiness in your eyes just don’t raise much more than an appreciation that the logic of fictional romance is being satisfied.

Which means that the whole interracial romance thread feels like something of a side-note, a historical context added for authenticity rather than the integral part of the plot is actually is.

That aside, Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran’s book hits all the marks, even if they have to import quite a few songs which weren’t penned by Pomus and Shuman to ensure that it twists and turns in quite the way they want.

A thoroughly enjoyable night out which finds both the sweetness and the dark of teenage years while giving everyone plenty of up-tempo reasons to get up on their feet for the encore.

Running time: 2hrs 20 mins

Run ends Saturday 4 February 2012

Edinburgh Playhouse website: www.atgtickets.com/

Save The Last Dance For Me now tours to:

06 – 12 Feb Bristol
Hippodrome
0844 871 3012 Book online
13 – 18 Feb Aylesbury
Waterside Theatre
0844 871 7607 Book online
20 – 25 Feb Darlington
Civic Theatre
01325 486555 Book online
27 Feb – 03 Mar Manchester
Opera House
0161 828 1700 Book online
05 – 10 Mar Glasgow
King’s Theatre
0844 871 7648 Book online
12 – 17 Mar Bradford
Alhambra Theatre
01274 432 000 Book online
19 – 24 Mar Arts Theatre
Cambridge
01223 503 333 Book online
26 – 31 Mar Liverpool
Empire Theatre
0844 871 3017 Book online
2 – 7 Apr Woking
New Victoria Theatre
0844 871 7645 Book online
9 – 14 Apr Milton Keynes
The Theatre
0844 871 7652 Book online
16 – 21 Apr Nottingham
Theatre Royal
0115 989 5555 Book online
23 – 28 Apr Hull
New Theatre
01482 226 655 Book online
30 – 5 May Worthing
Pavillion Theatre
01903 206 206 Book online
7 – 12 May Eastbourne
Congress Theatre
01323 412 000 Book online
14 -19 May Sunderland
Empire Theatre
0844 871 3022 Book online
28 May – 2 Jun Wolverhampton
Grand Theatre
01902 42 92 12 Book online
11 – 16 Jun Truro
Hall for Cornwall
01872 262 466 Book online
18 – 23 Jun Blackpool
Grand Theatre
01253 290 190 Book online
25 – 30 Jun Northampton
Derngate Theatre
01604 624 811 Book online

ENDS

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