THE huge success of the rock ‘n’ roll musical Dreamboats and Petticoats has spawned a galaxy of simliar shows in the last couple of years, with production companies eager to cater for the surge in interest in the pop music of half a century ago.
To use Juke Box Jury parlance, some have been hits and some have been misses.
Having had the opportunity to see one of the newest of the genre, The Twist, which bounced into the Theatre Royal, Windsor, this week, I can happily vote it a hit.
Don’t go along expecting much of a storyline. The plot is more than a little corny, but the singing and musicianship provide a glorious reminder of how good those hits of the late 50s and early 60s really were.
The action is set in an archetypal American diner – all chrome, neon, milkshakes, cokes and burgers.
Up goes the curtain to reveal a live band, The Twisters, launching into appropriate numbers of the time.
The show, given a dusting of Christmas content to get us into the festive spirit, owes much to the wholesome innocence of Happy Days, and the creators
are only too willing to acknowledge the fact. It even has its own version of Arnie, lovable New Yorker Tony Tremendo (played with admirable conviction by David Peyton Bruhl) whose jokes are as bad as the music is good.
Tony introduces us to a string of famous friends who just happen to be passing by roughly at the same time and drop into the diner to play a few numbers for the customers. Consequently, among those singing for their supper are Buddy Holly, Connie Francis, Eddie Cochran and, of course, Elvis Presley.
What would a rock ‘n’ roll tribute show be without an appearance by Elvis, even if everything seems to get chronologically out of step in the second half when he returns, transformed into his glitzy Las Vegas persona?
As the stars belt out their well-known songs, the diner’s three resident waitresses, Daisey, Maisey and Shirley, bring visual appeal with appropriate dance routines.
Their contributions add enormously to the sheer joy of the production and the level of energy they expend on stage is phenomenal.
Likewise, the band do everything that is asked of them, in the case of the bassist, even more. His antics with his double bass, in which he keeps playing while contorting himself and it into all sorts of positions, look to be only just on the right side of legal!
Musical direction is in the more-than-capable hands of Chris Madin, who has sung on top TV shows including Strictly Come Dancing and the X Factor.
He has written a couple of original numbers in the show.
The Twist is the brainchild of Suzi Jary, who wrote and directed it and plays all the lead female roles. She is a fanatical admirer of the music of 50 years or so ago and has sung with many of the stars of that era, including Mike Berry, Jet Harris and Billie Davis. She also toured in a one woman show about 60s icon Kathy Kirby.
She and her male colleagues give eerily-authentic portrayals of the looks and voices of the stars.
The second half is devoted to a live radio-style session, under the auspices of DJ Danny Delaney (played with an authentic-sounding southern drawl by Jack Harding).
Unusually in shows such as this, we are introduced to many of the top British singers who had so much success in the 60s, and stepping up to the microphone are Petula Clark, Billy Fury and Dusty Springfield.
It was while playing the role of a young Dusty at The Shaftesbury Theatre a few years ago that Suzi first got the idea for The Twist. Her portrayal is stunning, with all the grace and power of ‘the white queen of soul’.
This is a hugely enjoyable show which has the audience enthralled from beginning to end. Yes, the storyline is shallow, the jokes are corny and, bizarrely, there isn’t much twisting, but it’s a wonderfully nostalgic trip back to the years when pop music was innocent and fun.