Save The Last Dance for Me, at The Theatre Royal Windsor
Review by Barry Dix
THEY created some of the most wonderful pop songs of the late 50s and early 60s, classics like Teenager in Love, Sweets for My Sweet and His Latest Flame.
But, like others of their ilk, who skillfully crafted hits for the stars of the day, the names of Doc Pomus and Mort Schuman will only be recognised by diehard fans of the genre.
Now, thanks to this fast-moving, superbly-performed mixture of music, humour and teenage trauma, more people are becoming aware of the huge contribution this unlikely pair made to the history of pop.
Their catalogue of material forms the basis of Save The Last Dance for Me, named after arguably the best song from their vast output. The show is the handiwork of the same team responsible for the massively-successful Dreamboats and Petticoats, which is still entertaining audiences the length and breadth of the country.
Like its predecessor, Save The Last Dance for Me is set 50 years ago - or, as those of us who were there are having to come to terms with, half a century!
Again, despite the predominance of American material, the action is set in England, making it much easier for audiences to appreciate the nostalgia-laden images, humour and emotions.
It's the summer of 1963 and two teenage sisters, Jennifer and Marie, played by Verity Jones and Elizabeth Carter, have gone on holiday for the first time without their parents. Their chosen destination? The exotic delights of Lowestoft.
It rains relentlessly but things look up when the sisters meet servicemen from the US Air Force base three miles out of town.
For the worldly-wise but slightly-gormless Jennifer it's a chance to experience all the things their mother warned them about. But for younger, sharper, more sensitive Marie, there are some difficult lessons to be learned about love and life.
Like Dreamboats and Petticoats, the glorious songs come thick and fast, blended seamlessly into the plot and played with precision and passion by a live group of musicians, in this case in the guise of the house band from the US Air Force Base.
Most of the songs are instantly recognisable, though there are some sparkling, slightly less-known gems among the two hours that the show runs. The audience isn't slow to join in some of the familiar choruses, but it all adds to the fun.
Many of the performers are veterans from the various touring productions of Dreamboats and Petticoats, enusring that, despite their youthful age, their versions of songs that were new long before they were born, are as good, if not better, than the originals.
A couple of the items are performed a capella, bringing a new richness and quality to well-known words and tunes.
Verity and Elizabeth are outstanding in the lead female roles. Elizabeth, as the younger of the two, has a particularly high workload but is never daunted by the task and performs some stunning renditions of various Pomus and Schuman hits.
Kieran McGinn as her handsome American boyfriend Curtis, proves to have a sensational voice. Judging from the photo in the programme he's also sacrificed his curly locks for the sake of authenticity.
Jay Perry as Rufus handles lead vocals with equal aplomb, as does Lee Honey-Jones as Milton.
Needless to say, with the action set in 1963, there is plenty of opportunity for amusing confusion over the different uses of English words and phrases by the girls and the Americans, while there is a great deal of visual humour too, some of which can only be spotted by constant scanning of the stage and cast.
The show is not afraid to confront the subject of racism, both Curtis and Rufus revealing the prejudices they face in their home states in the southern US and, despite all their hopes, finding that they have to confront similar resentment in the UK, particularly from the girls' parents.
The subject is handled with delicacy, apart from one joke involving a jar of marmalade which seemed to elicit the wrong sort of laugh from a small section of the audience. If it was down to me, I would drop it from the show.
That apart, this is another feel good extravaganza which sends everyone home with a smile on their face and a tune in their heads.
Save The Last Dance for Me is directed and produced by Bill Kenwright - who was in the audience on Tuesday evening - with showbiz veteran Laurie Mansfield as fellow producer.
There have been many jukebox musicals in the wake of Dreamboats and Petticoats, some of them more memorable than others, but you can be assured that this one's pedigree guarantees quality.
Save The Last Dance for Me is on a 23-date British tour and is at the Theatre Royal, Windsor, until Saturday August 24. Contact the box office on 01753 853888 orwww.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk.