Following the successful jukebox musical Dreamcoats and Petticoats, sitcom writers Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran bring the heady British Summer of 1963 to the Leeds Grand Theatre in the form of Save The Last Dance For Me.
Set in the seaside town of Lowestoft, the play follows the holiday fortnight of teenage sisters Marie and Jennifer as they are invited to a nearby US Air Force Base to sing, eat hotdogs and dance to the early hours. Between excursions to the campsite, visits to the beach and ice creams on the promenade, the sisters soon fall in love. With the holiday drawing to a close, Marie returns home to the Midlands hoping to keep alight the flame of a holiday romance. Soon it becomes apparent that it is not only the distance between her and Curtis which is a problem.
Save The Last Dance For Me is a pacy, don’t-stop-for-breath production which wastes no time in delivering many classic Rock ‘n Roll numbers, encouraging audiences to join in with the songs and relive their own memories. Somewhat cut down but performed with a relentless energy, faithful renditions of Be My Baby, Suspicion, and Viva Las Vegas will impress audiences of all generations. Musically the show has been meticulously arranged and special commendation must go to the band, doubling as a troop of US soldiers. Instrumentally tight yet performed with a genuine party abandon, each number leaves you tapping your toes and clapping your hands. Standout performances include a superb acapella version of Sweets For My Sweet and an inventively choreographed version of Tell Him with a masculine twist. Some thirty hits are appraised, all with charm and verve.
A multi-skilled cast of musicians and actors buttress the production. Kieran McGinn is emotively impressive as the sensitive American love interest, whilst Verity Jones as Jennifer provides much of the comic relief with bullish charm. Elizabeth Carter is a particular highlight as Marie, showcasing peerless vocals and dramatic talent as somebody to watch out for in future. The ensemble cast are equally good fun to watch, each with their own unique character quirks; Josef Pitura-Riley pitches a running gag perfectly.
The hits are undeniably what keep the show going. Whilst more mature audiences may revel in period gags about the cost of petrol or gollydolls on Robertson’s marmalade, there is an abiding feel of Nineties Sitcom to the interlinking sketches. Lightweight and frothy, the scenes do little more than facilitate a link to the next big number. Indeed, there is an almost playful anticipation to be had here, if neglecting the track list in the programme; audiences can guess at which jukebox hit is to follow judging by thrust of the scene. When Marie laments about “waiting for the postman”, a universal titter ran through the audience as the ensemble broke into… Please Mr. Postman. Cheesy, but charming.
Full of show-stoppers, warmth and some excellent choreography, Save The Last Dance is a musical of high value. It has a good stock of classic hits to help it, with a commendable cast and inventive set. As a nostalgic and cheeky romp to a bygone era, it hits the mark and delivers an engaging and highly entertaining experience for rockers young and old.