Theatre review: Dreamboats and Miniskirts

Dreamboats & Miniskirts - Arriving at MK Theatre on Monday

Dreamboats & Miniskirts - Arriving at MK Theatre on Monday

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It was back in August 2013 when Dreamboats and Petticoats wowed Milton Keynes audiences with a lively collection of early 1960s hits woven around a jukebox-style musical that had them dancing in the aisles, writes Alan Wooding.

Now the story of Bobby and Laura, Norman and Sue and Ray and Donna has moved on to 1962 according to BAFTA-award winning script writers Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran and we rejoin the show’s three main couples in Dreamboats and Miniskirts, an equally enjoyable sequel from prolific theatrical producer and director Bill Kenwright.

The Marks/Gran theatrical recipe has certainly worked well once again, just as their successful ‘Birds of a Feather’, ‘The New Statesman’ and ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’ shows delivered on our television screens.

And the pair certainly understand the Baby Boomer generation’s love of nostalgia for Monday night’s enthusiastic audience were intent on having a good time from the moment Joe Brown’s chart topping hit ‘Picture of You’ opened proceedings.

WIth Bobby (Alex Beaumont) and Laura (Elizabeth Carter) having had a number one hit with their debut single ‘Dreamboats and Petticoats’, things have since slipped and the duo are struggling with their follow up offerings and their future together.

We also learn that married couple, cash-strapped Norman (Ross William Wild) – who now works in sewage disposal on the drains – and Sue (Louise Olley) are expecting a baby while Ray (David Luke) and Donna (Anna Campkin) have a soon to be successful hairdressing business.

As I’ve already suggested, it’s a typical juke-box style show with a weakish storyline fitted around a host of popular songs … but that’s not a bad thing when the pick of the Sixties hits adds that feel-good feeling.

There are plenty of laughs, witty one-liners and the feeling of a more innocent time which probably went over the heads of the younger members of the opening night’s audience who were predominately of an age who could remember all the hits the first time around!

We’re taken back to the St Mungo’s Youth Club in Essex where The Conquests are rejoined by Bobby who agrees to return to the band as the lead singer having split with Laura.

The songs certainly come thick and fast – there are around 40 in the show – while it’s after a trip to play Liverpool’s Cavern Club that seems to change everything.

Norman has also rejoined the band and comments that the Scouse foursome – who bear more than a passing resemblance to the Fab Four! – have long untidy hair as they belt out ‘Twist and Shout’ amid screams from their loyal fans.

Immediately prior to that, Bobby and The Conquests had played Mark Wynter’s 1960s hit ‘Venus in Blue Jeans’ but it went down like a lead balloon in the Cavern … and from that moment the Mersey Sound phenomenon meant that tastes in musical and fashion were to change forever.

The Conquests gained a Brian Epstein-lookalike manager in Tony (Alan Howell) who suggests that they change their image and style and he sings a version of ‘House of the Rising Sun’ as an example of what’s to come.

Elizabeth Carter is really superb as the sweet Laura, her comeback vocal ‘You Don’t Own Me’ being totally captivating in Act Two (it’s now 1963) as was her rendition of ‘Stay’ in the opening act. And when joined by Donna and Sue, they harmonise wonderfully in both ‘It’s In His Kiss’ and the Everly Brothers’ smash, ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’.

Clean cut Alex Beaumont is great as Bobby although when paired with Laura, they are rather too sweet at a time after The Beatles dominated the charts.

Alex has a great vocal range which allowed him to comfortably hit all the right notes when belting out Roy Orbison’s ‘Oh Pretty Woman’ and ‘It’s Over’ while Ross William Wild was equally believable as Norman. He took the lead in several gutsy numbers including Jimmy Jones’ smash ‘Handy Man’ and The Swinging Blue Jeans’ hit ‘Hippy Hippy Shake’.

Louise Olley was back as Sue, reprising the role she played in last year’s Dreamboats and Petticoats tour, her voice complimenting the feisty Donna (Anna Campkin) who finally makes it up with Ray when she receives a surprise engagement ring.

There was a great acapella version of ‘You Really Got A Hold On Me’ featuring the whole company while all the musicians were brilliant.

With all the music played live (as was the case with the original show), back in the ‘Miniskirts’ cast were Chloe Edwards-Wood and Charlotte Peak who also reprised their roles, the sassy Chloe playing both tenor sax and clarinet while bass saxofonist Charlotte was equally talented with a flute. Quite how they manage to dance effortlessly while playing is a talent in itself while they were joined by trumpet-playing Joseph Pitura-Riley who completed the brass section.

The three guitarists were musical director Michael Kantola (lead) and Will Tierney (rhythm) while bass playing Chris Coxon even switched to playing a left-handed Paul McCartney-style Hofner violin bass in The Beatles’ lively number. Also in the band were drummer Damien Walsh and keyboard playing Sheridan Lloyd who also both featured in last years’ Deamboats and Petticoats tour.

If you loved the Swinging Sixties then you’re sure to love Dreamboats and Miniskirts and while there’s no attempt for the actors to faithfully copy the original vocals, the backing musicians certainly do.

It’s two hours of sheer nostalgia, the storyline rather tongue-in-cheek but that’s perhaps the key to the show’s success. I’m now wondering if Marks and Gran are already working on a third version of the show … ‘Dreamboats and Hot Pants’ perhaps?

Dreamboats and Miniskirts plays Milton Keynes Theatre until this Saturday (October 11) and you can book by calling the box office on 08448 717652 or go online at www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes