A totally objective and unbiased review.
Thursday 12th of January 2012, I had gotten myself some tickets from a mate from Rose Bruford College, I had an enthusiastic companion and we arrived early to the atmospheric theatre where good ol’ rockabilly music was playing, the jukeboxes where changing lights and there were pictures of old stars such as Buddy Holly and Marcie Blane. I stacked myself up with some sweets and savouries n drinkies, before we sat down in our fantastic seats in the stall that we had gotten £30 cheaper from our friend and star of the show Joey Hickman.
The show started and off we went on a pleasant helter-skelter ride down, I think, my favourite era 50’s-60’s placed, most charmingly in south London. I think. Judging on their accents. I was surprised by how young the cast was in general, but it made it more comfortable to watch as the slightly cheesy lines were spoken in teenagey voices. The two leads came on with their strong and quite distinguished voices, and the ensemble we’re pretty on q. The costumes and the nice music made me laugh instantly for what was to be an easy to watch – entertaining – sort of retro concert.
“Inoffensive and as squeaky clean as a toothpaste advert, this musical trip down memory lane was inspired by a compilation album of early 1960s hits, such as Let’s Dance, Dream Lover and A Teenager in Love, that has sold more than a million copies. Presumably somebody thought that if you could string together a story and thread it through with the songs, a million people would besiege the box office. In your dreams.”
Lyn Gardener wrote in her review of Dreamboats and Petticoats in The Guardian, and as usual I can see her point, quite clearly in this case, but what I found was more important about this musical than the actual weight of the piece of theatre itself, and something I will come back to later, is how the show had attracted more than ye olde theatre goer, it had attracted a nostalgic bunch of middle-aged people, dressed in their best.
The show is about, as Wikipedia so wonderfully summarises it;
“In 1961 emotions run high as young musicians Norman and Bobby compete to win a national song writing competition – and, more importantly, the attention of the gorgeous Sue! But when Bobby discovers that shy Laura is no slouch on the piano, love and rock ‘n’ roll fame beckons.”
If I am to elaborate, the play is mainly set in a fictive church youth club called St.Mungo’s and involves a great bunch of hopeful young musicians who compete for the spotlight and for the prettiest girl.
Susie, – The hottie of the show, was a slender blonde with great looks brilliantly white teeth, an alright voice that lent itself to that era with I would say three out of five stars,
but didn’t quite do it for me on the acting side, as she didn’t seem to invest enough in each action, and it was all rather shallow and what we pretentious “straight-actors” would call it; ‘musical-theatre acting’.
The lead boy Bobby was played by a slim baby-faced boy with a high pitched, rather hilarious and slightly annoying voice, which was rather fantastically entertaining WHEN HE SPOKE. When he sang, god I didn’t know what to do with myself. Yes he had a good voice, but a very modern millennium decade pop-voice that embroidered way too much around the simple but genious melodies of the 50’s, except the one song he performed, which blew me away In dreams where his voice was set a lot lower and reached a less shallow and showy base, and curled itself beautifully and delicately around the space and floated into my much more willing ears.
The girl who played the lead girl Laura was rather perfectly matched with bobby in size, voice and humour, and was quite funny but again, there was missing truth. She could hold a tune, she could hold the audience, but her face was forever hidden behind glasses and extreme expressions like the classic “geeky smile” and “virtuous girl is shocked because a boy accidentally touched her”. But it made me laugh when the 60 year old woman in front of me said; “she’s got a lovely voice ain’t she?” And yes she did, but again, much to modern and poppy. For my liking.
Norman, the slightly older and overconfident character had a more retro voice gave me the feeling that the actor had been in “Grease” before as one of the T-bird gang, as his attitude seemed to be tattooed pretty well in to his brain. He was rather more convincing but not really a likeable character, which might be down to the director, but I thought it would have been better if he had really caught our sympathy so it would have been less obvious who we cheered for all the time. When his moment came and he confessed, (I was actually confused whether the character was lying or not) that he had a tough childhood and that he was only craving the love that his dead mother couldn’t give him, it all seemed very weird, when it should have given it all a little twist.
Laura’s brother Ray was Bobby’s best friend and wingman, and played his role quite well, in the scheme of things, he made things happen and worked well as a sidekick. Whenever he was singing however, I couldn’t make up my mind whether I liked his singing or not, and he seemed to be out of luck when it came to sound, as it dabbled on and off when it was his turn. Tut tut soundman.
Worth a mention is of course the character Andy,
who is the bespecled but nonetheless confident ‘bandleader’ in the youth-club, who continuously plays pranks on the grumpy superintendent Frank, and continuously makes the audience laugh with his gag-lines and enthusiastic playing on the keyboard.
Joey practically does three jobs in this show, he plays the role of Andy who is a keyboard player, and he is
the piano-player of the band, and perhaps maybe most impressively, is the assistant Musical Director of the whole show.
Newly graduated and the only one in the cast actually qualified as an Actor Musician, as he has a respected degree from the Actor Musician course from Rose Bruford College, currently the only drama school that holds this course in, -the world.
Remembering a conversation I held with an agent after an Actor-Muso show, he told me how the industry craves the actor musicians more and more, and how Rosie B’s unique course generates a distinctively qualified and fresh year of graduates every year, and how the agents compete to get them signed on to their books. ‘There is a level of professionalism, that you don’t see from other “actor musicians” out there, they know what a mammoth task they have in front of them and they know how to handle the multitasking, as well as keeping an intense truth in both the reacting and the music’, he said. When I asked Joey what he thinks is the benefit of having trained as an actor musician, he says so modestly; ‘I think that at an audition or at the start of a project, I instantly know what the director and the producers are asking of me, while a trained actor who also plays an instrument aren’t familiar with the instructions you can get, such as; “react with the instrument and through it”.’
I know that the Actor Musicians spend a lot of their first year, coupled with their first instrument, learning how to do just that, and the thought for me, is bizarre, but beautifully makes sense. And I learned a lot from working with the genius and head of Actor Musicianship at Rose Bruford, Jeremy Harrison, who works with actors and musicians in a completely different way.
At the end of the show, I sat there satisfied surrounded by glittering ladies and men dressed in waistcoats and ties, and me and my companion hadn’t hesitated in standing up in the end, joining the cast in a little boogie to some more old time classics. They had played my favourite song, “Runaround Sue”, so I was happy-go-lucky and was ready to exit and move towards the stage door.
After a few drinks with my companions and the star of the show, we had discussed a few niceties and I started processing what I had just been through. But one of the things that was mentioned that stuck with me, is that the show brought non theatre-goers to a fun and entertaining night, and although I, being a fan of that era, didn’t feel that it was authentic enough, when the girl who was idolised was the typical skinny blonde that we nowadays put on the cover of magazines, instead of that shapeful and curvy pinup witht he smooth curls and the rounded makeup and style. And the voices of the leads were belting out modernised versions of the old classics with piercing nasal Musical theatre/pop voices, instead of that simpler, deeper and more Rock n’ Roll bluesy voice, that I love so much.
Perhaps it was a choice, perhaps it is down to the director, or the casting agent wanted a modern cast of voices, I don’t know. But the older audience, who clearly had come there to hear their old-time favourites and reminisce about their youth in the golden oldies, were clearly satisfied, and they were taken back in time, and if the show managed to do that to them, who am I to judge, I after all, wasn’t even born.
GOD I WISH.
Thus, if you now what to expect when you get there, and you LIKE the music from that era, I fail to see how you can not enjoy this show, and I will recommend it to anyone who likes a good night out with some easy-to-watch entertainment and who fancies watching girls and boys dressed in HOT and funny 50’s clothes. Sweet. Funny. Entertaining. That’s all.