Review: Dreamboats & Petticoats, Sunderland Empire, until Saturday

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ADAPTED for the stage following the surprise success of the compilation album series of the same name, Dreamboats and Petticoats capitalises on the trend of retro nostalgia for a squeaky-clean trip down memory lane.

The year is 1961 and St Mungo’s Essex Youth club is the site of fleeting love affairs and teenage angst as its young members navigate the way to adulthood (and more ambitiously), rock ‘n’ roll fame.

Gathering together a wealth of British and U.S. late 50s and early 60s pop hits, Birds of a Feather duo Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran have created a sweet (if somewhat flimsy) boy-meets-girl storyline to pull it together for a stage show.

If you’re not a fan of the musical, there isn’t a huge amount here for you; the plot’s wafer-thin and the characters don’t go much beyond stock stereotypes.

As such, it’s a world away from a classic musical and more a jukebox of 60s nostalgia that at times feels as if it is merely working through its hefty track-list (of which there are more than 40) and going through the motions of a simple plot that proves to be overstretched in a two hours plus running time.

Nevertheless, Bill Kenwright and Laurie Mansfield have created an energetic production and the charm of its young and dynamic cast forgives much of its flaws.

David Ribi and Samantha Dorrance as Bobby and Laura are flawless and lead the production’s select cast well.

All music is played live on stage and as the cast whittles through a catalogue of hits including Poetry in Motion, To Know Him Is To Love Him, Bobby’s Girl and Runaround Sue, the harmonies and arrangements prove well-crafted and the performers’ energies never waver.

For those able to leave their cynicism at home (or perhaps at the bar after a couple of interval drinks), the energy builds during the second half, ending in an audience sing-a-long of the rousing final numbers.

It’s good innocent fun and while enjoyable for all, the real pull (as evidenced by the last night’s audience demographic) will be for those who lived through the songs first time around.