This feel-good musical set in the early 1960s in a youth club has been running at the Playhouse Theatre in the West End of London for a couple of years now. As with other examples of the sixties anthology musical (‘Shout!’, ‘Hold Tight!’) it is rather short on story but bursting with pep and energy.
The story, flimsy at best, shows Bobby finding his old gramophone in the loft and starting to explain to his granddaughter about his brief inclusion in a band while at school, singing ‘Let’s Dance’. Brief, that is, because almost immediately after getting the job he is eclipsed by bad boy Norman who belts out ‘The Wanderer’ and gets the girls in a frenzy. Bobby, with his school uniform and unrequited love for the pretty but flighty Sue, doesn’t get another look-in.
But there’s a songwriting competition coming up, and with the help of geeky swot Laura, can Bobby make good and produce something fit for his idol, Roy Orbison?
‘Dreamboats and Petticoats’ works best when it isn’t trying to be clever. There’s a nice scene where Bobby and Laura sing each other their attempts at writing songs but skirt around their own feelings for each other, and another where Bobby’s dad talks of his own parents’ advice not to take the first girl who comes along, but to ‘Shop Around’. Character names allow obvious songs to be incorporated – ‘Runaround Sue’, ‘Bobby’s Girl’ (but curiously not the early 1960s ‘Norman’) – while the good boy / bad boy, good girl / bad girl storyline really makes the ending obvious.
Still, the cast work hard: on the night we went, Norman, Sue, and Babs in the band where all understudies, but perfectly OK, and most of the crowd were on their feet for the final medley of ‘Let’s Twist Again’ and ‘At The Hop’.
If you’d like a good time, and one which will put you firmly back in the time period that was the start of the swinging decade, this is the show for you.