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Jason Denton (© Mark Yeoman)

Review: Save The Last Dance For Me

Esther Lafferty is taken back to the late 50s and early 60s, and confronted with sisters Jennifer and Marie, and some young and virile US airmen
L-r; Lola Saunders and Elizabeth Carter (© Mark Yeoman)

"There is also a scattering of humour, particularly about the different uses of the same words in UK and American English"

There’s been a recent spate of musicals based around the songs of a particular group, songwriter or era where a storyline has been concocted to showcase a particularly good series of tunes, and this week at the New Theatre it’s the turn of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman whose work blasted out from wirelesses across the country in the late 50s and early 60s.

 

In Save the Last Dance For Me, the tracks takes us back to Luton where we meet two sisters, Jennifer and Marie, going on holiday without their parents for the first time, all the way to the dizzy heights on Lowestoft on the train.

Save the Last Dance for Me band (© Mark Yeoman)

 

This is the era when American airbases in rural locations were packed full of young and virile US airmen, and the behaviour of a proportion of them had earned these GIs a reputation of playing easy with the affections of English girls and leaving them heartbroken (and often pregnant).

From the plain backdrop of an ordinary English home, a station and the inevitable damp weather on the beach, in an instant Jennifer and Marie are in a bright dance hall on an American base, transfixed by men in uniform striding and singing in front of dazzling lights and colour.

While the more worldly-wise of the sisters is happy to have a holiday romance and rather likes the look of Italian Carlo (from Wolverhampton with the accent to match), the innocent Marie, who is as sweet as cotton candy, falls for twinkling Curtis (Wayne Robinson), a black American serviceman, and there seems to be real chemistry between them. However, because of the colour of his skin, and the racism that’s apparent in English society as well as the US, he doesn’t think Marie should be thinking of a future with him and tries to do the honourable thing. The result is a heartbroken Marie.

This production includes Lola Saunders, a finalist on ITV's The X Factor in 2014 as Jennifer – and she can sure belt out a track – and Antony Costa, matured somewhat from his days in boyband Blue – as airman Milton. The band was on stage almost the whole time, and the music was great – and included ‘A Teenager in Love’, ‘Please Mr Postman’, ‘Viva Las Vegas’,’ Can’t Get Used to Losing You’, and the title track, as well as the tremendous a capella ‘Hushabye’. There is also a scattering of humour, particularly about the different uses of the same words in UK and American English – who wants a biscuit at a dance, wonders Jessica when offered a cognac!

This show is a simple narrative of girl meets boy, how the odds are against them, and how all comes good, set gently against a backdrop of attitudes of mid twentieth century Britain. With a great array of classics from the era, the auditorium loved it, many clearly reliving their youth as they swayed, sang along and got to their feet for a standing ovation, delightedly dancing that last dance!

- Esther Lafferty

By Laurence Marks & Maurice Gran | Featuring the hits of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman | Presented by Bill Kenwright and Laurie Mansfield | At New Theatre Oxford until Saturday 23rd July 2016

 

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