Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Dreamboats and Miniskirts - Belgrade Theatre, Coventry - until Saturday 15 November 2014

In 1963 President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, the great train robbers were on the run and I was just two years old.

But in 1963, British popular music was also in its infancy, with the emergence of young groups from English cities like Liverpool and London pumping out a new hybrid form of American rock 'n' roll music. A phenomenon called Merseybeat was gathering steam and the greatest pop group of the entire century, The Beatles, were about to start their domination of the new culture with the release of their first single Love Me Do.

The post-war generation had come of age and the gap between the generations seemed to be widening. Radio stations, magazine covers, clothes shops and television programmes were becoming brasher, louder, more colourful, more liberal and more controversial. Old values were under fire, class, race and gender barriers were coming down whilst skirt hems, ironically, were going up. 

Dreamboats and Miniskirts is a musical show which is based on a book about the era by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, which in turn was based on a hit compilation album - yes, a musical based on one of those CDs in the glove-compartment of your car. The show follows up their previous musical based on another car CD for long journeys, Dreamboats and Petticoats, which premiered in 2008. Miniskirts is directed by Bill Kenwright and Keith Strachan and produced by Laurie Mansfield.   

Dreamboats and Miniskirts takes up the story of Bobby and Laura who we quickly learn (especially those of us that haven't seen the preceding musical) are an endearingly innocent duo of teenaged balladeers who launched a pop career from the humble origins of St Mungo's youth club in Essex. 

Bobby and Laura are surrounded by a cast of other characters, mostly friends from St Mungo's with similar aspirations of stardom and the storyline follows the trials and tribulations of their romantic misunderstandings and their teenage dreams.

Dreamboats and Miniskirts is pure, unadulterated musical entertainment. What it side-steps in terms of historical social comment or deeper psychological meaning and my comparisons here are with other retro-pop based musicals I've seen in the past few years such as Townsend's Quadrophenia, Ben Elton's We Will Rock You  and the superb Two Minute Heroes which was also at Coventry's Belgrade a month ago, it more than makes up for with non-stop nostalgic hits performed by a very accomplished cast of singers and musicians.

There are of course plenty of cultural references to the year in question (late 1962 to mid 1963). The set is tremendous and uses fantastic floor-to-ceiling displays of images of the era, iconic photos, adverts and news paper clippings to create an authentic retro-feel throughout the show. The producers have also gone to town on the costumes and hair styles which reflect the fashion revolution of the time, the Mary Quant, Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton looks are in abundance and the white boots and short dresses of the girls complemented by the thin ties and slim line suits of the guys. 

This is a great night-out, packed full of the great sounds of 1962-63, including such classics as....

Be My Baby, It's In His Kiss, Groovy Kind of Love, Twist and Shout, Do You Love Me, I Get Around, Hippy Hippy Shake, Oh Pretty Woman, All I Have To Do Is Dream

Oh, actually the list is much longer and is pretty damned impressive. Talent factor 10, musical entertainment 10, wow factor 10.      

Being born in 1961, I was possibly one of the youngest audience members on opening night at the Belgrade. So would I only recommend this to the post-war generation? In answer, I would point out that my fellow reviewer was my 12 year daughter Alice, whom I had the niggling concern might have become quickly bored by a couple of hours of the hits from when dad was a mere toddler, but not so. Alice knew over half of the songs and found the whole show captivating and entertaining (and her comparison might be High School Musical) proving that this is a story and show for all generations.

Dreamboats and Miniskirts is on at the Belgrade Theatre Coventry until Saturday 15 November 2014.


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