Great Music And Smashing Songs Save This Awkward Story

Review: Confusing overwrought plot falls wide of the mark

This is one for the Baby Boomers. Set in the early 1960s, this is another of the Wimbledon shows where some terrific songs are strung together with a plot. It worked well for The Glenn Miller Story and Love Me Tender, but somehow or other, in spite of the stellar pedigree of having been put together by Bill Kenwright, Laurie Mansfield, Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, the team behind the  successful West End hit Dreamboats and Petticoats, Save the Last Dance For Me falls wide of the mark.

Not the fault of the singers and musicians, they're terrific, belting their way through 31 hits of the time including: Rhythm of the Rain, Be My Baby, Then He Kissed Me, Little Sister, Can't Get Used to Losing You and, of course, Save the Last Dance For Me, accompanied by  some classy dancing.

However, they're let down by an overwrought plot and muddled direction.  It's the story of a summer romance intermingled with social comedy and serious discussions on race relations in the deep south of America.  But the strands aren't woven together neatly, so when they come together they jar rather than facilitate a smooth move to the next plot twist.

Jennifer (Lola Saunders) and Marie (Elizabeth Carter) are terrific as the two teenage sisters at the heart of the story on a summer holiday in a caravan in Lowestoft. There's great attention to the detail that captures the atmosphere of the time. 

There are lots of young men  and plenty of romantic opportunities; Jennifer falls  for an Italians ice-cream seller (Alan Howell) and her little sister (cue song) Maria falls for Curtis (Jason Denton), a black American airman. It's the early 1960s, so it raises all sorts of issues, but that's for another  play.  I don't feel it worked in this context, especially with a throwaway line about Martin Luther King and a laboured joke about the possibility of America ever having a black president.

Of course it comes all right in the end, although I'm not sure how it got there, by this time there was so much going on. But don't worry about the plot, the songs make it worthwhile. If you remember flouncy petticoats, thought Coca Cola was sophisticated, and loved Cliff in Summer Holiday, go for the music, and if it grabs you get up and dance.

By Penny Flood

Save The Last Dance For Me runs at New Wimbledon Theatre until Saturday (April 16)

April 14, 2016

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Save The Last Dance For Me