Dreamboats and Petticoats at The Playhouse Theatre Edinburgh takes us back to the music of the late 1950s and early 1960s for all too short a time. This show is unusual insomuch that it is a stage production (first performed in 2009) that was developed on the back of the unexpected success of the “Dreamboats and Petticoats” series of CD albums that sold over a million copies. The music on the albums covers the periods from roughly 1957 to 1963 (rock’n’roll to just coming into The Beatles eras). Our story though is set in a local youth club in 1961, so some of the songs are later than that, and impossible for our characters to have heard at the time. To be honest though, historical accuracy really does not matter too much in this production as the show is basically a “jukebox musical” with a pretty basic teen romance story of unrequited love, hopes, dreams, good girl, bad girl, good boy, bad boy scenarios and of course the music.
This production does have some problems that are always going to follow it around, and probably the biggest one for any performer is the format of the show. Here, the music is the star and everything else is in second place to that, and to that end, all of our characters are really designed to be completely interchangeable with whoever is playing that part on the night. This really is not a show with strong starring roles for anyone or even roles that allow any one performer to really make their stage presence felt on. Having said that though, our two young teenagers in love (even though they refuse to admit it to each other) Bobby and Laura are well performed by Alistair Higgins and Elizabeth Carter, and both do some nice work on many of these teenage songs. Both of them also have that youthful appearance and vulnerability on stage to get away with singing many of these songs…”Teenager In Love”, or “It’s My Party” simply stop working as songs when the performer is past a certain age. Elizabeth Carter as Laura for me stole a lot of this show by somehow managing to bring to life that lightness of being only someone her stage age character (just turning 16 years old) can have.
We of course have more characters, and our two other main girl leads – Laura Darton as Sue and Gracie Johnson as Donna are interesting contrasts to Laura’s innocent and studious home girl character. Laura and Gracie also get some very sharp and cutting dialogue between one another – the sort of comments that only real friends can say to one another and survive a friendship with.
Our principal “bad boy” Norman is well played by Alastair Hill, but sadly despite some great vocals and some good on stage performances, the character is not a good one as it is far too one dimensional and at times looks a bit like a not too good copy of “The Fonz” from the Happy Days television show or a very poor Danny Zuko from Grease. None of this is Alastair’s fault, the character is just that way. In fact, at times the whole production treads a very fine line of not falling into either a Happy Days or a Grease parody.
David Luke as Bobby’s friend and Laura’s big brother Ray puts in a nice contrast here to Norman as a character, but his role is never that well defined here either.
There are a few nice touches in this production and having an older Bobby (Jimmy Johnston) tell his story in flash-back is a nice touch, and Jimmy is also very good as Bobby’s father Phil in the story line we go back to. Phil is also the youth club manager. Having a live band is also a nice touch. The band are competent and knock out the tunes, but again, this is a “play it by numbers” performance for them, and to be fair to all, they do exactly what is required of them.
The set itself is very basic and pretty much just images from the era – film posters, record covers, magazine covers, and again simplicity works. There are times when the band is hidden behind the set for some scenes, and to be honest, that does not work too well as we all know the band are there. Making the band an obvious feature throughout would have worked a lot better for me and would not have been obtrusive into the story line if positioned properly by the stage designers.
Dreamboats and Petticoats is of course about the music, and you can simply switch off for a few hours at this show and relive the songs of your youth, or just enjoy hearing them maybe first time around if you are not old enough to remember the originals. The song list is large and includes pretty much what you would expect from the show - Poetry in Motion, Quarter to Three, Teenager In Love are just a few, and although some are performed a bit like “musical jukebox karaoke” the songs on the whole are well done by the cast and capture at least the essence of the music of that period and that energy of youth. Elizabeth Carter (Laura) and Alistair Higgins (Bobby) also do a good job with one of my favourite songs of all time “Let It be Me”. Originally a French song (Je T'appartiens) by Gilbert Becaud, most people will recognise it from the classic version by The Everly Brothers with those well known re-written English lyrics. A more sympathetic arrangement on this song would have helped both of them enormously in their performance though.
This show is what it is - simply an enjoyable fun night out that had many people in the audience singing along to their favourite songs and left an audience feeling good as they left the theatre.
If you get a chance to see it at any time, there is also a sequel to this show –“Dreamboats and Mini-Skirts”. Do our young lovers and hopefuls get their dreams? I saw the sequel first so it was a bit like watching a prequel for me tonight, and I am not telling you what happens. It would be interesting to see a combined back to back tour of these two shows played on alternate nights so that an audience gets to see the full story unfold.
Review by Tom King