The heady teenage world of the 1950s, with its bobby socks, flouncy skirts and drainpipe jeans, is brought to life in Dreamboats & Petticoats at the New Alexandra Theatre. Early rock ’n’ roll is the soundtrack for this jukebox musical, with Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and Eddie Cochran all featuring in this trip back through the decades.
Set in St Mungo’s Church of England youth club, Dreamboats & Petticoats focuses on the wave of teenage rebellion sweeping the UK. Obsessed with the exotic glamour of their rock ’n’ roll idols, Bobby, Laura and Norman intend to enter a songwriting competition. However, the youth club teenagers are distracted by their adolescent yearnings which, for the the first time in history, are so perfectly mirrored by a custom-built soundtrack. The sound of rock ’n’ roll defines their generation; so raw, thrilling and exciting, it’s small wonder that the teens turn away from school, preferring to earn money, buy guitars and live a glamorous, Americanised lifestyle.
Despite the rocking soundtrack, the narrative of Dreamboats & Petticoats is unfortunately staid and predictable. The girls primp, preen and vie for male attention; the boys are shallow, easily distracted and image obsessed. Even Laura, the female lead who stands apart with her sharp wit and intelligence, is reduced to a sparkling pink princess on her 16th birthday. Glasses removed, she suddenly enjoys the attention of all the youth club boys. Each stereotypical character and situation makes the story less interesting – just a banal sequence of images serving as a vehicle for the soundtrack.
The soundtrack, which promises to be a grassroots reflection of UK rock ’n’ roll, is reduced to fragments of songs, shoe-horned into the plot wherever the lyrics best fit the story.
Whilst the premise of Dreamboats & Petticoats is weak, the stellar cast of the current production make every effort to outshine the dated source material. Collectively, they are outstanding musicians and singers, performing every song live with style and confidence. The lead singers make light work of the demanding solos, often beginning the songs without accompaniment. The highlights of the performance are two stunning acapella numbers which show off the impressive combined talent of the entire cast.
The strongest vocal performance of the night comes from David Luke as Ray, confidently leading both acapella songs. Alastair Hill’s Norman impresses with the style, swagger and vocal hiccups of a 1950s pin-up. In a cast of talented musicians, Alistair Higgins stands out as an admirable actor with his genuine, childlike interpretation of hapless Bobby.
Dreamboats & Petticoats is the epitome of low commitment viewing; light and frothy, with a predictable plot. Whilst the catchy soundtrack could be enjoyed at home (perhaps on the compilation album with inspired the musical) it is worth attending to enjoy the exceptional live music performed by the cast, which rescues this tired show.
Dreamboats & Petticoats is at New Alexandra Theatre until Saturday 6 May and tickets can be found here.