Heartache and young love hypnotised audiences last night when Save The Last Dance For Me opened their national tour at Manchester’s Opera House.
Written by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, the play tells the story of the holiday romance between a young G.I. and a 17-year-old girl from Luton.
Told through the music of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, this classic soundtrack of fifties and sixties hits is perfect for describing the agonies and ecstasies of teenage love.
Set in the summer of 1963, two sisters, Jennifer (Hannah Frederick) and Marie (Megan Jones) leave their old-fashioned parents behind to embark on a week-long vacation in their family caravan.
Blighted by the typical British sunshine and sisterly squabbling, the discovery of the nearby American air force base naturally spices things up.
As with all musicals you would expect the vocals to be strong, however they certainly raised the bar with a brilliant acappella version of ‘Sweets for My Sweet’, showcasing the huge range of voices among the cast.
One solo voice which did rise above the other formidable talents was Tosh Wanogho-Maud who played Rufus. His deep soulful voice was a perfect match for the blues numbers.
An unexpected surprise came from the quality of acting, usually overlooked in musicals in favour of dancers who can sing. In this production, the acting performances ranked higher than the modest but well executed choreography, making the characters and the chemistry more believable.
There is plenty of comedy too. Jennifer, the eldest sister, delivers the funniest lines and cleverly positioned songs like ‘Tell Her’ inject humour into otherwise solemn moments. Sung by A.J. Dean, who plays Milton, it is impossible to keep a straight face as he is a joined by a camp backing band, which includes a maracas player with very loose hips.
Speaking of loose hips, A.J. has definitely mastered the Elvis Thrust and lip quiver and pulls off two star performances with ‘Viva Las Vegas’ and ‘Here I go again’, bursting with swagger and teen crush appeal.
The classic hits got the audience fired up spurred on by encouragement from the cast, namely Hannah (Jennifer) who had a great connection with the crow, and, despite it being the opening night, seemed to enjoy every minute.
That too can be said of Laura Emmit (Della), who smouldered in her scenes, of which there weren’t enough of, and was by far the best female dancer, and played two great roles.
This is a great production – it is a musical but one with a strong storyline and great acting which connects you to the cast after a slightly slow start.
And it’s not just for those among you who can remember these tracks the first time round, reminiscing about those misspent summers of love and heartbreak. This is a romantic and humorous story that anyone who ever fell in love, will enjoy reliving again.
Save the Last Dance for Me will be at the Opera House until March 3.