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Review: Save the Last Dance for Me, Newcastle Theatre Royal

NO one's going to be disappointed that this show doesn’t agitate the brain cells like a Tom Stoppard play.

Save the Last Dance for Me

NO one's going to be disappointed that this show doesn’t agitate the brain cells like a Tom Stoppard play.

Proof that it agitates much bigger body parts was all around me by the time of the all-action finale.

Goodness, it was hard to maintain a steely reserve amid all the clapping and twitching. It was like being a pebble on the deck of a trawler after the catch has been hauled in.

But while I’m not a natural twitcher I can appreciate physical exertion when I see it – and on stage there was so much to admire in a young and fit cast choreographed and calibrated like an expensive machine.

Co-writer Maurice Gran, in a recent interview with The Journal, bemoaned misery masquerading as entertainment.

Now I know exactly what I was being softened up for – two hours of happy hits hanging on a tweet-sized plot but with just room for the odd risque line.

The scene is set in a nanosecond.

Seventeen-year-old Marie is off to Lowestoft for a caravan holiday with big sister Jennifer (yes, that was a good time in the swinging 60s). Meanwhile, thousands of American airmen are struggling to keep their hormones in check on a base not far away.

If only Marie’s protective parents knew about that! This was a time when mums wore headscarves and horn-rimmed specs and dads came packaged in beige cardigans.

While Jennifer flirts with a Brummie ice-cream man, sweet Marie catches the eye of uniformed Curtis. That doesn’t make her unique – but will it be different this time?

The fact that Curtis is black is a significant factor, we learn, both in Britain and back home. We are invited to think about this – but not for too long or too hard.

Mostly this is a parade of infectious, sugar-flavoured chart-toppers by the American song-writing partnership of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman whose names are not nearly as well known now as they used to be.

The action mostly takes place at the air base hop which seems to be as permanent a fixture as the asphalt on the runway.

Geordie actress Elizabeth Carter has just the right look for Marie – pretty, demure – but like all the cast she can sing and dance supremely well.

Special mentions for willowy Sally Peerless, who surely lives up to her name on the monster baritone sax, and for Kieran McGinn as Curtis and Jay Perry (ex-S Club Juniors) who do more than belt out a song.

It’s an exhilarating nostalgia ride for oldies who used to flirt at the Oxford but also possibly a revelation for kids. How might they pick up the Pomus and Shuman legacy and run with it?

 

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