Last things first. It struck me as a significant artistic error for directors Bill Kenwright and Keith Strachan to end this excellent new jukebox musical with The Marvelettes (and later The Flying Pickets) hit When You’re Young and in Love. The song introduced a plangent, melancholic note to what had hitherto been a largely upbeat celebration of the British beat boom culture, appropriate as it is as a reflection of the teenage romantic angst also being explored. More seriously, its delivery as a chorus number, which obliges everyone to toe the line on stress and inflection, deprives us of the yearning beauty of a single voice singing lead.
Grouse over, let me wholeheartedly welcome Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran’s continuation of the story begun five years ago in their smash hit Dreamboats and Petticoats. The show is warm and witty and supplies a wonderful feast of nostalgia for those such as I (and my many fellow oldies in the Oxford first-night audience) who were around in the sixties and, yes, remember them. Great songs roll by one after another, all impeccably performed by a hugely talented young cast and a superb onstage band led by musical director (and ace guitarist) Michael Kantola.
We start in Essex once again, where lovebirds Bobby (Alex Beaumont) and Laura (Elizabeth Carter), fresh from chart success with a self-penned number, are experiencing difficulties both professional and personal. Their on-off partnerships in both senses are curtailed, as Bobby joins The Conquests, led once more by — geddit? — Norman (Ross William Wild), while Laura embarks on a successful solo career.
She steps out in Cilla Black/Sandie Shaw mould, to both of whom she bears a strong vocal resemblance. There is a visual one, too, owing to the attentions of her Vidal Sassoon-like crimper brother Ray (David Luke), who also manages The Conquests, and the sharp, Mary Quant-style fashions she gleefully parades on stage.
Laura’s professional rise occurs largely out of view, with the focus as far as she is concerned as much on her link with her pals, Ray’s squeeze Donna (Anna Campkin) and Norman’s heavily pregnant wife Sue (Louise Olley). Their joint delivery of The Toys hit A Lover’s Concerto is a highlight of the show, while Sue’s belting lead vocal on The Ronettes’ Be My Baby shows how effectively Phil Spector’s ‘wall of sound’, over which he laboured so long in the recording studio, can be reconstructed these days in live performance.
From the men of The Conquests, meanwhile, we hear a string of great period hits (including Louie Louie, Swinging on a Star and The House of the Rising Sun) as we follow them on a musical odyssey around the country in their bid for stardom. One port of call is Liverpool’s Cavern, where we witness a stunning Twist and Shout from ‘The Liverpool Foursome’, and later (a clever touch!) we’re at Oxford’s New Theatre, said to have a really great audience (how true).
As one lucky enough to have once seen Roy Orbison here, nothing stirred me quite so much as the band’s take on Oh Pretty Woman, with vocals from Norman and Bobby, and the latter’s sensational soaring account of It’s Over. True magic.
Dreamboats and Miniskirts
New Theatre, Oxford
Until September 6
Call 0844 871 3020 atgtickets.com/oxford