With the pandemic having made the future uncertain, we’ve been compelled to look back at the past, to the glory days of our youth when everything seemed possible. That’s always been the magic behind Bill Kenwright’s smash-hit jukebox franchise, Dreamboats & Petticoats, based on the multimillion selling compilation albums. The latest installment, Bringing On Back The Good Times!, is the third in the series, but you don’t need to have seen the first two to enjoy this fabulous, feel-good show.
Written by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, the story centres around sweethearts Laura (Elizabeth Carter) and Bobby (David Ribi), as their musical dreams threaten to keep them apart. While Laura’s chart-topping success earns her a starry residency in Torquay and equal billing with Frankie Howerd, Bobby is booked for the summer at the far-less glamorous Butlins in Bognor Regis, along with his old crew from St Mungo’s Youth Club. With both his career and his relationship in jeopardy, Bobby makes one final bid to save both: a wildcard run at becoming Britain’s entry in the Eurovision Song Contest.
The show really captures the feel of the era, thanks to an energetic cast, playful direction, and magnificent renditions of some of the decade’s most beloved songs, from Pretty Woman and C’mon Everybody to Keep on Running and Mony Mony. Sean Cavanagh’s colourful set of scrapbooked ticket stubs and album sleeves, and Carole Todd’s zesty choreography, also capture the fun and flamboyance of the decade. It’s a non-stop party from beginning to end: a joyous celebration of the music that made us, featuring more iconic tunes than you can shake a (rhythm) stick at! Everything is played and sung live onstage, and you won’t find a finer ensemble this side of the 60s. Ribi is excellent as the budding Buddy Holly and Carter as the Lesley Gore-alike, while Alastair Hill as the roving eyed frontman of Norman and the Conquests is responsible for some of the funniest moments in the show, especially when paired with Lauren Anderson-Oakley as his beleaguered wife, Sue.
The song list is bursting at the seams with some of the most iconic tunes in music history, and they’ve never sounded better than they do here. For a band aptly called ‘the Conquests’, they really do take no prisoners – so huge kudos to Benji Lord on bass, Joe Sterling on electric guitar, Alan Howell on acoustic, Daniel Kofi Wealthyland on drums, and musical director Sheridan Lloyd on keys. There’s fantastic musical backup by Lauren Chinery and Chloe Edwards-Wood on sax (and dancing) duties, plus some bravura brass courtesy of Rob Gathercole and Mike Lloyd, the latter of whom also plays a tyrannical Butlins Redcoat who steals every scene he’s in (imagine if Tom Hardy’s Charles Bronson joined the cast of Hi-De-Hi and you’re halfway there).
The songs fly so thick and fast that there’s often not enough time to applaud them all, which is what happens when the incredible Samara Clarke sings an utterly breathtaking rendition of Where the Boys Are. And while the music is staggering (Baby Now That I’ve Found You is a knockout), some of the show’s most powerful moments come from their a capella arrangements of Blue Moon (a real showcase for David Luke) and Come Softly to Me. Lord, Sterling and Gathercole playing twee Eurovision hopefuls was a standout (The Kennies were robbed!) and David Benson’s pitch-perfect Kenneth Williams’ ‘Ma crepe suzette’ bit had everyone in stitches. The cast also boasts a genuine star of the 1960s music scene: Mark Wynter (of Venus in Blue Jeans and Go Away Little Girl fame), who portrays Laura’s sagacious manager, Larry.
The show really comes to life in the second half, and while some of the ‘lead in’ dialogue is tenuous at best (‘How would you describe Laura?’ Cue ‘Pretty Woman’) but it’s all very tongue in cheek and who needs an excuse to sing Roy Orbison, anyway? If you experienced the music yourself the first time round, or if you’ve grown up listening to your parents’ or grandparents’ records, this show is a must-see. The 1960s aren’t just an escape: they’re a mirror. It was a time, like ours, filled with rebellion, political upheaval, and the threat of war on the horizon. The songs, and the performances, underscore the show’s clearest, loveliest message: that the good times will return, and better than ever.