JOYCE MCMILLAN on SAVE THE LAST DANCE FOR ME at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 7.3.12
4 stars ****
THE PHRASE “JUKE BOX MUSICAL” isn’t often used as a term of approval. Yet if you want evidence that it’s possible to do this routine theatrical job with some real elegance and heart, then you should invest a couple of hours in Bill Kenwright and Laurie Mansfield’s latest 60’s tribute show, playing in Glasgow this week. Written by the classic British team of Marks and Gran, the show is set in England around 1962, and tells the story of an apparently doomed romance between pretty 17-year-old Luton schoolgirl Marie, and a black American airman stationed at a big base near Lowestoft, where Marie goes on an unglamorous caravan holiday with her older sister, Jennifer.
The backbone of the show lies in the series of 34 dazzling early-60’s songs – from Sweets For My Sweet to And Then He Kissed Me – churned out with terrific flair by a happy-looking cast of sixteen, including a fine seven-piece band.
Alongside the music, though, this show also offers some thoughtful reflections on racism in Britain and America half a century ago, and on the spirit of an age that set out to conquer it. There’s some superb, simple, smooth jive choreography, and three lovable leading performances. And at the end, we have a tribute not only to the music of the early Sixties, but to the cultural shift it represented – towards a new world of hope and equality that, in some ways, seems as far beyond our reach as ever.