This is a curate’s egg of a show. It’s good in parts, indeed very good. But some of it is pretty bad, particularly the story. Well, it fits into the well-established genre of American high school teenagers rebelling against authority and having the hots for each other. Think Grease (now condemned by the woke generation), Flashdance, Dirty Dancing, etc. Here, in another movie-to-stage production, we have a rebellious teenager moving with his mother from Chicago to a small Midwest town called Bomont, where teenagers have been banned from parties, dancing, and rock-n-roll by the town council, dominated by the local preacher. Joshua Hawkins as the rebellious ‘Ren’ (not short for anything, he claims) makes himself suitably obnoxious by getting up the noses of everyone who is not a teenager and is intent on livening up the town and getting off with the preacher’s daughter. One feels sorry for the preacher, who has been set up to be knocked down for his adherence to stern, old-fashioned virtues.
On the other hand, the music and the dancing are excellent. Most of the instruments are played on the stage by the actors themselves, with only the bass being behind the scenes. The drum kit is perched high at the back of the stage, and my eye was constantly drawn to Bob Carr’s percussive maneuvers in the dark. The other instruments are being played at the same time as their players are prancing around the stage, and are still note-perfect even when the players are skipping rope. The choreography sure is tight!
The voices are good too, whether solo or in harmony. A particularly fine songstress is Lucy Munden, making her professional debut as the preacher’s (rebellious, of course) daughter. And there are good tunes to go with the voices. Humour is not absent either, and here Aston Merryweather excels as the dim-witted and shy Willard, too tongue-tied to make a move that would certainly be welcomed. There are some inventive sight gags, such as when Ren, swaying precariously on roller skates, pitches forward and saves himself by clutching hold of an admiring teenager’s breasts. Or when Willard starts to demonstrate one way of passing the time in this hick town.
Yes, the show is quite bawdy. Having started off on a low note, I now seem to have ticked off quite a lot of high notes. What it boils down to is that the show, with its preposterous story, is definitely not more than the sum of its parts. But some of those parts are definitely worth the price of admission.
- Based on the hit 1984 movie
- Screenplay, lyrics, and stage adaptation by Dean Pitchford
- Music by Tom Snow
- Director: Racky Plews
- Photo credit: Mark Senior
- Starring: Aston Merrygold and Darren Day
- New Wimbledon Theatre, London
- Until: Saturday 20th August 2022
- Running time: 2¾ hours, including Interval