Adaptations of movies to the stage (it used to be the other way round) are coming thick and fast these days. And nowhere faster (I won’t say thicker) than at the New Wimbledon Theatre. No sooner had I been to see the brilliant Saturday Night Fever than i was back to see this adaptation of an earlier cinematic musical, the 1963 showcase for a boyish Cliff Richard. Surely this one couldn’t be good as well? Not after a whole run of excellent musicals at the New Wimbledon Theatre? Like a long-running bull market at the Stock Exchange, a bear would have to raise its paws sooner or later …
Not this time, though. I had never seen the actual movie, so I didn’t quite know what to expect. I feared the worst when it turned out that a bunch of likely lads working for London Transport were going to renovate a dilapidated Routemaster and drive it to Greece, rather than going for their customary fortnight’s holiday in Clacton. This didn’t sound like Kerouac’s On The Road. But hey, once they got going, the jolly mood was infectious. The small but excellent band – concealed out of view, unfortunately – thrashed out a string of Cliff Richard’s early hits (thank goodness Congratulations was too late for that), and they were well sung by the cast while performing feats of acrobatic dancing.
So lively was the dancing that it was a positive risk to life and limb. On the opening night, the star had to retire with an injury after the first half, to be replaced by his understudy. But the transition was seamless, a tribute to this production’s smoothness. And it wasn’t all singing and dancing. The plot is not the most important thing in a musical, but this one, though improbable, provides scope for some hilarious mishaps while the bus is on the road. The London lads pick up a waif on the way, an American boy who turns out to be a girl, and a famous girl at that. She is a popular singer who has escaped from the clutches of her domineering mother, who is also her manager. The loud-mouthed matriarch is determined to find her, aided by her inept (and gay) personal assistant. The pair make a great double act.
The show ends with a medley of hits by Cliff and the Shadows – On The Beach, Do You Wanna Dance?, In The Country, etc. – which had the audience rising to their feet and getting hip to the beat (even people old enough to remember that expression). So, yet again, a great show. This is becoming a habit. Readers will be wondering if I ever do a bad review. Come on, Wimbledon, you can do worse than this!