If you can’t tell already, I love musicals. One of my favourite American Studies modules in Uni was The Hollywood Musical. Give me something where characters burst randomly into song, and I’m happy. Hence my love of Glee. And you know what? I’m glad that we have jukebox musicals. Mamma Mia, We Will Rock You, Rock of Ages…partly because it gives me hope that one day I might actually be able to write a musical, and not have to worry about the actual writing of songs part. (As a side note, I mentioned at the start of Year Twelve in school that I would only audition for a musical, which my school was very big on, if it was We Will Rock You. Guess what they announced for their musical. I can’t sing, I can just about dance, and I can barely act. But I had a hell of a lot of fun in the chorus.)
Anyway! Moving on.
Where I work, I pass the New Theatre in Cardiff, which means I usually see whatever they have playing from one week to the next. And Save The Last Dance practically forced me to walk in there during my lunch break and buy a ticket for me and my Mum.
And I am very glad I did.
Save The Last Dance For Me follows two sisters as they go on holiday without their parents. They meet an American, stationed at a nearby Air Force Base, and attend the dances put on by the military band. The songs are hits that anyone familiar with late 50s/early 60s pop will recognise, all written by the duo of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman. Of course one of the sisters – the younger – falls in love with one of the GIs, but, although they spend a lovely week together, (I love how fast things happen in musicals) he tries to push her away at the end, thinking that no one can accept a black man dating a white woman.
Among this, the older sister briefly dates another of the military men, before realising how much of a scumbag he is and going with the local ice cream man Carlo instead.
The plot is…sort of weak. The racism angle feels like it’s put in just to have a serious edge, and there’s the feeling of pointing at American and going “Oh! So racist,” while showing the British to be more tolerant. (Mum’s comment was, “it wasn’t like that at all) The only character who does say something racist ends up being actually quite a nice guy who was only pulling Curtis’ leg, and he still gets the girl. (That’s Carlo, by the way) If her parents tried to stop their relationship because of race, and not just because they’re trying to protect their little girl from over sexed men, it’s not clear.
Weak plots are not a new thing in musical theatre. It’s nice when a musical does have a solid plot to carry through, but in the case of Save The Last Dance, it kind of doesn’t matter. It’s less about the plot and more about the music, and that’s okay. Not everything has to be a masterpiece. Yes, it had its flaws but they were pretty much the same flaws most musicals suffer from.
It was fun. And a nice way to spend the evening, a great treat for my mum, and the cast were brilliant.
With any jukebox musical – and any cover song – it’s difficult to get a balance between your own voice, and matching the original. Especially as these songs are the kind that are well known, and versions of them will be all too familiar to the audience. The cast were clearly more than up to it. Especially outside of the main two. Curtis and Marie were great, of course, but I think the rest of the cast really added to that more than if the leads had outshone everyone else. Milton (Lee Honey-Jones, by the way, from Swansea and was in Mamma Mia. Mum kept asking me “Which one’s the Welsh one who was in Mamma Mia?) had some great songs, including Here I Go Again (not the Whitesnake version), Surrender and Tell Her. His voice worked nicely with the song choices. The big surprise, however, was Carlo (Alan Howell who, judging by the program, has done absolutely everything) basically blew the rest of the cast away.
That guy has a seriously good voice. When he started with Be My Baby, I think I wasn’t the only one who had a serious case of jaw-drop. Every time he sang, both me and Mum would be leaning forward. And at the end, when he did Viva Las Vegas, it was just brilliant. Powerful, and even with that Elvis tinge to it.
The girls all played their parts perfectly, right from the slutty Doris to the innocent Marie, they all managed to make the songs their own while not making them too different. The dances were great, but I would have liked to have seen more. A lot more. It would have been great to see more of the 50s/60s style dances in there for some songs, rather than having half the cast sitting around and doing nothing.
Like I said, we had a brilliant time, and the cast looked like they did too. I think it’s the sign of a good production when the cast make it look easy and fun, and not like they’ve probably put in God knows how many hours into rehearsing. Yes, the plot was weak and a little rushed at times, but it’s not the kind of thing you go to for the plot.
If you get the chance, it’s really worth seeing. Especially if you’re a fan of that kind of music.
As a side-note, and I found this out from reading the program last night, Pomus suffered from polio as a child, leaving him wheelchair bound in later life. He wrote Save The Last Dance – at first glance a happy, romantic song – after being unable to dance with his wife on their wedding day, and watching from the side-lines as she danced with others. The song takes on a whole new feeling once you know that.