IT was a grey, dank evening that a large Pavilion audience had escaped in search of fun, brightness and colour. They found all of these in BBLOC’s latest production – and a generous helping of talent, too. The plot may be thin and the libretto pretty feeble, but the charm and intense energy that the company poured into the show carried an enthusiastic audience along in an atmosphere that was sometimes more like a pop concert than a conventional musical.
The show will forever be associated with Cliff Richard. Love him or loathe him, it is his exceptional charismatic energy that has made him a show business icon for nearly 65 years. So whoever plays Cliff’s part of Don, leader of the four boys who decide to drive a bus across Europe, has a problem. James Dixon-Box sings beautifully, moves well and acts more than adequately, but never quite manages to make the part his own, as the shadow of Cliff hovers above him. He would help himself if he dropped the uncertain mid-Atlantic accent when singing.
It is exciting to be present at the start of what is set to be an outstanding career and without any doubt, BBLOC have unearthed a star of the future in Jasmine Gerken as Barbara, the American girl who stows away on the boys’ bus. Jasmine has a pure young voice (which hopefully will not be spoilt by over-training), innate acting ability and, above all, a personality which comes across naturally and to which the audience responds. One very definitely worth watching, in every sense.
The hard graft of the show is done by the other three boys – Edwin (Paul Mathews), Cyril (Dougie Gubbins) and Steve (Jim Brokenshire) – and the stranded three-girl singing group they pick up on the way: Angie (Sally Wheeler), Alma (Lisa Appleyard) and Mimsie (Jo Uzzell). Almost the best thing about the show is the ensemble singing by these six, especially the girls in ‘Gee Whizz, It’s You’ and the boys in ‘Time Drags By’. Paul Mathews’s singing in ‘Move It’ is outstanding and the unaccompanied, close-harmony ‘Living Doll’, with Barbara taking the lead and Don also singing, is the show’s musical highlight.
Comic relief is expertly provided by Elaine Peters, who plays Barbara’s mother, Stella – imagine Sybil Fawlty as the theatrical mother from Hell – and by John Gerken as her uncertainly toupéed sidekick, Jerry.
In such a high-energy show, the amount of dancing that has to be choreographed is exhausting just to think about, and its staging is inevitably something of a curate’s egg. At times it is rather bland, but such times are more than made up for by the excitement of well-drilled numbers like ‘Do You Wanna Dance?’, ‘Move It’ and ‘We Say Yeah’. The colourful costumes add to the gaiety, as does the bright but simple scenery, which cleverly suggests the country through which the boys’ bus is travelling.
If the pace of the production drops, it is because some of the musical numbers are taken surprisingly slowly. The singers’ energy counts for little if it is held back by a slow tempo, and one longed to inject some excitement into ‘Bachelor Boy’ and ‘I Could Easily Fall in Love with You’, for example. It is only fair to say, though, that the interpretation of ‘The Young Ones’ as a smoochy ballad, much slower than Cliff’s version, works brilliantly.
If people are smiling, humming and doing little dance steps along a drizzly Westover Road, a show at the Pavilion can feel that it is a success. They were, and ‘Summer Holiday’ is.