Review: Save the Last Dance for Me – Manchester Palace Theatre

The swinging 60s juke box musical, Save the Last Dance for Me, is currently stationed in Manchester. The UK tour is currently in motion and it’s rocking and rolling people all over the country as it goes.

Save the Last Dance for Me follows the story of Marie, a sweet, naive 17-year old, and her sister Jennifer, who’s all sexually liberated and stuff (yaaass, queen – get it!), who take their first holiday away from their old-ways mum and dad to rainy Lowestoft where they befriend a troop of super friendly, surprisingly musical American airmen. Marie promptly falls in love with a black guy and a beautiful love story full of casual racism and impromptu a capella follows. Ah, you’ve gotta love the 1960s!

The show uses the classic hits of the time, such as ‘Viva Las Vegas’, ‘Sweets for My Sweet’ and of course ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’ to portray the tribulations of Marie as she fights to keep Curtis’ affections when her family and his fellow military members tell him his love won’t last. I absolutely didn’t know the songs bar a couple, being born 30 years after they were recorded, but knew the tunes which the audience were encouraged to sing along to. I’ll take a bit of classic Elvis, any day. Thank you very much – my nan would be proud!

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The headline cast comprised of Blue’s Antony Costa, The X Factor’s Lola Saunders, and The Lion King’s Wayne Robinson. So even though I knew nothing about this musical except that it looked like An Officer and a Gentleman from the promo poster, I was hopeful. For reals, I thought it was something to do with the Julia Styles movie where she dances – silly me. That movie is boss, though.

I’ll start by saying that at first I struggled because I didn’t know much of the music and I was naively unaware how taboo it seemed in the 60s for an interracial couple. Then, during the interval, I chatted with my companion and a couple of ladies from the same era as the music and they confirmed what I was thinking: the production was super white. Like Ugg boots, an Instagram post of your Starbucks and a Facebook status saying, ‘Why don’t we have a white history month?’ white. And Antony Costa was getting so much stage time and his role was kinda like the asshole best friend who tells the cute guy to give up his love because the locals won’t like it, so I was like, ‘Get away, son! Get the people with rhythm on stage.’ Like, I swear, Wayne Robinson and his commander Rufus, played incredibly by Sackie Osakonor, were the only people of colour in the show and they had more rhythm in their little finger than the rest of the cast.

I understand it was supposed to be representative of the U.S. military in the 60s but it was like they’d grabbed a bunch of middle aged dads off the street and told them to throw on uniforms. The cast choices were understandable, though, because they were also the band. Marie’s mum and dad were the saxophonists which proved for some hilarious scenes in which they just whipped saxophones out of nowhere and started playing whilst their daughter was whining about her holiday romance being in danger of not lasting. More black people, thanks.

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I enjoyed the second half a lot more because I wasn’t taking it so seriously. The same happened when I saw Footloose. The first act is like, ‘Serious musical. Get your performing hat on. Everything has to be polished and wooden and by the book.’ But by the second act I was way more relaxed and thought the jokes were funnier, and the songs were great and the white people weren’t so white. I think it’s because the black guys were more prominent and had more jokes and songs. I loved it and was up dancing at the end with all of the old people. Edwina Currie was sat behind me and she was getting her LIFE!

My MVP was Sackie. Rufus was stern when he needed to be, funky when he needed to be, legit the best dancer whether he was trying to be or not. I could NOT take my eyes off him! He’s a total daddy. Sackie can stay.

Lola Saunders of X Factor fame played Marie’s sister, Jenny, and I was relating to her so hard. She was a total hoe, the strongest singer and got the most laughs, which are three qualities we share. She filled the big sister role perfectly and to say it was her first stage show casting, she did excellently – even if her clicking hand was upside down (all T, no shade).

If you’re of an older generation – older than me by like 30 years – you’ll really enjoy this musical. The times of casual racism, Elvis and U.S. Air Force bases being all over the UK were your heyday! If you broke the mold and weren’t fussed about interracial love, you’ll LOVE it! I liked it. It was pretty camp, there were a coupla hot guys in uniforms and it was about fighting racism – three other things I can relate to.

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Save the Last Dance for Me is currently touring around the UK. Shows, times and tickets are all available on the ATG website.