I guess Summer Holiday the musical aspires to be Britain’s answer to Grease. Like Grease its plot centres on the affairs of a group of young people whose collective charm and energy overcome any weaknesses inherent in the piece to win you over and leave you with a smile on your face and a generally better feeling about the world.
The story concerns Ray Quinn’s Don and his three London Transport engineer co-workers (Billy Roberts, Rory Maguire and Joe Goldie – all great fun), who embark on a road trip in a London bus. On the way they rescue a girl trio singing group (Gabby Antrobus, Alice Baker and Laura Marie) whose car has broken down. Later they find a famous singer (Sophie Matthew) has stowed away on board in an attempt to escape her domineering mother – played by Taryn Studding in fine Miranda Priestly form – and obnoxious agent (Wayne Smith getting the best laughs of the night).
A packed audience at Dartford’s Orchard Theatre enjoyed themselves enormously. That said, even for this apparently partisan crowd, a lot of the jokes fell flat in what is a pretty pedestrian script. That this does not derail the production is a tribute to three things: the enduring appeal of brilliantly simple and tuneful hits like Bachelor Boy, the energy and commitment of the cast and the brilliance of star Ray Quinn.
He’s a performer of whom I’m aware (X factor runner-up, Dirty Dancing, Grease, Legally Blonde) but had not seen on stage. And on the basis of this show, he’s someone I would definitely make a point of seeing again. He has a beautifully resonant singing voice and a delightfully precise, deft way with choreography. Unusually in musical theatre he is often asked to combine the two in a more than perfunctory way, tackling serious high energy dance numbers whilst singing – something he carries off apparently effortlessly.
This production tops up the musical numbers form the film with several other hits. It’s in the musical set-pieces that everything really comes together. Director and choreographer Racky Plews has made sure the ensemble dance moves are tight and effective. And the small band excel. Then of course, there’s the bus. Both it and the title song make a gratifyingly early appearance and neither disappoint.
Summer Holiday the musical is on tour and at Dartford’s Orchard Theatre until Saturday 8 September 2018.