Life after boy bands? Antony Costa, star of Blue, knows all about it: he arrives at the Congress Theatre at the end of this month in a quite different role, starring in Save the Last Dance for Me.
Antony plays handsome American airman Milton, based at a Suffolk US air base in 1963 with equally dashing comrade Curtis (the Lion King’s Wayne Robinson). Along the road on a seaside holiday just happen to be two naive and excited sisters Needless to say because this is musical theatre, the two handsome airmen just happen to bowl the girls over.
Elizabeth Carter is bowled-over Marie, while Lola Saunders, X Factor finalist plays not-much-wiser big sister Jennifer.
And all the ingredients are ready for another jukebox musical.
Now then, let’s take a quick look at the genre.
There are those who write off the jukebox musicals as merely an excuse for recycling old pop songs.
But who needs an excuse? The songs of the period are absolute classics: they tumble and bounce with melody, and their harmonies are smooth, sunny and easy on the ear.
Was it truly great music? Admittedly many, if not all, of the lyrics made us wince, and in every second song, love was rhymed with turtle dove.
The sentiments were simply too sentimental.
And too many numbers were formulaic and musically unambitious.
Well, that’s the cynical view; but sorry, I don’t really do cynicism.
Those years saw a sea change, not only in music, but in society.
By the end of the Sixties we had hippies and flower power, student revolutions and Vietnam.
We had Mick Jagger snarling in suggestive poses that had your mum worrying for the safety of her daughter, and rock and folk music used as a vehicle for politics, civil rights, social change.
Oh, and a man had walked on the Moon.
What had happened to the happy innocent, clean-cut pop music which only sang about sweethearts and ever-so-chaste romance?
Truthfully, it was marooned in 1963, and about to be left behind.
Many singers and bands, of course, did move on with the times, but the songs that were left have never, ever been forgotten.
They form a catalogue that would fill a hundred juke-boxes, and they are celebrated in a dozen or more juke-box musicals. Jersey Boys is probably the most phenomenal, an irresistible re-creation of that unique Four Seasons sound. Others, like Dreamboats and Petticoats, are touring happily and filling theatres, and the market is not yet exhausted.
Save the Last Dance for Me is created from the same template: absolute authenticity, likeable characters in a slight but engaging story, and a score that brims with classic songs. As well as the title song itself, you will quickly recognise Sweets for My Sweet, Teenager in Love, Viva Las Vegas and a string of others.
Antony Costa is in no doubt. “We’ve been have an absolute ball with the show, and it’s a real shame that it has to come to an end.
We have played thirteen venues and after the Congress Theatre, we finish the tour in Aylesbury. I knew all about living in hotels from the touring gigs with the band, so I’m resigned to never seeing my own house, just paying the bills for it and trying to remember the last time I was home!
“I can honestly say we haven’t had a dud or unreceptive audience.
“Really anyone who doesn’t like this show needs their ears and eyes tested!
“We get the whole age range, from the ones who were teenagers first time round and still remember all the lyrics, to the kids who are teenagers now, and never realised that their old folks used to have such great music!”
Be honest, Antony: is this show music first, plot second? “It isn’t a deep, deep story, but audiences tend to be surprised because there are some very believable themes which would have been totally realistic at the time.
“The girls getting their first bit of teenage freedom away from parents, the inter-racial aspect, English girls meeting US culture for the first time.” So Antony, there is life, and a career, after Blue? “The band was a terrific experience and we still have a host of followers and friends that we made then.
“I was eighteen, in a band, didn’t know exactly where my life was going, and I just wanted to perform. “The band swept along and we went with it. “Yes, it was a dream come true and I am very grateful for that whole experience. “ We have never officially split up, but we all do our own thing too at the moment, and we see where it takes us.
“But I actually trained as an actor – I had some child parts including Grange Hill. “Then I was in between, too old for the child parts but not yet ready to get cast in adult roles.
“Blue came about, and then I have moved back towards what is maybe my first love, in the acting. Obviously musical theatre combines both. “I was so fortunate when Bill Kenwright cast me in Blood Brothers in the West End – now that is one of the really great shows in dramatic terms, really powerful.
“Save the Last Dance is of course a lighter show, a quite fluffy story, but the point is that it’s exactly right for the music – all those amazing songs by Mort Shuman and Doc Pomus. Eastbourne is new to me, but I love that aspect.
“ You can play a smaller older theatre one week, and an ultra modern venue the next. See you in a week or two!”