Seaside still swinging in musical set in Lowestoft

As theatre-goers take a journey to Lowestoft's past, ABIGAIL SALTMARSH asks writer Maurice Gran about the seaside town's inspiration on Save the Last Dance For Me.

Maurice Gran has a great affection for Lowestoft and, somewhat cheekily, he admits, hopes people of the town won't mind the town appearing as the backdrop to his latest musical.

He, and his writing partner, Laurence Marks, have set their most recent show in the Suffolk coastal resort. But, as yet, Maurice seems to have little to worry about on that front.

Save the Last Dance For Me is currently touring the UK, and, so overwhelming was the response to the announcement of its arrival at the Marina Theatre on Monday that an extra performance has had to be arranged. 'We are obviously thrilled that people are so keen to see it, particularly as it is set in Lowestoft,' he says.

'It is one of those places that people have fond memories of visiting, when they were children or teenagers.

'Our story concerns two sisters who go on holiday for the first time in the early-1960s. One of the reasons for choosing Lowestoft was that we wanted them to meet some GIs.'

The writers, who are famed, of course, for such television sitcoms as Goodnight Sweetheart, Birds of a Feather, The New Statesmen and Shine on Harvey Moon, have also seen great success recently with musical Dreamboats and Petticoats. Also produced by Bill Kenwright, this was a smash hit in the West End and has seen the sale of millions of accompanying compilation CDs. 'We did want to make Save the Last Dance For Me different from Dreamboats and Petticoats. The music is of the same era but this is much more of a dance musical – some of the music has a Latin feel,' he says.

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The production follows the antics of Jennifer and Marie through the summer of 1963.

When they go on their family holiday to Lowestoft, they meet a handsome American airman, who invites them to a dance at the nearby United States Air Force base, and discover young love and holiday romance is far more complicated than they realised.

As the story progresses, such classics of the time as Seven Day Weekend, Viva Las Vegas, Sweets For My Sweet and, of course, Save the Last Dance for Me are performed. 'Laurence and I were coming of age in the 1960s and so this music means a lot to us,' says Maurice. 'It was the beginning of our era.

'We were also able to remember what those sorts of holidays were like. This was a time that was the beginning of something new – there were lots of firsts for the post-war generation and it was very exciting.'

The writing team, who are known for setting much of their work in bygone days, believe the public has a passion for the past.

'I think audiences have a great affection for it, as we do,' he admits. 'You just have to look at how successful Grease and Hairspray have been.

'There seems to be a huge demand for it on stage as well as on television – and going to the theatre to see something like this allows people to dress up and have a night out to enjoy it rather than watching it at home on the sofa.'

The pair have relished taking their work in a slightly different direction with the musicals but insist they are as keen as ever on their television scripts, as well as other areas of writing.

'There are always lots of streamers in the wind, irons in the fire or pots on the back burner for us,' he says. 'We can never predict when one will come to anything and quite often the ones you least expect to happen do!

'We are hoping to do a movie of Dreamboats and Petticoats and are currently working on a play for Radio 4 for the autumn – Love Me Do, which takes place at the time of the Cuban missile crisis. Our intention is that we will then do it as a theatre play afterwards.'

The team, who have been writing together for 40 years now, are also keen to create a musical version of Goodnight Sweetheart – a long-running television success, starring Nicholas Lyndhurst. This focused on an accidental time traveller who travels between the 1990s and the second world war. 'We're hopeful it will happen but it is unpredictable. Sometimes all it takes is for a producer to pick up on it and decide to go with it and then it can happen very quickly – other times it can take longer.'

Save the Last Dance For Me was one such example of a show being brought to the stage fairly rapidly, he says, and the pair are overjoyed to see it arrive in Lowestoft mid-run. 'Laurence knows East Anglia very and I have fond memories of doing a summer season years ago,' he says. 'It is lovely to be able to set the story there – and we hope those who live in the town will forgive us if we're a little bit cheeky

? Save the Last Dance For Me, Marina Theatre, Lowestoft, July 2-7, �29-�22 (�29-�21 cons), 01502 533200,