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Review: Summer Holiday at Liverpool Empire **1/2

Summer holidays are weighed with expectations.

We save hard to be able to go away and as a result we want it to be memorable, fun, and for lots of people, sizzlingly hot.

So is Summer Holiday, opening its new UK tour at the Liverpool Empire this week, one of those really memorable ones? Well, you might not be on the phone to Trading Standards, but you’re not going to be splashing the photos all over social media either.

The show, based on the 1963 Cliff Richard film, has always had more than a whiff of nostalgia for a simpler time since gone. Think Dreamboats and Petticoats or Save The Last Dance for a comparison.

Storywise, it’s an aspirational bit of fun that everyone can relate to. Young lads and lasses, carefree on the open road as they drive a big red London double decker across continental Europe, falling in love and falling in to scrapes on the way to the fabled ancient city of Athens.

But in this new production, the vehicle gets off to a stuttering start – not helped on press night by a persistent problem with mics which meant the band often overwhelmed the vocals - and mostly struggles to get out of grinding second gear.

It needs another look under the bonnet and the injection of a whole lot more va-va-voom because at the moment, as a piece of theatre it feels underpowered, and therefore underwhelming.

On the plus side, director/choreographer Racky Plews has created some snappy dance routines for his youthful cast, including the ensemble numbers Dancing Shoes and We Say Yeah, performed at the Swiss border.

The trio of would-be singers, Mimsie (Gabby Antrobus), Alma (Alice Baker) and Angie (Laura Marie Benson), also inject some much-needed liveliness in to proceedings with their sweetly gauche song-and-dance routines.

And the double decker bus itself, which makes up the majority of the set, certainly creates a visual impact, even on the Empire’s capacious stage.

Darren Day took on the mantle of leader of the pack Don in the 1990s, and here Liverpool’s showbiz all-rounder Ray Quinn shrugs on the mechanic’s overalls.

Quinn is in fine voice and he injects energy in to his dance moves. But his attempts to talk in an RP accent (is he trying to sound like Cliff?) make him sound less like a fresh-faced young mover and groover and more like a Pathé newsreel announcer.

The production’s other household name is Bobby Crush, here playing mild-mannered manager Jerry to Taryn Sudding’s happily megalomaniac showbiz mum Stella.

Crush seems mildly dazed and confused under his character’s comedy toupée, but looks smashing in a dress. He’d make a great Edna Turnblad next time Hairspray is casting.

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