When the smash hit jukebox musical, Dreamboats and Petticoats takes to the Cliffs Pavilion in Southend next week, they’ll be some familiar Essex faces appearing in it.

In fact so familiar, Rob Gathercole had to look twice when he saw his friend Gracie Johnson at the first rehearsal.

“Obviously I know her as Alex Johnson,” he says, “when we were in plenty of shows together back in Colchester, but because I hadn’t seen her at my audition, it was a very pleasant surprise.”

It was also very pleasant for Gracie as well, not only seeing a friendly face but also appearing in her first major role since leaving drama school.

When Gracie got her place at Mountview back in 2011, the tutors were so impressed she was awarded the Andrew Lloyd Webber scholarship, but on graduation three years later, she experienced first hand just how tough the business we call show really is.

“Throughout the whole time,” she begins, “I was never worried. I knew there would be knock backs, I think that’s quite natural, and I had a lovely support structure of friends and family to keep me going.

“Then of course some of it is completely out of your control. You’re the wrong height, you’re just not the right person they’re looking for this particular role. I knew if I just kept on plugging away I’d get something sooner or later”


Gracie Johnson

And that self belief finally paid off at the end of last year when Gracie got the call she had been given the part of Donna in the new UK tour of Dreamboats and Petticoats.

“I hadn’t actually seen it before,” she admits, “but everyone knows it. I remember one of my teachers at school saying she’d seen it and how brilliant it was so I was very excited about being in it myself.”

Inspired by the smash-hit multi-million selling albums Dreamboats and Petticoats, the West End sell out version features some of the greatest hit songs of the Rock ‘n’ Roll era.

Written by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, the people behind Birds of a Feather and Goodnight Sweetheart, it’s set in 1961 when emotions are running high as young musicians Norman and Bobby compete to win a national song writing competition - and, more importantly, the attention of the gorgeous Sue! But when Bobby discovers that shy Laura is no slouch on the piano, love and rock ‘n’ roll fame beckons.

Featuring classic tracks from Roy Orbison, The Shadows, Eddie Cochran and Billy Fury, the tour started at the beginning of the year and has been going ever since.

And it’s been so successful that it’s now been extended into October.

“Rehearsals began in January,” she adds, “and the first dates were soon after. Everything was really quick even from finding out I had got the part to being in the rehearsal studio.

“So it was really nice seeing Rob.”

By his own admittance Rob has been very lucky, picking up his first job straight after leaving Rose Bruford where he took their actor musician course.

And then the Elmstead Market performer went one better by not only scooping a part on a new production of the Wizard of Oz, but also being asked to write the music for it.

Of course none of this success will be of any surprise to the people who have known Rob since he first started out in theatre at the age of ten.

He says: “My very first role was as a rat in Dick Whittington for KATS at the Lakeside Theatre at Essex University and my first part with the Colchester Operatic Society was with the main group in Fiddler on the Roof, where I was a little boy.”

But it was with the society’s junior edition Rob really made his name locally picking up major roles in Oklahoma and Guys and Dolls.

“Guys and Dolls was one of my favourite parts,” he reveals, “and actually when I got my place at drama school I was in the middle of rehearsals for West Side Story with CO2.”


Rob Gathercole

Rob then put on his own musical The Downfall of the School before going up to the Edinburgh Festival with Mad Hatter for their production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

In Dreamboats and Petticoats Rob is playing the part of Jeremy, who in his own words ‘pops up every now and again, mainly to play practical jokes’.

“He also plays a lot of trumpet,” Rob says. “There is a core band, which just plays the music, but some of the other characters also play musical instruments and I’m one of them.

“As part of the tour I’m also the understudy for the musical director, which means I have to know all the piano parts as well but I do get to fill in for him at least four or five times on the tour, which is a lot of fun.”

While the tour itself continues until October, Rob’s time with it ends after Southend. Then he’ll be working on a new musical version of The Nutcracker, which takes place in Oxford.

“I’m also writing a new musical for Immersion Theatre,” he adds, “who I did The Wizard of Oz for, so it’s actually going to be rather nice just sitting at home writing again.”

Gracie, however, will be continuing to live the dream.

She says: “I’ve loved every minute of it, especially when the audience are so animated and really get into the songs. There’s so much energy in the show, it does require quite a bit of physicality, but it’s been so much fun. One of my favourite parts of this tour is going to all the different places we’ve been to, although it is going to be nice being back at home.”

Book your tickets for Dreamboats and PetticoatsCliff at the Pavilion here. The musical will be on from Tuesday, August 29, until Saturday, September 2.