This is the kind of musical that restores my faith in light entertainment. It turns out to be a thoughtful story about the influence that pop music has on our lives over the years using some really good music from the band. It is, of course, a tribute to Take That not only because they use their music but also because they have put together a young group of men to “be” the band throughout.
The script, by Tim Firth is witty, satiric, moving and sad by turns and incorporates the songs cleverly. The production is as rich, slick and professional as anything in the West End, with some extremely memorable visual imagery that you will treasure. Rarely have I seen so many clever transformations as in the designs by Jon Bausor integrated with smart video work by Luke Halls. There is also blissfully energetic, eye-catching and witty choreography by Kim Gavin.
Essentially, this is the story of five young teenage girls who become hooked on The Band, how it affects them, and then what it means to them after one dies and the other four reunite twenty-five years on for a trip to hear The Band in Prague in the present day. So instead of a kind of Jersey Boys about Gary Barlow, Robbie Williams, Howard Donald, Jason Orange and Mark Owen, this is actually more like a Mama Mia! There is a perfectly digestible and very touching plot we can all relate to which is can be thought-provoking at times, and the best music from Take That relevant to the story line is woven in to provide not just a kind of commentary but also lots of opportunities for the young and the older versions of the women to sing, dance and act.
The Band itself consists of the talented winners of the TV show Let It Shine – A J Bentley, Nick Carsberg, Curtis T johns, Yasdan Qafouri and Sario Solomon cannot be praised enough. They work together brilliantly as a real ensemble. They have the voices, the energy, the charm and the moves! And so do Rachel Lumberg, Alison Fitzjohn, Emily Joyce and Jayne McKenna as the well-cast grown up versions of Rachel, Claire, Heather and Zoe. Faye Christall, Katy Clayton, Sarah Kate Howarth and Lauren Jacobs deserve equal praise for their turns as the younger versions of the women; with a special praise for Rachelle Diedericks as the pivotal character, Debbie. Andy Williams is a delight in all his standout roles; and Martin Miller brings touching, gentle warmth to the role of Jeff. Special praise also must be given to the orchestrations of Steve Parry, which transform the songs into precisely the right sound world for the context of the tale being told. The musicians, led by John Donovan, are superb. At the end, of course, there was a truncated concert during curtain calls and the entire audience got up to sing along and waves their arms and shimmy. It is a very touching story, easy to relate to, and a very fine show in every way. I would happily see it again.
- By Tim Firth
- Directed by Kim Gavin and Jack Ryder
- Choreographed by Kim Gavin
- Music by Take That
- Cast includes: Rachel Lumberg, Alison Fitzjohn, Emily Joyce, Jayne McKenna, A J Bentley, Nick Carsberg, Curtis T Johns, Yazdan Qafouri, Sario Solomon, Martin Miller, Andy Williams
- New Theatre, Oxford
- Touring until March 2019
- Time: 19:30