The good old review. For me, you can either take them or leave them. Sometimes they are glorified meanderings from people who overthink things and present an over indulgent opinion piece. Sometimes they are insightful, thought provoking features that adds another dimension to what you are reviewing. Sometimes, simply put, they are the difference between you going or not. In the case of The Band, the musical set to Take That’s back catalogue and currently playing at The Lowry, it was enough for me to change my views and see what the fuss was all about.
I rarely tend to change my mind about these things because I’m old and let’s face it, do I really need to go and watch another half assed attempt to crowbar in a back catalogue of sure fire hits from a superhit pop group to a convoluted plot.
Mamma Mia and the Abba hits have obviously shown producers that if you get the formula right you can hit the box office jackpot. It’s not just Mamma Mia, there’s a whole genre of them, from Jersey Boys (music from Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons), We Will Rock You (music from Queen), and American Idiot (music from Indie rockers Green Day). in fact there’s whole load of so called Jukebox Musicals that people just love going to see.
So when I saw that The Band was having a run at The Lowry I wasn’t bowled over. And then I read the reviews to original show and was genuinely surprised to see the love and positive feedback given, which had started in Manchester before its national tour. It was enough to stop me in my tracks and ditch my pretentious outlook on these kind of shows and just go with it.
At it’s heart is quite a touching story. It tells the friendship of four women, who 25 years earlier were all big fans of The Band when they were just schoolgirls. Tragedy, as is often the case with these kind of things, strikes, before years later they all reunite. The soundtrack to their lives is Take That’s majestic back catalogue and the hits are all interwoven as part of the plot. Tim Firth has written the book for this jukebox musical and you can why the story immediately is one of those heartwarming tug at the heartstrings kind of story given his credentials as writer of the award winning Calendar Girls.
We meet the devotees as school girls, at this point in proceedings, they are a gang of five and infectiously played by a cast of youngsters. They are engaging, funny, captivating and you are totally engrossed in the imaginations and whims of these five actors, dancing and singing on stage to a variety of Take That’s finest. Moreover, they are not just bubble gum performers, but are great at taking the audience to some dark places as they handle the inevitable switch to a sombre piece adeptly.
There’s also some other nice touches, the crossover for when the older cast members take over from their younger selves is visually engrossing.
Most of this taps into our love of all things nostalgia. The audience members ride this wave of sentimentality, many of whom were Take That fans when they were kids if their singing and dance moves in the aisles have anything to go by. The plot plays on this fact, making it wholly identifiable with the audience, so much so that the characters could be anyone from the aisles, who formed their own groups back in the day. It’s a clever trick, one that works wonderfully well.
Verdict: Yes, its one of those typical jukebox musicals, but the music is great, the story is wonderfully heartwarming and the acting is sublimely fantastic. This is sure to have your toes tapping, your hands waving and your voice in full song.