Theatre review - The Band, Manchester Opera House
- Credit: Archant
THE BAND: Barlow and Firth do it again; a beautiful story of love and loss with a live soundtrack loved by millions
Creating any musical where all the songs are already well-known, well-loved pop hits is a risky business – so-called ‘jukebox’ musicals never really work, for the simple reason that any theatre production can only succeed if the story itself is worth hearing. This story is worth every moment in your seat (and out of it); every smile, every laugh, every tear.
The genius that is Tim Firth, who so clearly ‘gets’ women and their friendships, who comprehends and distils the way our minds work (even as teenagers) has woven a story that will break your heart and then mend it again and used a string of Take That hits to underpin every moment.
Having been aware of the TV series Let It Shine, the search for five young men to play the roles of the five members of the boy band around which this story is centred, I had anticipated something quite different to what I saw last night. The hype was all around the members of Five to Five, the band handpicked by Gary Barlow, Dannii Minogue and Martin Kemp to star in The Band, yet these (undoubtedly talented young men) were secondary to the story of five teen friends, who, as lead character Rachel (played by Rachel Lumberg) says: “grew up with a boy band.”
Their adoration of and obsession with their musical heroes is beautifully portrayed and will make many a woman wonder if Tim Firth secretly stalked them in their teens. This obsession stays with the women as the years pass; a phenomenon I witnessed for myself as the three members of Take That arrived for last night’s performance at Manchester Opera House and the shrieks of waiting women filled the air, along with dozens of smartphones. Their first attempt to meet their heroes ends in tragedy, leading to the collapse of their friendship group and a parting of the ways. 25 years later, they are gathered together once again in a teen-worthy escapade that threatens to again lead to separation. Luckily for us, and our hoped for big finish, it all comes good in the end, in a closing scene that will have you reaching for your hankies as you leap to your feet. My favourite lines? “You’re doing the best dive known to mankind.” “What’s that?” “The one that brings you back up to the surface.”
The device used to integrate the music of Take That into this show is so very clever. The members of Five to Five are onstage the majority of the time and sing and dance their way through each of the numbers in a way that has the audience screaming in delight and recognition, yet they are not the main story at any time. They are perhaps the most fabulous supporting act ever, but the key word here is ‘supporting’; the show needs them, the songs have to be sung live to carry the immediacy and impact needed to tell our female characters’ story, but they wrap around and weave through the storytelling, they don’t lead or govern.
This is not simply a musical for lovers of Take That and their music. This is absolutely a story for anybody who has experienced a teenage crush and the kind of teen friendships that stay with you for life.
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It was announced on stage last night that this new musical will tour the UK for an extra year more than originally planned. There – no excuse now to not get your girls together for a reunion you’ll never forget.
Oh, and when you figure out the hidden meaning of ‘the band’, well, that’s a moment to bring a tear to the eye too.