Tom: A Story of Tom Jones, the Musical review at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff – ‘lacks dramatic meat’
The first question that occurs while watching this biographical musical of Tom Jones is: would the Welsh singing superstar himself turn around if Kit Orton’s impersonation was on The Voice? I suspect he would – on those terms Orton is an unqualified success. And when he turned around, he’d also be satisfied to see the pelvic thrusts that are his trademark.
But the show itself, written by Mike James and directed by Geinor Styles, is a more humdrum — while hummable — affair than its star and subject deserves. In the familiar jukebox musical style of shows like Jersey Boys and Beautiful, A Story of Tom Jones charts the behind-the-scenes rise to fame of a pop star, but without the craft or polish.
This is the story of the working-class son of a Welsh miner who marries at 16 when his girlfriend falls pregnant, sings in working men’s clubs and eventually leaves his wife and child at home while he tries to pursue a recording contract in London.
James’ script doesn’t put enough dramatic meat on these bare bones, and Styles’s production takes a long time to get going musically — it’s not until nearly half an hour in that we have the first full band song, and only at the very end that we hear the hits that made Jones famous: It’s Not Unusual, Delilah, What’s New Pussycat, Sex Bomb – rushed in as a curtain call concert.
Jones’ brand of cheesy yet sincere machismo — the original medallion man of pop — is well captured by Orton, but there’s an earnestness to his quest for success, which this mostly dour show only manages to celebrate in its finale.