The Band review at Manchester Opera House – ‘witty and affectionate Take That musical’
Four of the five original members of 1990s boy band Take That are billed as co-producers of The Band, a new jukebox musical that celebrates their hits and the slavish devotion of their female fan club.
So, unlike 2007's eminently forgettable musical Never Forget, it can be deemed as having the band’s official seal of approval.
The show is cleverly framed in the style of Mamma Mia!. It tells the story of long-time friends meeting up for a reunion concert of Take That. Twenty five years after they were 16-year-old school friends who won a competition to see the group in Manchester, one of them has now won tickets to see them in Prague.
Tim Firth, who recently collaborated with Take That's Gary Barlow on the score for West End musical The Girls, has created an instantly relatable frame on which to hang the band’s pop hits, one that embraces friendship and life's vicissitudes as it visits each of these women, now married and mothers, having long ago left behind their dreams.
Jukebox shows like this often explode into pop megamixes at the end. But from the beginning, Kim Gavin and Jack Ryder’s production has the audience joining in, waving their hands – or their lit mobile phones – along with the songs. The musical numbers are executed with the youthful joie de vivre accompaniment of Five to Five, the five winners of Let It Shine, the BBC's reality TV casting show.
But The Band puts the dramatic spotlight not on the boys, but on the female characters. As embodied by the splendid quartet of Rachel Lumberg, Alison Fitzjohn, Emily Joyce and Jayne McKenna, they are fierce, funny and wonderful. There are times when this feels like a pop music version of Follies, as the friends look back on who they once were. It's not as profound as the Sondheim musical, but the show smartly maps the songs of their youth on to the people they are now.
Jon Bausor's sets, which conjures up rock arenas and pop art versions of airports and aeroplanes (one song is set on the wing of a plane) are witty and affectionate.
They help create an effective portrait of an era that, on the evidence of the audience reaction in Manchester, will have wide appeal.