Take That musical The Band has been touring for almost 18 months so it should be looking a bit tired and ready to pack up before it tests your patience. But following its debut, when it looked a bit rough and not quite ready, it has improved with age and emerged as something far slicker.
If you have ever followed a band as a schoolkid and they have provided the soundtrack to your life, this musical will reach out to you and give you a big hug. It follows the lives of five pals, Rachel, Heather, Debbie, Claire and Zoe, who are incredibly different but have one thing in common – their love of five guys who make up The Band.
Writer Tim Firth captures that moment when everything stopped watching your favourite act on Top of the Pops. And because this was before catch-up TV, there are gags about water cooler moments the day after a TV show was broadcast when everyone talked about it. Remember that?
These girls enjoy living their lives through the hits of the guys whose pictures adorn their bedroom walls and lockers at school. But sadness lurks following a tragedy (wrong band!). This feels a bit clumsy, mainly because narratively it only exists to split the girls up.
Fast forward 25 years when leader of the pack Rachel (the brilliant Rachel Lumberg) wins a radio competition to see The Band perform in Prague. She invites her old school pals along and the scene is set for them to sway in the crowd and sing A Million Love Songs.
All of this is corny and a bit schmaltzy and the songs are not sutured with the sophistication of Mamma Mia. But there is something that draws you in. It’s the fact that the performances feel grounded as there is something natural and organic about every turn.
Rachel Lumberg is a fine actor who manages to appear warm yet guarded because of what has happened to her as a teen. Alison Fitzjohn is also terrific as Claire, a character who is battling demons, Emily Joyce has some great lines as Heather and Jayne McKenna embraces Zoe’s military way of working things out and has fun with her.
Their younger counterparts are also terrific. We see what they want to become and the reality. It reminds you of pre-Facebook days when you logged on to Friends Reunited to see what your old school friends were up to.
The Band themselves act as a Greek chorus, commenting on the proceedings through the songs of Take That.
Tim Firth’s writing is sharp and steers the piece and allows it to shine (sorry!)
Kim Gavin and Jack Ryder’s production has heart and good humour and does not suffer from being too long. The loose ends are tied up neatly, leaving you ready to dance to the megamix finale.
The set changes are fast and never hold the show back. Jon Bauser’s set design and Luke Halls’s video design provide an ever changing back drop, from Rachel’s 1990’s bedroom through to Manchester Airport.
You may be thinking that we don’t really need another jukebox musical and who could blame you? For every good one, two or three bad ones come along and crash and burn.
But with Firth and Gary Barlow both on board, and a cast who give it their all, you end up with a show that Take That fans will adore. For some this is a night they will never forget.
The Band is at The Lowry until 26th January.