Culture writer Louisa Bebb reviews the fun and energetic touring production of Legally Blonde at the New Alexandra Theatre.Written by louisa58 on 22nd May 2018
Review: The Band at the Birmingham Hippodrome
Culture writer Ben Johns reviews 'The Band', a new musical featuring the music of Take That, at Birmingham's Hippodrome Theatre.
Last year, the BBC show Let It Shine crowned Five To Five the winners and the opportunity to play the band, a theatrical equivalent to Take That, in a touring musical. Therefore, it might have been taken that The Band is ‘Take That: The Musical’. This is not the case. Take That do play a part in the proceedings, but The Band is about capturing the effervescent joy of being in love with a pop band and the enduring legacy that it leaves on one’s life.
The musical follows sweet Rachel, sassy Heather, sporty Claire, book-smart Zoe, and music obsessed Debbie; five girls banded in a friendship that’s strengthened by their love for ‘The Boys’. Whilst there’s many a knowing nod to Take That’s choreography and iconography (a recreation of the ‘Progress’ album art goes down a treat), there’s never an explicit mention of their name. It’s a wise decision which allows the audience to hark back to a time when they too felt this familiarity with ‘The Boys’.
“The Band is about capturing the effervescent joy of being in love with a pop band and the enduring legacy that it leaves on one’s life
From the opening number of ‘Pray’, we’re transported to the nineties with a 16-year-old Rachel and co dissecting ‘The Boys’’ performance on Top of the Pops. The young actresses embody school girl giddiness, with Katy Clayton’s performance of the self-assured Heather who ‘prefers to read Smash Hits than study science’ standing out as the star of the group.
After attending their first ever concert to see The Boys, the girls take a trip up a nearby beauty spot. With the stars glimmering and the messages of ‘friendship forever’ exchanged, one of the girls asks, ‘Do The Boys have a song for this moment?’. Preparing for a cheesy shoe-in of a Take That ballad, I grimaced. However, I was relieved with the answer; a blunt ‘No’.
The dialogue walks a fine line when it comes to tropes and clichés, however, it seems scriptwriter Tim Firth is aware of this as each time it teeters too close to cringe, he reigns it back with a joke or sentiment we’re not expecting.
Tragedy strikes post-concert, which leaves the friendship group never the same again. It’s not until 25 years later that the adult Rachel (played excellently by Rachel Lumberg) and her old school friends reunite for a trip to Prague to see The Boys on their very own reunion tour. By this point, the lives of the girls have transformed completely, with Alison FitzJohn in particular giving a meaningful performance as Claire.
‘Shine’, the closing number of Act One, is a fantastic example of big-budget theatre getting it right. The stage transforms into an airport, and the ending which sees the now grown up girls jet off to Prague is a great send off for the first half of the show. From then on, we’re treated to an exploration of how lives may change, but how deep down, people still stay the same. The theme resonates extremely well with the predominantly female audience who smile, laugh, and cry with their friends as the storyline reaches its emotional end.
“'Shine', the closing number of Act One, is a fantastic example of big-budget theatre getting it right
The singing and choreography is mainly carried by Five To Five, the previously mentioned winners of BBC’s ‘Let It Shine’. In all honesty, they are no Take That. They master the choreography of ‘Do What You Like’ and ‘Relight My Fire’, and their poignant performance of ‘A Million Love Songs’ is one of the highlights of the show. But with the storyline clearly focused on the girls, the five men are never given the opportunity to flex their acting muscles or show the well-loved personalities of Gary, Mark, Howard, Jason, and Robbie.
The Band is a tribute to what it means to be a pop fan and the shared experiences that can last a lifetime, appealing to all ages and audiences. Take That might not be everybody’s favourite band, but even the most downcast of people will leave The Band feeling more elated than they were to begin with.
The Band plays at the Hippodrome until Saturday 12th of May. More information can be found here.