The much talked about new Take That and Tim Firth musical The Band is so much more than a jukebox musical
A review by Susy Brett
The Band tells the story of a group of school friends, united by their love of a popular boy band but torn apart by tragedy. Twenty-five years later, one of their number (Rachel, played by Rachel Lumberg) wins a competition to see their former obsession in concert in Prague. The girls are reunited once more, for one wonderful evening of fountains, friendship and fun.
Jukebox musicals tend to go one of two ways – either they are a nonsensical mess of story fitted around strange lyrics or else a steady (often boring) adaptation of the lives of the performers whose songs are being used. Either way, their main focus is completely the music. The Band is neither of these things. By comparison, The Band is a breath of fresh air. It chooses to focus on the fans that have made the band and their music special, rather than the music itself. It means The Band is a show powered by heart. It is funny, it is heart-warming and it is an utter tearjerker, commanding its audiences’ emotions in an earnest way that is rare amongst big name musicals.
That’s not to say the band, played by Let It Shine winners AJ, Curtis, Yazdan, Nick and Sario, are not a huge draw. They are each impeccable performers with all the natural charm and grace of a young Take That. Their numbers are nostalgic in both music and performance, showcasing good old nineties boyband choreography that will have one yearning to be back in a time where double denim was cool. It’s just the story isn’t really about them, doesn’t claim to be – and is stronger because of it.
The real stars of The Band are its women. Faye Christall is heartbreaking as Young Rachel, capturing perfectly the escapism of fandom. Her older self, Lumperg, is the heart of the show – bringing her past and present together for an almighty crescendo. Then there’s Alison Fitzjohn as Claire, who has one utterly heartbreaking scene as she explains the impact of falling out with her friends. There’s something very Sex and the City about Emily Joyce’s Heather, who brings passion and humour to the outfit (and has a fabulous reveal). Then there’s Jayne McKenna as Zoe, who is utter fun and the much-needed organisational genius. Each of the women are searching for something they have lost – and it’s a story that will resound in the hearts of The Band’s audience.
This is a big-budget production and it shows. The stage manipulates itself to be both a concert arena and the scene of the girls’ childhood town, using a set made up of giant pictures tacked onto a board with pins. It cleverly ignites thoughts of friendship and memories. They also have a couple of fabulous bus scenes, where The Band recreates the sloppy insides of a night bus after hours. There’s also one scene where the band make such a surprising entrance that members of the audience gasped out loud. I will say nothing more apart from kudos to the costuming for that.
The Band is a very good example of a musical, let alone a jukebox musical (usually a somewhat lesser subcategory). Its success lies in creating a beautiful story and characters with which to include the big name musical numbers that will draw audiences in. It is a real treat – and certainly worth fighting with Take That die hards for tickets when the show opens at the Theatre Royal Haymarket later this year.