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The Band - A Jukebox Musical In Denial!
Phil Hopkins, Theatre & Travel Correspondent
Rachel Lumberg as Rachel with Five To Five as The Band in The Band. Photo by Matt Crockett
When you roll out the showbiz big guns to promote your newest musical, whilst indulging in a volley of adjectives that would make Oscar Wilde look like a failing A Level literature student, you'd better deliver!

The so-called 'Take That' musical, The Band, a product of one of those TV 'find-a-star' and catapult them to fame shows, Let it Shine, has more than just its musical pedigree.

First there is a PR company - good for running post-show interviews - then Lulu and Take That walk on stage at Manchester's Opera House, just before curtain down, to sing a couple of numbers......to an adorning audience of imported sycophants, courtesy of various TV shows; even Graham Norton got in on the act.

But, strip away all the cake decorations and, remaining, is a show that will, without doubt, sell tickets by the thousand. But does that make it a great show or a commercial success? I would argue that the two are distinctly different and that this is a fun evening that falls into the latter category.

In the same way that Mamma Mia has endured, not because it has a great storyline, but because it has two intrinsically important things, a great musical pedigree and a script that tugs on the heartstrings, so The Band will also triumph because it is, in many ways, a carbon copy of its predecessor.

Against a musical backdrop of Take That songs, the story tells of five 16-year-old friends in 1992 for whom 'the band' is everything. Twenty five years on the group of friends, now 40-something women, try once more to fulfil their dream of meeting their heroes, this time in Prague.

The cast of The Band. Photo by Matt Crockett
The story touches on the damaging effect of failed parental marriage on children, sexual discovery, obesity, premature death and all those emotional rollercoasters that impact the human condition.

Written by Tim Firth - he of the Girls and other musical offerings like Our House - the script is enjoyable and witty with some nice touches and, just as you think it is about to get too schmaltzy, a line is uttered which brings everyone back to earth with a laugh-out-loud crash.

The mainstay of the said musical is TV band Five to Five - AJ, Nick, Curtis, Yazdan and Sario - lovely lads I'm sure, but merely a Greek Chorus to the main plot with little involvement other than to thread the script together with their Take That songs and promote lots of idolatry and screaming!

Also by Phil Hopkins...
Irreverant Mash Up - Fastasticus
Grease - Not Quite as Slick
MacMillan Tribute - A Stark Reminder
Society's Dangerous Obsession? - Ibsen
The Shed Crew - Albion Electric Warehouse
At best this is a shameless vehicle to promote the TV boys who will probably be seen by 20,000 people a week as the production gathers momentum and, personally, I would have liked to see them have stronger script involvement bearing in mind that they have been bulled up in the media and on TV for months....and we didn't even hear one of them speak!

Mr Barlow and two of his Take That sidekicks, - Howard Donald and Mark Owen, - turning up with Lulu at the end was great fun and a nice touch, if blatantly designed to get media coverage. But hey, fair dinkum!

However, reading the programme notes, I picked out things like 'unique show', 'it is going to be sublime', '...is so different to your standard musical' and '...I just think audiences will be in awe.' Pretty heavy stuff!

I wasn't in awe but I did enjoy this musical which is most certainly an offering for 40 something ladies who remember Take That first time round, and want to take their daughters along to see The Band so they can, perhaps, experience what mum's teenage years were all about.

All said, I still think this is an up-market juke box musical, the only difference being of course, that it carries the Barlow / Take That brand on the front cover and that's bound to leave the producers suffering from a severe case of RSI, as they struggle to cope with counting box office banknotes with more dexterity than a Harlem drug dealer!

The show runs at Sheffield's Lyceum 4-14th October before moving to Bradford's Alhambra on Tuesday 17th October.

The Band
Opera House, Manchester

The Band - A Jukebox Musical In Denial!, 27th September 2017, 13:34 PM