The Band - review

Back in February they were winners of the BBC One talent show Let It Shine now, 7 months on, their moment in the spotlight has finally arrived as the production they fought to win a place in begins its UK tour.

By Manchester's Finest | 28 September 2017

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“Tonight this could be the greatest night of our lives”

Well it certainly was for AJ Bentley, Nick Carsberg, Curtis T Johns, Yazdan Quafouri and Sario Solomon (Five To Five) as they took to Manchester’s Opera House stage to star in new musical The Band.

Back in February the boys were crowned the winners of the BBC One talent show Let It Shine now, 7 months on, their moment in the spotlight has finally arrived as the production they fought to win a place in begins its UK tour. Penned by the genius behind Calendar Girls, Tim Firth, and featuring the music of super group Take That, there’s been more than a few people excited to see if it lives up to the hype.

Ticket sales haven’t been a problem, with the Take That association and the success of the TV show word got around pretty fast, The Band even broke records at the box office by securing takings of £2m in less than 24 hours of seats being released.

The speculation of what you could expect though was rife. After press rumblings that the boys who won Let It Shine were not actually a big part of the show people started to wonder just exactly how it would pan out? Would it disappoint? Would it be a cheese fest or a simply a make-shift Take That concert without the wow factor of Gary, Howard and Mark? Well, the wait is over and the show brings with it a more than a pleasant surprise – The Band delivers. Actually it doesn’t just deliver, it packs a punch!

Let’s set the record straight though on the rumours…this is not a musical about Take That. I repeat ‘This is NOT a musical about Take That’. The ‘Band’ remain nameless and although they do sing Take That’s back catalogue (including hits like Pray, Relight My Fire, Shine, Back for Good) and copy their dance moves, they are simply any boyband you grew up with. Set in 1992 the story follows a group of best friends who support each other through their teenage trials and tribulations. Five girls giddily glide through high school obsessed with a certain ‘boyband’ whose songs become the soundtrack to their lives. But when fate steps in, the girls split up, go their separate way and then reunite 25 years later to discover how their hopes and dreams panned out.

If you grew up in the 90s you’ll love the plethora of references to the era although even if you come from a completely different generation you’ll still see something in The Band which makes you think of your own journey into adulthood.

Tim Firth’s script is exactly as you’d expect – it’s witty, clever and northern. Full of some beautifully crafted monologues and well- rounded characters, Firth has the ability to have you laughing one moment and tears rolling down your cheeks the next.

Full marks to the talented Faye Christall (Rachel), Katy Clayton (Heather), Sarah Kate Howarth (Claire), Lauren Jacobs (Zoe) and Rachelle Diedericks (Debbie) who sensitively play the girls at their younger age. The five actresses may still be new to the business but they perform like true professionals, Katy Clayton in particular is exceptional as young Heather. The Bolton actress uses every witty one liner she is given and deserves a big ‘Ta-Da’ of her own for the role (trust me, you’ll understand that reference when you’ve seen the show).

Playing the ‘older’ women are Rachel Lumberg (Rachel), Alison Fitzjohn (Claire), Emily Joyce (Heather) and Jayne McKenna (Zoe) – all equally outstanding. The casting of women is impeccable as they are first and foremost fantastic actresses who simply have the ability to carry a tune, rather than it being the other way round. Writer Tim Firth actually wrote the musical with actress Rachel Lumberg in mind so it fits her like a glove, plus the other actresses have since revealed he took elements from their real lives too and worked them into the show. It works a treat and is clear the women have made a strong connection both on and off the stage.

Five to Five also prove to be the right choice for the ‘Band’, each delivering some beautiful vocals and busting the boyband dance moves like they had been doing it for years. A hit with the crowd their performances seem to lift ten-fold with every cheer and cheeky whistle. There’s a definite air of Gary Barlow in Curtis T Johns as he takes on lead vocals with ease, his rendition of A Million Love Songs is so pure it touches your soul. The boys really come into their own though in the second half with a super slick performance of The Flood which must make their mentors (and show producers) Take That beam with pride.

On press night it was announced that the tour has been extended for another year which is great news for the cast and crew plus all those who want to catch it and haven’t managed to yet. Whether you are a Take That fan or not there’s something for everyone in this musical and I can guarantee you will come out wanting more.

“Get Ready For It!”
Runs at Manchester’s Opera House until 30th September.