A musical which tells a story around the songs of a 90s boy band, with its vocalists cast by a reality TV show…
On paper, one could almost be excused for expecting this to be a cheap cash-in, a ‘hen-do spesh’ perhaps.
But Tim Firth’s The Band proves otherwise and justifies itself pretty damn quickly.
The songs haven’t been retro-fitted to a narrative; they just slide alongside, working to capture a feeling rather than force every lyric to ‘fit the story’.
Let It Shine must have actually done a pretty great job of casting the boys, because they sound great. (Choral, but great).
And as for the ‘hen-do special’… if this is what hen-dos are like then I need to start going to some.
The Band follows a group of friends who, in the early 90s, obsessed over an unnamed boy band that we can safely assume are misters Barlow, Owen, Williams and whatever those
other two were called.
We catch up with the girls 25 years on, quickly work out that none of them have ended up doing what they wanted to with their lives, and follow them on a
journey to Prague to watch their old favourite heart throbs on their reunion tour.
It’s quite a small story (with one particularly unexpected turn to up the ante), but that’s exactly what it wants to be: focusing on the little details which might seem trivial to some but can, and do, mean the world to others.
Everyone’s great in it.
There’s stand-outs of course (Faye Christall as the young iteration of our lead sets the high bar), but there are no weak links in the whole cast.
And that’s quite something considering we’re talking about five girls, their adult counterparts, a band and multiple supporting characters.
They all pull their weight. The stage is put to excellent use.
We’re never overfaced with huge sets and backdrops, but rather we are given an adaptive environment which is capable of hosting tender story moments as well as the dance moves of Jason Orange and Howard Donald (thank you Google).
The staging has the capacity to transport us to wherever we need to be, and hits the nail on the head every time in an immersive and creatively satisfying way.
Take That fan or not, you can’t sit through this without admitting that Gary and Team have an impressive and iconic back catalogue.
The songs genuinely fit well here, adding colour and energy to each of the scenes and emotional beats.
It’s a seamless, and often humorous, transition from story to music, but never jars – for the most part, we can just assume that the band are performing a private concert inside the head of Rachel, the character whose perspective we share.
Having said this, there is the occasional line which perfectly fits and feeds directly into the story, so much so that if you were an alien who had never belted the ‘aa-aa-aa-aa-aahs’ of
‘Patience’ before, you might be inclined to believe that some of these songs were written especially for the show.
What a wasted opportunity then that they didn’t include ‘Everything Changes But You’, to corroborate the fact that, despite not having spoken for 25
years, the friendship group in the play are still very much the same girls at heart.
The first half is pretty much flawless. There’s everything even your most sophisticated hen-do party could ask for: big lols, painful gut-wrenchers, a compelling story across generations,
told by and about some really likeable characters.
The buzz in the female-centric crowds of my interval was tangible.
The second half loses it a little bit, with a few story arcs that feel more like story ‘bumps’, some unexplained or quickly resolved character conflicts and a somewhat predictable
But hey, an unexpected twist end is probably not what the show’s core audience are looking for.
Rather, a feel-good nostalgia trip that they’ll Never Forget, which The Band more-than delivers on.
Yes, I said it: ‘Neeeeeeeeeeeeeever…’
The Band is running at the Lowry until January 26, and then continues the UK tour. You can look up dates HERE