REVIEW: The Band – it only takes a minute to fall in love with this show

Five to Five as The Band – Photograph: Matt Crockett/PA

Venue: The Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton
Performance Date: 26 February 2019

For women (and men) of a certain age, Take That is synonymous with their teenage years. Their music has now been immortalised in a jukebox musical, The Band, which opened at Wolverhampton Grand this week to an insatiable audience and a packed house.  

Arguably the most successful boy band of all time Take That enjoyed unparalleled success and developed a hugely devoted fan base. Mass hysteria ensued when, in 1995, Robbie Williams announced he was quitting the band, with Take That announcing a complete split in 1996. Ten years later, Gary, Mark, Howard and Jason reunited as a four-piece. With Jason Orange leaving the band in 2014, they now perform as a trio but continue to enjoy critical success.

In 2017 Gary Barlow and Tim Firth utilised the television talent show formula to search for five unknown performers to star in new musical The Band featuring the songs of Take That. Let it Shine was won by boy band Five to Five made up of AJ Bentley, Curtis T Johns, Nick Carsberg, Sario Solomon and Yazdan Qafouri.

Thanks, in large to the high profile of Let it Shine, The Band became the fastest selling musical theatre tour of all time when tickets went on sale. Premiering at the Manchester Opera House in September 2017 the show enjoyed a limited West End run at the Theatre Royal Haymarket from 1 December 2017 to 12 January 2018. The production is currently on a UK tour where it will play its final performance on 16 March before heading to Germany where it will tour until November.

The Band centres on a group of women who were girlhood super fans of the group. Having lost touch they reunite after 25 years to embark on a journey to see The Band’s reunion concert in Prague. Touching, heart-warming and packed full of emotion their journey is underpinned by the strength of enduring friendship.

The Band’s plot is incredibly strong which is a huge relief as the narrative of jukebox musicals can sometimes be sacrificed in order to shoehorn in hits that are not necessarily relevant to the story. The strength of the story is complemented by Take That’s back catalogue with each number being carefully selected to add meaning to the plot. If anything the story enhances the music rather than the other way round.

It is clear to see that the cast is incredibly invested in this show. With one set of actresses playing the girls aged 16 and a second set playing them as adults, the entire cast is afforded the opportunity to shine.  Rachelle Diedericks is outstanding as the young Debbie and Katy Clayton is hilarious as the boy crazy, rebellious Heather with Lauren Jacobs bringing an uptight bookishness to Zoe. Faye Christall and Sarah Kate Howarth bring charm and personality to Rachel and Claire respectively. The chemistry between the girls is believable and provides a nostalgic flashback to 1990’s adolescence, delivered against a backdrop of Top of the Pops, Teletext and Smash Hits magazine.

The Band itself, this week featuring understudy and local lad Harry Fabulous Brown, is cleverly entwined in the story. They have no dialogue but are always omnipresent; they feature in an abundance of roles including air traffic control, cabin crew and rather hilariously, fountain statues. However, it is when they perform simply as ‘The Band’ that they come into their own. Incredibly talented, with smooth and strong vocals, they are the quintessential boy band.

They deliver Take That’s iconic numbers including A Million Love Songs, Never Forget, It Only Takes a Minute and Could it Be Magic with authority and class, doing them justice whilst adding their own unique style. Although in terms of the music, it is the ensemble performance of the beautifully arranged Back for Good that steals the show.

The character of Rachel played beautifully by Rachel Lumberg, is the link between past and present. Through reuniting her group of friends, it is clear to see that life has ended up quite differently from what they all envisaged at the age of sixteen. Alison Fitzjohn is astonishing nuanced and incredibly endearing as the larger than life Claire who is hiding some significant insecurities behind her bravado.

Emily Joyce’s portrayal, of the grown-up Heather, is as hilarious as her younger counterpart with Heather clearly losing none of her teenage rebelliousness.  Jayne McKenna is assured in her role as the adult Zoe bringing out the more mischievous side to the once geeky and reserved youngster.

The Band touches on some serious themes, addressed in a tongue-in-cheek manner but somehow they don’t feel belittled. Ultimately this is a sweet and uplifting story of friendship that showcases just how inherently important music is in shaping our lives. It is also a poinigant reminder to always seize the moment. This musical has it all, exceptional performances, laughter, tears and one big dollop of 90’s nostalgia.  

The Band plays at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until 02 March – go on relight your fire and don’t miss out.

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