I can vividly remember seeing a Take That tribute band on a lads’ holiday in Benidorm a good few years ago. The lead singer was several waist sizes larger than Gary Barlow and could only manage to hit around 40% of the notes. The Band, from Tim Firth, is certainly a few steps up from that particular act, but whether it reaches the full potential of a musical will, very much, be a matter of opinion.
While this ‘new musical’ doesn’t feature any new music, or indeed a particularly inventive storyline, it is packed with the music of Take That, although it’s important to note it is not the story of the boyband phenomenon. Instead a group referred to as ‘The Band’, perhaps in an attempt to solidify the collective experience, perform around the main plot.
It’s a plot that could easily have been left out completely. A group of girls love a boyband, grow up to find their lives are not what they expected them to be, and are reunited by their love of ‘The Band’. While the premise sounds promising the actual plot is filled with cliché and predictability, even worse, this group of women are portrayed as miserable and downtrodden, it’s as if anyone born outside the M25 can only expect a meagre existence. The characters feel like they’ve been lifted straight from a 1960’s episode of Coronation Street, albeit with some kind of modern twist, and it feels totally incongruous with the strong, modern women of the north today.
Oh yes, it’s heart-warming and uplifting, and all those other things you would expect, but it does feel that list came first and some kind of story written to hit the right criteria. There isn’t time to explore the characters deeply enough, and you never feel like you’ve actually connected with any of them on more than a superficial level. Just as it looks like you might get somewhere, everything stops for another Take That hit.
The mainly female audience, however, were loving every second of it. For Take That fans (or ‘Thatters’) this is probably the best thing to happen since the group came back with ‘Patience’. Even as a casual Take That fan, I could enjoy the music, and the group who were performing the medley of hits. This enjoyment was occasionally ruined by the shoehorning in of the songs, sometimes the boys are in full performance mode, at others times they pop up to sing a song related to the story, but it’s a bit ‘Homes Under The Hammer’, meaning it’s clear that an odd sounding line has only been written to allow a segue in to the song, leaving me rolling my eyes on more than one occasion.
There are a few saving graces; the whole show looks fantastic, and under the direction of Jack Ryder flows very nicely. The female cast do wonders in drawing out some kind of life from the banality that has been written for them, in particular Rachel Lumberg and Alison Fitzjohn.
The band themselves, known off-stage as Five to Five after being discovered on ‘Let It Shine’, also do a superb job, they work hard to make sure the songs are performed tightly, and are no doubt the highlight of the show for most of the audience. When The Band eventually finishes its run, I do hope the group aren’t left in its wake and have some chance of a career.
While The Band is a nice vehicle to get some Take That songs on stage, it doesn’t really give us anything more. There is no doubt that it will be a huge success thanks to the big names behind it, and the opportunity to hear some brilliant songs performed by a talented group, even if they aren’t actually Take That. For all those ‘Thatters’ this is a perfect night out and they will love every second of it. For musical theatre lovers, well, their money could be better spent on an EasyJet flight to Benidorm.