There’s a generation which grew up with the music of Take That and will still turn the radio up when their songs come on, and this could be the greatest show of their life!
The Band is a new musical created by Take That and Tim Firth which features their hits but avoids the temptation to place the band at the centre of the show. It turns out, the title of the show is more about the fan wrist bands the characters wear as we follow the lives of a group of 16 year old girls who go to their first concert in 1992 and then reunite in the present day as they discover how important the bonds of friendship can be.
This week, The Band has arrived at Milton Keynes Theatre on its debut UK tour with a cast which includes the winners of BBC1’s Let It Shine who beat thousands of applicants to win a part in this show as the unnamed boy band.
Throughout the show the boys pop out of lockers, appear on buses and slide from under beds to perform, invisible to the main characters most of the time or appearing in their imagination as they listen to their music. This subtly weaves the Take That songs into the story almost as incidental music and is a brave move, using the story and the very relatable characters to move the audience rather than going down the jukebox musical route. As a result, there’s no need to awkwardly crowbar songs into the plot and the musical seems to be a much more natural part of the story.
As well as being a moving and relatable tale of growing up and drifting apart from childhood best friends, this is a show which doesn’t take itself too seriously and there are some very funny moments with witty lines from the girls as they tease each other, retro references to cassette recorders and Ceefax, and a very funny scene with some nude statues…
Each of the girls is played by two actors with their teenage selves at the start of the show and then as forty-somethings, reminiscent of the recent Mama Mia sequel. This means there is a large cast but everyone delivers a great performance. Rachel Lumberg as the central character Rachel is warm, confident and sincere and has a great on stage chemistry with Alison Fitzjohn (Claire), Emily Joyce (Heather) and Jayne McKenna (Zoe). The younger cast were also great with a powerful performance from newcomer Rachelle Diedricks as Heather. Although ‘the band’ weren’t the focus of the show, when the time came for them to take to the stage properly, they gave a convincing and tightly choreographed performance.
As Gary Barlow says, “Friendship is what has been at the heart of Take That. The Band is about the relationships, not the music. Tim Firth has cleverly woven our music into a parallel universe”. This is a show which has a strong enough plot that it will resonate with audiences whether or not they grew up with the music of Take That. It’s a bittersweet nostalgic musical which deals with some emotional themes but will leave you smiling and waving your mobile phone light in the air.