They say that in Tom Jones’s home town of Pontypridd, everyone knows someone who knows Tom. One of Wales’s most famous exports, his stint as a judge on The Voice with his tales of hanging out with Elvis has brought him to the attention of a younger generation. The son of a miner who became a global superstar, it seems strange that a performer with such a rich back catalogue and a rags to riches tale has not been the subject of a musical before now. Finally, Tom gets the musical treatment thanks to Welsh production company Theatr Na Nog (theatre of eternal youth). The show premiered in Pontypridd on St David’s Day in 2014 and is now on a national tour.
The show starts with a projection of a coal mine followed by the terraced streets of the South Wales valleys. We are in 1950s South Wales when a teenage Tom Woodward courted the lovely Linda and sang in the working men’s clubs with a dream of hitting the big time.
This is the story of Tom’s early years, his marriage to Linda, his childhood sweetheart, at just 16 when she was pregnant with their son. As well as the tale of Tom’s early career and rise to fame, this is the story of Tommy and Linda whose marriage lasted the course of his career when many around them failed. Linda’s recent death makes this telling of their love story particularly poignant.
The first half features songs from the fifties and sixties including Spanish Harlem and Lucille performed with a live band on stage. We reach the interval when Tom and his band are spotted by Gordon Mills who brings them to London with a promise of a recording deal. It’s not until the second half that the songs we’re all expecting show up.
The final song of act two is a rip roaring, hip thrusting performance of Tom’s breakthrough hit: It’s Not Unusual, which reached number one in the charts in 1965. The story ends here but we all know this is just the beginning for Tom’s career. The cast return to the stage for a medley of singalong hits, Delilah, Green, Green Grass of Home and What’s New Pussycat, performed with high energy.
Kit Orton embraces the role of Tom with enthusiasm and wisely does not attempt to imitate the famous voice of Mr Jones, choosing rather to belt out the familiar tunes and focus on the stage presence and snake hips. Linda is played well by Elin Phillips, assured in her love for her husband, convinced of his talent and supportive of his aspirations, even when that means leaving her and their son behind while he chases his dreams. She knows he will come home to her eventually. The tale is capably narrated by Phylip Harries, filling in the gaps in the story with Welsh charm. The rest of the cast are multi-talented actors, singers and musicians who carry the story along to the next song.
This is a fun show performed with high energy by a talented cast with a touch of Welsh humour. I left wanting more; here’s hoping someone’s working on Tom: The Vegas Years.
Reviewed by Rhiannon Evans
Photo: Simon Gough
Tom. A Story of Tom Jones. The Musical plays at the Richmond Theatre until 21 May 2016