REVIEW: The Band (Manchester Opera House) ★★★★★

When it was announced that Gary Barlow would launch a TV talent search to find five young men to play a fictional boy band in a new musical using the music of Take That, the first question on many lips was “Do we need another Take That Musical?”. The answer is yes.

As jukebox musicals go this show is special, with a superb script from Tim Firth to compliment the amazing back catalogue of music. It tells the story of five sixteen year old girls obsessed with their favourite boyband as they prepare for their lives ahead. As the story progresses, we meet the same characters 25 years later; and as the band reunite so do the girls.

Sharing the role of Rachel, our leading-ladies-come-narrators, are Faye Christall and Rachel Lumberg as the younger and older version respectively. Awkward and yet determined to marry all five of the boys in the band, Rachel’s less than perfect family life inspires her dream of a solid domestic future. In a storyline that could very easily be saccharine and sickly, both actresses excel in delivering beautifully honest performances laced with moments of real comedy.

For all of the talented actresses playing the friends of both ages, this is more like a play than a musical, dealing with the troubles of growing up and growing old. They are real women experiencing real life and every line of brilliant dialogue is perfectly pitched under the watchful eyes of ingenious Directors Kim Gavin and Jack Ryder.

But of course, all eyes are on the boys from the Let It Shine TV show, tasked with delivering no less than eighteen Take That classics and earning every penny as they barely leave the stage except to change costume. The boys take on the role of a Greek chorus, always on the outside looking in, playing countless characters and providing the inner monologue of the female cast who only occasionally join them in song.

Every band needs a lead singer and Curtis T Johns is our Gary Barlow. His voice is sublime and “A Million Love Songs” is a real highlight. But to every Gary there has to be a Robbie, and it is Yazdan Qafouri who steals focus for all the right reasons. He is a natural showman with infectious charm (and smile!) and looks as though he’s been entertaining huge crowds for years.

This is the Take That musical nobody needed but everyone needs to see. Witty, heartfelt and completely engaging, it is a night of unadulterated nostalgia. It does everything it says on the tin and much more: intelligent without claiming to be so, and emotional without warning.The only thing that could top two hours of contemporary musical theatre magic experienced by all at the show’s official opening was an impromptu appearance from Take That and Lulu at the curtain call performing ‘Relight My Fire’.

Whether a die-hard fan of Take That or not you should book for an evening you’ll ‘never forget’. If it is a while before you are likely to see it then you’ll just have to ‘have a little patience’… but it is worth the wait!

Reviewed by Tate James
Photo: Matt Crockett