It was almost like a trip back in time.
Who ever made that decision must be applauded. That’s how it used to be. That’s how it should be. And perhaps producers who knock a measly tenner off for previews might look to it as an example as they moan about pesky bloggers posting reviews before their show officially opens. Not that it’ll prevent them blogging anyway, but they might just be a tad more forgiving.
Previews have sold out. One assumes they’re hoping for good word of mouth from early audiences. It’s a smart move as it seems extremely likely this will be the case.
Katy was Phil’s arm candy for the night. They’d both seen the film but could remember little of it other than liking it at the time. Twenty or so years later those cinema audiences are probably old enough to afford trips to the theatre, so the time may be right for this show. We’re not convinced by the latest report (commissioned by Ticketmaster) that 16 to 19-year-olds are more likely to attend the theatre than any other age group. They certainly weren’t at The Commitments.
Anyhoo, let’s face it, the plot is as thin as a Rizla paper and could just as easily be written on one. A young man, Jimmy (winningly likeable Denis Grindel), forms a soul band in Dublin, there’s a clash of egos and the band falls apart. An easily excused case for for a string of classics including “Knock on Wood”, “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine. The latter is performed by band front man Deco (Killian Donnelly) as he consumes a bag of chips. Now, there’s a real-food-on-stage first. Tricky and impressive. Probably best to avoid sitting in the front row.
What also impresses is, err, the commitment of the cast, the humour (book by Roddy Doyle) and seeing a West End musical risking language that could give Barking in Essex a run for its money. It may be the only decent run that show gets.
But what’s not to like in a show that has also has (albeit frustratingly brief) snatches of “Master and Servant”, “I Want to Take You Higher”, “Don’t You Want Me” and “Tubular Bells”, a roller disco, convincing Irish accents (probably because many of the cast are Irish), a shockingly belieavable headbutt, a satisfying dissing of jazz, Jaffa Cakes in their eighties packaging and wigs by Mr Richard Mawbey?
Soutra Gilmour must be the designer of choice of these days (she’s also doing Tim Rice’s new musical North Pacific at the Shaftesbury Theatre). The stage is surrounded by towering concrete high-rises which open up and form the various required locations most effectively. Coincidentally the band have to perform on the Barrytown Operetta Society’s set for South Pacific at one point. Gilmour must have had it up to here with palm trees.
The bottom line is that Jamie Lloyd‘s production is yet another jukebox musical, and at this stage of early previews it’s still a bit rough around the edges. Some of that roughness needs to be maintained, it somehow works in the show’s favour.
But what really lifts the evening is the high-energy cast and an outstanding and astonishing lead performance from Donnelly. This is the man everyone will leave the theatre talking about. Unless you go on a Tuesday when presumably he’s recuperating in a darkened room. That’s if Elaine Paige, Heather Headley and Lesley Garrett have vacated it for him.
It’s a shame he’s forced to encourage the audience to get up on their feet for a clap along curtain call. Judging by the reaction at this performance they’d have ovated anyway.
Of the slew of new musicals coming along in the coming months The Commitments has marked its territory ahead of the crowd. Though someone needs to sort out the scooter’s exhaust which charges around the stage throughout the show, occasionally blowing acrid fumes into the stalls. But one senses another more pleasing smell. There’s the whiff of a big hit here too.
The Palace was the first London theatre Phil ever visited (the original London cast of Jesus Christ Superstar if you’re wondering. You can look up the year yourself, he’s too embarrassed to say) and he’s visited many times since but never noticed a small museum (in a corridor off the stalls bar) dedicated to posters and production shots of previous Palace productions. Fascinating and worth a look if you’ve never seen it.