Award-winning TV writer and director Kay Mellor has turned her hit series Fat Friends, about a group of slimming club members in Leeds, into a stage musical 13 years after it ended. The Super Slimmers are back in this larger-than-life musical comedy currently touring the UK.
Mellor presents this hilarious, heart-warming story that reflects the notions of most people around the world today with the idea of body image, weight loss and its inflation through social media. This subject is represented so perfectly, that it really is a surprise how there hasn’t been a musical before like it until now.
In what is the starriest cast I have seen, each member has perfect chemistry with each other and they are all stand out performers with brilliant singing voices. I’d Do Anything’s Jodie Prenger leads as Kelly, the bride-to-be determined to lose weight for her wedding dress. Prenger’s performance is terrific in all aspects of the character. She is gobby, hilarious, and shows genuine love for her close ones, all through her own determined battle with self-acceptance.
Emmerdale’s Natalie Anderson is gorgeously talented as Lauren, the upbeat club leader with her aching desire to find love, despite what her religious parents want. Let It Shine finalist Jonathan Halliwell does indeed shine in this show as Paul the Vicar who is in love with Lauren. Together these characters are like a Yorkshire Romeo and Juliet, and the audience are rooting for them to be together. X Factor’s Sam Bailey and Coronation Street’s Kevin Kennedy are both a delight as Kelly’s parents and Chip shop owners; the nervous Betty and grumpy Fergus, who also care for their daughter’s well-being as any close parent would.
Atomic Kitten’s Natasha Hamilton plays Julia Fleshman, the perfect antagonist business woman who avoids becoming a typical panto baddie, like a media savvy Cruella de Vil. Rachael Wooding also stands out as the sarcastic younger sister of Kelly who delivers a lot of the laughs and likewise when she changes into Pippa, Fleshman’s bullied assistant. Chlöe Hart and Neil Hurst are also hilarious and easily stand out as Val and Alan, along with the rest of the ensemble.
Probably the most speculated star in this cast is former cricketer and TV personality Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff as Kevin, Kelly’s fiancé, who does surprisingly well in his musical theatre debut. He receives the biggest cheer on his entrance and the audience clearly love him. His character may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but his love for Kelly is believable and heart-warming.
Nick Lloyd Webber has composed a terrific score among Mellor’s witty lyrics that are a delicious treat. The songs are diverse, upbeat, and beautiful, filled with nods to other great musicals such as Oliver! (of course “Food, Glorious Food”), Les Misérables, A Chorus Line and West Side Story. The choreography by Karen Bruce is also wonderful. Stand-out numbers include the weigh-in song Step Up, complete with straw hats and canes, the brutally honest and revealing number Diets Are Crap and the show-stopping love song Chocolate which is jaw-dropping, leaving you wipe away tears of laughter. And in an all-singing, all-dancing musical about weight loss, what better theatrical tool to use brilliantly throughout than Zumba?
By the end, the audience rose to their feet to applaud the energy and feel-good vibe that this production delivers. While there may be a few minor aspects of this show that could be tightened throughout its run, it is nonetheless a truly terrific new British musical that is fun, naughty, brilliantly witty and an uplifting night out.
Fat Friends The Musical runs at the New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham until Saturday 7 April.
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