The year is 1953, the place is Dublin and the music is anything that has soul. This week at the New Alexandra Theatre it’s time to take a step back and experience a tale about a working class band who make it big through sheer grit, determination and passion. Rodney Doyle's classic comes crashing into the theatre with real intention to entertain audiences with the ‘Hardest working band in show business…The Commitments’.
The protagonist in this story comes in the face of Jimmy (Andrew Linnie) who drives the band to come together and stay together choosing the styles of music they perform, leading to record companies signing them. Linnie’s leadership and management is key to the character, his place in the story really speaks for the working classes of the 1950s. Doyle’s book places youth at the heart of the tale and shows the struggles and achievements that one man can make despite his background. Linnie's Jimmy comes to a nice closure in the latter of act two where Joey (Alex McMorran) gifts Jimmy his motorbike. As a piece which recognizes the importance of passion for your art, Joey’s parental guidance over Jimmy presents a nice melancholic moment, one of few in the show, but never the less, it rounds off the story nicely and Caroline Jay Ranger’s additional staging and direction for the tour heightens it’s cleanliness on stage.
Kevin Kennedy's satiric pessimist Jimmy's Da is a brilliant addition and the character’s comedic efforts steal the show. There is a perfect combination of Doyle’s comic book writing and Kennedy's extensive stage career, allowing for a complete and consistent performance. Another particular highlight in the cast was Brian Gilligan's interpretation of Deco: arrogant, bullish and yet fundamentally talented as the strongest singer in the group and Gilligan’s striking vocals reflect this. As with most of the cast, his characterization is clear and intention is key to the telling of such a strong narrative.
Further from Gilligan’s vocals, it is the music that drives The Commitments to be such a notably strong musical – Alan Williams’ musical supervision and arrangement is clever and honest in its portrayal of the original story, bringing real light to the stage. The company’s additional band (led by Musical Director Matthew J Loughran) creates a real strength to the musical numbers and it is the actor musicianship that adds some real flair to the show, making the performances all the more authentic.
The show’s design is strong with Jon Clark’s lighting exploding onto the stage, ingeniously developing from classic, clinical feel to a full concert rig. Soutra Gilmour’s set design feels a little out of place on the large stage of the Alexandra, but again, its intention is clear evoking the authentic Irish setting.
It comes without surprise that, as all good Jukebox Musical's should, The Commitments leaves the audience with an extended encore mash-up, finishing the songs we didn't get to hear in the narrative. The audience leave with a whopper of an audible treat as the band plays the audience out.
The Commitments shouts music, passion and energy - and this UK tour does not disappoint.
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