From his industrial roots in rural Pontypridd, through the early gigs in Welsh working men’s clubs with his band The Senators to an icon of modern music, Tom: A Story of Tom Jones is the underdog story long forgotten behind the ‘Voice of the Valleys’. Starting in his teenage years and detailing his successes and the numerous failures on the road to success it tells the story of how one man became a legend.
Kit Orton as Jones does an incredible job of charming the audience from the start, and thankfully didn’t stray down the path of a bad karaoke tribute act later. Instead he commanded the stage with his magnetic presence, pretty spectacular hip action and belting vocals to present his interpretation of the Brit god of pop music.
The more tender backstage moments were played with sincerity to expose Jones’ fears and aspirations, although his ruthless determination (leaving his wife and young child to follow his dream and sacrificing his band to further his own career) and philandering were glossed over and somewhat rose-tinted in the script of this particular biography.
It is however abundantly obvious from the moment he steps out as “on-stage Tom” that the leading man has done his homework. Orton’s every movement is a precise and respectful homage revealing the evolution of the legendary crooner, right down to each head nod and the handling of the microphone cord – it’s the kind of performance that can only come from hours of research and perfecting in rehearsals.
Comedy and chemistry too was clearly perfected and came in spades, from a stellar supporting cast of actor/musicians as bandmates, villagers and Jones’ long-suffering wife Linda played by Elin Phillips. Phylip Harries as Jack Lister moves the show along at pace, and his arrival masked the remarkably slick changes on stage as well moving the story chronologically and geographically.
Although lacking in the sing-along moments expected from a jukebox musical, the story has plenty of heart beneath its beating hairy chest so the uneventful narrative can be mostly forgiven.
That said, at its close the show charts the rise to his first number one single, and Orton – forgoing the need for personal gratification and rewarding patrons by not breaking character – leads the company in a triumphant finale of “the hits” that have had audiences going wild for decades and Birmingham was no exception.
Get along to see it if you can!
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