Any show that starts out with a rousing rendition of John Fogerty’s Proud Mary gets my vote. The Commitments, so long a fixture in the West End, is now touring the UK and last night it pitched up at Milton Keynes Theatre to put a little bit of soul to its concrete and glass heart.
The film version of Roddy Doyle’s 1987 novel has become something of a cult movie. It’s not so much that there’s a great story here because, let’s be frank, there’s hardly any story or character development, but that it uses one of the finest song lists of any stage or screen musical.
The great classics of soul and R & B are belted out with a raw intensity and energy that is electrifying and that’s largely down to Brian Gilligan’s astonishingly powerful vocals.
It’s not easy to lie on your back and sing Marvin Gaye or James Brown but this opera-trained singer, who appeared in the London production, makes it look effortless.
The Commitments stage production can sometimes appear a little messy. Room sets are wheeled on and off for just a minute of dialogue and, when the huge, ten-piece, band plays in their local pub they out-number the punters.
But just sit back and enjoy the easy-going Irish charm of the production and listen to those songs – Knock On Wood, What Becomes of the Broken Hearted, I Heard It Through the Grapevine, Reach Out I’ll Be There, Papa Was A Rolling Stone, River Deep Mountain High….
I could go on and on. Twenty four of the greatest soul classics ever written, performed by a talented ensemble of actor musicians, led by the powerhouse vocals of Gilligan. Utter bliss.
The Commitments is set in 1986 Dublin where burgeoning music promoter Jimmy Rabbitte (Andrew Linnie) advertises in his local paper for musicians to form a band that will represent the working classes.
In what is a poor man’s version of the opening rounds of X-Factor, a succession of the good and god-awful turn up at the house he shares with his dad (former Corrie star Kevin Kennedy with the most awful Irish accent), to audition – usually for about 15 seconds.
Eventually he collects together his band which includes the unreliable and temperamental Deco (Gilligan) as lead singer, a randy horn player called Joe The Lips (Alex McMorran puckering up beautifully) who claims he played the iconic trumpet section in the Beatles’ All You Need Is Love, three cracking girl singers, a swot on keyboards and an Animal on drums.
Later into the mix comes skinhead nutter Mickah (an absolutely barking mad performance from Sam Fordham) as the group’s security and replacement drummer.
Dressed up in DJs and prom dresses they tour the pubs and clubs performing working class music to Ireland’s proletariat until out-sized egos and personality clashes threatens any future the band may have.
Make a commitment to a night at the theatre. Go along and listen to some great music. It’s sensational.
The Commitments runs at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday.
Remaining 2016/7 Tour dates
November 7-12, NOTTINGHAM Theatre Royal November 14-19, STOKE Regent Theatre November 21-26, SHEFFIELD Lyceum Theatre November 28-December 3, NORWICH Theatre Royal December 5-10, LEEDS Grand Theatre December 11-30, GLASGOW Theatre Royal
January 9-14, OXFORD New Theatre January 16-21, LIVERPOOL Liverpool Empire January 23-28, BELFAST Grand Opera House January 31-February 4, SOUTHAMPTON Mayflower February 6-11, NEWCASTLE Theatre Royal February 13-18, YORK Grand Opera House February 20-25, BRISTOL Hippodrome February 26-March 4, EDINBURGH Playhouse March 7-12, ABERDEEN His Majesty’s March 13-18, BIRMINGHAM Alexandra Theatre March 20-25, CANTERBURY Marlow Theatre March 27-April 7, MANCHESTER Palace Theatre April 10-15, CARDIFF Wales Millennium Centre April 17-22, WOKING New Victoria Theatre April 24-29, PLYMOUTH Theatre Royal May 2-7, SOUTHEND Cliffs Pavilion May 8-13, BRADFORD Alhambra Theatre
Electrifying vocals singing soul classics. The Commitments playlist more than makes up for a weak story.