In 1968, if you timed it perfectly, you could spend 24-hours a day on your Costa package holiday, listening to Tom Jones’ Delilah.
It wasn’t unusual for every bar, disco, café and barbecue night, and every radio station, to play the pop song on a loop. In the late sixties and early seventies Tom Jones, born Tommy Woodward in Pontypridd, Wales, was The Voice, and the biggest act in the business.
With the resurgence of Jones’ career, the knighthood and the publication, last year, of his rather sanitised autobiography there isn’t a better time to launch a stage show about Wales’ favourite son.
Tom The Musical, which is playing at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre this week, is a faithful but surprisingly flat, biography of Sir Tom’s rise to fame. It’s not that the story isn’t interesting, because it is, but Geinor Styles’ direction fails to capture the power and sexuality of the man.
The show stars Kit Orton as Tom with Tim Bonsar, who I watched last night, as an alternative lead.
Bonsar has an excellent singing voice but he bears little resemblance to the star and doesn’t sound much like him either (although he gets top marks for thrusting and gyrating).
Jones’ voice, speaking and singing, was a deep, rich, full-throttled Welsh tenor and the man oozed testosterone and sex appeal. Bonsar seems a very nice lad but radiates little chemistry. No disrespect but I don’t think anyone will be throwing their panties at him any time soon.
Tom The Musical concentrates on the early years, between 1955 and ’65, when the performer struggled to escape the working men’s clubs and pubs, in The Valleys. As such we see a lot of lows – and at one point Tom considered throwing himself under a train – but no highs.
The show ends, rather abruptly, when the singer gets his first big hit. It’s a peculiar ending. One second Bonsar is belting out It’s Not Unusual and the next the cast are lining up to take their bow.
Mike James’ story isn’t entirely a whitewash but it is a very sympathetic portrait of a “scruffy ‘erbert” from Ponty who began entertaining for coppers as a four-year-old.
The setting also means that we don’t get to hear any of the great songs until an encore medley – which is a shame because it needs some big, stand-out production numbers to lift the show.
It’s beautifully acted, with the Welsh accents spot on (not surprising as it’s produced by Neath-based Theatr na nÓg) and gives an honest account of life in a small mining town where the women keep the house and kids while the hard-as-nails men work in the mines and enjoy drinking and fighting (Jones excelled at both).
Elin Phillips, is superb as Tom’s rather frumpy wife, Linda (who he got knocked up at 15). Ever supportive of her husband’s ambitions, she stays at home to look after their son, Mark, while her husband launches his career in London. Richard Corgan delivers fine support as Tom’s manager Gordon Mills.
A missed opportunity but a show that fans will enjoy.
Tom The Musical is well acted but fails to conjure up the raw sexuality and power of the singer, dubbed The Voice, and Wales’ favourite son, Tom Jones.