The Committments

Lets hear it for  . . .  The Commitments. Pictures:Ellie Kurttz

The Commitments

Wolverhampton Grand

****

I saw the original Alan Parker film, but this represented my first time seeing the stage show. Its artistic credentials are impeccable. The film was released in 1991 as a musical comedy-drama based on the eponymous 1987 novel by Roddy Doyle.

Not only was it directed by Parker, but the screenplay was written by Doyle, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, a veritable creative tour de force.

Located in the Northside of Dublin, we hear the story of Jimmy Rabbitte, a young music fanatic who assembles a group of working-class youths to form a soul band named, The Commitments.  

There is a venerable tradition of showbands playing weddings and sundry gatherings in village halls, that tradition spawned both the Boomtown Rats and Thin Lizzy. The ongoing appeal of soul music is underscored by Bruce Springsteen’s latest release, Only the strong Survive, a covers album of soul standards.

The stage play is faithful to the film musically and artistically, but the musical set list has been revamped (for the better) including: Try A Little Tenderness, Knock On Wood, Save Me, I Heard It Through The Grapevine, In The Midnight Hour, Reach Out I’ll be there, Signed Sealed Delivered among them. The only frustration is that some songs are performed as fragments and interludes rather than in full.

Anyone who has been in a band, or been close to those in one, will recognise the internecine rivalries, jealousies and warfare, humorously, and accurately, played out here.  

backing singers

Stephen O'Riain, (James) left on piano, Eve Kitchingman (Natalie), Ciara Mackey (Imelda), Sarah Gardiner (Bernie) and Guy Freeman (Derek), on bass.

 Skilfully directed by Andrew Linnie on a versatile set by Tim Blazdell, which doubles as a performance backdrop, oozing live music, it is 1980's Dublin, transforms into Jimmy’s family home, then the Miami Vice club, a pub, bingo hall, a nightclub, and a block of flats, all in the blink of an eye.

James Killeen is superb as the loveable lead Jimmy Rabitte, authentic and perspiring charisma, He channels his inner Bob Geldoff with much chutzpah.

A trio of beautiful backing singers, Imelda (Ciara Mackey), Bernie (Sarah Gardiner) and Natalie (Eve Kitchingham) all get the chance to show off their vocal prowess, the first half combination of You Keep Me Hanging On/ Reach Out I’ll be there and Chain of Fools is stunning as are all their harmonies. Alan Williams’ musical arrangements are sympathetic and inspired.

Dramatic interludes are kept to a minimum, musical numbers are turned up to the maximum, as is the nostalgia, with Nigel Pivaro (Terry Duckworth of Coronation Street) playing the part of Da with considerable humour.

The metamorphosis and evolution from the shambolic group of friends to convincing showband is trickier to depict on stage than it is on film with that pretence only really evident on the opening, rousing, Proud Mary

On this opening night, understudy James Deegan, performed the pivotal role of Deco, his confidence growing as the evening unfolded, only (I can’t get no) Satisfaction misfired, mainly due to lacklustre instrumentation.

Mickah (Ronnie Yorke) has a lot of fun as the bands’ security looking like a 1970’s North Bank Boot Boy from nearby Molineux with his shaven head and menacing Doc Marten cherry red boots.

An oddly downbeat ending is papered over with a rip-roaring front of house medley of encores which the leggy girly backing singers steal performing a barnstorming River Deep Mountain High wearing stunning red sleeveless drop-waisted minidresses and ruched bodices.

Yes Mustang Sally is still fantastic, and I can now report that the live stage show is a match for the film. It runs until Saturday the 15th, then continues on nationwide tour.

Gary Longden

11-10-22

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