Reworking of an icon’s tale

Warren Sollars as Marc Bolan

West End star Warren Sollars getting it on as Marc Bolan

20th Century Boy

Wolverhampton Grand


MODERN musicals based upon pop stars and their music continue to find a place on stage, a place determined by a number of factors; the star quality of the artist; whether they are dead or not; whether they still tour or not; the extent of their fame and/or notoriety; and the quality and durability of their music.

Some, like Buddy, are a thinly veiled excuse to trot out some great music, others, like Taboo, about Boy George ,largely eschew the music in favour of narrative; 20th Century Boy strikes a middle ground, offering all the hits, but in the context of a narrative which aims to stand on its own two feet.

I had just entered my teens when T Rex swept to the top of the charts, and there is no doubt that Marc Bolan was a pop sensation with catchy songs, androgynous good looks, and star quality.

When he died, in 1977, he had last enjoyed a top ten single in 1973, his powers and popularity were on the wane, with David Bowie snatching his creative mantle, and numerous glam rockers out-glamming Marcs’ early image.

Yet his legendary status endures, with his supporters claiming both that his work was underrated, and that there was more to come. Tony Stringfellow has written the definitive appreciation of Marc Bolan in The Wizard’s Gown- Rewoven, and makes just such a case.

This show is an evolution of the one that opened in Ipswich some years ago, twenty minutes is trimmed down from the running time of the original three hours by director and choreDonna Hines as Gloria Jonesographer Gary Lloyd and writer Peter Rowe. The cast is strong with Warren Sollars (Mamma Mia!, From Here To Eternity) as Marc Bolan and TV stars Sue Jenkins (Brookside , ”Gloria” in Coronation Street) and Luke Bailey (Waterloo Road, Casualty).

The story opens through the eyes of son Rolan (Bailey), who leaves behind his American mother, Northern Soul singer Gloria Jones (Donna Hines), to retrace his father's musical steps in London. The year is 1992, 15 years after Bolan died when a mini driven Gloria crashed into a tree, two weeks before his 30th  birthday. Bolan had never learned to drive - fearing a premature death.

Donna Hines as US singer songwriter Gloria Jones, who was found with a broken arm and jaw slumped over the bonnet of a crashed mini with Bolan lying dead in the road

Marc's mother Phyllis (Sue Jenkins) has not spoken to Gloria since then, but she welcomes her grandson, and opens photo albums as she and Marc's taxi-driver brother Harry (Peter Manchester) start a journey of rediscovery.

The songs are not played in chronological order but to support he story, most notably when the late career Dreamy Lady appears at the front end of the show as Bolan seduces June Child.

Bolan’s narcissism and addictions are not whitewashed, and the show has a light touch too with some good comic lines. Matthew Ashcroft's leery Mickey Finn, and the punk caricature of The Damned entertain satisfyingly. The Bolan cogniscenti will be intrigued by the references to Tony Visconti and John Peel. Sollars as Bolan gives an unashamed imitation of the star vocally, and in mannerism and movement. This is no reimagining of him, and he does so convincingly and faithfully.

The hits still sound great and the audience were dancing in the aisles for a boisterous encore of his greatest hits complete with podium dancers, which left the audience and cast on a high. 20th  To 05-07-14.

Gary Longden



And getting it on at the back


YOU can actually feel the floor vibrating under your feet during a sing-along, rock-along finale to this story of the legendary Marc Bolan and his band, T.Rex.

In fact, the last 15 minutes of the musical is easily the best part of the show, with a large audience joining the cast in a concert-style blitz that underlined why the glam-rock star was so popular . . . even though he never lived up to his ambition to be bigger than Elvis.

Warren Sollars is excellent as Bolan, both in his acting and singing, cleverly building the character from his early days as a wannabe to the peak of his fame, and the desperate moment when his wife, June discovers him partying with a bunch she aptly brands a ‘rock ‘n’ roll wreckage.

And Lucy Sinclair reveals a fine voice as June, while Donna Hines is a delight in the role of soul singer Gloria Jones who has Bolan’s baby during an affair and was driving the car which hit a tree, killing the star just short of his 30th birthday in 1977.

The story opens, rather slowly, with the grown up son, Rolan Bolan, telling his mum he is off from their home in America to learn more about his famous dad in the UK. Luke Bailey is an impressive Rolan, also blessed with a strong voice, and there is a very good performance, too, from Sue Jenkins, Marc’s mother, Phyllis.

Directed and choreographed by Gary Lloyd, 20th Century Boy rocks on to Saturday night, July 5

Paul Marston  


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