[Review] The Commitments at the New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

Following a two-year run in the West End, Ronny Doyle’s smash-hit musical The Commitments comes to the New Alexandra Theatre from the 13th-18th March, and what better way to celebrate the run up to Saint Patrick’s Day than with some good old Irish soul?

Its Christmas in a pub in Dublin, and stepping across the stools drunk is Deco (Brian Gilligan), giving a spine-tingling rendition of ‘You keep me Hangin’ On’ by The Supremes, trailing the lead of a karaoke machine behind him. Soon he will join The Commitments, Jimmy’s (Andrew Linnie) new band, and from this local pub to the big stage, the audience follow the group in their quest to bring soul to the people, a journey delightfully packed with Irish craic, the occasional drink, and a ‘fecking da’.

 

Director, Caroline Jay Ranger, knows how to make an audience laugh.

 

Director, Caroline Jay Ranger, knows how to make an audience laugh. From an audition sequence, that sees a line of not-to-be-chosen singers entering, and leaving, sporadically via the front door, to a rehearsal scene where the group sing ‘I heard It Through the Grapevine’ beautifully whilst guzzling fish and chips, you will be laughing hysterically at least once every five minutes. She also has a keen attention to detail, whether it’s a cast member passing a beer to a fellow band member, or a muffled disagreement between manager and venue owner, there’s always something going on in the background. It is a perfect blend between story and song, and the transitions are smoother than the music itself – rarely has a musical been seen on a Midland’s stage with such a commitment to gritty realism.

 

It’s one of those performances where you have to constantly remind yourself that the music is live.

 

It’s one of those performances where you have to constantly remind yourself that the music is live. Gilligan’s stunning voice carries the performance, but the sumptuously soulful sounds of the entire cast are delightful, and at times, overwhelming. The soundtrack is an eclectic mix of hit after hit, from the Four Tops ‘Reach Out I’ll Be There’ to Otis Redding’s ‘Try A Little Tenderness’. Alex McMorran as Joey the Lips on saxophone and Sam Fordham as Mickah on bass give excellent performances, both as musicians and actors, and Coronation Street star Kevin Kennedy in his dual role as Jimmy’s Dad and the caretaker, brings brilliant banter and buffoonery to the stage.

The Commitmentettes, made up of Natalie (Amy Penston), Imelda (Leah Penston) and Bernie (Christina Tedders) attack their roles with sensational singing, spirited swinging, and shameless sass. Leah Penston’s rendition of Aretha Franklin’s ‘Think’ is particularly memorable, but all three are given their time to shine. They are perfectly cast as three giddy girls starting out in a band, attempting to perfect their dance routines, with big hair and awkward dresses.

What becomes of the broken hearted? ‘They go out and get p*****,’ Deco says, and if, like Deco, you want to leave your troubles behind in favour of some fun this week then go and see The Commitments. It is an energetic celebration of soul, with lots of laughs and bags of heart – a must see musical.

Ronny Doyle’s The Commitments is performed at the New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham from Monday 13th March to Saturday 18th March and will then begin a five-day run at the Marlow Theatre, Canterbury before moving to other venues.

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