Phil McIntyre Events
Opera House, Manchester
June 5-10, 2023; 2hr 30min
(also Leeds Grand, June 19-24)
It was always going to be about the songs. For whether or not you care that it has strong language, thick accents but a relatively thin plot, this is a hugely enjoyable musical.
The Commitments was originally a novella by Booker prizewinner Roddy Doyle, published in 1987. It tells the story of Jimmy Rabbitte, a would-be music entrepreneur looking to share his love of soul and socialism (of a sort) with working class Dublin. He forms a band; It makes mediocre music, gets better, excels, splits up. End of story? Maybe for the narrative, but not for The Commitments. In 1991 came the much-loved film version with a Motown and Memphis soundtrack that, as the saying goes, knocked your socks off. Now, following its success on stage since in 2013, comes this year's touring show, currently in Manchester.
Jimmy (James Killeen) is gathering a rather odd assortment for members of his band, much to the amusement of his "Da" (Corrie's Terry Duckworth. Nigel Pivaro). The band's not much good to start with and unfortunately this leaves the first act rather slow and without much spark. Thankfully what it lacks in energy is more than compensated in the second act and the resounding finale.
All the large cast's members perform well under the direction of Andrew Linnie, with highly competent musicians demonstrating just how exciting a show like this can be. Stand-outs are the foul-mouthed but foxy Commitmentettes (Ciara Mackey, Eve Kitchingman and Sarah Gardiner). They're great as backing singers, but each has the opportunity for solo work, undertaken with great skill. Particularly notable is the rendition of the late Tina Turner's River Deep, Mountain High by Sarah Gardiner - a small lady with a big voice.
But the night belongs to Ben Morris (James Deegan at some performances), as the obnoxious but talented Deco. Deco turns up late, picks his nose, spits out food, is self-centred, coarse and altogether repugnant. Yet when he sings....
By the end of the show, Morris has the audience eating out of his hand. Helped by lighting and a set which has changed from two levels (Jimmy's bedroom, rehearsals in a garage, down at the pub etc ) to an event stage, we are at a gig where Morris shows his versatility and range with songs such as Mustang Sally and, finally, Try a Little Tenderness. The audience loves it.
More info and tickets here