Tom – A Story of Tom Jones, the Musical
Chris Abbott | 26 Apr 2016 23:35pm
Another week, another jukebox musical… At least, that’s what I expected from the rather clumsily-titled Tom, A Story of Tom Jones. The Musical. In fact, this was a serious drama, very much a play with music and focusing on the early years when the performer first became famous. Developed over several years of workshops by Theatr na nÓg with TNN, this was no mere tribute show, which may have come as something of a shock to a few in the audience who turned up in 60s fancy dress and thought they were at a party night – and they had to wait till the encore to get what they came for.
For once, I found myself in an audience of around my own age; we had all lived through those years and a few of us, myself included, had lived in Wales for at least some of the 1960s. We were perhaps likely to be critical then if the central performance in particular did not live up to expectations – or indeed memories – but there was no risk of that in this confident and authoritative take on the life story of one of the longest lasting stars of the sixties music scene.
The vastly-experienced team behind the show, particularly writer Mike James and director Geinor Styles, have created a narrative arc for the ten years or so when Jones progressed from singing Al Jolson songs in miners’ clubs to becoming a national and indeed international star.
There are a few awkward moments; the sudden eruption of realistic violence seems at odds with the production style as does the brief caricature of Joe Meek, a much more complex character than can be portrayed here.
Sean Crowley’s spare but effective designs rely heavily on projection, a device that is more successful when used abstractly for a pattern of rooftops or three extra large flying birds on a wall than it is when more detailed realism is attempted. There are some nice design touches to indicate the progress of the band too, particularly the ever-changing curtain behind them.
Performances are good throughout, with most of the cast actor-musicians and all onstage to play and sing at the finale. When not playing tenor sax, Phylip Harries is an engaging narrator and authentic voice of the Valleys. Playing Tom’s wife and childhood sweetheart Linda, Elin Phillips is wholly convincing though this must be a poignant role to play following the sad death earlier this month of the real Linda, still married to Tom. As the key influence in Tom’s early career, manager Gordon Mills, Richard Corgan contributes a complex and believable performance.
And that central performance? Close your eyes and you hear the convincing sound of the young Tom Jones – and Kit Orton looks the part too, complete with a rather more convincing wig than those that some of the rest of the cast have to wear. If he doesn’t quite have the charisma of the young Tom, well, how could he? That’s the point really – Tom Jones was and is a unique performer. But Kit Orton can sing the songs and do the moves, as well as portraying something of the torment of a performer making it and leaving the rest of his life behind. And since the play focused on the early years, the first of Tom’s hits, It’s Not Unusual, marks the end of the show – a brave move though much to the horror of two people sitting in front of me.
They were soon relieved to find, however, that many more numbers would follow in the feel-good finale, a whistle-stop tour of his later hits. Watch out for Mike James, Geinor Styles and the inventive and enterprising team behind this show; they are already touring Jackie the Musical at the same time as this piece, and with other shows in development, it’s great to see a new production team appearing on the scene.
- : admin
- : 26/04/2016