When you go to see Tom Jones The Musical, you expect to hear the songs, see the swivelling hip gyrations, and tight pants. What you don’t expect is a sensitively written, tightly directed, back story as is the case with A Story of Tom Jones – The Musical.
This ‘story’ is focussed on a short period of time. It follows the young Tom, as a wild teenager, who finds himself prematurely married to his teenage sweetheart, and finishes with his first major hit. The evening winds up with a medley of Tom’s hits which gives the audience the opportunity to jump out of their seats and bop.
Playing a real character is always difficult. Having to imitate one of the greatest popular singers of all time, who was known for his muscular vocals, and powerhouse tone, is surely practically impossible. Kit Orton (Tom Jones) does a remarkably good job, at times sounding just like the real thing, even if his physicality doesn’t quite live up to the sex appeal of Mr Jones. Along with Elin Phillips (Tom’s wife Linda) they develop an onstage relationship that is both believable and touching. It is the backbone to this simple but effective script by Mike James.
The musical tones are varied and sometimes surprising. The show opens with a touching version of Irving Berlin’s Let Me Sing And I’m Happy. Showing the local community gathering in front of the rear projection of a bleak Welsh neighbourhood. The rear projections are the feature of most scenes and prove to be surprisingly effective creating period hues and added drama to a flowing narrative.
This tight ensemble all inhabit a variety of roles, none more so that Phylip Harries, who acts as narrator adopting a great number of characters and often injecting some welcome humour. Whatever they are paying him, they should double it, he doesn’t stop all evening. Even picking up the saxophone at the end of the show.
This show is about Tom’s music, but in focussing in on his early private life, they have quite rightly zoomed in on the relationships he shared. The fact that his wife recently died gives extra legitimacy to a relationship that lasted their entire lives. Tom’s backing group The Senators (John McLarnon, Tom Connor, Daniel Lloyd and Keiran Bailey) exemplify a young rowdy group of musicians on the make, play the instruments with ease, and all share a warm rapport.
Special mention must go to Richard Corgan, who while playing Tom’s manager Gordon Mills, illustrates very effectively the risky world of a music promoter gambling on the next big thing.
In a two hour show, focusing in on such a short period of time can be problematic. It felt like the forward projection of the story was being held back, and at times the audience was just aching to hear the next tune. However, Geinor Styles (director) has crafted a very tight show, focused on the relationships; the music speaks for itself.
Tom Jones fans will not only enjoy this show, they will no doubt learn something about his early struggles to make it big.
Subscribe to the LiveTheatreUK Podcast HERE.