Greatest Days (The Official Take That Musical)
Book by Tim Firth and music and lyrics by Take That
Adam Kenright for Kindred Partners
Curve Theatre, Leicester
Cynics may sniffily turn their noses up at the thought of another jukebox musical with, this time, the discography of Take That recycled into a flimsy storyline. However, they shouldn’t; this is a strong story of friendship, acceptance and following your dreams, whatever your stage in life.
Greatest Days is a relatively young musical, having premièred in 2017 (as the musical formerly known as The Band) at the Manchester Opera House, appropriately, given Take That’s heritage. There was even a TV talent show to find the cast for the boyband for the 2018 West End production, and it is now in the midst of a new UK tour for 2023/24.
To drown out her feuding parents’ loud arguments, Young Rachel (Olivia Hallett) disappears into a world filled with her obsession with a boy band (referred to in the programme as “Boyband”) and who she calls “her boys” (the band is never named), and, as many a 16-year-old girl, she spends much of her time singing their songs into her hairbrush, her goal in life to marry, preferably all members of the Boyband, and have lots of children. Her friends Heather (Bayley Hart), Zoe (Hannah Brown), Claire (Mari McGinlay) and Debbie (Mary Moore) have other plans (fashion designer, academic, Olympic diver and showbusiness star respectively) but they are all united in their love for their Boyband.
Skiving off school, they get to a Boyband gig, miss the last bus home but, after an exhilarating night out, it all ends in tragedy. The girls then drift apart until, twenty-five years later, Rachel (Jennifer Ellison) wins a competition to see the Boyband on their reunion tour in Athens. She manages to find her friends from the past and they have their own reunion as they travel to Greece to see the Boyband once again.
It is refreshing to see this type of musical from a fan’s perspective. It is often said how music, particularly a much-played album or a period of time in one’s formative years, provides the soundtrack for your life. Greatest Days is all about this, as Take That’s songs are woven into this new story. The scenes to “Back for Good” are especially poignant as the now adult women share the stage with their younger selves and reflect on the way they were and what they are now.
As the girls reunite as adults, Rachel, Zoe (Holly Ashton), Heather (Rachel Marwood) and Claire (Jamie-Rose Monk) overcome their awkwardness and there is a relatability and realism to their stories, and their embarrassment as they share how their lives have veered away from their teenage dreams.
Co-directors Stacy Haynes and Tim Firth make good use of the Boyband, providing a nice contrast between the concert-style moments brimming with glorious Take That moves, to Rachel’s everyday life, her “boys” always with her, accompanying her thoughts and gathered around her like a protective chorus. The boys themselves (Kalifa Burton, Archie Durrant, Regan Gascoigne, Alexanda O’Reilly and in this performance, Benjamin Cameron replacing Jamie Corner) are a perfect blend of exuberance, thrusting dance moves and wistfulness packaged in de rigeur ‘90s baggy jeans and Daz-white T-shirts. They also provide the muscle when moving Lucy Osborne’s clever set design.
I found occasionally the pacing lagged a little, particularly in the second act with “telling” creeping into the story, however, that’s a small point in what rises high in the “feel-good musical” category.
Greatest Days is a sentimental affair without being too schmaltzy, and provides further proof that whatever you might think of Take That, they wrote some absolute bangers.
And, if you’re itching to dance and sing, there is precious time built in at the end to unleash your inner pop star to “take that and party”.
Reviewer: Sally Jack