Writer: Peter Rowe
Music and Lyrics: Marc Bolan
Director &Choreographer: Gary Lloyd
Reviewer: James Garrington
Nearly two years before Andrew Lloyd Webber became a regular Saturday night BBC 1 fixture with his search for a musical theatre star, a similar yet almost-forgotten programme aired on Channel 4. It was called Musicality, and the prize was to appear for just one performance in Chicago in the West End. Ten years later, and some of the five winners of that programme are still going strong including Warren Sollars, currently starring in the first national tour of 20th Century Boy.
The show is based on the life story of Marc Bolan; and according to the way he is portrayed here, quite an unpleasant and unsympathetic character. From the time he was a teenager, he was claiming that one day he would be “bigger than Elvis”, and as his success grew he had no qualms in using and discarding people who did not fit his current view of his desires and ambitions. We see Bolan’s life through the eyes of the son who never knew him, Rolan (Luke Bailey) as he travels to London in a bid to discover more about his father’s story from the time he was growing up, to his death in a car crash shortly before his thirtieth birthday. The action moves well between the present and the past, as it is presented in a series of extended flashbacks; and though there seems to be quite a lot of dialogue and exposition at times, it allows the audience to understand the singer’s life and character, and actually provides a welcome change from many of the other juke-box style shows where the story is either convoluted or non-existent.
On this opening night at the Alex the show was unfortunately beset by technical difficulties. There was a 45 minute delay in starting, and even when the curtain did eventually rise, the issues were not fully resolved. As a result we had some serious masking and sightline problems, lighting incorrectly focussed, sound issues and wobbly scenery. While they did not really spoil the evening it was impossible to be at least aware of them. It is to be hoped that these are all resolved before any further performances. Issues aside, the design of the production (Diego Pitarch) is effective and the combination of traditional scenery and projection allows for a seamless transition from one location and time period to another.
Warren Sollars is a brilliant choice as Marc Bolan. He looks right and sounds right, and thirty years on from Bolan’s death provides a real sense of nostalgia as we seem him brought back to life on stage at the Alex – and if his acting isn’t quite out of the top drawer, he more than makes up for it with his vocals. He is well supported by the three ladies in Bolan’s life. Lucy Sinclair is suitably assertive as his wife June, the lady who shapes Bolan’s career until he decides he has outgrown her. Donna Hines has a wonderful soulful voice as Bolan’s lover Gloria, sensitively played as she is forced to relive the fatal crash where she blames herself for his death. Finally Sue Jenkins plays his mother Phyllis, bitter with the world and with Gloria in particular.
At the end of the day, this show is all about the man and his music and in that regard it is very good. Costumes, choreography and staging of the musical numbers are all spectacular and the music is superb, with the trademark heavy bass which is so reminiscent of the period. A show like this needs a good musical team, both on-stage and behind the scenes, and that is what it has. Credit here to Musical Supervisor John Maher, and Musical Director Ryan Alex Farmery as well as the on-stage band with Sollars’ vocals. For everyone of a certain age who remembers the 1970s, a very enjoyable and nostalgic time lies in store at the Alex this week. If, like Bolan, you “love to boogie”, you won’t be disappointed.
Photo: Robert Day |Runs until 3rd May 2014