MusicalNorth WestReview

20thCentury Boy: the Musical – Opera House, Manchester

Music/Lyrics: Marc Bolan

Book/Director: John Maher

Reviewer: Jo Beggs

There must be some mileage in juke-box musicals with so many doing the rounds, but 20thCentury Boy suggests that Producers are getting just a bit lazy with the format. Yes, there’s an audience out there for anything with Marc Bolan’s pretty face on it, but there’s also a handful of good tribute bands on the circuit whose gigs are inhabited by much more of the spirit of the man himself. It’s clear that a good number of the audience would have been happier in a gig venue, with a decent bar, and room to dance. That doesn’t happen here until ten thirty when, after the harrowing story of the tragic rock star is done, the band come on and blast out the hits.

Of course, we’ve already had them all, woven through the life story of Bolan, from his childhood dreams of making the charts to his ill-fated car journey home. We’re witness to the studio session where Tony Visconti hands Bolan his first electric guitar and Ride A White Swan is transformed from folk song to rock classic. We see recreated TV interviews and Bolan’s first Top Of The Pops appearance. George Maguire makes a perfectly watchable Bolan, with convincing physicality and vocals, but he’s definitely more at home in front of the band than delivering the wordy, and often clunky script.

Bolan is a fascinating character and some of the stories drawn out here keep things ticking along –  his mind-blowing trip to Paris where he discovers psychedelia, his first encounter and subsequently short courtship of JuneChild and their delightfully hippy marriage, complete with a duet version of Life’s A Gas. Maguire plays Bolan with a likeable charm and an innocence which makes his later descent into drink, drugs and abusive behaviour all the more poignant. He’s surrounded by a musically talented cast that make the songs sound great. Sarah Moss is charming as the hard-done-to June. Her role in the success of Bolan’s career is almost a story in it’s own right and Moss gives the character some interesting depth. It’s Ellena Vincent, though, that delivers the standout vocal performance as Bolan’s fellow musician and lover, Gloria Jones.

What really lets this show down are poor production values. A shabby, badly designed set with huge doors, that take an interminable length of time to open and close between scenes, are used as a screen for shoddy projections accompanied by appallingly produced music mixes. These interludes are designed both to demonstrate the passage of time and give the cast a chance for quick changes, but they just deliver a complete loss of momentum that the cast have to work really hard to regain. The regularly changing costumes go some way to creating an authentic look to the various decades, but they have little coherence throughout the production, rather like the random selection of fancy dress you might get a 60s or 70s party.

The final scenes, the car crash – loud noise, flashing lights and smoke – and the subsequent over-long morgue and funeral scenes complete with body wrapped in a sheet and coffin – are ill-judged and lack any of the necessary emotion. It’s underpinned by the company singing Dandy In The Underworld which should be a tear-jerker in this context but the whole scene falls horribly flat.

Thank goodness there’s an encore of I Love To Boogie before the lights go down.

Runs until 21 April 2018 | Image: Contributed


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One Comment

  1. Yes, I completely agree with this review. I had seen it previously in Manchester a few years ago and absolutely loved it. This is a very poor production for reasons already mentioned in the review. They didn’t even bother to produce a programme!

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