Writer: Mike James
Director: Geinor Styles
Musical Director: Ben Goddard
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
Long before Sir Tom Jones sat in the big red revolving chairs on The Voice, a young Tommy Woodward was gaining his own reputation for his own voice in the pubs and clubs of 1960s Pontypridd.
From singing ballads solo in the pub to standing in at the last minute to replace the vocalist for local band The Senators, young Tommy Woodward soon becomes Tommy Scott and the road to super-stardom is set.
Mike James’ play may lead us to the inevitable stardom but it’s the journey that is important. The setbacks, the self –doubt, the impact on friends and family – all milestones that shape the future star. Perhaps as a counter balance to the instant celebrity shows such as Sir Tom’s The Voice now offer, here it’s a hard slog to stardom rather than overnight success. We may know the eventual outcome but even so, at times we begin to doubt Woodward/Scott/Jones will ever make it.
Set against the backdrop of Pontypridd’s terraces, James also captures the dark Welsh humour, quick with a witty put down but simmering just under the surface a quick Celtic temperament.
Though weaving in musical numbers this is no Jukebox musical; we move from the a capella early cabaret to the full rock sound but always as a play with music rather than a full blown musical. Those expecting wall to wall Jones hits will probably also be in for a surprise. It’s not until Tom receives his first number 1, It’s Not Unusual, that the Tom Jones songbook opens.
The musical numbers are performed with skill and gusto by the company of actor musicians, with fully drawn characters alongside the musical virtuosity. Director Geinor Styles pitches the pace perfectly, focusing in on the intimate personal story before expanding into the larger than life onstage scenes.
It is in these personal scenes that we really get to understand what drives the future superstar and the foundations of his turbulent but long standing marriage to wife Linda (an impressive Elin Phillips).
While there are strong performances throughout the company, the show belongs, as one might suspect, to Tom himself. For a performer who has over the years gone through several incarnations and even been seen as a caricature of himself, these are big shoes to step into. Kit Orton delivers a thorough engrossing performance. From the first moments Orton sings it’s clear he has the vocal chords to do Jones credit. Orton carefully pitches the performance, sounding enough like Jones without it turning into a karaoke impression.
From the unaccompanied Spanish Harlem into the full throttle It’s Not Unusual, Orton captures the young Jones perfectly. By the time we reach the curtain call with a medley of Delilah, Green, Green Grass of Home and Sex Bomb, the vocals are an all-out vocal assault.
Much like the genuine Pontypridd lad, Orton’s pelvic thrusts get ladies of a certain age swooning or up on their feet and dancing in the aisles. While there are no knickers thrown at the stage this time around, it’s easy to imagine to it could be an occupational hazard.
Die-hard Tom Jones fans may not learn anything ground breaking about their idol, but for those perhaps more familiar with him from his current TV incarnation, theatr Na Nog’s joyful production will give an insight into the route to stardom the singer took. It may not be ground-breaking but for two hours of pure entertainment, Tom hits the mark, Sir Tom fan or not.
Runs until May 3rd