Kit Ortin in Tom: A Story of Tom Jones the Musical
Kit Ortin in Tom: A Story of Tom Jones the Musical
© Simon Gough

Given the preponderance of musicals crafted from the stories of our greatest pop heroes, the biggest surprise about this one is that it's taken so long to arrive.

It's been the best part of five years since the first workshops, and more than two since the first performances of this production, so it's a reward for the long slog of writer Mike James and director Geinor Styles to send their baby out on the road for a major UK tour.

A bit like Tom himself, in fact, who took his time breaking into the national pop scene after his early successes around the clubs and socials of South Wales. It's these years of graft and struggle that form the spine of James's play, taking us from the mid-50s shotgun wedding of Tom and his childhood sweetheart Linda up to his breakthrough hit "It's Not Unusual" at the start of 1965.

In truth, although it took some time, it was as much a matter of patience for the young warbler as any huge overcoming of obstacles, and this lack of major conflict forces James to manufacture some substitute drama in the shape of squabbles between bandmates and some half-hearted soul-searching about whether to return from London to the valleys before fame finally hits. But the narrative is more an upbeat steady rise to stardom than a rags-to-riches fable, and there's nothing inherently wrong with that.

Where this production scores particularly highly is in its handling of the musical material. It might have been tempting to throw in the big hits from the start and throughout, but instead the show paces itself, dropping in a few contemporary numbers as part of Tom's cabaret act and allowing the story to unfold in words rather than songs. There are moments when one even wonders if calling it a musical is a bit of a misnomer.

But when the songs kick in - including the obligatory final hits medley - they're pitch-perfect. The four-piece backing band is as tight an outfit as you could wish for: John McLarnon, Tom Connor, Daniel Lloyd and Kieran Bailey are all consummate musicians, as well as being hugely talented actors.

And then, of course, there's the voice himself. Kit Orton may be an old hand in the role but there's no sense of weariness or boredom in his extraordinary performance, and the vocals are always top-notch, whether he's crooning his way through "Spanish Harlem" or belting out "Delilah". By the end, it's a full-blown tribute concert and the crowd are on their feet. There was even, yes, a pair of knickers.

Styles's direction is constantly pacy and Sean Crowley's design - incorporating evocative projections and a versatile stage-within-a-stage - complements the action beautifully. Musical? Maybe. Good night out? Without a doubt.

Running time: 2 hours, 15 mins

Tom - a story of Tom Jones, runs at the Curve, Leicester, until Saturday 2 April, then tours.