20th Century Boy (Nuffield Theatre, Southampton)
In 2011 the late Marc Bolan, lead singer of the rock band, T-Rex was the latest musician to be given a tribute musical. Now it’s been given its own tour. Yes, it’s certainly a tribute to Bolan, but no matter how much love is showered over him the musical can’t hide its lack of depth.
The typical juke box musical chronologically follows the musician through his career. The exception in this case is that it moves back and forth between Bolan and his son. Played by Luke Bailey, Rolan Bolan wishes to learn more about his deceased dad and decides to come to Britain. He meets his grandmother and a number of people who knew Bolan.
The rest of 20th Century Boy is devoted to following Marc Bolan’s life. Yet for a tribute to the legend, the musical feels sketchy. A lot of the story is told through copious amounts of exposition given in the present day scenes. Yet funnily enough those scenes are the interesting ones.
The Marc Bolan scenes are mostly snippets for the musical to lead into the next song. The characters aren’t interesting either. They have little time to develop and only serve to tell the story.
There is some emotion to be found in the scenes with Rolan, as he overcomes the revelation that his father was married before he met his mother. Donna Hones as Gloria Jones puts on a brave face as she reluctantly faces the past for the sake of her son. It’s only during the second act, when the past starts to overlap with the present, that the musical becomes interesting.
Thankfully Warren Sollars gives an impressive performance as Bolan, portraying the musician’s charisma and ambition to be "bigger than Elvis Presley". The musical follows him as his stardom tears him apart and isolates himself from those close to him. Yet these problems are skimmed over as the musical speeds along.
Warren and the cast perform the songs brilliantly, as they go through Bolan’s song catalogue including 'Get It On', 'Ride a White Swan', 'I Love To Boogie', and '20th Century Boy'. The finale has the audience up on their feet as the music thunders out.
Like other juke box musicals this musical tells the story of the rock star through tinted glasses. However, I feel that other musicals are better at looking at the highs and lows of the career of the musician. This is a competent overview of Bolan’s life that really deserves more attention.
– David Jobson