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Never Forget (tour – Southend)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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There's a charm in the traditional plot-line for a musical which ensures that it never seems old-fashioned, even in the context of a rock opera. The basic story runs: boy has girl, but doesn't quite value her, or his friends and family, sufficiently; boy is tempted by unimaginable wealth with concurrent celebrity status; boy has to make his choice between what is easy and what is right; all works out in the end.

The script furnished for Never Forget by Danny Brocklehurst, Guy Jones and Ed Curtis – the latter also directs – presents our wayward hero in the person of Ash. He's a youngster who dreams of pop stardom and marrying his girl-friend Chloe but has to face the reality that his mum is deep in debt and about to lose the pub which she has run for as long as he can remember. Then inspiration strikes in the shape of a competition to discover the best Take That tribute band.

Take That's songs fit very well into the story as Ash and his best mate Jake (Chloe's brother) recruit bookish Adrian, gay Harry and Spaniard José and find (or are found by) Ron, a manager who also has debt problems. At a try-out gig they manage to attract the attention of Annie, and she's a shark who swims in from much more dangerous waters.

Chief among the show's strengths is the performance of Karen Bruce's energetic and inventive choreography by a limber ensemble who make all the crowd characters individuals. Morgan Large's set is highly flexible with a sense of seen-better-days municipal baths, subways and the older London underground stations. Act One ends with a singing and dancing in the rain number which almost puts Gene Kelly to the blush – and sets quite a task for the stage management team during the interval.

Mark Willshire makes an engaging if easily manipulated Ash and there's great strength in Aimie Atkinson's Chloe which comes to the fore in her solo "Love ain't here anymore". The three boys of the band all have a chance to shine with dance and song and to establish their very different characters – Philip Oliver as Harry, Tom Bradley as Adrian and Scott Garnham as José. Kay Murphy's Annie radiates attractive menace from her first entrance while Teddy Kempner bumbles and rumbles effectively as Ron.

You know that the mix is right when the large proportion of the audience who came just for the music so obviously found itself caught up in the story as it unfolded and the exuberance of the dancing.


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