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Review Round-up: Never Forget the Feelgood Factor

Following its world premiere last July at Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre and two regional tours, Never Forget, the new musical based on the greatest hits of reformed Nineties boyband Take That, hit the West End this week, facing the critics on Wednesday (with reviews embargoed until today) and officially opening last night (22 May 2008, previews from 7 May) at the Savoy Theatre (See Also Today’s 1st Night Photos).

The musical centres on the members of the unlikeliest Take That tribute band and follows the rollercoaster journey of young Gary Barlow-like hero Ash (Dean Chisnall) and his mates (Craige Els, Stephane Anelli, Tim Driesen and Eaton James) in the pursuit of their dreams. Along the way, each of them discovers that pretending to be someone else can sometimes help you find out who you really are.

Never Forget includes Take That chart-toppers such as “Relight My Fire”, “Pray”, “Back for Good”, “Babe” and the title number. The Take Thatters are joined in the 28-strong cast by Sophia Ragavelas, Joanne Farrell, Teddy Kempner and Marilyn Cutts, as well as 20 members of the Never Forget children’s choir who accompany them in the finale.

Never Forget has an original book written by TV’s Danny Brocklehurst (Shameless, Clocking Off), Guy Jones and Ed Curtis, who also directs. The production is designed by Christopher Woods and choreographed by Karen Bruce, with Mike Dixon as musical supervisor. It’s produced by Tristan Baker, Bronia Buchanan and Charlie Parsons in association with Jason Haigh-Ellery.

High art, this isn’t, as all of the first night critics agreed. Nevertheless, most appeared happy to submit to the show’s silliness and accept it for what it aims to be – “kitsch”, “lively”, “funny” and knowingly “cheesy”. In the spectrum of compilation musicals, the consensus is that Never Forget is located closer to Mamma Mia! than the We Will Rock You end, in terms of critical success. And more than one critic predicted it would be a box-office hit, especially with hen parties and others who’d already seen Dirty Dancing. There was particular praise for Karen Bruce’s choreography and a nifty “water animation” effect.

  • Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (four stars) – “I’m not a big Take That fan particularly as I’ve recently grown out of my prepubescent schoolgirl period … This irresistible show does, however, make a good case for the talents of the writer/lyricist Gary Barlow by creating a decent dramatic structure – in a script by Danny Brocklehurst, Guy Jones and director Ed Curtis - that may not have the wit or ingenuity of Mamma Mia! but does use the concert format, and some stunning stage effects, to tell a good story … Curtis’ production arrives at the Savoy with a brash confidence and unassailable technical perfection born of a long nationwide tour. Karen Bruce’s choreography pulsates with dance floor discipline, and Bob Bailey’s design and James Whiteside’s lighting create a superb concert atmosphere with a stage-wide wall of fire and an incredible first act finale curtain of rain – as in the ‘Never Forget’ video – with the show’s title picked out in giant letters. How did they do that?”
    • Lyn Gardner in the Guardian (two stars) – “Yes, the book feels as if it is being stretched to shoehorn in the next ballad, and the tone is uncertain, falling between cheese and camp. But there are flashes of droll humour, the actors are engaging and there is a lively vulgarity. And what's not to like about the first-half closing number that features rain so intelligent it can actually spell out the words Never Forget in mid-air? But after the interval, it is clear that nobody got round to writing the second half, so they just throw everything at it. We have already had snow and the clever rain, and now we get pyrotechnics, pole-dancing and more bling than at a Russian oligarch's wedding. Then they chuck on 20 cute kids dressed as angels. It is a pity, because with more care and craft and a greater feelgood factor this might have rivalled Mamma Mia!. Instead, it merely offers an alternative for hen parties who forgot to book Dirty Dancing in time.”
    • Esther Walker in the Independent - “Rumour has it that the real Barlow was at first involved with the show, but dropped it when Take That reformed in 2006. He suddenly had better things to do. More fool him, then, because the show is good. It's fast-paced and lively, funny and easy on the eye, and the songs have been lovingly and faithfully adapted to the stage. This is all despite the show recycling the same dunce plot you always get in stories about bands. Band forms. Label is interested – but only in lead singer. Band falls out. Band gets together just in time to win battle of the bands. The end … The boys playing the fake Take That are charming, with strong voices. They do well with a script that, although at times a bit clunky, at least has a decent sense of humour … The staging and choreography are something to see, with more flesh on display than a butcher's window.”
    • Fiona Mountford in the Evening Standard - “If it's kitsch spectacular you're after, don't even think of the Eurovision Song Contest. This new musical, based around the songs of Take That, will knock forthcoming events in Belgrade into a gold thong. Never before have I seen a show where the whooping standing ovation started midway through the second half. The storyline could have been concocted on the back of a particularly small envelope … But the point here isn't plot subtlety. Instead, Ed Curtis' production is a riot of fake tans, outrageous costumes and the highest-octane choreography the West End has seen in years. Those dancers will have no knees left by Tuesday … The set appears to be lovingly recycled from the Crossroads motel, with the addition of a couple of spectacular special effects … If enough hen parties have seen Dirty Dancing by now, this will surely run for ever.”
    • Dominic Maxwell in the The Times (two stars) – “The new Take That musical is a cheerfully bogus but sometimes spectacular exercise in asset-stripping … Never Forget broke box-office records on its regional tour last year. But, while it's played at a zip and sung with a smile, it's terrible old cobblers and it knows it. What's more, it knows we know it, and strongly suspects that we don't mind … The songs slip in without the clunk of some catalogue shows, but, really, why even bother? There's no dramatic darkness to give the tunes more heft when they arrive; the attempts at comedy are affable but blunt … When the songs are delivered, full on, they're pretty good … The staging is lively, the choreography does the job, and there's a rainy Back for Good sequence that replicates the song's video - cue the biggest whoops of the night. And then Ed Curtis, the director, gives us a genuinely spectacular stunt with falling rain, and for a moment we are all taken out of ourselves. The best and most honest moment is the megamix encore. With all of the 30-strong cast facing forwards, selling these electrodisco tunes with everything they've got, this ersatz spectacular comes alive.”
    • Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail – “Kitchfest … is surely the word for Never Forget. This musical tribute show based on the songs of the 1990s boy band Take That is stupendously corny. Cheesy as an emmental fondue. The dramatic tension is non-existent. The music is borrowed. The tone is unrelenting … However, it all has the redeeming quality of self-mockery. It knows it’s ridiculous. It doesn’t expect anyone to take it seriously. This save the show and ensures that, for those who are prepared to lie back and let it happ’n Cap’n, the experience is a blast. A loud one at that … Art, this is not. But harmless good fun, especially for hen parties? You betcha.”
    • Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph - “The new Take That musical isn't nearly as terrible as I secretly hoped it would be. Indeed, despite all my best intentions, there were moments when I realised with a rush of shame that I was both smiling and tapping my foot. As for the four women sitting behind me, they were in seventh heaven, maintaining a continual repertoire of penetrating high-pitched shrieks of pleasure that suggested the abandoned heights of sexual ecstasy. Indeed, by the end of this rapturously received show, which is clearly destined to do a lucrative trade with raucous, chardonnay-fuelled hen parties, there can hardly have been a dry seat left in the house. No wonder everyone was up on their feet for the climactic megamix of hits … Never Forget has a vulgar vitality that strikes me as miles more engaging that the bland tastefulness of the week's other major musical opening, Marguerite, and though my grandmother would have described it as "terribly common, darling", at least it beats with a recognisably human heart … Ed Curtis' brash, pacy production is blessed with a succession of highly energetic, enjoyably erotic dance routines expertly choreographed by Karen Bruce, and there are some of the best fire and rain special effects I have ever seen in a theatre … For women of a certain age, I suspect this unashamedly lowbrow show will be just the ticket. Chavtastic!”

      - by Terri Paddock

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