- Adrian Turpin
- 9 August 2007
Could it be magic?
Their music made a generation of young girls cry. But can the songs of boy band Take That sustain a hit musical, wonders Adrian Turpin
Faced with the prospect of Never Forget, ‘a new musical based on the songs of Take That’, you’d be forgiven for thinking ‘Mamma Mia, here we go again . . .’ The Abba musical is eight years old now but it continues to inspire imitators. Queen, Madness and The Proclaimers have all had their back catalogues plundered in recent years, with varying degrees of success. At this rate, it won’t be long before Too Sexy: The Right Said Fred Musical or Not In Love: The 10CC Ballet arrives at a theatre near you.
‘The genre of the catalogue musical is nothing new,’ says Tristan Baker, the 28-year-old producer of Never Forget. ‘Gershwin did it. Some of the earliest Ginger Rodgers and Fred Astaire movies took the popular music of the day and placed it in a story.
‘Let’s face it, Mamma Mia has been around a long time. The problem is there’s been a number of [band-based musicals] that have basically been quite crap, and that means people can say, “oh the genre is cheap, it’s the lowest form”.’
The important thing, Baker insists, is that the story should stand up by itself, rather than be shoe-horned in around ‘Relight My Fire’, ‘Never Forget’ and the other 18 greatest hits. Where Mamma Mia employed Catherine Jones, a young playwright whose work had been performed at London’s new writing theatre, The Bush, Never Forget has turned to the, at first glance, unlikely figure of Danny Brocklehurst, the Bafta-winning screenwriter of Shameless, Clocking Off and Sorted. ‘The first draft landed without the songs or the props,’ Baker says, ‘and we hope that’s what will help give it longevity.’
It should be said that, while acknowledging Brocklehurst’s undoubted talents, plot-wise we’re not talking Hamlet. Our hero is Ash, a Mancunian lad who joins a Take That tribute band in order to make some money. While he impersonates Gary Barlow, his best friend Jake plays Robbie Williams. (Can you see where this one’s going?) Meanwhile, love interest is provided by Chloe, Ash’s long-suffering girlfriend and Annie, the little minx who tries to come between the couple.
It’s not giving much away to reveal that there is a break up when one member gets too big for the band (‘there are a few nods and winks to real life,’ Baker says) and that the show ends in a wedding. Nor is it entirely surprising that many of the twists and turns along the way involve a svengali manager with the gift of the gab – Nigel Martin Smith’s lawyers take note. The moral would appear to be that, by playing somebody else, it is possible to find out who you really are.
For true Take That fans, however, the off-stage story of Never Forget may prove as intriguing as what happens on stage. Whenever the musical has been mentioned in the newspapers, it’s usually noted that it does not have the backing of Take That. In March, the group even issued a statement to that effect: ‘The band would like to state categorically that this production is being undertaken with neither their involvement nor their endorsement.’ And in case anyone was in any doubt: ‘They would wish their fans and the general public to know that this production is absolutely and 100 per cent nothing to do with Take That.’
But, according to Baker, the truth is a little more complicated. ‘I know Gary [Barlow] well. He’s even written a song for me in the past,’ he says. ‘And we’ve been talking about this show since 2004. Everything was licensed with Gary’s permission. As you know, you can’t license rights without the composer’s permission anyway.’
Baker says Barlow even saw drafts of the script as it was developed: ‘He was instrumental in a lot of the choices artistically. They were heavily involved in the production and the ideas.’ This, however, was at a time when Take That was confined to the realms of nostalgia on TOTP2. As the band’s star rose once more, the mood music coming out of their camp changed.
Baker tactfully describes this change of mind as a ‘little hiccup’. ‘They had an extremely successful tour, then this year they won the Brit Award. They’re going to be very busy being international pop stars, and they don’t necessarily have the inclination to work on a project they’re not involved in the day-to-day running of.’ Baker says the musical’s producers offered to push their opening date back, so as not to clash with Take That’s schedule. But the publishers refused to extend the option on the rights, so it was a case of now or never. ‘I can absolutely see the band’s point of view,’ Baker adds. ‘They’ve got a number one in the charts and do they want a musical as well? I don’t know if it’s trendy . . .’ Were they embarrassed? ‘Who knows the working of an international pop star’s mind,’ he says.
Knowing how the audience’s minds work is another matter. Spectacle is expected and Never Forget does not stint. The show features both a 28ft high wall of fire (just waiting to be relit) as well as a never-been-seen-before rain curtain. Based on inkjet printer technology, this wizzy bit of kit is so precise with where it puts its water droplets that it can even spell out names in the air.
It seems a shame that Gary, Howard, Jason, Mark and indeed Robbie won’t be there to ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ along with the hen nights and the reluctant boyfriends dragged kicking and screaming but secretly quite enjoying it.
Can Baker envisage a situation in which Take That will change their minds? ‘I hope that the word of mouth will be so good, that they’ll come and have a look and give us their opinion,’ he says. ‘I’ve always said to the boys the door is open.’
So, could he imagine a situation in which they’d play their ‘own’ parts in Never Forget: the real Take That, playing a tribute band, playing the real Take That? ‘I’m not sure that it would really work,’ he says. ‘But I’m sure we’d find them a few juicy bit parts.’
Never Forget, King’s Theatre, Glasgow, until 18 Aug, 0870 060 6648.