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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Commitments
Palace Theatre Autumn 2013 - Autumn 2015

Another entry in the good-night-out jukebox musical category, and far from the weakest of the genre, The Commitments delivers what it offers, a string of Motown and other black American pop classics, as performed by white Irish musicians. 

The songs are great, the cover versions adequate, and there's not enough story to get in their way. 

Whatever depth, characterisation, political content or even plot there was to Roddy Doyle's 1987 novel or even the 1991 film has been excised (by Doyle) to make room for eighteen songs and at least snippets of twenty others, and what remains is strictly by-the-numbers. 

Once you get past the concept of 1980s Dublin amateurs doing cover versions of 1960s black music, the plot writes itself. They piece together a rag-tag band out of a couple of guys with guitars, a piano-playing medical student, the bloke who dominated the karaoke at the Christmas party, an ageing studio musician, the sexiest girl they know and a couple of her mates, and the like. 

Rehearsal consists essentially of listening to the original recordings (Shades of The Music Man and Professor Harold Hill's 'think' method of learning music.), they get a couple of local gigs, and then almost immediately things fall apart. 

The singer gets a swelled head, the drummer goes off in a huff, the sax player discovers jazz, the guys fight over the girls and the girls compete for the inexplicably irresistible old guy. 

Will they manage to get back together in time for the finale? Would you care to offer a guess as to the religious affiliation of the pontiff or the toilet habits of forest-dwelling bruins? 

The real attraction, of course, is the songs, and this slimmest of skeletons is sufficient to carry full-out rocking versions of 'Reach Out I'll Be There', 'Think', 'Papa Was A Rolling Stone', 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine' and the like. 

None of these cover versions sound much like the originals, but that is actually part of their charm we are pretending, after all, to be watching a bunch of Irish guys trying to sound black, so the second-hand Blues Brothers quality is wholly appropriate and actually does more to establish a sense of time and place than anything in the plot. 

This is probably the only opportunity you'll have to watch people sing 'Grapevine' while eating fish and chips, but you can't really fault the high energy versions of 'Satisfaction' and 'Papa' or the obligatory extended post-curtain-calls medley. 

This is the sort of actor-proof show where you would not miss much if you saw understudies, but Denis Grindel as the non-singing manager, Killian Donnelly as the at-most-performances lead singer and Ben Fox as the veteran rocker do fine jobs of carrying the evening.

Miles better than, say, Thriller, though not quite up to the level of Mamma Mia, The Commitments is no cheat. If it delivers no more than the modest entertainment it promises, it delivers no less.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - The Commitments - Palace Theatre 2013  

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