The Theatreguide.London Review
Savoy Theatre Summer-Autumn 2008
Best to give you the verdict first. Never Forget is a musical that has divided the critics, and it's easy to see why. So, if you're expecting Sondheim look elsewhere, but if you want an energy-filled tale of working-class characters trying to make something of themselves, book a seat immediately.
Of course, if you're a Take That fan, you'll already have your tickets.
Take That, for those who don't know, were the first and arguably the best oft he wave of boy bands that come out of Britain in the 90s (and they've recently reformed).
Though manufactured by their manager as a band, every member of the line-up had talent and strong personalities that reflected their origins in the Northwest, centred around the city of Manchester.
The musical is also Manchester-based, its plot somewhat echoing that of The Full Monty, another feel-good northern tale. To save his mum's bankrupt pub, Ash (Dean Chisnall) decides to join a Take That tribute band being put together to win a competition.
Along the way he makes friends with his bandmates and negotiates the pitfalls of a dodgy manager (a wonderfully comic Teddy Kempner) and a temptress talent scout, all the while trying to hold on to the affections of his trusting fiancée Chloe (the bubbly Sophia Ragavelas).
The dialogue is sparkling and funny, though it must be pointed out that the Spaniard Jose is a little over-parodied, which is no fault of Stephane Anelli, who finds dignified humour in the accent and flamenco posturing.
The songs slot in imaginatively, and all the Take That hits are here, including the big chorus opener 'Could It Be Magic.'
You'll also find great salsa, rain/umbrella and fire-blasting workings of the songs ,imaginatively staged by choreographer Karen Bruce, along with the medley encore now de rigueur for this type of show.
Admittedly the nature of Take That's highly produced dance catalogue means that there are few opportunities for torch songs or even duets.
Luckily, Ragavelas grabs the spotlight with a tingling solo version of 'Love Ain't Here Anymore,' and 'A Million Love Songs' gives her and Chisnall the chance to gaze lovingly into each other's eyes as they croon.
The cast is young and energetic, and everyone sings and dances with enviable ease. Director Ed Curtis confidently keeps the action moving and never once lets the pace drop.
Plotwise, however, there are the odd holes in the script by Danny Brocklehurst, Guy Jones and Ed Curtis. The fact that Ash's mum's pub is going bust is merely a soon-dropped plot trigger, while the implausible two-week deadline to find the cash causes all sorts of logic problems further down the line.
That's easily remediable with a bit of script tinkering (which, to be honest, should have been done during the pre-London tour).
More distracting is the role of Chloe. Ash's sweetheart is no mere cipher, particularly when played by the strong-voiced Ragavelas, but the character has no chance of developing and so any tension caused by Ash losing her heart and then attempting to win it back seems woefully flimsy.
Again, this is nothing a bit of rewriting wouldn't solve, and it is a mystery why it hasn't been done.
It's interesting that playing up the road is another working-class-kids-made-good musical, Jersey Boys, the story of popsters Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Never Forget is hardly as dramatic, but then it is set in grimy Manchester during the cynical 90s, not baby boomer Newark in the bubble-gum 60s.
It strikes me that a perfect West End musical experience would be to see the two shows together while you have the chance.
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