Review of Greatest Days as it brings Take That's hits to Sunderland Empire
The musical features all the Take That hits - and more!
and live on Freeview channel 276
Dust off your dummy necklaces, Take That are in town.
Well, not quite the real thing, but you could almost be back in Whitley Bay Ice Rink in the early '90s screaming until your lungs hurt as Gary, Mark, Robbie, Jason and Howard fever swept through Britain's teenage girl population.
A musical based on that chapter of pop history, could it be magic? Judging by the press night of Greatest Days at Sunderland Empire, yes it can.
Granted, I am just the demographic for this type of show. I had the 364 posters on my bedroom wall (ceiling included), I cried when Robbie left and scratched him off my Take That pencil tin with a compass and I very much wore the T-shirts.
Over the years, the posters came down and I forgave Robbie, but this show takes you right back to those years of pop puppy love.
The musical - which formerly toured as The Band - tells the story of a band of friends: Rachel, Debbie, Heather, Zoe and Claire whose shared love of Take That gives them an unbreakable bond until a catastrophic incident sends them on separate paths in life.
The show spans 25 years, with the protagonists played by two sets of actors.
We meet main character Rachel, played with great warmth by Jennifer Ellison, as an adult in a loving relationship, but she has a void in her life due to the loss of her friendships.
The band, meanwhile, have reformed and they’re playing a gig in Athens and after winning four concert tickets and a trip to the Greek capital, it sets Rachel on the path to reforming her band of friends.
At their side throughout this journey of rediscovery is the band themselves, played by Alexanda O'Reilly, Jamie Corner, Regan Gascoigne, Benjamin Cameron and Archie Durrant.
They never speak, but they backflip, dance and make us swoon as they croon their way through Take That hits.
The band's hits are cleverly interwoven into the segments of the girls' lives, from the early upbeat numbers which echo their young exuberance, such as Do You What You Like (sadly minus the jelly), Pray and A Million Love Songs, which proves a particularly poignant backdrop to the funeral scene.
Then there's the mature numbers, such as The Flood, Patience, Rule The World and more which mirror the women as they navigate motherhood, loss and the daily grind of life.
On paper, a show like this could have easily become a gussied up tribute show, a soulless jukebox, but the strong story, filled with pathos and joy, blends seamlessly with well-performed hits.
It feels more like a play at times with its well-told moments of sorrow, but there's also plenty of bangers for your buck with such well-known music.
As you'd expect from a writer of Tim Firth's calibre, the characters are really well-drawn, with great comic timing from Jamie-Rose Monk as Claire whose life was taken down a different path as she navigates grief and Rachel Marwood as Heather, the sassy maneater.
Then there's Zoe, played by Holly Ashton, who, like many women, sacrificed her planned path in life for motherhood.
My only quibble is that the stage set is very simple compared to the big blockbusters we've seen on the Empire stage, but it doesn't detract from the emotion of this trip down Take That memory lane.
The beauty of this band is that you Never Forget those numbers that brought you so much joy and by the end of the night everyone was up on their feet, arms outstretched.
:: Greatest Days is at Sunderland Empire until Saturday, November 18