28th Nov2013

The Commitments – Theatre

by timbaros

images-34First it was a book. Then it was a movie. Now The Commitments is a West End show.

At the illustrious and very central Palace Theatre, (former home to Les Miserables and Priscilla Queen of the Desert), the Commitment’s story is similar to the movie, but of course is confined to the stage. It is a very basic story at that: one man attempts to form a band, several characters audition, members are selected, various shows are performed, controversy erupts in the group when one member leaves, they form back together, and give one rousing performance at the end of the show. And that is pretty much it.

Working from a barely there book by Roddy Doyle, whose name is above the title, Jimmy (Denis Grindel, making his West End debut) is the impressario who gets the idea to form an all Irish band in 1980’s Dublin, a band to primarily sing soul music. He is lucky to find Deco (Killian Donnelly, who is an amazing singer), and then the rest of the members fall into place, including motorcycle riding ladies man Joey (a very witty and perfectly cast Ben Fox).

With great sets, including a two-story tenement house, good visuals (supermarket/launderette and Miami Vice Club signs, as well as the requisite strobe lighting effects), a young and energetic cast successfully sings soul music to the audience. Songs such as Papa Was a Rolling Stone, Knock on Wood, and I can’t get no Satisfaction are brought back to life on stage. But it is when Donnelly opens up his mouth and sings, the audience sits up and takes notice – they are mesmerized. He has a voice so unique and soulful that even when he is eating chips on  whilst singing at the same time it still sounds incredible. When Donnelly sings I’m a Midnight Mover, you wish that the show was all about him and him alone. Donnelly, whose previous theatre credits include Billy Elliott, Phantom of the Opera, and playing Combeferre in the Les Miserables film, is the true star of the show. While Grindel does a fine job in his debut, The Commitments belong to Donnelly. While the back up trio of female singers are quite good and pretty and bubbly, no one else, including Donnelly, in the band of 10, we really get to know. The cast is too big. And this is the problem with the Commitments – it has a weak storyline, some jokes that fall flat, and thinly drawn characters. And we have all seen it done before – the cast orders the audience to get on their feet at the end of the show for the last two numbers. A ploy for a sure thing standing ovation? Probably. It’s a gimmick that is all too common in the Jukebox style musicals now playing in the West End (The Bodyguard, Flashdance, even the dreadful Viva Forever). Is the Commitments recommended? Yes, purely to enjoy the soulful voice of Donnelly. His voice is absolutely amazing.

Review originally published by The American and copyright Blue Edge Publishing Ltd.