Modern musicals based upon pop stars and their music continue to find a place on stage. That place is determined by a number of factors; the star quality of the artist, whether they are dead or not, whether they still tour or not, the extent of their fame and/or notoriety, and the quality and durability of their music. Some, like Buddy, are a thinly veiled excuse to trot out some great music, others, like Taboo , about Boy George ,largely eschew the music in favour of narrative. 20th Century Boy strikes a middle ground, offering all the hits, but in the context of a narrative which aims to stand on its own two feet.
I had just entered my teens when T Rex swept to the top of the charts, and there is no doubt that Marc Bolan was a pop sensation with catchy songs, androgynous good looks, and star quality. When he died, in 1977, he had last had a top ten single in 1973, his powers and popularity were on the wane, with David Bowie snatching his creative mantle, and numerous glam rockers out-glamming Marcs’ early image. Yet his legendary status endures with his supporters claiming both that his work was under rated, and that there was more to come. Tony Stringfellow has written the definitive appreciation of Marc Bolan in The Wizard’s Gown – rewoven, and makes just such a case.
This show is an evolution of the one that opened in Ipswich some years ago, twenty minutes is trimmed down from the running time of the original three hours by director and choreographer Gary Lloyd and writer Peter Rowe. The cast is strong starring Warren Sollars (Mamma Mia!, From Here To Eternity) as Marc Bolan with TV stars Sue Jenkins (Brookside , ”Gloria” in Coronation Street) and Luke Bailey (Waterloo Road, Casualty).
The story opens through the eyes of son Rolan (Luke Bailey), who leaves behind his American mother, Northern Soul singer Gloria Jones (Donna Hines), to retrace his father’s musical steps in London. The year is 1992, 15 years since Bolan died when Gloria crashed his Mini into a tree after a celebration of his 30th birthday.
Marc’s mother Phyllis ( Sue Jenkins) has not spoken to Gloria since then, but she welcomes her grandson, and opens photo albums as she and Marc’s taxi-driver brother Harry (Peter Manchester) start a journey of rediscovery.
Bolan’s narcissism and addictions are not whitewashed, yet the show has a light touch too wit some good comic oments. Matthew Ashcroft’s leery Mickey Finn, and the punk caricature of The Damned entertain. The Bolan cogniscenti will be intrigued by the references to Tony Visconti and John Peel. Sollars gives an unashamed imitation of the star vocally, and in mannerism and movement. This is no reimagining of him, and he does so convincingly and faithfully.
The hits still sound great and the audience were dancing in the aisles for the greatest hits encore finale which the audience and cast enjoyed in equal measure in a boisterous finish.The second act ran out of steam a little as the hits ran out. I Love to Boogie was the highlight of the first half. Hot Love, Jeepster, Metal Guru , Children of the Revolution and 20th Century Boy were magnificent, Telegram Sam sounded derivative, the rest was a little lightweight save for Helpless Dancer which is now inextricably linked with Billy.
20th Century Boy runs till 5th July and continues on tour.