The Palace Theatre, Manchester – until 8 April 2017
Guest reviewer: Megan Hyland
Based on the 1991 film and Roddy Doyle book of the same name, The Commitments is an outstanding must-see musical like no other. For those unfamiliar with the much-loved story, the plot follows a dysfunctional soul band from Dublin, Ireland – by the name of The Commitments – and their journey to become “the world’s hardest working band”. Live on stage, the cast performs several classics from the film – such as ‘Mustang Sally’ and ‘Try a Little Tenderness’ – as well as other soul songs that weren’t featured in the film.
Brian Gilligan stars as the lead singer of the Commitments, Deco Cuffe. Both Gilligan’s vocal talent and stage presence are striking, and he brings great likability to the infamous Deco. As the frontman, he is perfectly cast – Gilligan steals every scene that he appears in. However, the rest of the cast offer equally faultless performances. As a group, they work together as a boundlessly energetic network, overloaded with enthusiasm.
Stand-out performances are delivered by Gilligan, Sam Fordham and the girls – Amy Penston, Leah Penston and Christina Tedders. Sam Fordham is the confrontational and paranoid bodyguard (and backup drummer) Mickah, whose performance provides a lot of laughs. And although the girls are intended to be backing singers, their incredible voices are rightfully paraded, with the characters often stealing the limelight from the arrogant Deco and letting their voices be heard. Their performances are perfectly synchronised, and they bring glamour to the otherwise charmingly unrefined group. Even Kevin Kennedy, better known for his role as Curly Watts in Coronation Street was unrecognisable as Jimmy’s dad and the caretaker.
And while the musical is a terrific nod to the iconic film and book, it also stands alone as an astounding production in its own right. Director and choreographer Caroline Jay Ranger has put together a spectacular blend of meticulously choreographed performances and quick-witted, engaging scenes. With Soutra Gilmour using both skilful set design and simplistic costuming to bring 1986 Dublin to life on stage.
Although the Commitments has a particularly large cast and crew, their efforts are all reflected in the sheer brilliance of the production. On its opening night in Manchester, the performance received a standing ovation, and it’s not difficult to see why. Within the cast, there is not a single weak link, with each of them putting an astonishing amount of enthusiasm and effort into their performance. The atmosphere is electric, and the musical is a credit to, what are perhaps, theatre’s hardest working cast and crew.