Having first seen The Commitments during it’s smash hit London run, I was excited to be going back to the show during it’s UK Tour when it came roaring into the Theatre Royal Plymouth, and the return visit did not disappoint. It’s full of energy, laughter and a whole lot of soul. Some may call it a jukebox musical, and some sticklers may insist that it is not a musical but instead a play with song, but either way, it’s a fun filled couple of hours full of soul that will get you up and dancing during the hit filled finale.
The show tells the story of The Commitments, a band pulled together by the ambitious Jimmie Rabbitte as they try to bring soul back to 80’s Dublin. The problems start when it is quickly discovered that in reality none of the band’s members seem to get along all that well, especially when it comes to the band’s somewhat big headed lead singer Deco. With a voice that is described as belonging to the heavens, Deco only really sees himself as the star and doesn’t really try to fit in with the other band members at all, eventually only making it more difficult for the band to work with him at all. But they need him, they need the voice. Bring in three girls, a trainee doctor church pianist with a hidden love for rock and all, and a couple of temperamental drum players and the commitments as a band appear doomed from the start.
But you can’t help but feel for them and wish for them to succeed.
Jimmie Rabbitte, played by Andrew Linnie, fronts the show as the band’s manager struggling to pull together a group of people to form a band that works. He calls them the ‘hardest working band’ but he certainly has to work hard to keep them all in order. Linnie really has the audience hanging on his every word and has them begging for him to succeed. I really felt for him as he sung his own little version of ‘Mr Pitiful’ after the band had seemingly fallen apart. The band is full of big personalities, and they all clash. One little thing can happen and chaos can break out. Cracks in the band quickly appear, especially as drummer Billy (John Currivan) struggles to handle even being in the same room as Deco.
Now, you cannot see The Commitments and not give a special mention to Brian Gilligan as Deco. The voice. And wow, what a voice. Having last heard him sing in the vast Palace Theatre London, hearing him in a smaller venue was something else. Every note was full of soul and passion even when it appeared that as Deco, he was giving no effort at all, stuffing his face with chips and singing at the same time for example. As a character, Deco is someone that you could easily love to hate. He is big headed, and thinks only of himself but you feel for him. He knows that he has the talent to be big and get out of the world of working in a sweet factory, but he just doesn’t know how to get there. And Brian Gilligan was able to show all of that in his performance.
Special mentions must also go to Padraig Dooney as Dean, deciding between playing soul with the band and his new love for jazz. Also I loved Alex McMorran as Joey ‘the lips’. His comedic timing was on point, especially with his relationships with the three girls and his interactions as a sort of guide to Jimmie, helping him lead the band through it’s troubles. Honourable mention also to Kevin Kennedy as Jimmie’s Da. Brilliantly funny.
As for the songs, The Commitments really is a hit after hit show. With songs including ‘Mr Pitiful’, ‘River deep mountain high’, ‘Try a little tenderness’ and ‘Papa was a rolling stone’, its hard not to be dancing in your seat and enjoying every second of it. These songs will have you singing all the way home with numerous hit earworm songs stuck in your head!
The show as a whole was great, but there was a few little things I noticed. The first bit of the show felt a little rushed, as many characters were introduced as it quickly moved through to the band being formed. It felt like a lot was trying to be fit in to a small amount of time. Once the story was set up, it seemed to run much smoother. Also, though this does have a logical reason, the set was different then it was in the London run, but of course the set could be much bigger and higher then because of the much bigger venue. Nevertheless, the set worked well, folding away quickly as one scene changed into another. Also, I couldn’t help but think that some of the jokes could have worked much better if only things were sometimes slowed down a little. Some lines seemed a little throwaway.
In conclusion, The Commitments is a show that I do love. After all, this was my second visit. Its fun, and it’s funny. It does what all good theatre should do. It allows you to escape and forgot your own life for a while as you become invested in the lives of the characters on stage. You want them to succeed, you want them to become that hit band they want to be. And the music just makes you want to dance and sing along, which the audience happily rejoiced in with the hit filled finale, always wanting just one more song.