Review: The Commitments

The Commitments, Birmingham Hippodrome
Sarah Gardiner, Ian McIntosh, Conor Litten, James Killeen, Ciara Mackey, Michael Mahony – Credit Ellie Kurttz

It is 35 years since The Commitments first burst from the pages of Roddy Doyle’s best-selling novel. The world’s hardest working and most explosive soul band have made a welcome return in the form of an all-new stage production which celebrates the black heritage of soul music and its working class roots.

In 2013 The Commitments musical opened in London’s West End to universal critical acclaim and, two years later, hit the road for a major tour, invigorating audiences up and down the country throughout 2016 and 2017.

The Commitments, directed by Andrew Linnie, tells the story of Jimmy Rabbitte, a young working-class music fan, who transforms an unlikely bunch of amateur musicians into an amazing live act, which becomes the finest soul band Dublin has ever produced. Placing a classified advert in a music paper, Jimmy auditions a number of wannabes before finalising the members of his new band. The Commitments is born.

The Commitments, Birmingham Hippodrome
Ryan Kelly, James Killeen with cast – Credit – Ellie Kurttz

Despite (in the most part!) their indisputable solo talents, the band members soon find themselves grappling with inter-group differences as they muddle their way through early rehearsals for the band’s first gig. Just as they begin to get a name for themselves, they self-combust. The backing singers are more interested in the middle-aged horn playing legend, the singer is clashing with everyone, the drummer has walked out mid-gig and the saxophone player has dangerous leanings towards a jazz career!

While the storyline may have lacked in a little depth at times – and where it may (apparently) fall short for some fans of the film, this show’s biggest strength is its musical casting with so much talent on display.

In fact whether or not you’ve seen the film, familiarity will come in the form of the show’s stellar score with more than 20 soul classics performed live on stage, including Night Train, Try A Little Tenderness, River Deep, Mountain High, In The Midnight Hour, Papa Was A Rolling Stone, Save Me, Mustang Sally, I Heard It Through The Grapevine, Thin Line Between Love and Hate, Reach Out, Uptight, Knock On Wood, I Can’t Turn You Loose and many more!

The Commitments, Birmingham Hippodrome
Eve Kitchingman, Michael Mahony, Ciara Mackey, James Killeen, Sarah Gardiner, Conor Litten, Guy Freeman, Ian McIntosh – Credit Ellie Kurttz

And the rousing first-night finale had the audience singing along to some of those favourites with gusto – and, I suspect, all the way home.

This is most definitely one for fans of soul – or anyone seeking an uplifting, energising night at the theatre. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Commitments plays at The Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday (29th April.) Tickets can be purchased here.

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