A World Premiere in the heart of London’s West End, The Commitments tells the story of Jimmy Rabbitte, a local Dublin lad who assembles an unlikely group of musicians to form a soul band. Adapted from Roddy Doyle’s best-selling novel, this ‘jukebox-musical-slash-play-with-songs’ sees the band of misfits come together and subsequently fall apart as tensions rise between the musicians.
An excellent company, the unlikely band mates are comprised of extremely talented actor-musicians whose skills are second-to-none. Sassy backing vocalists ‘The Commitmentettes’ add a feminine touch to the line-up and trying to organise them all is band manager Jimmy Rabbitte, played by West-End newbie Denis Grindel. Making his professional debut, this young man puts his heart and soul into the role of Rabbitte, his passion and enthusiasm for the band only occasionally masking the clarity of his words. A wonderful comedy element is added by Ben Fox as Joey ‘The Lips’ Fagan, a trumpeter with equal measures of touring experience and notches on his bedpost! Leading the pack is band front-man Deco, played by Killian Donnelley. With impressive vocals and slick comedy timing, Donnelley carries the show through each soul-filled number with attack and drive. The rest of the cast are dedicated, energetic and just a little chaotic (which is quite possibly intentional) as the group falls apart around them.
The reason ‘jukebox-musical-slash-play-with-songs’ comes to mind as an appropriate description of The Commitments is due to there being no link between the story-line and each song. The musical numbers, most of which appear in Act II, are solely performances of the band within the show itself. Eliminating the notion of singing just for the sake of being in a musical, this element gives this high-energy show a chance of appealing to a wider audience, musical theatre fans or otherwise. Saying this however, the true depth of Doyle’s story has been slightly lost in translation from page to stage, giving an impression that the characters could have been more fully explored. The language of theatre can be more limiting than in literature and film, allowing little time for back-story and context, which is often written into narrative songs. The lack of this narrative through-line in The Commitments left me with the feeling of wanting more explanation and content.
This aside, the evening was thoroughly enjoyable in terms of performance and energy, with the audience happily up on its feet during the final performance. One for the dads or non-musical loving friends, however probably not your elderly grandmother or anyone who isn’t a fan of the ‘f-word’ being frequently used!
Review by Natasha Wynn
The Commitments is showing at the Palace Theatre
Evenings: Tuesday to Saturday 7.30pm
Matinees: Saturday and Sunday 3.00pm
Age Restrictions: Suitable for ages 12+
Content updated 21st January 2014