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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Commitments

"Soul is the music people understand" — Jimmy Rabbitte
The Commitments
Killian Donnelly as Deco (seated) surrounded by the cast (Photo: Johan Persson)
Subtitled, The Saviours of Soul, The Commitments was an Indie hit as a film for Roddy Doyle in 1991. It was about a group of disparate Dubliners who got together because they loved Soul Music and because they could sing and play instruments. For the women, the songs were a way for them to express their sexuality, for the men these were songs about love and sex and loss. Taking the Tamla Mowtown back catalogue, the songs of the Stax label, the new musical of The Commitments recreates the fabulous sounds of Otis Redding, Jimmy Ruffin and Wilson Pickett, of The Supremes, Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin.

The staging in director Jamie Lloyd's production is anarchic but fun as we meet these wannabe musicians in a set on several levels. Denis Grindel is Jimmy Rabbitte, the youngster but driving force that puts the band together. Deco (Killian Donnelly) is the vocal powerhouse with a personality full of autistic spectrum tendencies but whose rendition of these great tunes is to die for. the auditions are held in a shop window.

Ben Fox is a more experienced musician, Joey "The Lips" Fagan, the trumpeter who brings stability and experience to the group. Three girls are recruited, Natalie (Stephanie McKeon) , Imelda (Sarah O'Connor) and Bernie (Jessica Cervi) and they go straight into a Supremes number "You Keep Me Hanging On" . Somehow Deco sings, he is apparently able to sing while also eating chips. I should have asked him how he did that?

The songs are beautiful, classic soul inspirations like "I Heard It on the Grapevine", "Reach Out", "In the Midnight Hour" and "Mr Pitiful". Each one of course gets a fantastic ovation from the audience many of whom have seen the film and have the bare bones of the story on which to hang the music. In the interval beware of the spoilers discussion if you don't want to know what will happen next! When they go for their first concert, a mad skinhead Mickah (Joe Woolmer) joins the troupe and acts as hanger on security guard and roadie and produces some of the humour. The Stones' "Satisfaction" is played to a purple lit stage.

Other members of the cast have been planted into the audience so that guys from that era can be seen grooving to the music. It all adds to the atmosphere of this vibrant musical. A long encore hears "Mustang Sally" and "Try a Little Tenderness" both great crowd pleasers. I could happily listen to Killian Donnelly all night and all week, but then he has played several major musical roles in London's West End and his voice is quite magnificent.

Set in the council estates and unemployment of Dublin in the mid 1980s, The Commitments illustrates how music can provide the escape route both at a personal level of sinking into the music and at an economic one as the unemployed make a living from their band. As a musical it has plenty of gritty realism and hard hitting sound as well as strong language and the over used, but maybe authentic, "F" word but for my money The Commitments is fucking brilliant!

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The Commitments
Book by Roddy Doyle
Director: Jamie Lloyd

Starring: Killian Donnelly, Jessica Cervi, Mark Dugdale, Ben Fox, Brian Gilligan, Denis Grindel, Andrew Linnie, Joe Woolmer, Stephanie McKeon, Sarah O'Connor, Barnaby Southgate, Matthew Wycliffe
With: Padraig Dooney, Christopher Fry, Ryan Gibb, Natalie Hope, Sean Kearns, Clodagh Long, Ian McIntosh, John McLarnon, Riona o Connor, Sharon Sexton, Thomas Snowdon, Glenn Speers, Alex Tomkins, Julia Worsley
Designed by Soutra Gilmour
Choreography by Ann Yee
Musical Director: Alan Berry
Sound: Rory Madden
Lighting: Jon Clark
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes including one interval
Box Office: 0844 412 4656
Booking to 26th January 2014
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 9th October performance at The Palace Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1V 8AY(Tube: Leicester Square)

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