Greatest Days The Official Take That musical, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

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Greatest Days musical review Cardiff

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Thanks to Wales Millennium Centre for providing us with review tickets for Greatest Days

Greatest Days – the Official Take That musical – is at Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre this week and it’s a beautifully emotive show which will make you laugh and cry in equal measure and (if you’re as old as me!) reminisce about life as a teenager in the mid 1990s when boybands were life, you got your song lyrics from Smash Hits, and you didn’t dare leave the house on Thursday evenings for fear of missing Top of the Pops. 

You may well remember the show coming to Cardiff way back in 2018 when it was called The Band and Take That themselves (well, Gary, Mark and Howard) caused a frenzy by making a surprise appearance on stage at the opening night, singing a medley of songs in the curtain call (you can read my review of that amazing night here).

There was no such guest appearance at last night’s press performance – but the production was as good as I’d remembered it. In fact, it was even better than last time, with a new set, new costumes and a slicker more polished feel than before.

It might be the Official Take That musical, originally coproduced by Take That, and with the soundtrack consisting of their back catalogue – but Greatest Days isn’t about Take That per se. In fact TT are never actually named, they’re just called ‘the band’ or ‘the boys’. Rather, it’s about a group of five teenage girls who bond over their love for the group. The friends create dances to their songs, have their pictures in their school lockers, plan which member they are going to marry – and can’t believe their luck when they win tickets to see them live in concert.

Despite their promises to always remain friends, when tragedy strikes the girls are unable to cope and head their separate ways. Twenty-five years later, the chance to see ‘the boys’ perform live once again sees them reunite… but are their teenage memories enough to bond them as women whose lives have not turned out as they might have planned?

Although the show centres around two concerts, the band (Kalifa Burton, Jamie Corner, Archie Durrant, Regan Gascoigne and Alexanda O’Reilly) mostly appear through the mind of Rachel, our lead character played in the present day by Kym Marsh of Hear’Say and Coronation Street fame, and with her real-life daughter Emilie Cunliffe playing the 1990s teenage version.

The boys pop up singing and dancing with all the energy and slick choreography of the band themselves in Rachel’s bedroom, they drown out her arguing parents, they burst out of the lockers at school and on the bus, always with a song that fits the mood of what’s going on her life, giving new significance to the lyrics. It’s very cleverly done.

Greatest DAys musical review Cardiff

Mary Moore as Debbie, Kitty Harris as Young Heather, Hannah Brown as Young Zoe and Mari McGinley as Young Claire join Emilie as the teenage versions of the girls, each with their distinct personalities and comedy moments. Rachel Marwood, Holly Ashton and Jamie-Rose Monk play the adult Heather, Zoe and Claire.

One particularly poignant scene sees the women singing Back For Good to their teenage versions, as they process the events of the past. It’s emotional stuff and I’m definitely not the only one wiping tears from her eyes.

With the production featuring 15 of Take That’s hits, there are chances for the audience to sing and dance along to some of the more upbeat musical numbers, which we do with great enthusiasm, particularly Never Forget.

Greates Days musical review Cardiff

Also giving a great performance is lan Stocks as Every Dave – he plays a host of parts including a bus driver, band roadie, Greek police officer, and creates plenty of humour along the way. Christopher D Hunt is Rachel’s partner Jeff who slowly realises there’s more to Rachel than he ever realised and has some really tender moments towards the end.

Last time I saw the musical I went with a friend, who loved it for all the same reasons as me. This time, I took my 11 year old son. He loves musicals, he loves music, he knows a lot of Take That songs, but he wasn’t even born when Take That were at their peak in the 1990s or even when they first reformed in 2006 so I was intrigued to see what he’d make of a show essentially about middle aged women. The official age guidance is 8+ with no entry to under 2s, and although there are a few direct references to sex and a couple of emotionally difficult scenes, I was surprised by just how much he enjoyed it.

He loved all the singing and dancing, loved gaining an insight into what life was like for his mother as a 1990s teen, thought parts of it were hilarious and although he didn’t have the same personal connection, he said it was ‘absolutely brilliant’.

Greatest Days musical review Cardiff

When the idea of a Take That musical was first muted, naturally people presumed it would be about the real life drama surrounding the band. That’s even what the band themselves thought when they first met with Tim Firth to discuss the idea, according to Tim himself in the programme notes. But focussing on the fans, the teenage girls who could have been any of us – whether your love was for Take That or any other band or pop star (it was Jason Donovan for me!) – means the characters and scenarios are so relatable.

The power of friendship really shines through as well as the power of music – the ability of one song to transport you back to a time and place, and for all those old feelings to resurface, as well as finding your own personal meaning within song lyrics.

With the official film of the musical out now in cinemas and Take That celebrating the 30th anniversary of their first UK number one Pray, it’s the perfect time for the stage musical to be back in theatres. You can catch it in Cardiff until Saturday, with tickets still available.

Greatest Days is at Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff until Saturday 1 July, with limited tickets available for all performances. Age guidance 8+ with no admittance to under 2s. Tickets start at £15. See the website for more information.

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