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Could it be magic? Take That on new musical The Band as it arrives in Norwich

PUBLISHED: 09:36 05 February 2018 | UPDATED: 10:59 09 February 2018

Howard Donald, Gary Barlow, Mark Owen, Robbie Williams and The Band. Photo: Jay Brooks

Howard Donald, Gary Barlow, Mark Owen, Robbie Williams and The Band. Photo: Jay Brooks

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Take four heroes of pop and add five new kids on the block. Gary, Howard, Mark and Robbie talk about turning Take That's biggest hits into stage musical The Band, featuring Let it Shine winners Five to Five.

It is the fastest selling musical theatre tour of all time, and next week the Take That musical The Band arrives in the region.

The Band is based on the music of Take That rather than being the story of band. It has been written by the award-winning Tim Firth who, along with Gary Barlow, penned The Girls musical, based on the story of The Calendar Girls who stripped for a charity calendar.

The show is on an 11-month tour before heading into London’s West End and runs at Norwich Theatre Royal from February 6-17. It will also be back at the Ipswich Regent in 2019.

Sure to resonate with anyone who grew up loving a boy band and how those songs became the soundtrack to their lives, The Band starts in 1992 as we meet five 16-year-old girls for whom the band is everything.

Five to Five, AJ Bentley, Curtis T Johns, Sario Solomon, Yazdan Qafouri and Nick Carsberg, in The Band. Photo: Matt CrockettFive to Five, AJ Bentley, Curtis T Johns, Sario Solomon, Yazdan Qafouri and Nick Carsberg, in The Band. Photo: Matt Crockett

When they then reunite 25 years later, they try once more to fulfil their dream of meeting the group whose music became so much part of their lives.

The hits of Take That, Britain’s most successful boy band of all time, including Never Forget, Back For Good, A Million Love Songs, Greatest Day, The Flood, Relight My Fire, Shine & Rule the World feature in the show, which stars the winners from the BBC’s Let it Shine, Five to Five.

“Seven years ago the first idea, the first seedling of an idea of a musical that could incorporate our music, came about. But not necessarily about us,” Mark Owen tells us, as he and band mates Gary Barlow, Howard Donald and Robbie Williams wait for Five to Five to experience the first of no doubt many photo shoots.

With Howard laughingly describing the occasion as a ceremony to “hand over the leather waistcoats”, he adds, after a pause: “In fact, anything but about us. We’d find that a bit dull; we wanted to make it more interesting!”

Howard Donald, Gary Barlow, Dafydd Rogers, David Pugh, Mark Owen and Robbie Williams. Photo: Jay BrooksHoward Donald, Gary Barlow, Dafydd Rogers, David Pugh, Mark Owen and Robbie Williams. Photo: Jay Brooks

Seeing your hits transferred on to the stage has become familiar territory for groups nowadays. So the idea was a natural one for Take That, having hit the charts in the 1990s as a boy band but having since grown up, evolved and continuing to delight their fan base.

But to go from performing the hits themselves in arenas and stadiums to transforming it into a brand new West End-bound with the five new kids on the block who singing their songs was something different.

The result of that now fully grown seedling of an idea is the result of the collaboration with Tim Firth, under the auspices of theatrical aces David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers, but with Gary, Howard, Mark and Robbie acting as producers for the show.

Chatting to the cast and producers, it is clear that while this isn’t a conventional ‘jazz hands’ musical or a jukebox show, the word ‘unique’ is freely used, and I am assured that, under the direction of Kim Gavin and Jack Ryder, and with a technical team that include specialists who work on Take That’s big arena shows, there are wow factors a-plenty.

Alison Fitzjohn as Claire, Jayne McKenna as Zoe, Rachel Lumberg as Rachel, and Emily Joyce as Heather with Five To Five in The Band. Photo: Matt CrockettAlison Fitzjohn as Claire, Jayne McKenna as Zoe, Rachel Lumberg as Rachel, and Emily Joyce as Heather with Five To Five in The Band. Photo: Matt Crockett

Fittingly, The Band opened in Manchester last September, the city where it all began for Take That, and it has caused a huge buzz wherever it has gone since.

Pop legend Lulu joined Mark, Gary and Howard on stage for a showstopping finale of Relight My Fire on the show’s opening night, but that is as close as they will get to performing in the show themselves.

Discovered via the Saturday night primetime BBC competition Let it Shine, Five to Five are ‘The Band’ of the title.

Watching them in rehearsals for the show, we can happily confirm that AJ, Nick, Curtis, Yazdan and Sario look as hot, sound as good and dance as well as their mentors.

Girls set to ‘Rule The World’ as Take That musical The Band arrives in Norwich

And it’s not just us that rates them. The Take That boys are also impressed, not just by Five to Five’s talent, but also by how solid their protégées are as a group.

“Ever since they got together as Five to Five they have had this unity and gel,” says Howard. “But they had got to learn the show and the art of going on eight times a week,” Gary chips in.

Robbie nods his agreement. “The discipline, the actual physical and mental discipline of being able to do that, is nothing you can expect until you’ve done it. Treading the boards for eight shows a week? It’s not something I’m desperate to do,” he jokes.

Lulu and Take That join the cast on stage at the press night for The Band. Photo: Phil TreagusLulu and Take That join the cast on stage at the press night for The Band. Photo: Phil Treagus

But as well as The Band, Five to Five are also working on their pop career. Do the Take That chaps reckon they have a chance of making it?

“Can they make an album? They are ambitious, so I hope so,” says Gary, clearly optimistic about their scope for success. “They are a proper band, these guys,” he assures me.

“It’s amazing how ready they are to do this,” affirms Robbie. “It’s unusual. They were better than us straight away,” he adds, pointing out that the 18 months Take That had before they were really in the spotlight was a huge advantage.

“We had time before we got any real notoriety, and it was good that no one was watching because early doors there were kinks. But these guys seem to have that chemistry right away, straight out of the box. They are incredibly professional,” he admits.

But the four of them know only too well how hard Five to Five will have to work to get started.

“It’s going to be intense,” cautions Robbie, “although not as intense as ours [early career], which back in the day was incredible!”

Talking to camera, Howard has the last word: “Tickets are on sale. Go and get them. They’re hot!”

Looking from the famous boy band to the young lads who have it all in front of them, I couldn’t have put it better myself.

• The Band is at Norwich Theatre Royal from February 6-17, £49.50-£8, 01603 630000, theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk

• The show will be back to visit Ipswich Regent from February 12-16 in 2019.

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