Take That! New musical featuring Let It Shine stars set for Norwich
- Credit: Jay Brooks
Archant's entertainment reporter Stacia Briggs travelled to Manchester for an exclusive interview with chart-toppers Take That at the launch of the band's new musical, aptly named The Band, ahead of tickets going on sale for their Norwich show today. Here, she gives us an insight into what we can expect...
I don't remember people being this envious of my job when I was covering complicated planning meetings at Waveney District Council.
Since telling a few people that I'd be spending the weekend in Manchester watching a brand-new touring show and then meeting its writers, producers, directors and co-producers, the requests have been coming thick and fast.
There have been autograph requests, declarations of love to be passed on, anecdotes to share and some bare-faced begging to be stowed in my luggage: I think this is what is known as The Take That effect.
At Manchester's Apollo Theatre - one of the venues where Take That launched their first concert tour back in 1992 - the band are back with another band in The Band. Stick with me here.
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The launch of new musical The Band is top secret: only a handful of press, competition winners and staff from the venues where the new musical will be performed have been given a golden ticket (actually a lurid yellow wristband) for a first glimpse of the show.
Writer Tim Firth has based the musical on a true story which follows the lives of five music fans from 1992 to the present day set to a backdrop of Take That hits performed by the winners of Gary Barlow's Let it Shine BBC talent show.
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The musical will start touring the UK in September and will come to Norwich from February 6 to 17 next year. Tickets are already selling like proverbial hot cakes.
Outside, the air is thick with suspense. A fan has seen Gary Barlow's car parked nearby, another thinks they spotted Mark Owen nipping through a back door. Everyone is worried about Howard Donald because his fourth child is only a few weeks old and he looks tired. These fans know EVERYTHING.
'I used to follow Manchester United, now its Take That,' one told me, 'I don't help myself, really. It means beans on toast all year round because I spend all my money on them.'
It's these fans and this devotion which The Band is all about - inside the theatre, we're told by producer David Pugh that the show is in its embryonic stage and will continue to evolve until September, when it goes on tour.
We're also told that the women on which the story is based are in the room with us - when their story is told on stage, I scan the room looking for the people weeping, whooping and applauding the loudest. It's a disaster: everyone reacts with the same degree of high emotion (me included).
Those of us that saw the show are strictly forbidden to tell you anything about it although I'm confident we can tell you that it's fabulous - think Mamma Mia in Manchester with Take That.
The Band themselves, AJ Bentley, Nick Carsberg, Yazdan Qafouri Isfahani, Curtis T Johns and Sario Watanabe-Soloman, who as Five to Five, won Let It Shine, are slick, note-perfect and very easy on the eye.
The cast is great, the story uplifting, sad and funny at the same time. And then Take That walk into the room and a 98-strong audience goes crazy - Gary, Howard and Mark are less than two metres away from us. Howard looks perky. Phew.
'We're so happy you could come,' says Gary, as if any plans could Top Trump a date with Take That, 'we did this for you.' Around 98 people instantly swoon.
Mark Owen said: 'This show is us: we're in it from the very beginning to the end. We met our fans when they were 16 years old outside our houses and our gigs, we've seen them grow up and we've grown up with them.
'Their story is our story.
'We've always had a great relationship with our fans and that's one of the reasons we were so keen to find the right story for The Band.'
At a later press conference I am one of only six journalists that is able to ask a question. I ask Gary if he's feeling better after Friday night's sprint from The One Show sofa. He, unlike Howard, does look a bit peaky.
And for a minute or two (it only takes a minute, girl) he's talking exclusively to me - something about being instantly cured by the glory of watching The Band, a masterly bit of marketing to answer a simple question.
Gary said fans could expect way more than just 'another jukebox musical'.
'I can already feel people rolling their eyes, thinking here we go, another jukebox musical featuring our music, but they're so going to be shocked when they see this, they're going to be moved, they're going to be laughing, crying, and up singing the songs.'
Howard added: 'You realise that these songs we sang really meant something to people, different things. This show is about what the songs meant to one group of fans and it really brings them to life.'
I'm notching that one up with Barack Obama waving at me and photographer Denise Bradley in Normandy. In other words, I'll Take That.
The director of The Band, Jack Ryder - who played tragic Jamie Mitchell in EastEnders from 1998 to 2002 - is looking forward to returning to Norwich when the musical plays at the Theatre Royal.
'I've been a few times and I just love it, it's a fantastic place and definitely one of the ones I've earmarked as a venue I want to go to when The Band is on tour,' he said.
'My mum is actually so fond of Norwich that she's hoping to move there soon, so there's an outside chance she might actually be there when we come.
'She's had a few holidays in Norfolk and just says that whenever she's in Norwich it just feels like home. So it looks like I'll be spending a lot longer there in years to come!'
Jack previously appeared in Norwich with Calendar Girls and as associate director of The Full Monty.
Tickets for The Band - featuring the music of and co-produced by Take That - go on general release on Monday, April 3, at midday.
The Band will be at Norwich Theatre Royal from Tuesday, February 6, to Saturday, February 17, 2018 with shows from Monday to Thursday and on Saturday at 7.30pm; on Friday at 5pm and 8.30pm; and on Thursday, February 8, at 2.30pm.
Tickets, which have been on sale to Theatre Royal Friends and its Corporate Club since Saturday, cost from £8 to £49.50.
Booking can be in person at the theatre's box office, by phone (01603 630000) or online (www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk).
The musical will star the winners of the BBC talent search Let it Shine - AJ Bentley, Curtis Johns, Nick Carlsberg, Sario Solomon and Yazdan Qafouri and feature 14 of Take That's best-loved songs in an emotional new story created
by Gary Barlow's friend Tim Firth, who wrote Calendar Girls.
All five original members of Take That are co-producers of The Band.
Mark said: 'This show is us: we're in it from the very beginning to the end. We met our fans when they were 16 years old outside our houses and our gigs, we've seen them grow up and we've grown up with them.
'Their story is our story. We've always had a great relationship with our fans and that's one of the reasons we were so keen to find the right story for The Band.'