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jaydarcy
19th May 2023

Review: Greatest Days

Greatest Days, which is based on the music of Take That and stars Kym Marsh, is perhaps the greatest jukebox musical out there
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Review: Greatest Days
Kym Marsh and the company. Photo: Alastair Muir

I am by no means one of those critics that turns his nose up at jukebox musicals but I am certainly not the biggest fan of them. As I’ve said before, they’re hit and miss – more often than not, miss.

Biographical jukebox musicals are often better, for of course you’re going to use the music of Tina Turner in a musical about Tina Turner, but non-biographical jukebox musicals are a bit trickier. They have me wondering, why are royalty in a kingdom far, far away singing The Go-Go’s?

Greatest Days, formerly known as The Band, which uses the music of Take That, sits somewhere in between. It’s the second musical to use the music of Take That, after the ironically forgotten Never Forget, which follows the establishment of a Take That tribute act – thus, it is not biographical, but it is sort-of about Take That.

Similarly, Greatest Days follows a group of female friends who reunite after 25 years to see their favourite boyband in Athens, after previously seeing them in Manchester as 16-year-olds. The band is merely referred to as “The Band” and “The Boys”, never Take That. The implication is that they are Take That but the lines are blurred, with all five members performing songs released when Take That was a four-piece and a three-piece. Also, the actors do not resemble a specific member; there is even a brown-skinned actor, whilst all members of Take That are White.

By keeping the band nameless, the story becomes more relatable. Middle-aged women (like my mum, who I took as my guest) will no doubt see the band as Take That but older women are welcome to see them as The Beatles and younger women might see them as One Direction. It’s a genius idea. The musical might have originally been called The Band but it is not actually about the band; it’s about the fans, the friends. Greatest Days is a much more fitting title.

The musical opens with a middle-aged Rachel (Kym Marsh, who I previously reviewed in Fatal Attraction) introducing the story. There are four leads but she’s given a little more importance (think Teri Hatcher’s Susan Delfino in Desperate Housewives). We are then transported back to the 90s, when Rachel (now played by Marsh’s daughter, Emilie Cunliffe) and her friends are in high school. It’s the day after The Band has performed on Top of the Pops.

After seeing The Band live in Manchester, the girls climb some local rock and talk about their dreams. The girls are all very distinct. Rachel is the sensible child of parents on the brink of divorce; she dreams of having children of her own – the happy family she was denied. Zoe, a textbook nerd, aspires to go to university. Heather is the neighbourhood slut, and she’s proud of it. She has no ambitions; she just wants to have fun. Claire is an aspiring athlete who dreams of going to the Olympics. Then there’s free-spirit Debbie, who lives for now, for tomorrow is not promised.

The night seemingly ends blissfully but the following scene reveals that the night ended in tragedy. After a brief reunion, the girls break apart and go on to live entirely separate lives (again, I’m reminded of Desperate Housewives, which ends with the women promising they’ll play poker again but then all moving away and never seeing each other again – that’s just life).

25 years later, Rachel wins a competition to see The Band in Athens. Rather than take her husband, Jeff (hilariously played by Christopher D Hunt), and a couple they’re friends with, she emails her former friends and they reunite at the airport.

There’s a wonderful scene in which the other girls transform into women. Unsurprisingly, none of their dreams have come true, and they’re all very different from their younger selves. The second act explores this further. Broken dreams and all. As youngsters, we have ambitions and dreams, but then we’re faced with the harsh reality of life.

The musical is fun and funny but it’s also an excellent exploration into issues such as faith and friendship. Many jukebox musicals are superficial and hollow but Greatest Days has heart and soul. It’s a real rollercoaster of emotion. I cried my way through the show – tears of sadness, tears of joy, and tears of awe. Awe not just at the talent of the cast but also the beauty of the script.

It is, without a doubt, one of the best jukebox musicals I’ve ever seen – and perhaps one of my favourite musicals, period. I see so much theatre that I often find myself fidgeting in my seat and hoping the show ends soon – but that did not happen with Greatest Days. In fact, I did not want it to end.

Whilst the set is pretty simple, the creatives manage to do a lot with it. There’s some great costumes; in particular, I love how each girl has a specific colour.

Greatest Days is one of the greatest musicals I have ever experienced. The script is strong, the performances are perfect, the design is dazzling, and the tunes are Take That!

I cannot recommend this show enough. You must go and see it – you’ll have a night you will never forget.

 

Greatest Days runs at Palace Theatre Manchester until May 27. The musical is currently touring the UK until late November, with more dates to be announced announced, taking the tour into 2024.

After recent events at another jukebox musical, ATG have released the following statement:

“We politely ask that you show consideration to your fellow audience members by ensuring the professionals on stage are the only people entertaining us with their performances.”

Jay Darcy

Jay Darcy

Theatre Editor. Instagram & Twitter: @jaydarcy7. Email: [email protected].

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