Chris Eldon Lee reviews ‘20th Century Boy’, which is at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until Saturday 5 July.
Making a musical out of Marc Bolan’s life can’t have been easy.
Glam Rock was always short of substance. The T.Rex songs are all much the same, and their lyrics don’t exactly help. And Bolan’s date with destiny – a collision with a Barnes Common tree in 1977 at the age of just 29 – robs us of half of his life story.
Yet, ‘20th Century Boy’ is an absolutely excellent piece of top class musical theatre, right up there with ‘Mama Mia’ and “We Will Rock You’.
So what did they do right?
Engaging Peter Rowe to write the script was the first stroke of genius. He’s way down the credits list, but no one understands the diffident relationship between real life drama and knockabout Rock better then he. His is an uncompromising, surprisingly disparaging, telling of a flight and fall; the sad story of a one-time folk singer who wanted to be bigger than Elvis, but heartlessly discarded those who loved him and ‘made’ him.
Casting the relatively unknown Warren Sollars as Bolan was the next perfect decision. He must have spent weeks in front of the video, studying every muscle movement and copying every mannerism of his subject. He really ‘is’ Marc Bolan on stage; effete and exhilarating, righteous and ruthless, whimsical and wonderful.
Under Gary Lloyd’s pinpoint direction he shows us a deeply flawed man whose driving ambition is ultimately derailed when he hits the buffers stops of American rejection.
The excellent casting extends to the entire troop of actor/musicians but the two women in Bolan’s life really excel. Lucy Sinclair plays June, the record company PA who falls for Bolan’s curly charms and dedicates her life to his success. But she is wilfully deceived when he makes it out with his backing singer, Gloria Jones, who famously sang the original black soul version of “Tainted Love”. Both women-in-love put in perfect performances.
Sinclair is superb as her suspicions rise, and commands the stage when faced with the awful truth. “I thought we were better than that” she howls, as she surveys the drug-addled rock and roll wreckage before her.
Donna Hines plays Gloria as a woman haunted by the night she literally drove Bolan to his death…and is tormented by her estrangement from his family because of it. Both have singing voices to die for.
The show unfolds as Marc’s son Rolan Bolan searches for his Dad’s story. It swings from his current quest, to flashbacks of the famous years. He learns some ugly truths about how Bolan abandoned his band, his producer Toni Visconti (Andy Coxon) and his mentor John Peel. But there is also much to make him proud. Luke Bailey’s role is at times ‘journeyman’, but the relationship between a son and the father he never knew is a powerful and endearing one. In musical theatre, father and son can tear-jerkingly duet together.
In the process he runs into aging members of the T.Rex road crew and the instant bonding is beautifully played
Needless to say the camp, crass music is fabulous. There’s a great joke about a band that starts its set with its ‘Swan’ song. They are as tight as Bolan’s silk trousers, and loud and raucous with it.
You’ll be surprised; there are more T.Rex hits than you remember and the inevitable concert climax is a real, big winner.
The balcony was bouncing fit to bust. It was a great night at The Grand.
Visit www.grandtheatre.info for bookings & information about Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre