Roddy Doyle’s ‘The Commitments’ should be a great musical adaptation, with its nostalgia, great characters and plethora of beloved songs, but somehow it doesn’t quite work, says Brian Finnegan.
On paper The Commitments is a musical adaptation made in heaven. With a book by Roddy Doyle based on his perennially enjoyable novel, which became a global hit film in the ’90s that spawned a number one album featuring a raft of solid gold soul classics, not to mention a touring band made up of the film’s cast, it has all the elements in place for a great night out at the theatre – nostalgia, youthful exuberance, a familiar ‘let’s put on a show’ story, and a line-up of songs beloved across the generations.
The show’s opening number confirms this, as a women standing by an upright piano belts out Ike and Tina Turner’s ‘Proud Mary’, and the cast joins in. The setting is a pub in Doyle’s fictional Barrytown, everyone’s swilling pints, and the atmosphere in the theatre instantly gets giddy. The stall is being set out, it seems – The Commitments is a big old sing-along we’re all going to exuberantly participate in, joyfully recalling Dublin in the rare(ish) old times.
Unfortunately that turns out not to be the case. Unsurprisingly director C Jay Ranger does her best to emulate the frenetic energy of Alan Parker’s film, which made much of the freshness of its unknown cast of amateurs, but here that energy constantly gets in the way. There is barely a moment in this musical when someone isn’t, or a crowd someone’s aren’t moving about the stage, leaving precious little time for character development or emotional heart. It also provides a problem in terms of the music.
Jukebox musicals, with varying degrees of success, shoehorn songs in to the action in the traditional sense of a show, to progress story along – therefore we might learn that the mother in the ABBA musical, Mamma Mia! has financial woes when she sings ‘Money Money Money’. Because this can’t be done with the soul hits that pepper The Commitments, the action has to progress during the songs, which means there are constant breaks for bits of dialogue, which gives the whole thing an uneven effect. Much of the action takes place during rehearsals, so the cast are all doing different things, gadding about here and there during numbers that don’t quite fully come together, adding to the frustration of never quite hearing the whole song.
‘The Commitments’ runs at The Bord Gais Energy Theatre until October 29, booking here.
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