REVIEW The Commitments, New Alexandra Theatre

The Commitments bring “Dublin Soul” to Birmingham, and it’s well worth the price of admission.

Dublin, 1986. Derek Scully and Liam “Outspan” Foster are in a struggling synth band — struggling in the sense that nobody even notices when they’re playing. They reach out to their old schoolmate Jimmy Rabbitte, the local music expert, for help. Jimmy appoints himself manager of the band and soon starts making changes, including sacking one of the band members, swapping synth for soul, auditioning a rogue’s gallery of local would-be musicians and naming them ‘The Commitments’.

Among the new band members are trumpet player Joey “The Lips” Fagan, a born again Christian who claims to have jammed with The Beatles, lead singer Declan “Deco” Cuffe, med student and pianist Steven “James” Clifford, budding saxophonist Dean, and backing singers Imelda, Natalie and Bernie.

Learning to play gives the unemployed gang a sense of purpose, and they soon find they’ve got what it takes to bring a little soul to the Northside of Dublin, as they start booking gigs and hitting their stride. But, just as Jimmy starts negotiating with a record label, tensions run high when Joey is caught locking lips with one of the backing singers…

Based on the 1987 novel by Roddy Doyle (and adapted for the stage by Doyle himself), The Commitments is an uproariously entertaining affair. Sure, it’s a little light on plot and character development (you get the feeling that certain scenes are only there to connect one song to another) but that just leaves more time for classics like ‘Mustang Sally’. If anything, this jukebox musical feels like a damn good soul night at your favourite venue, complete with an encore.

The sets feel run-down and minimalist in all the right ways, from the poky flat Jimmy shares with his dad to the band’s grotty rehearsal space. And the talented young cast certainly lack no commitment, filling their performance with energy, humour, and most importantly, cracking good musical numbers. All of your soul and Motown favourites are here; ‘Think’, ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’, ‘Knock On Wood’, ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ and ‘Reach Out’.

Working class life in 1980s Dublin might have been hard as hell, but here, it’s never looked so much fun.

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