I may be a disgrace to my people, I know nothing about Tom Jones. Despite having worked in Pontypridd for a year and living two doors down from a Tom Jones impersonator, what I know about Tom Jones is well, limited. In that sense it was great to hear some of the ‘real’ story behind the man, the trousers and the hair.
The show itself is also as Welsh as, well the man himself. I really enjoyed the expertly written dialogue that could have been a verbatim piece from any South Wales valleys town. Getting the right pitch between authentic regional dialogue and sounding like a parody is a difficult thing. But the tone was perfect, I knew these people, I knew the way they talked. Mike James certainly knows both his setting and his subject matter, and that aspect of the book is crafted perfectly.
Unfortunately I felt something lacking in the narrative overall. I think that there just wasn’t enough drama in Tom’s story to engage with. By the end I wanted more, I wanted to know what happened now he had the fame, how that would affect his relationships, his life…and to see some of the impact in that. Prior to this the rags to riches rise to success story just hadn’t had the dramatic push to really engage. Hints at darker elements were glossed over-Tom possibly cheating on Linda in the early days was alluded to but not really explored and then let drop, the financial struggle Linda had at home again was talked about but never really explored. The lack of peripheral character development also didn’t help this-Tom and Linda are strong characters, but they aren’t enough to sustain the whole piece. Despite early prominence of their parents these fade into the background quickly, and Tom’s band never really evolve into fully fleshed individuals. If these supporting characters had been given a bit more rein in the narrative the whole thing would have felt much more fleshed out.
The music is of course at centre stage, and brilliant (providing you are a Tom Jones fan, might be worth avoiding if you aren’t) and Kit Orton’s performance brilliantly straddles ‘tribute’ and his own personal stamp. Easier in the early scenes while Tom himself is still finding his ‘sound’ Orton uses all his musical theatre expertise to bring to life Tom’s music. In the encore/megamix section however he’s able to really finally let loose and perform as Tom and it is really fantastic. Clearly Orton is the centre of this show, and as an experienced musical performer he carries the show brilliantly. By his side is the utterly brilliant Elin Phillips, whose only drawback is that she doesn’t get more to do as Tom’s wife. Her depiction of Linda, supporting her husband unfailingly and trying to do the best by her family is heart-warming and sincere. I also personally love some excellent drunk acting on stage and Phillips nails this perfectly in a brilliantly comic scene. Phillips is also the only cast member who sings other than Tom, and her beautiful mini-duet at the close of the show is a lovely moment that made me wish she had more chance to sing. This pair are at the heart of the show and really had me engaged with the characters through their brilliant performances.
Overall Tom the musical is a good night out. It doesn’t quite stack up against what has become a really strong field of jukebox/biographical musicals of recent years. And with the proliferation of such stories the field gets tougher. There’s nothing really wrong with this offering, it just doesn’t sit head and shoulders above the stiff competition. But, perhaps that’s not the most important thing here. What is important is that the audiences enjoys themselves, and certainly last night’s audience ticked that box. If you like Tom Jones, if you like a fun musical outing, then Tom the musical is a great night out. And I’m proud to see a Welsh musical off on tour around the UK, of course it’s not unusual to see Welsh talent on stage (sorry, I couldn’t do a whole Tom Jones piece without an awful pun) so why not say, why why Delilah and come home and tell your pussy-cat what’s new? (ok I’ll stop now). You may even find yourself a sex-bomb in the process.