New Wolsey premiere celebrates a 20th Century Boy
20th Century Boy by Peter Rowe in association with Gary Lloyd, New Wolsey Theatre, until October 1.
He loved to boogie – he certainly did Get It On – Marc Bolan was a ‘70s music icon, a self-proclaimed Electric Warrior and now his crazed, warm, heartbreaking story has been writ large on The New Wolsey stage.
The world premiere of this new musical had the audience, laughing, dancing and wiping away a tear during a packed, music-filled evening. What started three years ago in a small London studio as a sort-of tribute show has now been transformed by the New Wolsey’s Peter Rowe and director Gary Lloyd into a substantial piece of modern musical theatre.
This isn’t your usual musical. 20th Century Boy is a drama with music. Songs and dialogue are skilfully interwoven, so they form a complex tapestry of music and dialogue which transfers the energy of Bolan’s music into a fast-moving play. It’s a long show, running for nearly three hours but the time just vanishes. Rowe’s crisp script and Lloyd’s perceptive direction keeps the action, not only moving, but, at times, flying along.
The show is told through the eyes of Bolan’s son Rolan – played with an under-stated charm by Craig Storrod.
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Rolan is the audience’s guide through Bolan’s turbulent life. After an argument with his mother, Bolan’s lover Gloria Jones, Rolan flies to Britain in the late ‘80s to discover who exactly his father was. It’s a nice device which pays dividends at the end of the show.
As with most New Wolsey musicals this is an actor/musician show which highlights the talents of its stunning cast. Although George Maguire, who has spent three years developing the role, steals the limelight as Bolan, the play would not work if the other cast members were not able to match the power of his performance.
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The actors playing the two women in Bolan’s life make a very strong impression. Jenna Lee-James as Bolan’s wife June Child, and Donna Hines as his girlfriend and backing singer Gloria Jones put their stamp on these pivotal roles and their powerful singing voices match their acting skills.
These really shone in production numbers where the cast sang Bolan’s songs to enhance the story rather than recreate moments in his career. Songs like Teenage Dream and Dandy In The Underworld have a haunting power which at times are both exhilarating and sad.
Maguire lives the role of Bolan. He has the voice, he has the moves and with skilful use of wigs and costumes he has the look too. His presence on the stage is mesmerising. But, it’s not an impersonation as such. He is an actor playing a role and the whole point of 20th Century Boy is that it is a play which aims to dig beneath the surface of the image and try and find the real Marc Bolan and explore what drove him to such success and why did he appear to have such a self-destructive streak to his personality.
Maguire relishes the opportunity to dig deep into such a rich character and it all feeds into what can only described as an electric performance.
It is no surprise that music forms a huge part of the show and Gary Lloyd recreates that sense of excitement of those early T-Rex gigs brilliantly. As George Maguire and the band play the T-Rex hits on stage dozens of screens and monitors relay footage of the real Bolan and T-Rex. It’s a visual tour-de-force as well as an aural one and helps whisk the audience back to the heady days of glam rock and the early 1970s.
But, with all good drama there has to be a sting in the tail. We all know the ending but the tragic car accident when it does come and the aftermath is incredibly moving. Donna Hines and Craig Storrod play the moment when Gloria and Rolan revisit the scene of the fatal accident with total sincerity. It is a simple scene, there are no unnecessary histrionics and the effect is heartbreaking.
Having taken the audience down into tragedy the shows ends on a head-spinning high as Get It On, I Love To Boogie, Hot Love and the title track 20th Century Boy are all revisited in a foot-stomping concert setting.
A glorious, colourful evening which had the first night audience on its feet and dancing in the aisles. It would take a hard-hearted soul to resist such infectious music and such a charismatic performance. Get down to the New Wolsey and Get It On.