20th Century Boy – Review – Bradford Alhambra
20th Century Boy – Review
Bradford Alhambra, May 2018
by Steve Crabtree – @stevecrab
Marc Bolan didn’t live to see his 30th birthday. But the T.Rex front man crammed more in to his short life than most. And 20th Century Boy, the biographical musical about his 29 years comes to the Alhambra in Bradford this week.
With feather boas in the stalls and the odd Bolanesque wig in the circle, the show begins in dramatic fashion. A simple back drop flashes up newspaper clippings, images and footage of Bolan, culminating in that car crash. It’s harsh. It brings a shudder to the audience.
“Will people remember me?” Bolan asks as he emerges, surveying the crash scene. We’ve got a deep story lined up, and 20th Century Boy isn’t just going to be a tribute-style musical that some may have been expecting.
It seems like the Alhambra has sold out for opening night, and the story of Marc Bolan from his childhood, through his many image and attempted career changes is being told. Much kudos to George Maguire for how he takes the lead role, right from the start.
In a medium-size production, the scenery is mostly two basic walls which open up to a performing stage for T.Rex. There are some scenes where lighting and dry ice are used to great effect to really push the production in to a definite glam-rock-concert feel from time to time. Musically, the hits are all there, and how can they not be? The band, who are great by the way, perform ‘Children of the Revolution’, ‘Metal Guru’ and ‘Ride a White Swan’ with aplomb. And Maguire has Marc Bolan the performer down to a tee.
Helen Shapiro (played by Kristina Lao), Bolan’s lover Gloria Jones (Ellena Vincent) and his wife June Child (Sarah Moss) impress with their vocals too. Some lesser-known tunes are worked in to the telling of certain scenarios of the Bolan tale, and I like that.
We learn how the confident Marc Bolan could never be knocked down. But after some success, we learn how self-destructive he became. Maguire again expertly portraying Bolan’s likeable, cocksure, edgy and nasty personas to a tee.
“The hero of glam-rock”
We leave the first half of the show in upbeat mood after hearing all the classics. It’s an enjoyable ride through the eras of the late 50s to the 70s, but the second half of the show cuts a deeper tone. There’s a lot of emotion pouring out as life falters and people get hurt. By Bolan.
There’s a nice touch when the back drop pays a small tribute to the band and some of Bolan’s friends who are no longer with us. And although the musical is mostly feel-good, it comes to an end on a moving and sad theme. Inevitably.
We re-enact that fateful day again, and Bolan completes the life-journey we’ve been watching for over two and half hours. He quietly leaves us behind, along with a legacy. It’s the most memorable and poignant scene of the night, and I dare say a few tears started flowing.
But Marc Bolan is the Godfather of punk. The hero of Glam Rock. And the 20th Century Boy cast come out en-masse to send us all home with a raucous and energetic encore of all the T.Rex hits. The audience are on their feet, and it’s the right way to celebrate the life of an icon. My mum, a T.Rexette (as she put it) in the 70s has had a great night.
As we leave Bradford, I feel like we’ve had two performances, and I really like that. We’ve had a Bolan documentary, and we’ve had a T.Rex tribute. 20th Century Boy has been educational. emotional and entertaining, and although it’s not one of the bigger musicals on the circuit, it’s certainly one of the best stories around.