TOM is a hip-swinging musical full of heart but ultimately struggles to separate the man from the myth
Since Sir Tom Jones first shot to fame in 1965, the Welsh singer has had sold over 100 million records worldwide, claiming 36 Top 40 hits in the UK and 19 in the US. Surprising then that it’s taken almost 50 years for his inspirational story to be brought to the stage.
TOM: THE STORY OF TOM JONES charts the behind-the-scenes rise to fame of Pontypridd’s most famous export. Focusing on his early years, the story starts with 15-year old Tommy Woodward sharing his teenage dreams of becoming a star with his childhood sweetheart Linda (Elin Phillips). Despite becoming both a husband and a father at the tender age of 16, the son of a Welsh miner is desperate to leave the working men’s clubs of Pontypridd behind. So Tom and his fellow band members The Senators head for London, leaving his wife Linda to silently support at home while her husband chases fame, fortune and apparently, other women.
Enjoyable, entertaining and full of heart, TOM tells the story of an ordinary man with an extraordinary talent who became a superstar on a world stage. The story is told from the perspective of his family in Pontypridd, with narrator Phylip Harries filling in the gaps and while Mike James’ script neatly frames Jones’ 10 year journey to fame and fortune, it ultimately struggles to separate the man from the myth. It’s interesting, it’s informative but it’s all just a bit too nice.
The main issue with TOM is the pacing. The audience are made to wait far too long for the first full musical number and when it finally arrives, it isn’t even a Tom Jones hit, it is a hip-swinging rock ’n’ roll cover of GHOST RIDERS IN THE SKY, one of the hits of the era.
But what TOM lacks in substance, it more than makes up for in sex-appeal. Kit Orton shines as Welsh singing superstar, effortlessly capturing Jones’ charisma, masculinity and raw sex appeal. Every inch of his impersonation is spot on, from the heart-stopping and powerful voice to the twisting hips and trademark pelvic thrusts.
The energy also picks up towards the end with the entire cast taking to the stage for a flurry of hits including DELILAH, THE GREEN GREEN GRASS OF HOME, PUSSYCAT and SEX BONB, as well as Jones’ first number one with IT’S NOT UNUSUAL. It’s enjoyable, it’s entertaining and it has the crowd on their feet, even if it has come a little too late.
There is plenty of heart in TOM and Geinor Styles’ slickly staged biopic is sure to keep your foot tapping, even if it does lack the craft and polish of fellow jukebox musicals like JERSEY BOYS and BEAUTIFUL.
TOM: THE STORY OF TOM JONES runs at The Lowry until 28 May