Theatre Review: 20TH CENTURY BOY – Opera House, Manchester

George Maguire as Marc Bolan in 20th Century Boy

20TH CENTURY BOY returns to the stage for a new UK-wide tour

To mark the 40th anniversary of rock legend Marc Bolan’s untimely death, 20TH CENTURY BOY returns to the stage for a new UK-wide tour, stopping at Manchester’s Opera House for a week-long run.

20TH CENTURY BOY tells the life story of the legendary Bolan and his band T.Rex. From his early childhood and arrogant youth to his phenomenal success in the UK and America and eventual death in 1977, the show exposes some of the myths surrounding Bolan’s career and takes the audience on a tearful yet feel-good journey through his fascinating life.

In an attempt to give the show fresh appeal, the latest touring production of 20TH CENTURY BOY benefits from some new material by Nicky Graham and Colin Giffin. At his peak, Bolan was arguably the biggest rock star the UK had ever seen, with the press dubbing him “Bigger than the Beatles”. Here, Graham, Giffin and John Maher’s script plays on Bolan’s desire to be a star, glorifying his talent and brilliance, as well as his arrogance. The piece also doesn’t shy away from showing his flaws and struggles, including his affair with singer Gloria Jones and his battle with drink and drugs.

As with any tribute musical, casting is key and George Maguire perfectly embodies the legendary rock star. Not only does he look and sound like Bolan, but also successfully incorporates the singer’s soft voice and quirky mannerisms into his act, giving the piece an added edge of authenticity.

Gloria Evans in 20th Century Boy

The supporting cast is equally strong, most notably, Sarah Moss as his first wife June Child and Ellena Vincent as his lover Gloria Jones, who both deliver exceptional vocal performances. Derek Hagen is also strong as Tony Visconti, the record producer who was instrumental in bringing direction and discipline to Bolan’s work. Their final song, DANDY IN THE UNDERWORLD at Bolan’s funeral, is beautifully sung and incredibly moving.

Yet, while Clare Amos’ costumes bring colour and life to the show, the set feels a little too minimalistic for a piece set in the swinging sixties and decadent seventies. There is an overreliance on projections for scene backdrops, as well as to demonstrate the movement in time.

The show also feels a little unpolished in places. The extensive gaps between scenes interrupt the overall flow of the piece and issues with sound means you can’t always hear the singers over the band, particularly on the rockier numbers.

That said, the music never gets old with GET IT ON, RIDE A WHITE SWAN, METAL GURU, I LOVE TO BOOGIE and 20TH CENTURY BOY all sounding incredible, especially when they are played in full their glory.

While the story finishes, as it must, with Bolan’s untimely death in a car crash, the mash-up of hits at the end also allows the music to have the last word and any sense of tragedy is eased away to leave behind a celebration of love, life and glam rock at its colourful best.

3 out of 5 stars

20TH CENTURY BOY runs at the Opera House, Manchester until 21 April 2018