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Gary Barlow – A Different Stage

This show about the life and times of Gary Barlow, starring Gary Barlow, has surprisingly broad appeal. It’s a sweeping generalisation, perhaps, but there are three categories of audience members in attendance in a show like this. There are the diehard Take That fans, some of whom aren’t entirely sure how to react when Barlow acknowledges that, at the time of Robbie Williams’ resignation, he was quite content to see him go. All of them know all the words to all the songs – but, as if wanting to underline the point that this is a play with songs and not a concert, Barlow begins with modified lyrics to introduce the show. I thought it was a stroke of genius, and far more effective than any number of pre-show warnings not to sing along.

Gary Barlow - A Different StageSecond, there are those who really don’t care much for chart music of any kind, let alone an autobiographical account of someone who hit the big time, but have been dragged along (hopefully metaphorically) by a fan. Third, there are those like me, really rather indifferent as far as Take That is concerned (I wasn’t inclined to buy anything at the merchandise stand) but have a keen interest in theatre. Barlow does well to satisfy all three ‘camps’ – quite an achievement, given that it’s usually impossible to please all of the people all of the time.

He’s an engaging storyteller, and as a pop star, quite used to being heckled and talking over occasional shouting in the audience at the performance I attended (nothing on the scale a Take That stadium concert would presumably be like). It’s a well-drilled and well-rehearsed performance, and there’s nothing wrong with that in the world of theatre. The narrative can come across as sanitised in places – the tax avoidance scheme that first came to light in 2012 was glossed over (frankly, he’d have been better off not mentioning it in the first place), and his stint as a judge on The X-Factor is, interestingly, unacknowledged.

What became a running joke about fans and acquaintances rubbing Williams’ solo career successes in his face at a time when his own public profile was essentially non-existent, as well as recollections of personal tragedies including his stillborn daughter Poppy and the loss of his father Colin, provided insight into his coping mechanisms in difficult times. Some of these did more harm than good: candid retrospective thoughts on bulimia drew gasps from the audience, even from patrons who already knew about it. Let’s just say Barlow seldom, if ever, does anything by halves.

He is, first and foremost, a singer and songwriter, and with a keyboard, piano and organ on stage, he is palpably at his happiest and most comfortable when belting out one of his compositions to a live audience. I went in wondering why on earth he’d brought his show to the 640-capacity Duke of York’s Theatre – he could quite easily, I would have thought, sold out a considerably larger venue (Take That’s 2019 tour played at, amongst other places, The O2 Arena and Anfield). But what, by his standards and by his own admission, is an intimate experience, works well, with everything stripped back.

In telling his story going back as far as his formative years, there’s a much wider repertoire of songs than one might reasonably expect from an evening with Gary Barlow, including “Blaze Away!”, a military marching tune composed by Abe Holzmann (1874-1939), a song his father enjoyed, and for reasons made clear in the narrative, Neil Diamond’s ‘Sweet Caroline’ and Barry Manilow’s ‘Copacabana’. It was also intriguing, for instance, to discover who precisely ‘you’ is in the lyric, “Whatever I said, whatever I did, I didn’t mean it / I just want you back for good”. An insightful and entertaining show.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Created by Gary Barlow and his long-time friend and collaborator Tim Firth, A Different Stage sees the singer-songwriter narrate the journey of his life alongside the music from his incredible discography. In a production unlike any other, the audience will go behind the curtain, with nothing off limits in this special performance.

After selling over 50 millions records worldwide, Gary Barlow is one of Britain’s most successful songwriters and record producers. As part of the group Take That, he has won eight BRIT Awards and sold over 45 million records. Aside from his achievements with Take That, he has also co-written and produced music for other renowned artists including Dame Shirley Bassey, Sir Elton John and Robbie Williams.

In more recent years, Barlow has also turned his attention to the world of theatre, composing the score for the hugely successful production of Finding Neverland; working alongside Tim Firth on Calendar Girls The Musical; and collaborating with Firth and his Take That bandmates on The Band, a record-breaking stage musical currently being adapted into a feature film.

London
Savoy Theatre
Mon 21 Nov and Mon 28 Nov 2022

Aylesbury
Gary Barlow at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre
Wed 19 Oct – Sat 22 Oct 2022

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1 thought on “Gary Barlow – A Different Stage”

  1. Saw the show today .
    He was brIlliant .
    Genuinely Mr nice guy that has suffered with his mental health in the past .
    Very brave and honest to share those times with us .
    Congratulations on your success Mr. Barlow .
    Loved it !!

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