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TONY! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] at Leicester Square Theatre

As we were regularly reminded during Tony Blair’s terms of office, the young – and then not-so-young Prime Minister had been heavily into music. In his student days he had even fronted a band called Ugly Rumours. Now, thanks largely to the cheek of Harry Hill and his composer/lyricist Steve Brown, he has become a musical in his own right.

TONY! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] Jack Whittle as Tony Blair & Tori Burgess as Cherie Blair ©Mark Senior.
TONY! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] Jack Whittle as Tony Blair & Tori Burgess as Cherie Blair ©Mark Senior.
It’s a colossal romp, worlds away from the political scrutiny of a Hamilton, or the Churchill Play written in 1974 by Howard Brenton, and far wilder in its mickey-taking than Moira Buffini’s 2013 Handbagged confrontation between the Queen and Mrs. Thatcher.

This one is played, as it is written – for laughs. It’s a sensible enough approach, given that there was always a lurking comedy in Blair’s presence as a would-be rock god backed by a restive band of watchful and sober-suited MPs.

During Tony!’s run at the Park Theatre last year, it ran into flak from some critics who – to paraphrase crudely – felt the thing lacked seriousness so utterly that it didn’t qualify as useful satire. That rather misses the point, which is that politics, not just in the little old UK but the world over – is so dominated by ego-ridden chancers and unspeakable tyrants that it would almost be morally deficient not to make fun of them.

And fun is indeed made here. Much of the laughter derives from the sheer pomposterousness (if there’s no such word, there should be) of the casting, not least Phil Sealey’s beachball-shaped Gordon Brown, fuming to the brink of self-destruction during his endless years as Number Two; or Sally Cheng’s ginger-bearded and neurotic Robin Cook.

The thing can suddenly turn dark, which is just as well when we get to the deeply unfunny business of the Iraq War, the Dodgy Dossier the body-bags. The goofy bonding of Blair and George W. Bush is one of the (many) scenes in which you might just reprimand yourself for laughing, but then think better of it.

You can quite accurately trace the contours of the musical’s story – therefore also of Blair’s years in office – through the numbers, These include: New Messiah; Macroeconomics; New Labour; The Princess and the Pop Prime Minister; The People’s Princess; Bombs Away; Special Relationship; Sex It Up; He’s a Liar.

The evening’s closing number is called The Whole Wide World – which sounds as if it might just be a slightly palliative hymn to peace and fraternity, but turns out to be nothing of the sort. “The whole wide world,” it goes, “is run by assholes,” and, in the litany that follows, no-one gets out alive. Based on the preceding two hours, the judgement sounds almost as rational as it is negative.

Who has the last laugh, if there is to be such a thing? Well, in the past forty-four years, only one Labour leader has led his party to victory in a general election; in his case, three general elections; more than any of his predecessors. Who could it possibly be?

4 stars

Review by Alan Franks

The story of how one man went from a peace-loving, long-haired hippy and would-be pop star to a warmongering multimillionaire in just a couple of decades. Throw in a stellar cast of larger-than-life characters – Cherie Blair, Princess Diana, John Prescott, Peter Mandelson, Alastair Campbell, Osama bin Laden, George W Bush, Saddam Hussein and Gordon Brown – it’s Yes, Minister meets The Rocky Horror Show! and a musical like no other.

A hilarious musical tragedy of political intrigue, religion, power, and romance; this rip-roaring new musical by Harry Hill and Steve Brown received critical acclaim following a sold-out run at the Park Theatre in London.

TONY! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] Tickets
Leicester Square Theatre, London
15 Apr 2023 – 21 May 2023
2h (incl. interval)

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  • Alan Franks

    Alan Franks is one of the senior reviewers for LondonTheatre1.com, contributing regularly with reviews for London and regional shows, as well as reporting on press launches. Alan Franks was a Times feature writer for more than thirty years, specialising in the arts and interviewing many leading actors, writers and directors, including Arthur Miller, Peter Hall, Woody Allen, Judi Dench and Stephen Sondheim. He is the author of several plays, including The Mother Tongue starring Prunella Scales, and his latest novel, The Notes of Dr. Newgate, is published by Muswell Press. http://www.alanfranks.com

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