My history with Tom Jones goes way back to being a 17-year-old girl strutting her stuff at the Miss Cardiff final, whilst Tom’s ‘She’s A Lady’ blasted out as I sashayed down the catwalk doing my best blue steel pose at the end. So, as a self-confessed fan of the Pontypridd boy done good; born Thomas John Woodward, I was looking forward to embarking on the nostalgic journey of his rise to fame and was surprised by a few home truths along the way.
Opening with Tom and his then girlfriend, later wife Linda, up on a mountain overlooking his beloved Pontypridd, he asks, ‘Do you think they can hear me down there Lin’. Linda replies, ‘Tommy, I think they can hear you from Cardiff’. That reference to Tom’s powerful voice demonstrated how following in his footsteps was going to be a tough act for actor Kit Orton in the the lead role.
The design team have us simple sets to create the normal and homely environment in which Tom grew up and where it was clear that with his powerful and unique vocals – and encouragement by his work colleagues as well as his staunch support from childhood sweetheart Linda – he was on the verge of making it big.
Elin Phillips and Kit Orton
I really enjoyed seeing the dance halls and miners’ clubs that Tom played at and the reality of the rejection he faced along the way, bringing home the truths of how notoriously difficult the industry was to make a break into and still is!
It was great to see that behind that mature and developed voice there was still a troublesome teenager finding his way; shown in the scraps Tom used to get into as well as trying to juggle being a teenage dad supporting his family.
After a somewhat slow start vocally by Kit Orton it was great to see the legendary dance style that Tom created burst on stage and the beautiful and controlled voice of our leading man come to life, silencing any doubters in the audience.
From then the talent of Orton took centre stage. He kept up the momentum with the audience now willing on Tom to succeed and putting his own stamp on that signature sound. Elin Phillips played the famously private real life Linda, revealing the fighting spirit that pushed Tom on when moments of doubt came in.
What was clearly felt in the audience and remarked on during the interval break, was the tone of the performance being a real insight into the personality and likeable character of Tom that has resonated with millions of fans over 50 years in the business; a story that cried out to be told.
Rejoining the nostalgic journey after the interval break we see Tom and the Squires embark on a six month stay in London surviving on just £1 a day between the five of them and the strain this took on them as a band. As we uncover the bankruptcy Gordon Mills, their manager, faced in efforts to give them their big break, we see the support of Linda coming into its full force when she insists Tom stay there and fight for his career. In 1965 ‘It’s Not Unusual’ turned out to be the unlikely hit for the newly reinvented Tom Jones minus the Squires, a song originally intended for Sandy Shaw who remarked it was made for the man who recorded the demo not her; meaning Tom Jones was the star finally being realised.
Phylip Harries as Jack Lister
As Tom’s career was finally set for stardom we welcomed the entire cast back to the stage for what felt like an encore performance as Tom’s greatest hits played in quick succession. It did feel slightly rushed, particularly for those audience members who had came for Tom’s hits. However, as a fan of Tom and his music, I felt more than satisfied that A Story of Tom Jones had given a fascinating insight into the boyhood charm and talent of the man whose songs and voice of Welsh pride ring out when Delilah is sung at rugby matches at the newly named Principality Stadium.
The show celebrated Tom Jones’ triumph as an artist and shed light on his Welsh roots from the mining community of Pontypridd to the starry lights of Las Vegas. As the hits came to a close and the curtain came down on his story I was left as with the real Sir Tom Jones, wanting more.
Wales Millennium Centre.
Until March 12
Theatr na nÓg presents a TNN Production. Tom: A Story of Tom Jones The Musical