Review: The Commitments, Grand Opera House, Belfast
Christmas time, a group of kids outside the Regency bar, the drink flows and the craic is good. They are all from the suburbs of Dublin, rough and tough and aimless.
Their mate Jimmy Rabbitte (James Killeen) loves music and has the idea of forming these amateur musicians into a band and make their fortunes and call them The Commitments.
It comes together with the help of Joey 'The Lips' Fagan (Stuart Reid). A middle-aged professional trumpet player, he's played with the best and rhymes off the big names he backed in America.
A member of the Dublin press comes to interview Jimmy and hear the band, his review reads that at times The Commitments "are ragged but enthusiastic".
That was a bit like Act One; we got to know the band, understand that Joey has a lot of influence and is intent this would be a band that plays soul music.
Perhaps we the audience hadn't settled to the volume but a few audience members near me were complaining that the sound was harsh and the actors were shouting to each other. Maybe that's the way it was in 1987 Dublin.
But gradually the musical began to take on form, the numbers were terrific with each actor playing their own instrument and by the final number before the interval we were getting into the groove.
In my experience Act Two is always better than Act One and this was the case. The band were swinging, often at each other. Each had their own character, arguments and jealousies developed, the three-girl backing group (Eve Kitchingman, Sarah Gardiner and Ciara Mackey) are glamorous and the boys are bewitched.
Each person on the stage made their mark, from Jimmy's father (Nigel Pivaro) and the bouncer – a more-than-terrifying Mickah (Ronnie Yorke) – and most sensational of all, the lead singer Deco (Ian Macintosh).
What a night... 20 soul classics played on stage by expert musicians – River Deep Mountain High, Papa Was a Rolling Stone, I Heard It Through The Grapevine – and towards the end came Mustang Sally.
Every time The Commitments played their gig, we were the audience and we loved them and their music. It was all going so well but the drummer walked out, the piano player had to sit exams, Deco wanted to become the next Johnny Logan and win Eurovision.
And so gradually the stage emptied. Jimmy was left all alone, his dreams shattered but no doubt ready to go on and find new talent.
However, we weren't left all alone. The last 20 minutes or so was non-stop reprise, with hit after hit rolling down into the audience. We stood, we clapped and we sang.
Ian McIntosh had us in the palm of his hand – he flirted with the girls and was admired by the boys... What a voice, what a performer, what a show.
It's a hard act to follow Roddy Doyle's film of the same name but he has developed the story for the stage with great success.
:: The Commitments continues until Saturday February 25