Fat Friends – The Musical

Most people will remember Fat Friends as the award winning TV drama that hit television screens in October 2000.

The TV drama, which lasted five years on ITV, starred Alison Steadman, Gaynor Faye and Lisa Riley as some of its stars. Written by Kay Mellor, the show was nominated for multiple awards including the BAFTA for Best Drama Series. Fat friends has been adapted for the stage by its creator Kay Mellor and was produced by Joshua Andrews and Adam Spiegel.

Fat Friends – the Musical is designed by Bretta Gerecke with choreography by Karen Bruce, musical supervision, orchestrations and arrangements from Simon Lee, sound design by two time Olivier Award winning Gareth Owen and lighting design from Tony Award nominated Nick Richings.

I remember watching the odd episode of Fat Friends when it was on TV but I can never say that I was a dedicated fan. When we were invited by The Alex to watch the new musical of the popular show, I was excited to delve into the lives of these famous characters and explore what everyone loved.

This was a star studded cast with Jodie Prenger, X Factor winner Sam Bailey, Atomic Kitten’s pop sensation Natasha Hamilton, star of Emmerdale and Wicked Natalie Anderson, Coronation Street legend Kevin Kennedy and, making his stage debut, Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff.

The story tells of Kelly, played by Jodie Prenger, who has bought a wedding dress that is two sizes too small. After a video of her goes viral, she is encouraged by the villainous boss of the weight loss club to slim down to fit into her dream dress. The story surrounds the local branch of Super Slimmer’s in Headingley and we watch the members struggle with the world of dieting.

For me, the plot was generic and simple. The funniest parts of the show were the moments with the Super Slimmer’s club, in particular, the ‘Step Up’ routine which was wonderfully choreographed.

Jodie throws her all into the character of Kelly and the audience were captivated by her energetic performance. Sam Bailey played Kelly’s mum Betty and for me she was one of the most understated characters in the production. Sam has a wonderful natural acting ability that was a pleasure to watch and of course, she has the voice to match. I really enjoyed Natalie Anderson’s performance as Lauren. She had wonderful stage presence and commanded the stage throughout. I enjoyed watching her love story with Jonathan Halliwell who played vicar Paul. Natasha Hamilton delivered the sharp dialogue of villain Julia Fleshman with plenty of sass.

The audience at the Alex appeared to fully embrace this musical. The dialogue seemed to fall in the right places and the jokes were warmly received by the Birmingham crowd. Although the dialogue was welcomed by the majority, I personally found some of the jokes to be dated and cringe-worthy. There were times where gender stereotypes were reinforced and the production, which is supposed to be set in the present day, felt like it never left 2000.

The show contains original music and songs composed by Nicholas Lloyd Webber. There were some really good songs in the show and some that I won’t remember tomorrow. I particularly enjoyed any musical collaboration between mother and daughter, Kelly (Jodie) and Betty (Sam). They created a beautiful sound and provided a richness to the musical that was well needed. A stand out song for me was ‘Mr. Someone’ performed by Natalie Anderson as Lauren. Natalie has a beautiful voice and delivered the song with an effortless elegance. For me, it was both Natalie and Sam who were the voices of the night.

Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff received a huge round of applause before speaking one line or singing one note. I don’t think it mattered what he did on stage as the audience were already in love. Sometimes I find that this can be the common issue with celebrity cast shows. I really did enjoy his chemistry with Jodie but I was mostly left unimpressed. Unfortunately, his singing voice was not up to the standards of the ensemble and the rest of the cast. However, it didn’t appear to bother the audience in Birmingham as his solo got one of the biggest cheers of the night.

For fans of the TV Series, Fat Friends will be a welcomed musical. The audience were out in force to watch this star studded cast deliver Kay Mellor’s beloved story. As mentioned, I was never a dedicated fan of the TV show so perhaps this could be a reason why it wasn’t a huge hit for me. Although it may have fallen flat for me in many places, there are still some wonderful performances and the production promises a good night for fans of the show and of the stars involved.

Fat Friends – The Musical runs at the New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham from 3rd April – 7th April 2018. It will then continue on its UK tour.

Visit the Fat Friends website for information on booking tickets.

DT

Theatretastic rating 3/5:

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We say: “An energetic, crowd-pleaser for fans of the iconic TV show. Sam Bailey and Natalie Anderson are the shining stars of this production.”