Leeds Grand Theatre – until 2 December 2017 then on tour around the UK
Fat Friends the Musical has had its world premiere in Leeds and it’s a wonderful life affirming story of love and acceptance set in Headingley, a part of Leeds in Yorkshire.
Written, or given birth to, by Kay Mellor who wrote the tv show on which this based and with music by Nick Lloyd Webber, who proves talent runs in the family.
Kelly Stephenson (Jodie Prenger) is marrying Kevin Murgatroyd (Andrew “Freddie”Flintoff) in 6 weeks. She has fallen in love with her dream gown, 2 sizes too small for her and is persuaded to join Super Slimmers with the promise of having the entire wedding paid for by Super Slimmers founder Julia Fleshman (Natasha Hamilton). With the lives of the other members of the slimming club causing chaos to ensue.
Jodie Prenger is phenomenal as Kelly, beautiful and confident and happy in her own skin. Her outfit for her hen night is stunning. Freddie Flintoff, famous for playing cricket and Sports Personality of the Year 2005, is actually quite good – he can sing, he can dance and he can act – clearly a man of many talents. His character of Kevin loves every glorious curve and sexy inch of Kelly and it’s only when he thinks she has lost weight that the problems start.
Rachel Wooding shines as Kelly’s sister Joanne. Thin with no need to diet she has some amazing one liners but proves her metal and family loyalty. Sam Bailey is mum to Kelly, Betty, who has lost 5 stone whilst living and working in a chippie. Kevin Kennedy is dad Fergus. Their song, sung to Kelly, If You Don’t Want to Marry Him is beautiful – filled with the emotion of parents wanting the best for their child.
Class leader Lauren (Natalie Anderson) thinks she needs to lose 2 pounds for life to be perfect even though Vicar Paul (Jonathan Helliwell) thinks she is pretty perfect already, exploring the theory that even thin people have body image issues. Paramedic Alan (Neil Hurst) used to be happily married until his wife joined a gym and lost weight and left him. And with Look North following Kelly’s weight loss, reporter Val (Chloe Hart) is under pressure to lose weight or she won’t be able to sit on the tv sofa anymore.
The ensemble (Craig Armstrong, Emma Crossley, Ellie Leah, Laura Mansell, Ryan Pidgen, Lizzie Bea and Paul Brangan) dazzle. They sing, they dance, they even do zumba with aplomb.
The set and costumes by Bretta Gerecke are stunning. The set converts into a multitude of scenes by just simple moves and the costumes, the hen night scene in particular are impressive in their worship of the curve. Not one of the costumes ridicules the size but enhances the form.
The live band (Jon Ranger, Nick Pinchbeck, Jennah Smart, Jacob Phillips, Zeb Tonkin, Bret Vanderburg and Josh Carpenter) play Simon Lee’s arrangements with perfection and Karen Bruce’s choreography is quite fabulous. With first class lighting and sound by Nick Richings and Gareth Owen Sound.
Mellor has written a gloriously stunning musical. The script and lyrics are wonderful. Throughout the show I cried with laughter and I cried with emotion all down to the majesty of Mellor’s words.
I can’t impress on you enough how wonderful this show is but let’s cry out the overriding theme of the show of “Love who you are”, “Everyone is Beautiful” and “Diets are Crap”.