Absolutely Glorious! BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM: THE MUSICAL at the Phoenix Theatre

I remember Bend It Like Beckham: The Musical being announced like it was yesterday, so sitting in the Phoenix Theatre the other night felt somewhat surreal; I seriously couldn't believe how fast time has passed from this show being announced, to artwork and flyers being released, to opening and finally, to me getting to see the show.

I'm a big fan of the film so I was excited to see what the stage show would end up being (football on stage isn't exactly an easy sounding task), but I was so elated to see that this show scored in as many ways as it possibly could.

For those who don't already know the basic outline of Bend It Like Beckham's story, I'll explain: a young girl named Jess comes from an Indian family background, lives in South London and has a passion for football that her parents frown upon. As the time comes for her sister to be married, Jess' parents decide to nip the football playing in the bud and tell her to stop, but this all occurs just as Jess meets her new friend Jules and discovers an all-girls football team. Jess has to hide her football playing from her parents while making new friends, falling in love and ultimately following her dream.

The original movie was released in 2001 and my major worry about the show was that it might end up being really dated; 2001 is such an awkward year that it's not long enough ago to be acceptable if it feels dated and it's not recent enough for it to be "modern". Luckily, the musical managed to work around that and used the time setting as a way or parodying the sexism and lifestyle that 2001 had to offer. It's funny and witty and by the time Jules exclaims "it's 2001, anything can happen!" moments into the show, I knew that my worries weren't necessary.

There were three things that really made the show for me: the fantastic cast, the well-suited score of the show, and the fantastic energy that these two mixed together exuded. Natalie Dew makes her West End debut (hey, that rhymed!) as Jess and has a voice like an angel; I cannot remember the last time I heard a voice so pure and beautiful on a West End stage. Listen to 'Glorious' on the cast album and you will hear just how stunning her voice really is. Preeya Kalidas, who is best known for her time on EastEnders, was the stand out of the show for me as Jess' sister Pinky. Not only is she such an incredible singer and dancer which blew my mind, but her comedic timing and delivery had not only me but everyone in that theatre laughing like crazy. An absolutely fantastic and stand out comedic performance and if she isn't Olivier nom'd for it next year then something's up.

The parents had very similar affects on me as well. Natasha Jayetileke as Mrs Bhamra and Tony Jayawardena as Mr Bhamra both managed to play such stern and controlling parents at the appropriate moments as well as some of the funniest characters in the entire show at others. Once again, their timing and delivery had everyone laughing like mad and they helped to pick up the show in its slower moments. Sophie-Louise Dann who played Jules' mum Paula also did a similar fantastic job and managed to break everyone's heart with her ballad 'There She Goes' in the second act - a beautiful moment.

Not only was that ballad stunning but every piece of music fit the show so well and I think the main reason it was so enjoyable to listen to was because it feels like a score written for the show, not a score written to sell CDs and have any individual song performed at solo concerts necessarily. The mood of each song is perfectly appropriate for their respective moments in the show and the way that Indian music has been blended with this modern British musical theatre music is stunning and fantastic fun. I wrote about some of my standouts from the score in a post from last week.

Indeed, if you are a fan of great humour, a touching story and just a generally fantastic night at the theatre then Bend It Like Beckham is the one to see. I can finally see what this five star hype is about; don't be deceived by your pre-judgement of how this musical "might be", because it's so much better than anyone could've expected.

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