REVIEW: 20th Century Boy – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Four decades after his untimely death, 20th Century Boy aims to shine a light on the man once dubbed “The Electric Warrior”, the “King of Glam Rock” and the “Godfather of Punk”, Marc Bolan. Setting out on a path for fame since childhood, the story takes us from young Marc Feld’s early years in Stoke Newington to stardom as Marc Bolan.

Bolan’s untimely death a few days shy of his 30th birthday, almost assured him a legacy as the glittering epitome of an era of excess, but it’s to its credit that 20th Century Boy is more docu-drama than jukebox musical. It shows Bolan’s failures and flaws equally as it does his triumphs and talent.

We never got the opportunity to see the ageing pop star, to see where his career trajectory would eventually take him, to see what happened when the effects of his life of excess finally took their toll. However, this musical certainly gives us a glimpse of what might have been. You see a cock-sure, but ultimately nice guy, become consumed by the self-created myth he wove around himself. To see the rise of Punk on the horizon, the uncertainty creep in as to where he could go next.

Last seen in 2011, this new, touring version of John Maher’s show has been re-written with new material added by Nicky Graham and Colin Giffin. The first act covers the early 50s to early 70s, the second, takes a darker turn towards the inevitable tragic end.

The set is simplistic but utterly effective, enhanced by projections that move the timeline along, but it’s the music that’s key and boy, is it utterly, utterly brilliant. The live musicianship is astonishing, it’s pure rock concert, not a watered-down musical theatre version of these tunes, and as a result it stands head and shoulders above its peers.

The cast is headed up by Olivier Award-winning George Maguire as Bolan. Maguire is a star, a magnetic presence in any role he tackles, and it’s no different here. A fine musician as well as actor, he manages to perfectly capture Bolan’s idiosyncrasies, as well as his distinctive voice. He achieves what every actor playing a legend dreams of doing, he makes you forget this is an actor playing a role, he IS Bolan in this show. There can be no compliment greater than to say he utterly convinces. Ellena Vincent is a strong presence as Bolan’s lover Gloria Jones as is Sarah Moss as Bolan’s wife June Child and Derek Hagan as producer Tony Visconti. But, there’s not a weak link anywhere. The choreography by Cressida Carré and its execution are faultless, neither parody or pastiche, it is utterly evocative of the eras it represents.

As with any show with a tragic ending, there really has to be an uplifting musical encore, a celebration where the audience can dance away the tears, and so we are treated to a roof-raising medley of Bolan and T-Rex’s greatest hits, so enthusiastically received, it makes the famous dress circle at The King’s Theatre literally bounce.

“Will people remember me?” a ghostly Bolan asks after the car crash that ends his life and starts this show. That this production is touring the UK 40 years after his death, filling theatres, and having people quite literally dancing in the aisles and singing every lyric, answers that question resoundingly.

This review was originally written for and published by The Reviews Hub