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Stuart King


Park Theatre has achieved something of a coup in landing TONY! which was the hot ticket among the theatre Press corps on Wednesday evening, mainly due to the involvement of comedian Harry Hill who has provided the book.

The Tony Musical Kaye Brown, Charlie Baker and Gary Trainor in Tony! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] at Park Theatre. Photo by Mark Douet.

The spectacle of Blair on his death bed giving his Catholic confession to Peter ‘Mandy’ Mandelson dressed as a priest, kicks-off proceedings. From there, we’re transported through childhood, his Jagger-wannabe days and onto the Sedgefield by-election and the Labour leadership. It’s all mad-cap, fast and furious, frivolous flotsam, crammed with political jibes and winked wise-cracks.

You don’t have to be politically savvy to enjoy the fun — a simple passing acquaintance with Blair’s celebrity and his cheesy winning grin will suffice.

The second-half is equally good at inducing collective, up-the-cuff smirking from the audience, who at the sight of Osama Bin Laden, Col Gadaffi and Saddam Hussain juxtaposed with the equally nauseating trio of Blair, Bush and Rumsfeld can’t help but draw parallels and even negative comparisons. Most serious taboo subjects fail miserably when given a musical treatment, but here the assembled creative talents - notably composer and lyricist Steve Brown and director Peter Rowe - have eschewed political correctness in favour of an approach akin to The Producers (where Springtime For Hitler so memorably shocked and dazzled with its irreverence). Similarly, here Princess Di is mockingly resurrected - not once, but twice - to move Tony’s story along, most effectively with The Princess and the Pop Prime Minister.

The show definitely needs a little tightening in places (the flat moments are few, but obvious), some snappy dance numbers and fleshed-out orchestral arrangements. But on the whole — and certainly on the strength of this opening night — it has oodles of potential for a brave West End producer and at the very least, deserves a tour of the provinces.

The cast members cover a swathe of notable names from the Blair period, but each has an important role noted here: Charlie Baker (Tony Blair), Holly Sumpton (Cherie Blair), Howard Samuels (Peter Mandelson), Gary Trainor (Gordon Brown), Madison Swan (Princess Diana), Martin Johnston (Neil Kinnock) Rosie Strobel (John Prescott), Kaye Brown (Robin Cook), Marisa Harris and Charles Angiama. Truly a marvellous company-effort, of which everyone should be proud.

Tony! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera]