20th Century Boy May 2014
US comedian Charlie Fleischer is credited with saying: “If you remember the ’60s, you really weren’t there.”
But if it’s the ’70s you want to remember you really need to see this musical.
20th Century Boy opens with old black and white newspaper cuttings flashed up on stage announcing the death in 1977 of T-Rex superstar Marc Bolan.
And even after all these years you didn’t want it to be true – somehow you hoped this brilliant musical would change the course of history and bring the glam rock icon back to life.
In a way it did because through the eyes of his son Roland the audience was able to relive the best of times before the fatal car crash.
20th Century Boy exposes a jigsaw of life in the 70s, its fads and fashions but mostly the music.
It journeys from folk to hippy love songs, from rock ‘n’ roll to the beginnings of punk and it gives you the London look when pop stars flaunted an ambiguous sexuality wrapped in sumptuous silk and satin clothes so well accessorised.
West End theatre star Warren Sollars convincingly struts his stuff this week at the Bristol Hippodrome as a slightly effeminate Bolan complete with corkscrew curls and feather boa.
And soap opera star Sue Jenkins plays the proud but then grief-stricken mum Phyllis with aplomb.
Actor Luke Bailey is brilliant as Roland and the beehive and voice of Katia Sartine (Helen Shapiro) also makes an impression.
During the performance you hear poetic talk about mysterious goblins living in Middle Earth and see dancers wearing Mary Quant dresses loving to boggie.
Setting the scene is a projected backdrop and impressive lighting which give a real sense of the flamboyant and androgynous age.
While Billy Joel sang Only the Good Die Young on his 1977 pop rock album, The Stranger, you are left feeling while Bolan the singer/songwriter/poet and guitarist was great he wasn’t always good.
But then he was living the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle in an era full of excesses.
Independent reporter Paul Bignell said in an article reported to commemorate the 35th anniversary of his death: “At the height of his fame in the early to mid-1970s, Bolan – born Mark Feld – outsold Jimi Hendrix and The Who with his band T Rex.
“But his good looks, catchy songs, air of mystique and untimely death at the age of 29 meant interest in the star has never waned.”
He certainly was beautiful, one of the pretty people, but sometimes success breeds meanness and at the height of his fame he turned his on back people who had helped him along the way including DJ John Peel and supportive wife June Child who he wed wearing a virginal white wedding suit complete with top hat while she had flowers in her hair.
We learn Bolan hid his monies in an offshore tax haven leaving Roland years of legal wrangles to claim his inheritance.
Also to suffer were Roland’s US mother the singer/songwriter Gloria Jones who was driving the night of the accident as for decades she was damned by his family and fans.
A small redeeming factor is when his bus driver dad Simeon refused to move from their Hackney council flat Bolan instead bought him a status-symbol white Rolls Royce.
But he gave his son a silly rhyming moniker just to compete with arch-rival David Bowie who had called his son Zowie.
The show was 15 minutes late starting due to ‘technical difficulties’ but then the performance on Monday night went without a hitch and ended with a well-deserved 10-minute electric ovation for the cast.
This new touring production plays Bristol until Saturday and showcases 24 of Marc Bolan and T-Rex’s best-known hits including Ride A White Swan, I Love To Boogie and Get It On.
And talking of white swans Matthew Bourne’s fabulous Swan Lake opens on Tuesday, May 20. This powerful, provocative and totally original interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake plays at the Hippodrome until Saturday, May 24.
There is a video of a Marc Bolan concert on YouTube featuring his biggest fan and my brother Eric, see above, having a hug on stage two minutes into the show. Born to Boogie is a 1972 concert film based around a concert at Wembley Empire Pool starring Ringo Starr, Marc Bolan and T-Rex. You can view by clicking HERE.