Tony! The Tony Blair Rock Opera Review at The Leicester Square Theatre.
Location: The Leicester Square Theatre
Date: 28 April 2023
Production: Harry Hill & Steve Brown. Directed by Peter Rowe. Reviewed by John O’Brien.
“Tony!” In big red letters dominates the backdrop. Red obviously to reference his Labour credentials and it’s “Tony” absolutely not posh “Anthony”. The exclamation mark screaming it’s all about me. The subtitle “The Tony Blair Rock Opera” suggests not just that Tony was in a rock band and fancies himself as Mick Jaggers (as he insists on calling him) but also that this will be a Rock Opera in the tradition of “Tommy”, “The Life of Brian”, “We Will Rock You” and “The Rocky Horror Show”. And of course the word “Opera” is there to remind us that this is opera as tragedy, charting Tony’s rise and fall.
The story of Tony and New Labour
But enough of that. This is a very funny and hugely enjoyable musical. It tells the story of Tony and New Labour in a series of hilarious comedic sketches that is laugh out loud funny. As if that were not enough it’s a brilliant and profound satire on political leadership not just of the Blair years but also of megalomaniacs, narcissists and psychopaths the world over. The finale which brings all this together in one truly inspired song will, I predict, become the equivalent of “We Will Rock You” or “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”. This has the potential to become the stand out political musical of the decade.
Harry Hill and Steve Brown – the new Rodgers and Hammerstein?
On this evidence Harry Hill and Steve Brown deserve to be compared to Lerner and Loewe, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Gilbert and Sullivan and Kander and Ebb. There is a narrative thread but each song is a mini opera in its own right which pushes the story along with tremendous verve, vim and vivacity. There is never a dull moment. The songs are pithy, witty and biting. The cast of characters is wondrously all encompassing, like being in Madame Tussauds. No one is spared, everyone and every sacred cow is fair game. It’s like reading Private Eye, watching Have I Got News for You and Spitting Image all rolled into one. The effect is at once entertaining and liberating. I kept asking myself whether they were really saying this live on stage in London? Yes they are and they have done us all a service because I for one have been waiting for a comic send up such as this. How wonderful to watch a show where the entire political elite gets it in the neck. This is live theatre at its cathartic best.
I came out feeling happy and glad to be alive. It’s life enhancing and blows the cobwebs clean away.
Phil Sealey is excellent turning his Gordon Brown into a bumbling cry baby
The performances are superb. Jack Whittle as Tony is spot on. He has the grin, the boyish looks and the accent to a tee. Howard Samuels as the Machiavellian Peter Mandelson threatens to steal the show again and again. Tori Burgess as a no nonsense straight talking scouser makes for a very likeable Cherie Blair. And to make Gordon Brown into a bumbling cry baby shows what a fine actor Phil Sealey is. Rosie Strobel’s Prezza (John Prescott) is wonderfully realised. Sally Cheng’s red headed and bearded Robin Cook is a delight. The attraction between Tony and Princess Di is more than hinted at in Emma Jay Thomas’ flirtatious eyes and double entendres in the marvellous song and dance number The People’s Princess and The Pop Prime Minster.
Saddam Hussein – the Groucho Marx cigar smoking buffoon
The second half sees the musical extend its satirical targets beyond these shores as we replay 9/11 and the “I-Raq war” as George Dubya Bush calls it. The numbers taking down such figures as Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, George Bush and Bill Clinton are terrifically funny. The theme of the musical deepens and we see that all political leaders are seen as flawed individuals. But its all done with such humour that we laugh at these monsters. Saddam Hussein as a Groucho Marx cigar smoking buffoon will stay long in the memory. All of these so called leaders are diminished, rendered ridiculous and taken apart. Like the child who points out that the Emperor has no clothes Hill and Brown invite us to see our leaders in a similar way.
For me it worked.
Go along and see if it works its magic for you.
I am confident it will.