It's over 25 years since Take That’s Gary Barlow, Howard Donald and Mark Owen were starting out as young boyband hopefuls in Manchester, and now they're back in the city where it started as they prepare the next chapter in the band’s extraordinary story. The lads are putting the finishing touches to The Band - their new musical using some of their biggest hits that will get its world premiere run at Manchester’s Opera House from next Friday, September 8.
And be prepared for an emotional show - as the lads admit they can't stop crying when they've watched rehearsals.
Howard said: "It’s such a beautiful emotional story, it gets me every time. I’m like, ‘why do they put me in the front row? Where they can all see my tears in my eyes all through the show!’
Gary admits: “We’re always crying.”
For Gary, Mark and Howard it feels like they’ve come full circle as they prepare to spend the next month back in Manchester to keep a watchful eye as part of the seven producers on the show - along with original bandmate Robbie Williams and West End producers David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers.
Mark said: “As a band, as we get older, you start to do a lot of reflecting. I was walking down the street here in Manchester and remembering where we used to go and get our jacket potatoes from when we were first rehearsing, tuna and sweetcorn jacket potatoes! I don’t think it’s there anymore, it was a little black cart in the middle of the Arndale.
“But now to come back here, having just played another UK tour, it’s a really exciting one.
“We just realise we’re very fortunate. We never would have thought back in those early days that now we’d be back doing a huge theatre show down the road.”
Gary adds: “We owe so much to this city, we spent so much time here in the start. We were always the band from Manchester. It makes me so proud when we do things like the One Love concert, opening the show, it’s amazing that we’re still able to do that. It’s so nice to be back in the north west.”
Gary’s childhood friend, award-winning writer Tim Firth, has written the new musical, which stars the all-new boyband forged on BBC talent show Let It Shine.
The Five to Five lads - AJ Bentley, Sario Solomon, Curtis T Johns, Nick Carsberg and Yazdan Qafouri - perform a host of Take That’s biggest hits in the show, but they are NOT simply playing Take That.
Instead the musical is about the lives of five young teenage girls in 1992 who all love “The Band” and whose songs soundtrack their lives. When tragedy strikes their friendship is rocked - but they reunite 25 years later in a bid to finally meet their idols.
Gary, Mark and Howard introduced the stars of their show onto stage at Manchester Pride on Monday and proudly watched on as the guys and girls from the show performed some of their biggest hits, including Do What You Like, Could it Be Magic and Back For Good.
For the Take That lads, it was important to create an emotional story that would resonate with both their own fans as much as fans of musical theatre, rather than simply a jukebox musical about Take That.
It’s based on a real-life story of their own fans.
Gary says: “It would have been so obvious to do our story, it’s something we’ve looked at for a long time.
“That was the easy route, and often the easy route is a mistake. It’s like our live shows, we could probaby wander out with three microphones, put some nice lights up, but you’ve got to challenge yourself, it’s just not built into us. We always want more.”
Howard adds: “I don't think you need to be into the music of Take That to watch this. If someone was to drag their husband along to this musical, I think they’re going to be blown away by this because the storyline reflects fans of any band in the world, and the experiences of young ladies."
The lads know that Manchester is going to be a hugely important test bed for their musical, and they have huge ambitions for the show. It became the fastest-selling musical of all time when the show went on sale in the UK earlier this year, but the lads hope it can go global.
Gary says: “Our goal obviously we want to take it to the West End, we’ve had interest already for Broadway, that’s the ultimate goal. And to get it round Europe. Manchester is going to be full of the people who are interested in taking this show, but we’ve got to get the show right first.” Take That are known for the huge scale of their own tours - with giant elephants, robots and circus performers all par for the course in recent years. The band’s creative director Kim Gavin is also involved in the creative for the musical. So can we expect bells and whistles with The Band?
Mark says: “It will have an element of that of course because Take That is involved in it. But it’s all about the story. The beauty of it is to see the songs resonate in a different way on stage.”
Gary says: “We always want our audience to go away having had a great night, this musical makes you laugh makes you cry makes you dance, you want people to go out the door and say what a night we have had. “It’s the same when we make our shows we sit there planning the setlists, we want people to leave and have had a great time, and theatre is no different.”
Mark jokes: “But we have said to them if they need a big elephant or a big robot then give us a call!"
- The Band musical plays at Manchester Opera House from September 8 to September 30. Tickets £23.40 - £53.40.