Take That launched their new musical The Band, coming to Sheffield in October, with two special previews in Manchester tonight, Sunday.
Specially-selected groups of fans, press and theatre professionals were among the very first to watch a selection of scenes from the show, starring Let It Shine TV show winners Five to Five and other cast members.
Then the audience broke out in screams and cheers as Gary Barlow, Howard Donald and Mark Owen joined them at Manchester’s famous 02 Apollo theatre.
The trio, plus Robbie Williams, are co-producers of the show and Jason Orange is also involved.
Robbie Williams, who is in Los Angeles, was due to watch a satellite broadcast of the event later on.
Mark Owen told the audience he remembered playing the venue on their first tour and added: “We have come full circle after 25 years and wanted to give something back.“
In the show, a group of five 40-somethings look back on their time as Take That-mad teenage schoolmates who go off to see that first tour, determined to meet their heroes. The band’s music is woven into their lives, with its inevitable highs, lows and tragedies.
The Take That trio also joined some members of the cast for a press conference about the show. Asked how close the story was to that of Take That, Mark said: “We met those kids when they were 16 outside our houses and heard them screaming. We’ve seen them grow up.
“That’s the story of Take That in many ways, the audience and support that they have given us. We say we’re just a vehicle for them to get together and hang out!”
Gary Barlow said: “I loved it today. Already we’re so involved with this music. I was very proud to sit in the audience and watch our music being performed.
“One of the things we loved when the story came about is that it pays the ultimate respect to our audience, those who came, loved, supported it and made it part of their lives.”
Howard added: “I think that’s one of the things that brings out the emotion in us.
“The situation of this young group of girls growing old and meeting 25 years later is a guide to those songs we chose. We’ve got lot of swapping about to do still.”
He’s admitted that watching the show has been very emotional for him and the rest of the band.
They said they discussed the idea of doing a musical when they were touring with their 2008 album, The Circus.
It’s coming about now, just as new album Wonderland is launched and they are preparing for a mainly sell-out tour of Britain and Ireland, arriving at Sheffield Arena on May 29 and 30.
Rachel Lumberg plays the part of adult Rachel, one of the five friends. She is well known to Sheffield audiences after appearing in the musical My Family at the Crucible Studio and the Lyceum, and in The Full Monty.
She paid tribute to the members of Five to Five. “Whatever anybody ever says about anybody coming from a talent show, they work their butts off. They are focused, in the moment and learn very quickly.
“Coming into a show is a very different experience for them.”
The band have been hard at work learning all the songs and taking part in rehearsals.
Gary Barlow praised the band and thought they could not have hoped for a better outcome from the TV show. Mark Owen jokingly warned them: “Don’t get too good!”
The show is directed behind former EastEnder Jack Ryder, who is also at the helm of the current tour of The Full Monty, about to start a two-week run at Sheffield Lyceum.
He said: “This production and cast are a joy. They are a very talented bunch and the show has got stronger each time.”
Incredibly, Jack is also working on The Band writer Tim Firth and Gary Barlow’s new Calendar Girls musical, The Girls. He said: ”It’s fun. I’m learning to multi-task, which is a very good skill for me to have!”
The Band is at the Lyceum on October 4 to 14. Tickets go on general sale tomorrow, Monday April 4, at noon.